Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller should resign or be impeached and removed from office for her conduct regarding the execution of Michael Richard. She closed the court’s office at 5 PM without consulting any of the other judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, even the one other judge who was assigned to handle any late motions in Richard’s case, Judge Cheryl Johnson. To begin her removal from office, someone should file a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
As long as Keller is in office, the people of Texas can not be sure that justice is being done with integrity.
The Chi ruling came as new details emerged about the Texas court’s refusal to stay open past 5 p.m. on Sept. 25 so lawyers could file an appeal on behalf of death row inmate Michael Richard. The Supreme Court had accepted the lethal injection case earlier that day, and Richard’s lawyers argued that the extra time was needed to respond to the new circumstances and to address computer problems that delayed the printing of Richard’s motion.
Richard was executed later than night, and news of the court’s refusal appeared in newspapers, and critical editorials, around the world.
Last week, court personnel declined to say who made the decision to close at 5 p.m.
It was revealed Tuesday that the decision was made by Presiding Judge Sharon Keller without consulting any of the court’s eight other judges or later informing them about the decision – including Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was assigned to handle any late motions in Richard’s case.
Johnson, who learned about the request to stay open past 5 p.m. in an Austin American-Statesman story, said her first reaction to the news was “utter dismay.”
“And I was angry,” she said. “If I’m in charge of the execution, I ought to have known about those things, and I ought to have been asked whether I was willing to stay late and accept those filings.”
Johnson said she would have accepted the brief for consideration by the court. “Sure,” she said. “I mean, this is a death case.”
Judge Cathy Cochran said the Richard case raised troubling questions.
“First off, was justice done in the Richard case? And secondly, will the public perceive that justice was done and agree that justice was done?” Cochran said. “Our courts should be open to always redress a true wrong, and as speedily as possible. That’s what courts exist for.”
At least three judges were working late in the courthouse that evening, and others were available by phone if needed, court personnel said.
None of the judges was informed of Richard’s request by Keller or by the court’s general counsel, Edward Marty, who had consulted with Keller on the request.
Keller defended her actions, saying she was relating the court’s longstanding practice to close on time.
“I got a phone call shortly before 5 and was told that the defendant had asked us to stay open. I asked why, and no reason was given,” Keller said. “And I know that that is not what other people have said, but that’s the truth. They did not tell us they had computer failure.
“And given the late request, and with no reason given, I just said, ‘We close at 5.’ I didn’t really think of it as a decision as much as a statement,” Keller said.
Keilen, whose organization also handled Richard’s appeal, said court clerks were informed about the computer problems.
The clerk’s office, asked whether Keller was told of the malfunction, referred questions to Judge Tom Price, who is in charge of court personnel. Price did not respond, and calls to other judges were not returned Tuesday.