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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Adventures in Wonderland Starring Sharon Keller as the Red Queen

The Houston Chronicle's Rick Casey has some interesting commentary in his column Sunday about the shenanigans at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on the day that Sharon Keller closed the court instead of accepting an appeal from a man set for execution that day. It is vital that Keller stand trial so that the public can find out more about the workings of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Vince Leibowitz, a reporter for a blog called Capitol Annex, reported this week that several judges on the state’s highest court for criminal matters want their chief judge, Sharon Keller, to resign.

Keller has been charged by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with violations of the judicial conduct code in connection with her alleged refusal to keep the court clerk’s office open for a last-minute appeal for a death row inmate, or to inform the judge assigned to take last-minute appeals that the inmate’s lawyers were attempting to file one.

Now Keller must face the equivalent of a public trial and could lose her office.

Leibowitz quotes his source as saying the judges, at least some of whom would have to testify, feared more media scrutiny could hurt their re-election chances.

Their concern is justified. A good portion of the public might be alarmed to know, for example, that the judges acted a bit like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.

“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”

Life rarely imitates art exactly. As usual, it was a little more complicated.

Convicted murderer Michael Wayne Richard was set to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Sept. 25, 2007. That morning the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a case called Baze v. Rees challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection.

According to the formal charges by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, Judge Cathy Cochran at 11:29 a.m. e-mailed to Keller and her other colleagues an Internet link to the Kentucky Supreme Court decision that was being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The document then says that in “early afternoon” the court’s general counsel, Edward Marty, “began drafting a proposed order for the court in anticipation of Mr. Richard’s appeal based on Baze. The Honorable Judge Tom Price drafted a dissenting opinion in anticipation of Mr. Richard’s appeal and circulated the dissent to the other judges.”

What the document omits is that the judges first took an informal vote. I have it on good authority that the tally was 5-4 to turn down Richard’s appeal.

They made up their minds without waiting for the arguments of Richard’s lawyers.

David Dow, the University of Houston Law Center lawyer who headed Richard’s defense team, called the procedure “outrageous.”

“It’s the equivalent of them sticking their fingers in their ears,” he said. The judges may well have felt confident they could anticipate the arguments, and they didn’t want to wait until late in the day to begin taking up the matter.

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Register for Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty - March 24 at the Texas Capitol

Tuesday March 24, 2009
Texas State Capitol
11th and Congress
Austin, Texas


Every Texas legislative session since 2003, the anti-death penalty community in Texas has rallied at the Texas capitol to lobby legislators to end the death penalty. The picture above is from Lobby Day 2007. In 2009, there have already been several bills filed that we will be lobbying in favor, including a bill to end the death penalty under the Law of Parties, an abolition bill, a death penalty study commission and moratorium on executions bill, a resolution to impeach Sharon Keller and other issues.

Sponsored by Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty - Austin Chapter, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas CURE, the Student Prison Caucus, the Abolish the Death Penalty Caucus of the Texas Democratic Part, the Eye & Tooth Project: Forum Theatre on the Death Penalty, Kids Against the Death Penalty. and People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER). (If your organization would like to participate or be one of the Lobby Day sponsors, contact us at 512 961 6389 or by email to admin@texasmoratorium.org)

Please make plans to be in Austin on Tuesday, March 24, so that we can all raise our voices together against the injustice of the Texas death penalty.

Below is the tentative schedule. We will announce more details and the rooms for all events later. You do not have to attend all events.

10 AM - Noon Lobbying Training Workshop Location: University of Texas at Austin, Sanchez Building (College of Education) in the Cissy McDaniel Parker Dean's Conference Room
located near Congress Ave and MLK, between University Avenue and the Blanton Museum of Art (just north of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum)
(We can also meet with your group before Lobby Day and train you earlier, then you can meet your legislators in the morning. Contact us if you would like us to come brief you before Lobby Day)

12:00 Break for Lunch on your own (there is a cafeteria in the Capitol)

1 PM Press Conference in the House Speaker's Committee Room 2W.6 in the Capitol

Afternoon: Visiting legislative offices and attending committee hearings (If the committees will be hearing any death penalty related bills, we will know five days before the event.)

5:30 PM Rally on the South Steps of the Capitol (Musical Guest: Aaron Blount)

If you are coming to Lobby Day, you can call the offices of your state senator and state representative and tell them you are coming to Austin on March 24 and would like to meet with someone in their office.

In addition to the Austin training on the morning of Lobby Day, there is a Houston training session on Saturday, March 14, at S.H.A.P.E. Center, at 3903 Almeda, from 2:00 until 4:00 pm. It is organized by Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement and conducted by aides to State Rep Dutton and State Rep Farrar.

You can find out who your legislators are by going to the link below and entering your address.

http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us

Enter your home address.

After you click on the “Submit” button, you will see a screen with information for several elected officials. You only need to contact your State Senator and State Representative. Do not contact your U.S. Senators, U.S. Representative or your Board of Education member.

Texas U.S. Senators (DO NOT CONTACT)
U.S. Senators represent the entire state. Texas' current U.S. Senators are Senator John Cornyn and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. See their websites for current contact information.

Texas U.S. Representative (DO NOT CONTACT)

Texas State Senator (THIS IS THE ONE YOU WANT TO CONTACT)

Texas State Representative (THIS IS THE ONE YOU WANT TO CONTACT)

Texas State Board of Education Member (DO NOT CONTACT)

Please only contact your STATE Senator and STATE representative.

Do NOT contact your U.S. Representative or your U.S. Senator (Cornyn and Huthcison).

Only call 512 area code phone numbers followed by a 463 prefix. Again, make sure you are calling a 512-463-xxxx number.

For a list of all Texas State Senators, please visit:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Members/Members.aspx?Chamber=S


For a list of all members of the Texas House Representatives, please visit:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Members/Members.aspx?Chamber=H




Senator Eliot Shapleigh Speaking at 2077 Lobby Day (He starts speaking at second 44 in video)

Kerry Cook speaking at 2007 Lobby Day. Kerry is an innocent person who spent 20 years on Texas Death Row.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Keller legal defense expected to be expensive

Many people end up sentenced to death, including innocent people like Ernest Willis who was exonerated and released from Texas Death Row in 2004, not because they are the worst of the worst offenders, but because they can not afford to hire the best lawyers or even a half-way decent lawyer. A federal judge in San Antonio ordered in 2004 that Willis either be tried again or freed. That overruled a decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that kept Willis on death row. He spent 17 years on death row for a crime he did not commit before his exoneration. Keller had voted to keep Willis on death row. Now, it looks like the worst of the worst of Texas judges is facing the same problems faced by many of the people whose cases arrive at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - the high cost of hiring a decent lawyer.

Keller lives in a nice home in West Austin, which you can see in this video. As the Statesman reports she "is paid $152,500 a year. She owns several Dallas properties that provide at least $60,000 a year in rental income, and a family trust provides more than $25,000 a year, according to her financial disclosure statement for 2007."

More from the Austin American-Statesman:

Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the state's highest criminal court, faces several hundred thousand dollars in legal bills to fight charges that she violated her judicial duties in a 2007 death penalty case.

But the state agency that charged Keller will pay $1 for the services of Mike McKetta, a highly regarded trial and appellate attorney from Austin who will present the case against Keller during a still-unscheduled trial.

That is "monumentally unfair," said Chip Babcock, Keller's lawyer and a leading Texas attorney in his own right.

