Monday, May 10, 2010

Keller could be removed from office if criminal charges brought

Scott Cobb at Burnt Orange Report analyzes what might happen if Travis County Attorney David Escamilla files criminal charges against Presiding Judge Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for concealing income in required state ethics disclosures.
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."

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I floored that she hasn't resigned yet. it takes a lot of balls to have the stuff hanging over your head as she does, yet still hold position in a court. Amazing how some in power truly believe they are above all others in their quest for absolute corruption.

Anonymous said...

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.

Anonymous said...

There would certainly be some major poetic justice dished out to the liberal, anti-death penalty crowd if Perry were to appoint Bradley to replace Keller. This whole Keller controversy is about nothing more than the liberal media crawling into bed with the defense bar and going after a conservative justice who, admittedly, has not done a good job of sucking up to the "politically correct" crowd. Perhaps if Keller eventually does leave office she will be replaced by someone equally conservative but with a bit more tact. Perhaps someone of the Scalia, Roberts, Alito mold.

On a semi-related note, it's interesting how Grits can be so critical of Keller yet support the equally dogmatic--but opposite extreme--Keith Hampton, who has never met a criminal he believed was guilty or didn't want to hug. Here's to hoping the anti-Obama vote in November pours Hampton out in a landslide!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

4:14, there are only two options in the race. If I don't want Keasler, who would you have me vote for?

I've said before Hampton wouldn't be my first choice but his presence would add balance to a court tilted toward Crazyland.

As for your absurd comment that Keller's just a victim of the liberal media, how did the liberal media force her to conceal her income, corporate board memberships, etc., and claim poverty when trying to get taxpayers to foot the bill for her lawyer? Ask yourself: Would Keller tolerate such dissembling, excuse making and scapegoating of others by defendants before her?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last comment. I was privy to some posts about the accusations flying around about Hamspster and his running for the presidency of the TCDLA while at the same time running for the CCA. Gary Trichter is now running against him in the first contested election in TCDLA in over a decade and the list serve fur is flying.

Anonymous said...

How 'bout cutting and pasting some of that list serve dialog into this string, 7:14? What's the dish?

Anonymous said...

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You are absolutely correct, which is why the TCDLA Board board spent a whole 30-40 minutes considering the issue before reaching a very carefully considered decision to oppose appellate specialization. I have always been glad that they devoted that level of deep consideration to the issue rather than respect the poll of membership where around 80% of those who responded were in favor of appellate specialization or respect the decision of the committee that spent months considering the issues and recommended that TCDLA take no position because there was no clear consensus and it was very devisive. One cannot help but respect that level of attention to detail and well considered decision making. One historical note: the Board was also given the option, consistent with the TCDLA Specialization Committee recommendation (and a position I supported because of the divisiveness of the issue) of taking no position -- an option also affirmatively rejected by the Board. Those who chose to reject the position that would have prevented this from becoming a divisive issue should not now be heard to complain about the divisiveness of the issue.

I am equally sure that there is absolutely no coincidence that, on the one hand, the poll of TCDLA members was drafted by Keith and Cynthia Hampton after Cynthia sent out at least one email (signed as the Assistant Executive Director and General Counsel for TCDLA long before TCDLA took any position) preemptively stating that TCDLA was not in favor of appellate specialization, and on the other hand, Keith's opposition to both the poll results and appellate specialization. When the poll was criticized -- before the results were obtained -- as being biased in the question formation as appearing to be against appellate specialization, those who drafted it defended it as an appropriate way to gauge membership sentiment -- that is until it did not turn out the way the way they expected or wanted and then it became a "statistically [in]valid" way to judge the membership's sentiment.

For what it is worth, I would bet, though I have not asked him, that Gary would favor TCDLA taking a position supported by a clear (or super majority) of TCDLA members who cared enough to vote. That said, from my perspective, it sure seems like the 80 percent vote in favor of appellate specialization had long ago expressed the desires (in a super majority kind of way) of those who cared enough to vote. But, heck, why bother paying attention to the membership's expressed desires when the Board has already so carefully considered the issue and made it clear that a super majority of TCDLA members carries little to no weight in the decision making process. The suggestion that the Board considered what its ignorant members voted for but then rejected it because the members could not have possibly known enough to make an intelligent decision is the precise kind of offensive patronization that compels, in my opinion, a change in TCDLA leadership.

Brandon said...

I have read more Sharon Keller opinions than I care to remember and she is absolutely heartless. We have a court of criminal appeals that in the famous "sleeping lawyer" case, which was a capital murder trial, had the guts to say "at least he was not sleeping during the important parts." EXCUSE ME!!! Sharon Keller should be put in the same prison that she swore she would never vote to let an inmate out of.She has always dissented in actual innocent claims even when DNA proved innocence. In the words of Mark Twain..."she should be shot out of the mouth of a red hot cannon into a pile of manuer and kicked in the seat of the pants by a Texas Mule. I do not know how she sleeps.

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