Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, could be suspended from office according to the Procedural Rules for Removal or Retirement of Judges if Travis County Attorney David Escamilla files misdemeanor charges in connection with Keller's failure to report millions of dollars in income and property to the Texas Ethics Commission. Judge Keller has been assessed a $100,000 fine as a civil penalty by the Texas Ethics Commission, but she should also face criminal charges for failing to disclose in her sworn filings substantial property wealth, income and board positions.Cobb says that:
Keller could be suspended by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct upon the filing of misdemeanor charges. Rule 15(a) of the Procedural Rules for Removal or Retirement of Judges on the website of the SCJC allows the Commission to suspend a judge "charged with a misdemeanor involving official misconduct." The annual personal financial disclosure and reporting requirements are part of most elected officials' duties.
If she is suspended, the hearing and formal proceedings against Keller by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in the separate matter of her actions on the day of the execution of Michael Richard would continue on schedule but she would be suspended from performing her duties as a judge. There is a hearing scheduled in Austin on the SCJC proceedings on June 18.
After being charged by the SCJC in the "we close at 5" incident, Keller claimed that she lacked assets to pay private counsel to fight the allegations that she improperly closed the court to a last-minute death-penalty appeal. She suggested that defending herself would be "financially ruinous" - an argument that sounded less than credible at the time given her $152,500 salary and expensive home in West Austin, but now appears to have been completely dishonest, given the amount of income and property she was not disclosing
Cobb also linked to Grits post from last week in which County Attorney David Escamilla confirmed that he'd ordered two attorneys to review the Ethics Commission finding and recommend whether to bring criminal charges against the Presiding Judge of Texas' highest criminal court.
Of course, just because the Judicial Conduct Commission is allowed to suspend Judge Keller doesn't mean they will. If they do, Gov. Perry will appoint a replacement to finish out her term. If not, at this point I wouldn't expect her to resign.
The ongoing removal proceedings against Keller by the Commission will resume June 18 when it hears oral arguments from Keller and Commission staff attorneys. An attorney I spoke to over the weekend said he expected there would be a packed house for the proceeding, so I may have to show up extra-early for a spot. If need be, I'd probably be willing to camp out the night before in front of the building as though waiting in line for a rock concert!
Last year I asked in a reader poll whether Sharon Keller would run for re-election and if so would she win? A plurality thought she would not be removed from office. But circumstances have changed significantly since then, and the possibility of formal criminal charges could be a game-changer. So I'm going to put up another poll to find out whether readers think she'll resign, be removed from office, decline to run for re-election, or seek a fourth term? In addition, if she runs again, would she win? Let me know your opinions in the poll and reader comments.
UPDATE: A commenter properly clarifies that: "Perry would not have to pick a replacement right away, since being suspended is not the same as being removed. If she is suspended, then she just would not go to work but she would still have a job. The suspension would not be permanent unless the SCJC later votes to recommend her removal and the Supreme Court removes her."