Sharon Keller deserves censure or reprimand
Judge Sharon Keller should have told the court's general counsel back on
Sept. 25, 2007 the scheduled execution date of Michael Wayne Richard to
refer Richard's lawyers to her colleague Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was the
delegated late-duty judge that day and the appropriate person to receive a
late-filed motion pertaining to the execution.
Indeed, that is precisely what Johnson has testified at Keller's trial.
This is not Keller's 1st involvement in a blatant miscarriage of justice.
In the 1990s, Roy Criner was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to
99 years. After trial, DNA evidence was developed showing that the semen
in the victim's body was not Criner's. But Keller wrote an opinion of the
court refusing his request for a new trial.
It was such an obvious injustice that the Texas Board of Pardons and
Paroles subsequently voted unanimously to recommend that Criner be
pardoned. Gov. George W. Bush issued in 2000 one of his few pardons
either as governor or president citing the same evidence that Keller felt
did not even warrant a new trial.
When Keller first ran for the bench, she said she would be a
"pro-prosecution judge." Since the cases she would judge in that job
always have the prosecution as one of the parties, this was a public
admission of a fundamental bias. Presumably it got votes, but Keller saw
nothing wrong with impugning the impartiality of the judicial office in
order to accomplish that goal. Others have compared it to someone running
for family law court as "pro-husband" or "pro-wife."
Keller is not on trial now for the Criner case nor for running as a
pro-prosecution judge but only for her actions with regard to Richard.
The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct subject to a special appeal
process that potentially could reach the Texas Supreme Court has the
power to remove a judge for "engaging in willful and persistent conduct
that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties as
a judge, casting public discredit on the judiciary."
It is a somewhat vague standard. Short of removal, the commission also can
issue an order of public censure, a public reprimand or a private
reprimand, along with other potential sanctions, such as requiring a judge
to take remedial courses relevant to the subject of the wrongdoing.
Virtually all of the judges who have been removed were charged with
multiple and repeated acts of misconduct. I doubt that Keller will be
removed for this one conversation.
She claims she did nothing wrong. Johnson, though, had the more
appropriate response. "It's an execution," she said. Had she known of the
attempt to late-file the brief, she would have done her best to facilitate
I think this is an appropriate case for a public censure or reprimand.
Capital punishment has been abolished in most of the industrialized
countries of the world and in a growing number of U.S. states, most
recently New Mexico. Incredibly, Texas, with less than 10 percent of the
nation's population, accounts for about half of its executions. There is
no evidence that capital punishment deters violent crime. Its only
potential justification is retribution.
Texas already suffers from the ignominy of being the capital punishment
epicenter of the Free World. We should not add to that reputation a
failure to punish a judge whose attitude toward executions is so obviously
(source: Column; Dan S. Boyd is a Dallas trial lawyer and has written and
taught extensively on subjects pertaining to legal ethics—-Dallas