"I would do it for a dollar, too," Babcock said. "McKetta and I could duke it out for just a buck. That would be fun. The problem is that if the (Texas) Ethics Commission is correct ... I can't."

Last December, the ethics commission slapped Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht with a $29,000 fine, ruling that a $167,200 discount he received on legal fees amounted to a political contribution that exceeded the $5,000 limit on donations from law firms and from individual lawyers.

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Herald-Zeitung Letter-to-Editor: Time to Impeach Keller

The Herald-Zeitung
Serving New Braunfels and Comal County since 1852
Letters for February 27, 2009

Time to impeach Judge Keller

To the editor:

In an effort to restore justice and remove some of the tarnish on the Texas criminal justice system, state Rep. Lon Burnam has filed HB 480 to establish a Special Committee on Impeachment to consider impeaching Criminal Court of Appeals Judge Sharon Keller. This is the judge that closed the door on justice at 5 p.m. and prevented the filing of an appeal of Michael Richards’ execution scheduled a few hours later that evening.

The appeal was based on the U.S. Supreme Court earlier the same day agreeing to consider a challenge to the constitutionality of lethal injection. Due to a problem with the computer on which the appeal had been written, the defense team was delayed in printing and delivering the documents to the court. Other judges in the same court were prepared and waiting for the appeal paperwork, but Judge Keller shut it down without even telling them what she did. This is neither the first nor the last blemish Judge Keller has placed on the Texas justice system, but it is certainly the most egregious.

Judges all over Texas have criticized her actions and it’s about time she was impeached for her miscarriage of justice.

JC Dufresne,

Cibolo

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Subcommittee Members of House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

These are personal notes from the first meeting of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held on Feb 25, 2009. The official minutes are posted here. These are just notes made as fast as I could write.

Chair appoints subcommittees to at least do some preliminary assessments of the legislation pending before the committee. Historically this committee gets more bills than any other committee in Legislature.

Chair's comments:

Don't have to vote on bills in subcommittees, can just refer bills back to full committee without a vote. Find consensus in subcommittee. Get defense and prosecutors together if possible on bills in subcommittee, but he knows sometimes that won't be possible. He is empowering each member to carry the ball. Tells committee members, if there is a bill you want heard, yours or another member's bill, then let the chair know, and he will try to accommodate that and move legislation along. To members of organizations working on certain bills: while he is happy to talk to you, he is one of eleven and he fully intends to let the majority of the committee work its will, he hopes you take the time to see and get to know every member of the committee. Occasionaly, he may find some legislation personally objectionable, but the members may be able to change his mind.

The Law of Parties bill (HB 304) has been referred to the subcommittee on Criminal Procedure, not the capital punishment one.

Capital Punishment Subcommittee

Chair Robert Miklos Democrat http://www.robertmiklos.com

Joseph Moody Democrat

Wayne Christian Republican

Terri Hodge Democrat

Pete Gallego Democrat

Bills currently referred to Capital Punishment Subcommittee

HB 682, HB 297, HB 298, HB 111, HB 493, HB 877, HB 913, HB 916, HB 921, HB 938

Bio of Chair: After passing the Texas Bar, Robert Miklos went to work as a prosecutor for the City of Houston - the start of an eleven year stint as a prosecutor, including several years in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and culminating as chief prosecutor for the City of Dallas. He has tried over 500 criminal jury trials, as well as thousands of non-jury trials. As Dallas chief prosecutor, Robert managed an office with 15 attorneys. During his term as chief, Dallas moved aggressively to prosecute sexually oriented businesses, revamped its domestic violence prosecutions, and helped institute a magistrate program to lessen the wait time for court appearances.

In early 2005, Robert left the Dallas City Attorney’s Office to join the Hughes and Luce law firm as senior counsel. At Hughes and Luce (which later merged with and became K&L Gates), he represents clients in land use, entitlement, and real estate matters - including representing neighborhoods in annexation issues and clients in eminent domain matters.


Criminal Procedure Subcommittee

List of bill referred to subcommittee.

HB 930, HB 789, HB 788, HB 666, HB 579, HB 566, HB 558, HB 498, HB 483, HB 430, HB 304, HB 301, HB 296, HB 295, HB 293, HB 292, HB 228, HB 196, HB 195, HB 107, HB 825, HB 945, HB 897, HB 949, HB 951, HB 983, HB 954, HB 1104, HB 1076, HB 1060.

Chair Joseph Moody Democrat El Paso http://www.moodyforelpaso.org

Allen Vaught Democrat

Wayne Christian Republican

Hubert Vo Democrat

Allen Fletcher Republican

Robert Miklos Democrat

Paula Pierson Democrat

Bio of Chair Joe Moody continued his education in Lubbock at Texas Tech University School of Law, where he graduated with a Doctorate of Jurisprudence. While in law school, he actively participated in the Hispanic Law Students Association. He was also a founding member of the Migrant Worker Project, which outlined the rights and responsibilities of both migrant workers and their employers. Joe answered the call to volunteer with the Red Cross when the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were evacuated to Lubbock.

After law school, and while waiting for his bar exam results, Joe took on the role of campaign manager for his father’s statewide campaign for the Texas Supreme Court. He put to use his extensive political experience that he gained while working on such prominent campaigns as Al Gore for President, Bill Richardson for Governor, and Charles Stenholm for United States Congress. The Supreme Court campaign allowed Joe the opportunity to meet people across this great state and listen to their concerns. It was a unique campaign in which the candidate, William E. “Bill” Moody, walked over 1,000 miles across the State of Texas. It was a campaign which led the statewide Democratic ticket, and garnered more votes than any El Pasoan has ever received (nearly 2 million).

Fresh off the heels of this unique campaign, Joe went to work as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office. He serves the public in the courtroom, giving a voice to victims by enforcing the laws of Texas. At the District Attorney’s office, Joe works hand-in-hand with law enforcement in the prosecution of a wide variety of cases including Driving While Intoxicated, Domestic Violence, Graffiti, and Burglaries of Vehicles. Joe is a strong advocate in his pursuit of justice.

Other Subcommittees

Victims' Rights and Violence Against Women Subcommittee

Bills Referred HB 608, HB 167, HB 597, and HB 1003

Chair Kent

Pierson

Moody

Vaught

Gallego

White Collar Crime Subcommittee

Chair Fletcher

Christian

Kent

Vaught

Moody

Property Crimes Subcommittee

Chair Vo

Kent

Fletcher

Pierson

Hodge

Violent Crime

Chair Vaught

Riddle

Hodge

Vo

Miklos

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Watch Live Stream of House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

You can watch a live stream of today's meeting of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee at 2 PM (or upon adjournment of the House).

We found out when we met with the general counsel of the committee yesterday about the Law of Parties bill that they would announce subcommittee chairs at today's meeting, including the chair of the subcommittee on capital punishment.

http://www.house.state.tx.us/media/welcome.php

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Judge Keller Should be Suspended Under Rule 15b

In 2007, I was one of the many people and several groups who filed a judicial complaint against Sharon Keller. The complaint I filed was co-signed by about 1,900 people. I waited, somewhat impatiently, 15 months until the State Commission on Judicial Conduct finally charged Keller with misconduct last week. Last December, I dropped by Lon Burnam's office at the capitol with a copy of a blog post I had written on BOR entitled "Legislature Should Remove Sharon Keller from the Court of Criminal Appeals" and urged him to file an impeachment resolution. Now, I believe Keller should be suspended from office pending the outcome of her upcoming public trial.

