Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, should be suspended from office pending the outcome of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct proceedings against her. She faces a public hearing on June 18, but she should be suspended before the hearing. If she is suspended, the hearing and formal proceedings would continue on schedule but she would be suspended from performing her duties as judge.
She has already been fined $100,000 dollars by the Texas Ethics Commission for 13 violations equivalent to misdemeanors. She may have committed more violations but the statute of limitations has run on some of her past behavior. She may soon face criminal charges, according to a post on Grits for Breakfast.
Rule 15(b) of the Procedural Rules for Removal or Retirement of Judges on the website of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct allows the Commission to request that the Supreme Court of Texas suspend a judge if a sworn complaint is filed.
Keller could also be suspended under Rule 15(a) if Travis County Attorney David Escamilla files criminal charges against her.
RULE 15. SUSPENSION OF A JUDGE
(a) Any judge may be suspended from office with or without pay by the Commission immediately upon being indicted by a state or federal grand jury for a felony offense or charged with a misdemeanor involving official misconduct. However, the suspended judge
has the right to a post-suspension hearing to demonstrate that continued service would not
jeopardize the interests of parties involved in court proceedings over which the judge would
preside nor impair public confidence in the judiciary. A written request for a post-suspension
hearing must be filed with the Commission within 30 days from receipt of the Order of
Suspension. Within 30 days from the receipt of a request, a hearing will be scheduled before
one or more members or the executive director of the Commission as designated by the
Chairman of the Commission. The person or persons designated will report findings and
make recommendations, and within 60 days from the close of the hearing, the Commission
shall notify the judge whether the suspension will be continued, terminated, or modified.
(b) Upon the filing with the Commission of a sworn complaint charging a person holding
such office with willful or persistent violation of rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of
Texas, incompetence in performing the duties of office, willful violation of the Code of
Judicial Conduct, or willful and persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper
performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary or the administration of
justice, the Commission, after giving the person notice and an opportunity to appear and be
heard before the Commission (under Rule 6), may recommend to the Supreme Court the
suspension of such person from office.
It is time for the Commission to recommend that the Texas Supreme Court suspends Sharon Keller until the formal proceedings are complete and the Commission votes to either dismiss the case, issue a public censure, or recommend to the Supreme Court that Keller be permanently removed from office.
Now that she has been fined $100,000, we should expect to see a round of newspaper editorials coming soon saying she should be removed from the bench.
The Commission charged Keller in the Amended Notice of Formal Proceedings with 1) “willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties as presiding judge”, 2) “willful or persistent conduct that casts public discredit on the judiciary or the administration of justice”, 3) “incompetence in the performance of duties of office”.
Those are the exact reasons given in Rule 15b for suspending a judge. The Commission should immediately begin the process to recommend that the Texas Supreme Court suspends Keller. The proceedings against her including the June 18 public hearing will continue, but in the meantime she should not exercise the powers of her office as a judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals.
The other option that could have achieved Keller’s suspension was for the Texas House to vote to impeach her, as Rep Lon Burnam tried to do when he filed a resolution to start that process. If she had been impeached by the House, she would have been automatically suspended pending the outcome of her Senate trial.
Post written by Scott Cobb