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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Complaints filed against Judge Keller with Ethics Commission and Travis County Attorney

The AP is reporting that there are new complaints filed against Sharon Keller. If the Travis County Attorney charges her with a crime, then she will be automatically suspended from office. She will also be automatically suspended if the Texas House impeaches her.

A liberal watchdog group filed ethics and criminal complaints Tuesday against Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller after reports that she did not disclose nearly $2 million in real estate holdings.

Texans for Public Justice filed the complaints in Austin against Keller, a Republican, with the Texas Ethics Commission and Travis County attorney's office.

Keller is already facing misconduct charges from the state Judicial Conduct Commission for failing to keep her office open late the night Michael Wayne Richard was executed. His lawyers have said that prevented them from filing an appeal. Keller has said that attorneys for Richard, who raped and murdered a woman in 1986, had other options to appeal.

The latest complaints come after The Dallas Morning News reported that Keller's routine annual financial disclosures did not include the property.

Keller's attorney, Chip Babcock, did not immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Although seperate from the misconduct charge, Keller's financial disclosure are relevant in that case. She has argued that the misconduct charges violate her constitutional right to counsel because the state refuses to allow Babcock to represent her at taxpayer expense and paying for her defense herself would be financially ruinous.

Babcock has said he's willing to represent Keller for almost nothing, but that the ethics commission has not clarified whether that was an ethics violation.

A sworn statement Keller filed with the Texas Ethics Commission last year did not disclose her ownership interest in seven residential and commercial properties in Dallas and Tarrant counties. The newspaper said those properties are valued at roughly $1.9 million.

Among Keller's unlisted properties are two Dallas homes valued together at just over $1 million. Keller is listed as sole owner under Sharon Batjer, her married name. She divorced in 1982. Another omission is commercial land next to Keller's Drive-In, a landmark Dallas hamburger restaurant operated since 1965 by the judge's father, Jack.

Keller's ethics commission filing listed income of more than $275,000, including her annual salary of $152,500. County tax records valued properties she did claim, including her Austin home, at roughly $1 million.

Failing to file comply with personal financial disclosure laws can bring fines up to $10,000. County Attorney David Escamilla could also seek Class B misdemeanor charges that carry up to six months in jail and $2,000 in fines.

Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDoncal said Keller is hiding her assets while asking taxpayers to pay her legal bills.

"Unlike many of the defendants who have appeared before her, Keller can afford to hire a top-notch attorney," McDonald said.

Keller has been on the court since 1994.

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