Rule 15(b) of the Procedural Rules for Removal or Retirement of Judges on the website of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct allows the Commission to request that the Supreme Court of Texas suspend a judge.

It is time for the Commission to suspend Sharon Keller until the formal proceedings, which include a public trial, are complete and the Commission votes to dismiss the case, issue a public censure, or recommend to the Supreme Court that Keller be removed from office. Keller has lost the confidence of the people of Texas. The latest example of that lost confidence was expressed in today's Houston Chronicle editorial that says, "A faulty ethical compass makes Judge Sharon Keller unfit for the bench."

Other newspapers have expressed similar sentiments.

The Dallas Morning News last week said, "Texas must have courts that are dispassionate, fair and soberly mindful of their life-and-death authority. Judge Keller's actions cast doubt about whether she measures up, and her opportunity to address that will clarify her level of commitment to justice over vengeance."

The Austin American-Statesman says, "Keller's decision — made by her alone — was grossly insensitive, unjust and discredited her court in the eyes of the world."

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says, "there’s no excuse for arbitrary actions that undermine public confidence in the integrity of Texas’ courts".

Rule 15(b) states:

Upon filing with the Commission of a sworn complaint charging a person holding such office with willful or persistent violation of rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of Texas, incompetence in performing the duties of office, willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, or willful and persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or cases public discredit upon the judiciary or the administration of justice, the Commission, after giving the person notice and an opportunity to appear and be heard before the Commission (under the provisions of Rule 6), may recommend to the Supreme Court the suspension of such person from office.
The Commission has charged Keller in the Notice of Formal Proceedings with 1) "willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties as presiding judge", 2) "willful or persistent conduct that casts public discredit on the judiciary or the administration of justice", 3) "incompetence in the performance of duties of office".

Those are the exact reasons given in Rule 15b for suspending a judge. The Commission should immediately begin the process to recommend that the Texas Supreme Court suspends Keller. She should still stand trial, but in the meantime she should not exercise the powers of her office as a judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The other option to achieve Keller's suspension is for the Texas House to vote to impeach her. If she is impeached by the House, she is automatically suspended pending the outcome of her Senate trial.

Post written by Scott Cobb

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Houston Chronicle Says Its "Judgement Day" for Keller in Call for Her Removal

Time is clicking away on Keller's time in office. She will be gone soon. The Houston Chronicle has the most blistering criticism yet in their editorial calling for the removal of Sharon Keller. "A faulty ethical compass makes Judge Sharon Keller unfit for the bench", says the state's largest newspaper.

It is too late for rule of law to apply to Michael Wayne Richard. But it must be applied to Keller, whose deformed ethical compass makes her unfit to judge. If a new state probe of her conduct fails to prompt her removal, the Legislature should impeach her.

More than a year after her cavalier actions shocked the country, Keller has finally been called to account for her actions. Last Thursday, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct announced judicial proceedings against her, charging “willful or persistent conduct that casts public discredit on the judiciary.”

Also last week, State Rep. Lon Burnam submitted a resolution to impeach Keller, citing “gross neglect of duty” and “willful disregard for human life.”

All three descriptions are accurate. On any given execution day, Texas courthouses are active places. Because of the chance for last-minute appeals, courthouses don’t have a strict closing time, judges work late and judges often hear last-minute pleadings from home, the Dallas Observer notes.

After all, a human life is at stake.

On the day of Richard’s execution, there was even more happening. That morning, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision to review the constitutionality of lethal injection — to which Richard was sentenced. This announcement created a de facto death penalty moratorium nationwide. But because the decision came late, Richard’s attorneys had to scramble, deciding how the news could be used in a workable appeal.
When their computer crashed that afternoon, however, the attorneys had the misfortune of calling a judge who cared not for legalities — but for punishment. Ignoring court procedure, Keller shut the door on them.

In retrospect, this might be expected of a judge who campaigned on the promise of being “pro-prosecution.” But the Texas justice system, which kills so many and has mistreated even more, cannot continue to bear that same label.

Removing Judge Sharon Keller will show the many watching this state that Texans don’t thirst for blood, but for justice.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Video of Press Conference on Law of Parties


We held a press conference on the Law of Parties in Austin at the State Capitol today. Speakers included State Rep Harold Dutton, Lawrence Foster, Kenneth Foster Sr, Mary Ellen Felps, Scott Cobb and Steven Been (brother in-law of Jeff Wood).


In this video Dutton explains why he is pushing HB 304 to end the death penalty under the Law of Parties.


The reporter made a mistake in the report by saying that Kenneth Foster's execution was stayed by a judge. It was actually commuted by Gov Perry. Jeff Wood's execution was stayed by a judge in 2008, but he remains under a death sentence, even though he did not kill anyone. He was convicted under the Law of Parties.

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House Subcommittee on Capital Punishment to be Announced Tomorrow

The Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence is set to announce the chairs of the committee's subcommittees at a a meeting tomorrow. We will be watching expectedly to see who will be the chair of the subcommittee on capital punishment, which we heard today would be one of the subcommittees.

COMMITTEE:
Criminal Jurisprudence



TIME & DATE:
2:00 PM or upon final adjourn./recess
Wednesday, February 25, 2009


PLACE:
E2.028


CHAIR:
Rep. Pete Gallego

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Oh the Irony...Keller Gets Extension to File Response

Sharon Keller has filed and received approval for a 15-day extension to the time she needs to file a response to the charges of misconduct filed against her by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. She now has until March 24 to answer charges that she violated her judicial duties by declining to accept an after-hours appeal from a death row inmate in 2007.

Keller refused to grant a 20 minute extension to the lawyers of a man set for execution so that they could file an appeal on the day he was executed, but now she wants an extension to file her response.

This is real news. It is not from The Onion or the Daily Show. It really happened. How long before Saturday Night Live does a skit on Keller.

Already today, Austin's humor columnist John Kelso devoted his column to Keller's antics.

Hey, maybe "American Idol" was on that night, and Keller wanted to make sure none of the folks in the office missed it. And you know how backed up traffic gets on MoPac.

On the other hand, it was a Tuesday, and as far I know there is no such thing as Tuesday Night Football.

Anyway, on the morning in question, Sept. 25, 2007, the thinking was that courts across the country would wait until the Supreme Court decided on the lethal injection question before proceeding with more executions.

Keller, however, apparently had a pretty tight schedule. So that afternoon she left work early to meet a repairman at her house.

That might seem a bit callous under the circumstances, but we all know how hard it is to get some of these Mister Fixit types to come back later. Meanwhile, Richard's lawyers, who wanted to file that stay, were having computer problems. So, according to the ethics charges against Keller, around 4:45 — 15 minutes before quittin' time at the appeals court — Richard's lawyers asked the court clerk's office to stay open a few minutes late to accept the request.

Ed Marty, the appeals court's general counsel, got on the phone to relay the request to Keller. Marty says he told Keller that Richard's lawyers "wanted the court to stay open late." Keller says Marty asked only about keeping the clerk's office open past 5 p.m. And that she said, "No." The clerks, you see, went home on schedule every day at quittin' time.

No sense inconveniencing the help just 'cause some inmate's about to get offed, right?

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Other Judges on CCA May Want Keller to Resign to Halt Proceedings

Capitol Annex is reporting that some of the other judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals "want Presiding Justice Sharon Keller to resign in order to halt proceedings brought by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The proceedings would force the justices to testify on activities surrounding the execution of death row inmate Micahel Richard."

