[Guest post by DRJ]
I’ve blogged before regarding judicial proceedings against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, also known as the “We Close at 5” Judge. Judge Keller was charged with misconduct by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct after a report that Keller had closed the doors of Texas’ highest criminal court at 5 p.m. as attorneys for Michael Richard, a Texas death row inmate, rushed to file an appeal. Richard was executed later that night.
A trial on the misconduct claim against Judge Keller was held in August 2009, at which time she testified she wouldn’t do anything different if she could do it over again and blamed the incident on the conduct of the defense counsel. Now the trial judge at that hearing has issued a recommendation to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct exonerating Keller:
“Sharon Keller, the state’s highest criminal judge, should not to be removed from office or even reprimanded for her role in a 2007 controversy that resulted in Texas executing an inmate without his final appeal being heard in court, a special judge said.
Though Keller made several questionable decisions on the night inmate Michael Richard was executed, the blame for Richard’s missed appeal lies squarely with his defense lawyers at the Texas Defender Service, or TDS, according to findings by District Judge David Berchelmann Jr.”
Judge Berchelmann found the defense counsel failed to diligently pursue and file Richard’s appeal:
“Berchelmann, however, concluded that TDS lawyers were responsible for “the majority of problems involving the Richard execution” by failing to diligently prepare his final appeal or pursue every option to file it with the Court of Criminal Appeals after 5 p.m.
“TDS has only itself to blame,” he wrote. “(Keller) did not violate any written or unwritten rules or laws.”
The 13-member Texas Judicial Commission will consider Judge Berchelmann’s findings at a public hearing. The Commission can “dismiss the charges, reprimand Keller or recommend she be removed from office.”