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Death Kind Of Prevents Real Justice In This Case

Ruth's picture

In a recent post, I told you about a horrible event in the halls of justice in Texas, when a man was executed because an appeal had been refused for being filed minutes late. Today there is action to make sure that doesn't happen again, and to punish the person responsible for the atrocity.

It may be impossible
to remove the stain that Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, has placed on the state's judiciary. But two lawyer-driven actions might keep it from spreading.

More than 300 members of the Texas bar joined a petition last week asking Judge Keller's court to adopt modern procedures and allow e-mailed filings in death penalty cases. Of course it should.

Electronic filing in life-or-death cases might have avoided Judge Keller's disgraceful decision Sept. 25 in which she refused a condemned man's plea for a 20-minute extension beyond the court's usual 5 p.m. closing. The man, convicted killer Michael Richard, was executed minutes later, despite indications that he had a strong basis for appeal.
Separately, lawyers across the state are seeking to have Judge Keller disciplined as a result of her decision to bar the courthouse door. One of the complaints filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct accurately states that she is a "source of scandal to the citizens of the state." It might add that she makes the nation's leading death penalty state look overeager to carry out its grim business.

While nothing can bring back the man who was executed, at least the actions taken can signify that justice is not going to be ignored by the legal community. A disciplinary action will warn future judges that they can't blithely ignore filings and let the terrible consequences fade away afterwards.

Here I am tempted to go all Woody on you and say what Judge Keller ought to face, but since I believe in our legal system I will just ask for it to act in her case.

(This post also at )

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chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

i have a friend who has been in and out of TX courts the last few years in business disputes. in one case, the judge hadn't even graduated from high school. it was in small town TX, and the good ol boy system that put him on the bench wasn't tooo concerned about his lack of creditentials. my friend, a liberal, lost his case, because the "judge" was a republican just as the other party in the case was.

anecdotal, and i don't live in TX, but nothing i've heard lately makes me think the rule of law is in effect down there.

Ruth's picture
Submitted by Ruth on

Elected judges are pretty inclined to do what will get them the most votes, or campaign contributions if they've bottled up the competition.

But sending some one to be killed is beyond rotten judging, it's scary evil.


Tinfoil Hat Boy's picture
Submitted by Tinfoil Hat Boy on

The Overton window has shifted so far into crazyland that

1) We have an AG nominee talking about the constitutionality of a universally accepted form of torture, and it's all just in the course of business

2) We have an appeals court judge in Texas denying a strong appeal for clemency because it was 20 minutes late, and ho-hum, just another day in Texas

3) We have a frontrunner for the GOP nomination joking:

"Hillary and Obama are kind of debating whether to invite [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Osama bin Laden] to the inauguration or the inaugural ball," he added.

And traditional business outlets are not all up in his business.

4) We have A-list Rightwing talking-heads staking out and smearing 12 year olds, and calling troops who dare to question our misbegotten adventure "phony soldiers", and, well, you get the point.

Maybe it's time for torches, pitchforks and aux duckpits, citoyens!

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

Keller is an elected judge, yep.
Most civil court cases in Texas go before elected judges, yep.
Keller's actions in this instance are not just reprehensible because she's an elected judge.
They're reprehensible because she wasn't the judge "on call" for this case, and because she shut down the appeal despite being made aware of the technical problem (a computer failure) *before* the regular office closing time, *without* notifying the judge who was "on call" for this case -- a judge who has since said publicly that had Keller gone by the normal procedure and informed the appropriate judge (who was planning on staying late anyway because of this case and the possibility of an appeal), the appeal would have been received, reviewed and ruled on in the ordinary way.
Both Keller and the judge disputing the propriety of Keller's behavior are licensed to practice law in Texas (many small-town judges and even a few county judges in Texas, not so). Municipal judges and "peace justices" in Texas are ... ahem ... "entry level" elected civil servants. Win the election, and the state will send you to a school designed to help you get through the job.
Be a lawyer and win the election, you're a little ahead of the game.
But most of these elected judges who haven't even finished high school (and yeah, there are more than a handful) are working the equivalent of traffic-court and title-search.
The best of them will seek help, the most of them will do what they'd've done in their old job (a surprising number of county judges are former law-enforcement, so they go with what the cops say, unless they're PO'd at the local constabulary or the local constabulary's recently made large public fools of themselves; the ones who really scare *me* are the ones who sold insurance for 40 years and then got 'lected so they could quit the damn travel), and a few of them will size up the parties, make up their minds on completely arbitrary bases (I know a couple of peace justices who routinely rule against DFH's just because they're DFHs, and I knew one, years ago, who would determine how to rule based on whether or not you hired a lawyer -- if you could afford an attorney you didn't need the money you were suing for) and rule accordingly. One former peace justice, bless her heart, in my old home territory retired rather than run for her 20th term because she had cataract surgery and couldn't see to drive at night anymore, and it wasn't fair to leave the wrecks in place until daylight. I know the fellow who ran for her job (he's retired from that now, too, after more than 20 years in place). He was a former high school principal, and a pretty sensible sort of guy.
The bottom line is, none of the seven (!) licensed lawyers in that county wanted the job, because it didn't pay enough (county population as a whole is around 12,000 people).

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

It's also routine for judges to hear cases when one of the two sides in the case have a lawyer who made a campaign contribution to the judge.