Reporting from an unrevealed source "closely connected with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals", Capitol Annex says that

several justices are not eager to take part in a trial proceeding as part of the Commission on Judicial Conduct complaint against Keller because it would result in further revealing the content of private meetings and closed door activities–many of which were revealed in the publicly distributed notice of formal proceedings, much to the chagrin of judges and longtime court employees. Each of the court’s other eight justices would most likely be called as witnesses. Without question, Justice Cheryl Johnson would be a key witness for the TCJC.
Capitol Annex then says that one judge is "worried that increased publicity could force U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to launch an investigation into whether or not Michael Richard’s’ civil rights were violated–further exposing the court and the justices to a level of public examination they are unaccustomed to."

Perhaps it is time for someone to ask the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney's Office to look in to Keller's actions as well.

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State Rep Alma Allen Signs on to Keller Impeachment Resolution

State Rep Alma Allen today signed on as a co-author of HR 480, the Resolution filed by Rep. Lon Burnam to create a Special Committee on Impeachment to consider the impeachment of Judge Sharon Keller of the Court of Criminal Appeals for gross neglect of duty and conducting her official duties with willful disregard for human life.

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Burnam's Sharon Keller Impeachment Resolution Referred to Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence

HR 480, the Resolution Creating a Special Committee on Impeachment to consider the impeachment of Judge Sharon Keller of the Court of Criminal Appeals for gross neglect of duty and conducting her official duties with willful disregard for human life was referred today to the House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence.

House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence (C330)
Clerk: Jennifer Welch
Legislature: 81(R) - 2009
Phone: (512) 463-0790
Room: EXT E2.120

Chair:
Rep. Todd Hunter
Vice Chair:
Rep. Bryan Hughes
Members:
Rep. Roberto R. Alonzo
Rep. Dan Branch
Rep. Will Hartnett
Rep. Jim Jackson
Rep. David Leibowitz
Rep. Tryon D. Lewis
Rep. Jerry Madden
Rep. Armando Martinez
Rep. Beverly Woolley

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Press Conference Tuesday, Feb 24, on Ending Death Penalty Sentences Under Texas' Law of Parties

Media Advisory

For immediate release: February 22, 2009

Contact: Scott Cobb, President, Texas Moratorium Network, 512-552-4743

Advocates to Hold Press Conference Tuesday, Feb 24, on Ending Death Penalty Sentences Under Texas' Law of Parties

A press conference will be held at the Texas Capitol in the House Speaker's Committee Room (2W.6) on Tuesday, February 24 at 12:30 PM by advocates for an end to the death penalty for people convicted under Texas' Law of Parties. State Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston has filed HB 304, which would prohibit prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in the future under the Law of Parties.

The Law of Parties can currently be used to sentence people to death even though they did not actually kill or intend anyone to be killed. Speakers at the press conference will include representatives of Kenneth Foster, jr and Jeff Wood, both of whom were sentenced to death under the Law of Parties even though neither of them killed anyone. Foster's death sentence was commuted to life in prison on August 30, 2007 by Governor Perry. Wood remains on death row after receiving a last-minute stay of execution from a federal judge on August 21, 2008, so that his mental health could be evaluated. In both the Foster and Wood cases, the actual killers have already been executed by Texas.

What: Press Conference on Ending Death Penalty Sentences Under the Law of Parties
Where: The Texas Capitol in the House Speaker's Committee Room, 2W.6
When: 12:30 PM on Tuesday, February 24
Speakers include Rep Harold Dutton and family members of Kenneth Foster and Jeff Wood, including Lawrence Foster and Kenneth Foster Sr.

"No one should be put to death for a murder committed by someone else. The death penalty should certainly not be used for people who do not actually kill anyone. While most people in Texas may still support the death penalty, I am quite sure that even most people who support the death penalty only want it used for the worst of the worst murderers and not for people who do not actually kill anyone. Dutton's bill would eliminate the death penalty sentencing option for people convicted under the Law of Parties, but it would still allow people who play lesser roles in a case to be convicted and sentenced to prison under the Law of Parties," said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

"The Texas Law of Parties gives prosecutors far too much discretion in seeking the death penalty by expanding it to those who did not even commit a murder. As we have learned in cases like Kenneth Foster and Jeff Wood, the law unfairly effects those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time or on the losing end of a plea deal. The Texas Legislature should do the right thing and pass Representative Dutton's bill," said Bryan McCann of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the Save Kenneth Foster Campaign.

Sponsored by Texas Moratorium Network, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, and Texas Students Against the Death Penalty.

For more information on the case of Kenneth Foster, visit www.freekenneth.com.

For more information on the case of visit www.savejeffwood.com.

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Statesman says Keller Should not Resign, She Should Stand Trial and Be Removed

The Austin American-Statesman Editorial Board says in Sunday's paper that Sharon Keller should not resign, she should be removed after first standing trial because "at trial, the sordid events of Sept. 25 would be aired before Texas and the world. Keller's cold-blooded and process-centered approach to justice would be on vivid display. A trial would expose Keller's heartless missteps to a fascinated world."

That's not a bad idea. Keller has until March 5 to answer the charges against her made by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Her answer could be "I resign", but maybe it would be better if she stood trial first.

More from the Statesman:

Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is scheduled to stand trial for her egregious decision to refuse an after-hours appeal from an inmate scheduled to die that evening.

And rightly so. Keller's decision — made by her alone — was grossly insensitive, unjust and discredited her court in the eyes of the world. The inmate, Michael Richard, was executed Sept. 25, 2007, a few hours after Keller refused his appeal without informing the other judges, including the one assigned to Richard's case.

Since then, there have been numerous calls for Keller to resign, and a resolution has been introduced in the state Legislature to start impeachment proceedings against her. Last week, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct charged Keller with five counts of violating her duty and discrediting the court in the Richard case.

Facing such withering criticism, Keller, 55, may retire or resign rather than stand trial. She has until March 5 to answer the charges from the commission, and her attorney, Chip Babcock, has said she could win the case on the facts.

Though Keller should be removed from a court widely ridiculed for its heartless approach to justice, a trial is a better way to accomplish that than resignation. At trial, the sordid events of Sept. 25 would be aired before Texas and the world. Keller's cold-blooded and process-centered approach to justice would be on vivid display.

The all-Republican Court of Criminal Appeals is this state's court of last resort in criminal cases, and its reputation for rubber-stamping convictions was well-established before Richard's appeal was rejected. Putting the most important criminal judge in Texas on trial for misconduct is an opportunity to expose the court's long record of callous and reckless disregard for defendants' rights.

The allegations against Keller in the judicial conduct commission's findings are devastating. She and the other judges knew Richard's attorneys likely would appeal his sentence after the U.S. Supreme Court had said that morning it would hear arguments that death by lethal injection is unconstitutional. Richard was set to die by lethal injection that evening.

Judge Cheryl Johnson had been assigned to the Richard case and was ready to receive an appeal. But his attorneys had computer problems and asked the court's general counsel, Edward Marty, if they could file their petition a little late.

Keller was at home when Marty called to ask her if the court clerk's office could remain open after 5 p.m. to receive Richard's petition. Keller said no. She now says that she told Marty the clerk's office, not the court, would close at 5 p.m. As if that made a difference.

Keller's defense is a distinction without a difference. And it perfectly illustrates her focus on process over justice. Keller did not tell the other judges that she refused to accept the appeal nor did she refer Richard's plea to Judge Johnson. Every one of those missteps and others would be intensely examined in a trial and should result in her removal from office.

