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Judge Keller Trial All Over Except for the Waiting

The attorney for Judge Sharon Keller, the Texas judge accused of misconduct for closing the courthouse doors to a last-minute death-row appeal while she was at home with a repairman, has wrapped up his closing argument and ended the hearings that will help determine whether Keller will remain on the bench as the presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals

Unfortunately, the waiting game now begins.

Keller has five charges of misconduct before the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct (TSCJC) arising out of the execution of Michael Wayne Richard.  On the day Richard was scheduled to be put to death, Keller went home early to meet a repairman.  While she was at home, the court's general counsel called her with an urgent request from Richard's attorneys to keep the clerk's office open past normal office hours so they could file a last-minute appeal.
Keller refused, the attorneys never filed the appeal, and Richard was put to death later that evening.

The misconduct charges accuse Keller of violating her execution-day responsibilities and acting in a way that casts public discredit on the judiciary or the administration of justice.  Keller argues that she simply refused to allow the clerk's office to remain open past normal hours, and that the attorneys could have filed the appeal with the duty judge who remained at the court after the clerk's office had closed. 

This all took place on September 25, 2007.  Keller and her accusers have already been waiting almost two years for the matter to be heard, and now they'll have to wait some more.  Before any final decision is rendered, the judge presiding over the hearing - which is essentially held to create an evidentiary record - will create a report and deliver it to the TSCJC.

That alone will take a few weeks at the minimum, and then the commission will have to deliberate, which could even longer. 

So for the next few weeks or months, both sides of the issue will have to go on not knowing what the resolution of the case will be.

Here's my prediction: Judge Keller will remain on the bench, but the TSCJC will admonish her for her behavior.  While the involvement of the death penalty in this case heightens the shock and outrage factors at her actions, Judge Keller was probably under no obligation to keep the clerk's office open late since a duty judge was on call to receive Richard's appeal. 

The real issue, though - and the one I think the TSCJC will latch onto - is what the heck was Keller doing at home with a repairman when she knew that the state was putting a condemned man to death that day and that, as the head judge of the highest criminal court in the state, she might have to make some kind of important ruling on the matter? 

If the TSCJC is truly concerned with Keller's casting public discredit on the judiciary or the administration of justice, then that irresponsible behavior is what they should focus on.

See Also:
Trial of Texas judge over death-row appeal ends (AP)