Sunday, September 19, 2010

Monday, Sept 20: Hearing on Sharon Keller's Request to Dismiss Public Reprimand

From the Austin American-Statesman:
The special court of review on Monday will hear Judge Sharon Keller’s request to summarily dismiss a public reprimand from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The hearing on Keller’s motion to dismiss will be at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Texas Supreme Court in downtown Austin. Each side will have up to 45 minutes to argue.
The commission, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct, ruled in July that Keller violated Court of Criminal Appeals procedures when she closed the court clerk’s office at 5 p.m., allowing rapist-murderer Michael Richard to be executed later that night without his final appeal being heard in court.
Keller appealed the rebuke, and the three-judge court of review was created by a random drawing of state appeals court justices to hear her arguments.
Keller’s motion to dismiss asks the special court to void the reprimand and drop all charges, arguing that the commission exceeded its authority, violated the judge’s due process rights and rebuked Keller for violating a court rule that was nothing more than an unwritten protocol.
From the Courier of Montgomery County:
A Conroe appellate judge will sit on a special court of review to hear Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Sharon Keller’s motion to overturn a reprimand for her handling of an execution-day appeal.

Justice Charles Kreger, of the 9th state Court of Appeals, was selected, along with 2nd state Court of Appeals Justice Terrie Livingston and 1st state Court of Appeals Justice Elsa Alcala, to hear Keller’s motion to dismiss a public warning the State Commission on Judicial Conduct gave her July 16.

Livingston will serve as chief justice for the special court of review, according to a letter Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson sent to the three justices Aug. 18. None of the three will receive additional compensation, as mandated under the Texas Government Code.

The hearing is Monday, said Osler McCarthy, staff attorney for public information for the Texas Supreme Court, where the hearing will be held.

“If the special court does not grant (Keller’s motion to dismiss),” McCarthy said, “they will rehear the case in its entirety.”

Keller, presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, sought an overturning of her warning by the state Supreme Court, which denied her request Aug. 16.

Jefferson selected Kreger, Livingston and Alcala “by lot,” under Texas Government Code Section 33.034.

“The chief justice literally pulled their names out of a hat,” McCarthy said.

Kreger did not return calls for comment, and Houston attorney Charles Babcock, who is representing Keller, could not be reached.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct reprimanded Keller for her handling of the last-minute appeals of Death Row inmate Michael Wayne Richard, who was scheduled to die in September 2007 for the 1986 rape and murder of a Harris County nurse at her home.

The day Richard was scheduled to die, his attorneys, who were trying to file a stay-of-execution appeal, told Keller they were having computer problems that were preventing them from delivering their appeal.

She responded, “We close at 5,” and closed the court.

Richard was executed later that evening by lethal injection.

Earlier that same day, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider a Kentucky case claiming lethal injection cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling put a hold on executions for months across the nation, making Richard’s execution the last for sometime.

Keller’s reprimand was one of the least severe sanctions she could receive from the State Commission on Judicial Commission, which found her actions showed “willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties” and that she had cast “public discredit on the judiciary.”

Keller is asking for a removal of the public warning from her record and allegations of judicial misconduct to be dismissed.

Within 60 days after the hearing, according to the Texas Government Code, the special court of review “shall issue a decision as to the proper disposition of the appeal.”

The court’s decision is not appealable, according to the Texas Government Code.

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