This issue has never been about Richard's guilt or innocence, but about the lack of common decency in refusing his appeal because it would arrive after 5 p.m. Keller should answer for her actions in a public trial.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cumbersome Process to be Followed by Commission in Keller Proceedings

Rick Casey of the Houston Chronicle explains the process by which the State Commission on Judicial Conduct will proceed in its case charging Sharon Keller with misconduct, incompetence and bringing discredit on the Texas judiciary. The Commission has already said that the process could last 6-18 months. During that time Keller will continue to sit on the bench and continue to disgrace the Texas justice system.

In order to suspend Keller from office, the Texas House should vote to impeach her. According to the Texas Constitution, such a vote would immediately suspend her from office until the Senate holds a trial.

From Casey's article

Considerable work has already been done. The commission, which is made up of six judges from a municipal judge to an appellate judge, two lawyers and five members of the public, had its first of three closed-door hearings on the case last June, after a preliminary investigation by its staff. Keller herself appeared under oath.

“She has been very cooperative,” said Commission Executive Director Seana Willing.
The commission also held closed-door meetings on the matter in August and October. They heard from others involved in the matter, including some of Keller’s colleagues on the court.

Based on the evidence it heard during these “informal hearings,” the court could have gone so far as to publicly reprimand Keller. Instead, at least seven members voted in December to initiate a process that could lead to Keller’s removal. Willing cautioned that the vote doesn’t signal that the commission thinks Keller should be removed. It may be that they seek more information that may result from the more adversarial process to come.

It will begin with the appointment of a “special master” by Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the state Supreme Court. The master could be from a district court or an intermediate court.

That judge will conduct in public what will look very much like a civil trial, with John McKetta III, an Austin lawyer who will serve without pay as the lead “prosecutor” for the commission, and a lawyer for Keller putting on witnesses for examination and cross-examination.

The special master will then issue a “finding of facts,” but will not decide Keller’s fate. Instead his or her findings will be returned to the commission, which will hear from both sides and possibly take new evidence in a public hearing, and then retire to decide whether to recommend Keller’s removal. That’s right: recommend.
A judge, it seems, must be judged by judges.

So Chief Justice Jefferson will pick by lot a seven-member “review tribunal” from a pool consisting of one member chosen by each of the state’s 14 intermediate courts of appeal. The first picked will be chairman.

The tribunal will hold yet another hearing and possibly take more new evidence, then decide whether to accept the commission’s recommendation or impose a tougher or more lenient sanction.

If Keller doesn’t like what these judges decide she can appeal to the state Supreme Court — if her lawyers get their filings in on time.

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Rep Burnam to Continue Impeachment Efforts Against Keller

Lon Burnam plans to continue his push to impeach Sharon Keller, reports the Fort Worth Star Telegram in "Impeachment push from Burnam continues as ethics panel awaits response from embattled judge".

The House should definitely impeach Keller, because if she is impeached she will be automatically suspended from office. The process by the Commission on Judicial Conduct could take up to 18 months and includes no provision to suspend her from office. She will be suspended only after the House votes for impeachment.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said Friday that he will press ahead with efforts to impeach Judge Sharon Keller while a judicial ethics commission begins an inquiry against Keller that could take more than a year to complete.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct announced plans Thursday to convene trial-like hearings against Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, just days after Burnam introduced a resolution to begin impeachment proceedings in the Legislature. Both actions stem from Keller’s refusal to keep her office open after hours to allow a last-minute appeal from a Death Row inmate who was executed several hours later.

A legislative impeachment proceeding and the commission’s inquiry could ultimately lead to the same result: her removal from the bench. But Burnam, in a telephone interview, reiterated dissatisfaction with the pace of the commission investigation and said he will pursue his impeachment resolution.

"That’s a way to keep pressure on the commission to do its job," Burnam said, likening the judicial panel to a fox "guarding the henhouse."

Burnam also called on Keller to step down. The judge’s office declined to comment and referred questions to her Houston attorney, who had not responded to calls by late Friday afternoon. Keller has 15 days to answer the charges.

"To my way of thinking, if she had any integrity at all, in two weeks, she’d resign," Burnam said. "She aborted due process, and the action resulted in the untimely execution of a human being. There was a general sense of outrage when the incident occurred."

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Friday, February 20, 2009

San Antonio Express News Calls Charges Against Keller "welcome development"

The San Antonio Express News has an editorial in Saturday's paper saying "the misconduct charges against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals President Judge Sharon Keller are a welcome development."

While Keller's actions in the Richard case violate our sense of justice, she deserves her day in court on the charges.

Regardless of the outcome, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct deserves kudos for having the courage to act in this situation. Public confidence in the system's ability to police itself should be bolstered by the commission's action.

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Time for Sharon Keller to Resign

In a post on the Texas Moratorium Network blog on October 3, 2007, we said "Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller should resign or be impeached and removed from office for her conduct regarding the execution of Michael Richard. As long as Keller is in office, the people of Texas can not be sure that justice is being done with integrity".

We filed a complaint against Keller (pdf) with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct that was signed by about 1900 people. We delivered a copy of the complaint to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (video). We held a protest in front of her house (video). We revised our complaint to the Commission by sending them a copy of the Execution Day Procedures, which we obtained from Keller through a Public Information Request. She had first sent that document to R.G. Ratcliffe of the Houston Chronicle, but we requested she send us a copy so we could send it to the Commission. We went to the Legislature to ask legislators to sign on to a complaint or to file their own. State Rep Dutton, Olivo, Farrar and Coleman all signed one of the complaints or filed their own. We went back to the Legislature in December 2008 to ask Lon Burmam to file an impeachment resolution.

Now, the State Commission has officially charged Keller with misconduct that "casts public discredit on the judiciary or the administration of justice" and with "incompetence in the performance of duties of office."

We expect that over the next week or so, there will be several editorials by Texas newspapers joining our call for Keller to resign.

How long before Keller is forced out by resignation, impeachment or removal by the process set forth in the Notice of Formal Proceedings by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct? The sooner, the better. 

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Death Penalty Abolitionist Elected to Lead Texas House Democrats

Rep Jessica Farrar, who has filed a bill to abolish the death penalty, has been elected to lead Democrats in the Texas House. Her abolition bill is HB 682. She first filed an abolition bill in 2007, when she became the second state representative in recent years to file an abolition bill. Rep Harald Dutton has filed an abolition bill each session since 2003. His bill this year is HB 297.




JESSICA FARRAR

STATE REPRESENTATIVE

DISTRICT 148

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                

February 19, 2009

 

Contact: 

Lillian Ortiz

Office of Rep. Farrar

(512) 463-0620 Office

(832) 623-1711 Cell

                                                                                             

Rep. Farrar Elected Chair of House Democratic Caucus

 

( AUSTIN ) --  On Thursday, February 19, 2009, the Democratic Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives elected State Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) Chair for the 2009-10 term.

 

Rep. Farrar stated that, "I am honored that my colleagues have demonstrated such faith in my leadership by electing me Democratic Caucus Chair.  I pledge to continue to work with all members of the Texas House to protect and promote Democratic values by organizing efforts that deliver what Texans need in these hard economic times — health care, child care, an educated workforce produced by solid public schools and universities, all of which build a stronger economy."

 

First on Rep. Farrar's agenda as Chair is to immediately ask all Democratic Caucus members to participate in developing an agenda for the 81st Legislative Session that addresses the state's most pressing needs.  "It is our responsibility to listen to our constituents and act on their concerns.  Many times, the most crucial needs of everyday Texans are overlooked and overrun by misguided political agendas that cater to everyone but our constituents.  I am committed to ensuring that the Democratic Caucus continues to put people before politics."

 

Given that a recent Gallup poll demonstrated that slightly more Texans identify themselves as Democrats rather than as Republicans (43.4% to 41%), Rep. Farrar believes that Texans across the state are ready for a new kind of leadership in the Texas House.  "It is clear to me and my colleagues that more than ever, the House Democratic Caucus is in a position to serve as the voice of the majority of Texans that view issues such as education, health care, child care, emergency preparedness, and economic stability as the topics that the Texas Legislature should be addressing in place of the divisive and polarizing political agendas that have dominated for so long," she stated. 

 

Rep. Farrar is in her 8th term as state representative of District 148. 

 

-30-   

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Notice of Formal Proceedings Against Sharon Keller

In 2007 Texas Moratorium Network was one of several groups that filed a judicial complaint against Sharon Keller. Our complaint was co-signed by almost 1900 people. In 2007, we also talked to several legislators who also subsequently signed on to a complaint or filed their own complaints against Keller: Reps Dutton, Olivo, Coleman, Farrar and Burnam.

Last December, TMN approached Lon Burnam and asked him to file a resolution to impeach Keller. Today, the New York Times wrote an editorial supporting Burnam's resolution.

Today, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct formally charged Keller with misconduct.

State Commission on Judicial Conduct Notice of Formal Proceedings




Scott Cobb and all Complainants who signed on:


Please be advised that on December 2-4, 2008, following three informal hearings that took place before it on June 18-20, 2008, August 13-15, 2008, and October 15-17, 2008, the Commission voted to initiate formal proceedings against the judge who was the subject of your complaint. This process involves a public trial before a Special Master appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, after which findings of fact will be presented to the Commission. You will be notified in writing of the date, time and location of this trial. Based on the Report from the Special Master, the Commission may vote to dismiss the case, issue a public censure, or recommend to the Supreme Court that the judge be removed from office.


In the event that removal is recommended, a seven-member Review Tribunal of appellate justices, also appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, will review the record of the public trial and the hearing before the Commission to determine if the judge should be removed from office. The Review Tribunal could also dismiss the case or issue a public censure against the judge. Be advised that this process is lengthy and could take anywhere from six (6) to eighteen (18) months or more to complete.


Thank you for your continued patience and cooperation as we continue with this process. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the delay in resolving the complaint, as well as for our failure to communicate with you more often and in more detail regarding the status of the investigation. Due to confidentiality rules, we were greatly restricted as to what information we could provide and were concerned that any information we provided would be leaked to the media.


We appreciate that this case is very important to you. Like all cases filed with our agency, this matter was handled carefully and thoroughly investigated. Because the factual allegations and legal issues presented proved to be more complicated than most cases presented to the Commission, it simply required more time to resolve. In addition, please keep in mind that our Commission holds hearings only six (6) times per year, and handles hundreds of cases at each of those meetings. The thirteen volunteers who serve on the Commission take their responsibilities seriously and provide each case and decision the consideration it deserves. The members did not arrive at their decision in this matter lightly or prematurely.

We would also point out that we have a small, but dedicated staff that includes five lawyers and three investigators, who handle over 1,000 cases each year. Because of the significance of this matter, the investigation and presentation of the case was handled exclusively by the agency’s Executive Director and the Chief Investigator. It should be clear from a review of the Notice of Formal Proceedings how much time and effort has gone into this case so far.

On a final note, we are honored to have the services of John J. “Mike” McKetta, III, Michelle Alcala, and their firm, Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, P.C., supporting the Commission as Special Counsel in this matter.

Let us know if you have any questions or concerns regarding this process.



Seana Willing

Executive Director

State Commission on Judicial Conduct

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New York Times Editorial on Sharon Keller

February 19, 2009
New York Times
EDITORIAL
Investigating Judge Keller

Sharon Keller, a Texas appellate court judge, made headlines in 2007 when she was reported to have ordered the court clerk’s office to close promptly at 5 p.m., preventing a death-row inmate from filing an emergency appeal. The inmate was executed. A Texas legislator is now trying to impeach Judge Keller for dereliction of duty in that case. A legislative inquiry is long overdue.

On Sept. 25, 2007, lawyers for Michael Richard were at work on a motion to stay their client’s execution. Earlier that day, the United States Supreme Court announced that it would consider the constitutionality of lethal injection. The lawyers were seeking to have Mr. Richard’s execution, which was to be by lethal injection, put off until the Supreme Court issued its ruling.

According to press accounts, Mr. Richard’s lawyers called the court late that afternoon to say they were having computer problems and requested that the clerk’s office stay open 20 minutes past its usual closing time. According to these accounts, Judge Keller denied the request. Mr. Richard was put to death that evening.

Judge Keller has been quoted saying that Mr. Richard’s lawyers did not give a reason for wanting the delay, and that she simply stated that the court closes at 5 p.m.

The case prompted widespread outrage. A group of lawyers filed a complaint with Texas’s State Commission on Judicial Conduct, but more than a year later, the commission, inexcusably, still has not taken any public action. This week, State Representative Lon Burnam introduced an impeachment resolution against Judge Keller, accusing her of “gross neglect of duty” and “willful disregard for human life.”

If the facts are as reported, Judge Keller should be removed from the bench. It would show monumental callousness, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of justice, for a judge to think that a brief delay in closing a court office should take precedence over a motion that raises constitutional objections to an execution. If the facts have been misreported, the impeachment process would allow Judge Keller to set the record straight.

Impeaching a judge is not a step a legislature should take lightly. It is important that judges be insulated from political pressures so they have the independence necessary to administer justice fairly. But judges cannot be allowed to use their extraordinary discretion to deny litigants the fundamentals of due process. That is especially true if the stakes are literally life or death.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

State Representative Roland Gutierrez Signs on to Impeachment Resolution

State Representative Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio today signed on as a co-author of the resolution to impeach Sharon Keller that was filed yesterday by Rep. Lon Burnam.

Thank you Rep Gutierrez.

More about Rep Gutierrez from his official website bio:

Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in a special election in May 2008, Representative Gutierrez represents District 119, which encompasses part of Bexar County. Roland Gutierrez embodies the best traditions of Texas public service and the best hopes for the future of Texas leadership.

A native of San Antonio, Gutierrez is a 1989 graduate of Central Catholic High School. He earned his BA in political science from the University of Texas at San Antonio and earned his law degree from St. Mary's University School of Law. He is the sole proprietor of his own law firm and is involved in the Elder Law Clinic, which provides free legal services to senior citizens. Representative Gutierrez, his wife Sarah, and their daughter Izabella live in the San Jose neighborhood, where they attend Mission San Jose and are active in a variety of community projects.

Gutierrez was elected to the San Antonio City Council in 2005 and re-elected two years later. He was a driving force behind the effort to establish Texas A&M University, the city's second top-tier public university, and helped secure federal resources to fund the San Antonio River project without increasing the tax burden on middle-class families and small businesses. He was also praised for his work on the team that landed the Toyota auto manufacturing plant, leading to thousands of new jobs and millions in new economic activity for the city.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Impeachment Resolution Filed Against Sharon Keller for "neglect of duty"

The AP is reporting that a Texas lawmaker has filed a resolution to impeach Sharon Keller

A Texas state lawmaker is trying to impeach a judge on the state's highest criminal appeals court.

Rep. Lon Burnam filed a resolution Monday seeking to start the process against Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller for what he calls "neglect of duty" in a death penalty case.

Keller refused to keep the court offices open after 5 p.m. back on Sept. 25, 2007, when attorneys for Michael Richard said they were having computer problems, causing troubles filing late appeals.

Richard was executed that night by lethal injection for the rape and murder of a Houston-area woman.
The Dallas Morning News reported:
"I am trying to remove her from the bench," Burnam said. "It's one thing for a banker to close shop at five o'clock sharp. But a public official who stands between a human being and the death chamber must be held to a higher standard."

Keller refused to allow the Court of Criminal Appeals to stay open past 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, 2007, even though Richard's attorneys had called and asked for extra time to file their appeal because of computer problems. He was put to death by lethal injection hours later.

Earlier that day, the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to review the constitutionality of lethal injection in a Kentucky case.

Keller's refusal to keep the court open outraged defense attorneys and civil rights activists and led to the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Richard's widow. The lawsuit was dismissed by a federal court in Austin in 2008, said lawyer Richard Kallinen, who represented Richard's widow.
Text of the resolution:

81R8266 JSA-F

By: Burnam H.R. No. 480


R E S O L U T I O N

WHEREAS, The House of Representatives of the Texas
Legislature has exclusive power to present articles of impeachment
against a state officer under Section 1, Article XV, Texas
Constitution, and Chapter 665, Government Code; now, therefore, be
it
RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 81st Texas
Legislature adopt the following procedures to consider the
impeachment of Judge Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge of the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals, for gross neglect of duty and conducting
her official duties with willful disregard for human life:
SECTION 1. SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON IMPEACHMENT. The House
Special Committee on Impeachment composed of seven members of the
House of Representatives shall be appointed by the Speaker of the
House. The Speaker shall designate a committee member to serve as
chair of the committee and a committee member to serve as vice-chair
of the committee.
SECTION 2. INVESTIGATION; ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT. (a)
The committee shall conduct an investigation to consider whether to
recommend that under Section 1, Article XV, Texas Constitution, and
Chapter 665, Government Code, the House of Representatives adopt
and present to the Texas Senate articles of impeachment against
Judge Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals, for gross neglect of duty and conducting her official
duties with willful disregard for human life in connection with her
actions on the evening of September 25, 2007, including her
apparent irresponsible refusal to abide by the prior practice of
the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in order to receive the appeal
of Michael Richard, which conduct may have resulted in Mr.
Richard's deprivation of life without due process of law as
guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United
States and Section 19, Article I, Texas Constitution, by means of a
potentially unlawful execution by lethal injection, and in the
embarrassment of the State of Texas in a manner that casts severe
doubt on the impartiality of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and
the entire criminal justice system of this state.
(b) The committee shall submit a report of its findings to
the Speaker of the House and the full House of Representatives as
soon as reasonably practicable, but not later than the 90th day
after the date the committee is appointed. If the committee
recommends impeachment of the judge, the report shall contain a
draft of articles of impeachment.
SECTION 3. POWERS; ADMINISTRATION. (a) The committee
shall meet at the call of the chair and may meet in executive
session if approved by a majority of the members of the committee.
(b) The committee has all the powers granted to a standing
committee under the Rules of the House of Representatives and under
Subchapter B, Chapter 301, Government Code, including the power to
issue process to procure testimony or other evidence.
(c) On the request of the committee, the House of
Representatives or the Texas Legislative Council shall provide the
staff necessary to assist the committee in carrying out its duties.
(d) The operating expenses of the committee shall be paid as
determined by the Committee on House Administration.
SECTION 4. EXPIRATION. This resolution expires and the
House Special Committee on Impeachment ceases to exist on January
1, 2010.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Senator Hinojosa Files Bill to Eliminate LWOP for Juvenile Offenders

Senator Hinojosa yesterday filed SB 839, which would change the punishment for capital crimes for juvenile offenders from Life Without Parole to Life with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

The Texas Observer reported he was going to do this a few weeks ago.

One of the Legislature’s leading voices on criminal justice issues has decided that teenage killers too young to face execution should also be exempt from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“To me it’s a matter of fairness and consistency,” said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “If the U.S. Supreme Court said to Texas and all the other states, ‘You cannot give these juvenile offenders the death penalty’ [which the Supreme Court did in 2005], then I believe the state of Texas should not be sending them to prison for life without parole.”

Hinojosa, a long-serving lawmaker who sits on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee (and led the House Corrections Committee during his final years as an eight-term state representative), plans to introduce legislation this session that would cap sentences for youthful offenders convicted of capital murder at life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years behind bars.

Such a sentence would be in line with non–capital punishment death sentences handed down before the 2005 Legislature’s enactment of the life-without-parole law. Hinojosa says he decided to push for the new legislation after reading a recent article in the Observer examining the effects of the law (“The Life Penalty,” Nov. 28, 2008).

That law draws no distinction between offenders who commit capital murder before turning 18 and those who kill as adults.

“I think, for someone so young, there is a chance to rehabilitate their lives,” Hinojosa said.

Four under-18 offenders are now serving life-without-parole sentences in Texas. All were sentenced before the 2007 Legislature required the state’s district courts to report demographic information on capital murder cases to the state Office of Court Administration.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

431st Person Executed Today in Texas Since 1982

Today Texas executed fifty-one-year-old Johnny Ray Johnson, who was pronounced dead at 6:19 p.m.

Johnson was the 192nd person executed since Rick Perry assumed the office of governor of Texas in December 2000. Overall, 431 people have been executed in Texas since 1982. There were zero executions in Texas between 1964 and 1982. Virginia, with 102 executions, comes in a distant second to Texas in number of executions.

The Houston Chronicle has the details.

There are four executions scheduled in Texas in March, beginning with Willie Earl Pondexter on March 3.

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House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee - 8 Ds, 3 Rs

Chair Pete Gallego - D (Voted yes for a moratorium in 2001)

Vice Chair Wayne Christian - R

Robert Miklos - D

Joseph Moody - D

Paula Pierson - D

Allen Fletcher - R

Terri Hodge - D

Carol Kent - D

Debbie Riddle - R

Allen Vaught - D

Hubert Vo - D

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Senator to Push for Banning LWOP Sentences for Juvenile Offenders

The Texas Observer reported this a few weeks ago.

One of the Legislature’s leading voices on criminal justice issues has decided that teenage killers too young to face execution should also be exempt from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“To me it’s a matter of fairness and consistency,” said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “If the U.S. Supreme Court said to Texas and all the other states, ‘You cannot give these juvenile offenders the death penalty’ [which the Supreme Court did in 2005], then I believe the state of Texas should not be sending them to prison for life without parole.”

Hinojosa, a long-serving lawmaker who sits on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee (and led the House Corrections Committee during his final years as an eight-term state representative), plans to introduce legislation this session that would cap sentences for youthful offenders convicted of capital murder at life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years behind bars.

Such a sentence would be in line with non–capital punishment death sentences handed down before the 2005 Legislature’s enactment of the life-without-parole law. Hinojosa says he decided to push for the new legislation after reading a recent article in the Observer examining the effects of the law (“The Life Penalty,” Nov. 28, 2008).

That law draws no distinction between offenders who commit capital murder before turning 18 and those who kill as adults.

“I think, for someone so young, there is a chance to rehabilitate their lives,” Hinojosa said.

Four under-18 offenders are now serving life-without-parole sentences in Texas. All were sentenced before the 2007 Legislature required the state’s district courts to report demographic information on capital murder cases to the state Office of Court Administration.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Nominations Open for 2009 Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award

Students Against the Death Penalty is accepting nominations for the 2009 Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award. The Award is presented each year to a young person, or persons, under the age of 25 with a deep commitment to fighting the death penalty and a proven ability to transform this commitment into effective action. The recipients should have demonstrated leadership ability, creativity, and integrity.

Nominations for the Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award may be submitted at any time by sending an email to hooman(at)texasabolition.org describing in 500 worlds or less why this person merits the Youth Abolitionist of the Year Award. The deadline to submit nominations is March 1, 2009. Finalists might be asked to submit further supporting documents (letters of recommendation, articles by or about the candidate, etc.) Anyone may nominate a candidate, including members of the general public.

The winner will be announced at the 2009 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, March 16-20, 2009.

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The Eye & Tooth Project! How can citizens lobby more effectively for abolition of the death penalty in Texas?

People who attend this project could put what they learn into action on Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty on March 24.

The Eye & Tooth Project!

With support from Amnesty International--Houston / Local Group #23

And performance space offered by Rude Mechs and The Off Center

How can citizens lobby more effectively for abolition of the death penalty in Texas?

How can we hone our ability to dialogue with multiple audiences on the injustice of
capital punishment, particularly when others disagree with us?

The Eye & Tooth Project is a Forum Theatre project that invites participants to explore the questions above—and other questions that arise in the process of working toward abolition. We’ll also discuss how we can help build momentum for bills related to the death penalty introduced in the 2009 session of the Texas Legislature.

What is Forum Theatre? Forum Theatre is an interactive theatre form devised by Brazilian artist/activist Augusto Boal for people of all levels of theatre experience (or no theatre experience whatsoever). Facilitators set up a process through which workshop participants create a short play. At the end of the workshop process, participants perform that play for spectators. Audience members are invited to call out “Stop!” at any moment and to step into the action to devise new approaches to the issues at the heart of the play. Audience interventions serve as springboards for dynamic discussion.

We welcome participants with a variety of relationships to this issue, from victims’ families to families of incarcerated persons or individuals on Death Row to lobbying groups and other interested citizens. In short, if you want to be there, we want you there!

Eye & Tooth-Austin has two phases:

Phase 1) An introductory/organizing workshop--THIS SUNDAY!

THIS Sunday, February 8th, 2009, from 1-5pm in Room 1.148 in the Winship Drama
Building (at the NW corner of 23rd and San Jacinto at the University of Texas at
Austin). We’ll introduce some basics of Forum Theatre and discuss directions for the
play we’ll work together to create during the March 6-8 workshop.

Phase 2) Weekend workshop and Forum Theatre performance, March 7 & 8.

Workshop Times: Saturday, March 7, 2009 from 10 am to 7:00 pm (with lunch break)
Sunday, March 8, 2009, from 12 noon to 6 pm (with snack break--we'll provide snacks!)Workshop Location: Room 2.180, Winship Drama Building

(on the NW corner of 23rd and San Jacinto at the University of Texas at Austin)

Public Forum Theatre showing and discussion: Sunday, March 8 at 7:30 pm
Location: The Off Center @ 2211-A Hidalgo(Home of the Rude Mechs)

Email kellybhowe@yahoo.com to sign up for the workshop, so we can send any additional information as the workshop draws closer. Or if you can't do the workshop, just come
join us for the public performance!

Facilitators: Kathleen Juhl (Southwestern University), Kelly Howe (UT-Austin), and
John Sullivan (UT-Medical Branch).

Necessary skills or experience: None. All you need to bring is your willingness to discuss why you’re invested in the issue of capital punishment. The facilitators will bring the rest.

Questions? Contact Kelly Howe at kellybhowe@yahoo.com or 502.558.9745 or Kathleen
Juhl at juhlk@southwestern.edu.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Register for Lobby Day Against the Death Penalty at the Texas Capitol

Tuesday March 24, 2009
Texas State Capitol
11th and Congress
Austin, Texas


Every Texas legislative session since 2003, the anti-death penalty community in Texas has rallied at the Texas capitol to lobby legislators to end the death penalty. The picture above is from Lobby Day 2007. In 2009, there have already been several bills filed that we will be lobbying in favor, including a bill to end the death penalty under the Law of Parties, an abolition bill, a death penalty study commission and moratorium on executions bill, and other issues.

Sponsored by Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty - Austin Chapter, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center, Students Against the Death Penalty, the Abolish the Death Penalty Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party, Texas CURE, and People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER), the Eye & Tooth Project: Forum Theatre on the Death Penalty, Kids Against the Death Penalty. and the Student Prison Caucus. (If your organization would like to participate or be one of the Lobby Day sponsors, contact us at 512 961 6389 or by email to admin@texasmoratorium.org)

Please make plans to be in Austin on Tuesday, March 24, so that we can all raise our voices together against the injustice of the Texas death penalty.

Below is the tentative schedule. We will announce more details and the rooms for all events later. You do not have to attend all events.

10 AM - Noon Lobbying Training Workshop
Location: University of Texas at Austin, Sanchez Building (College of Education) in the Cissy McDaniel Parker Dean's Conference Room
located near Congress Ave and MLK, between University Avenue and the Blanton Museum of Art (just north of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum)
(We can also meet with your group before Lobby Day and train you earlier, then you can meet your legislators in the morning. Contact us if you would like us to come brief you before Lobby Day)

12:00 Break for Lunch on your own (there is a cafeteria in the Capitol)

1 PM Press Conference in the House Speaker's Committee Room 2W.6 in the Capitol

Afternoon: Visiting legislative offices and attending committee hearings (If the committees will be hearing any death penalty related bills, we will know five days before the event.)

5:30 PM Rally on the South Steps of the Capitol (Musical Guest: Aaron Blount)

If you are coming to Lobby Day, you can call the offices of your state senator and state representative and tell them you are coming to Austin on March 24 and would like to meet with someone in their office.

In addition to the Austin training on the morning of Lobby Day, there is a Houston training session on Saturday, March 14, at S.H.A.P.E. Center, at 3903 Almeda, from 2:00 until 4:00 pm.

You can find out who your legislators are by going to the link below and entering your address.

http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/

Enter your home address.

After you click on the “Submit” button, you will see a screen with information for several elected officials. You only need to contact your State Senator and State Representative. Do not contact your U.S. Senators, U.S. Representative or your Board of Education member.

Texas U.S. Senators (DO NOT CONTACT)
U.S. Senators represent the entire state. Texas' current U.S. Senators are Senator John Cornyn and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. See their websites for current contact information.

Texas U.S. Representative (DO NOT CONTACT)

Texas State Senator (THIS IS THE ONE YOU WANT TO CONTACT)

Texas State Representative (THIS IS THE ONE YOU WANT TO CONTACT)

Texas State Board of Education Member (DO NOT CONTACT)

Please only contact your STATE Senator and STATE representative.

Do NOT contact your U.S. Representative or your U.S. Senator (Cornyn and Huthcison).

Only call 512 area code phone numbers followed by a 463 prefix. Again, make sure you are calling a 512-463-xxxx number.

For a list of all Texas State Senators, please visit:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Members/Members.aspx?Chamber=S


For a list of all members of the Texas House Representatives, please visit:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Members/Members.aspx?Chamber=H




Senator Eliot Shapleigh Speaking at 2077 Lobby Day (He starts speaking at second 44 in video)

Kerry Cook speaking at 2007 Lobby Day. Kerry is an innocent person who spent 20 years on Texas Death Row.

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