The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct says: "The role of the judiciary is central to American concepts of justice and the rule of law. Intrinsic to all sections of this Code of Judicial Conduct are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system".
The public trust in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has been broken because of Sharon Keller's outrageous behavior.
In order to restore public trust in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas Moratorium Network is planning on filing a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct against Sharon Keller. As reported in the Daily Texan:
"Today we find out Judge Sharon Keller made that decision all by herself and she didn't consult with any of the other judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals," said Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network, a nonprofit, organization in support for suspending executions in Texas.Now, the the Houston Chronicle is reporting that at least one other group may also file a complaint against Keller. Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said he was thinking about filing a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct about Keller.
Cobb said one judge is assigned to handle late appeals on the nights of scheduled executions, and Cheryl Johnson was working the night Richards was executed. Keller didn't call Johnson to ask her if she would accept this late appeal, which resulted in what Cobb called an "unjust" execution.
"We're calling on Judge Sharon Keller to resign her office because when you're a judge you have to act with integrity and with the eye towards justice," Cobb said. "If you're not doing that, then you need to step down."
Cobb said he and the organization will file a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which has the authority to remove a judge from office who is acting without integrity if she does not step down.
"We can't have a presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals that in a life and death case is going to close the office at 5 o'clock and allow someone to be executed - just on her own - without consulting any other judges," Cobb said.
The Houston Chronicle is reporting new details on what happened on the day Keller closed the court at 5 PM.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges were ready to work late the evening Michael Richard was executed, expecting an eleventh-hour appeal that - unbeknownst to them - Presiding Judge Sharon Keller refused to allow to be filed after 5 p.m.Even though there may not be a specific provision that Keller violated in the the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, it does say that the code "is not intended as an exhaustive guide for the conduct of judges. They should also be governed in their judicial and personal conduct by general ethical standards".
That's according to interviews with two judges, one of whom stayed until 7 p.m. on Sept. 25 and one who left early but was available and said others stayed. They expected Richard's lawyers to file an appeal based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision earlier in the day to consider a Kentucky case challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection.
"There were plenty of judges here, and there were plenty of other personnel here," said Judge Cathy Cochran, who had to go home early that day but was available. "A number of judges stayed very late that evening, waiting for a filing from the defense attorney."
Cochran said at the least, a decision should have been made by the full court on whether to accept the appeal: "I would definitely accept anything at any time from someone who was about to be executed."
Judge Paul Womack said, "All I can tell you is that night I stayed at the court until 7 o'clock in case some late filing came in. I was under the impression we might get something. ... It was reasonable to expect an effort would be made with some haste in light of the Supreme Court" action. He added, "It was an important issue. I wanted to be sure to be available in case it was raised."
Keller didn't consult the other judges about taking the appeal after 5 p.m. and said she didn't think she could have reached them. She said, however, that Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was assigned the case, was at the court. Johnson didn't return a telephone call.
Keller voiced no second thoughts more than a week after her decision.
"You're asking me whether something different would have happened if we had stayed open," Keller said, "and I think the question ought to be why didn't they file something on time? They had all day."
David Dow, an attorney in the case who runs the Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston Law Center, called her statement "outrageous," noting that lawyers had to decide legal strategy and then craft a filing about why the case before the U.S. Supreme Court applied to Richard's arguments.
The reason behind the request for the delay was a severe computer problem, Dow said. He said he told the court clerk about the problem. Keller said the lawyers didn't give a reason.
Dow also said the court will not accept a filing by e-mail. If it did, he said, lawyers could have met the 5 p.m. deadline once they beat their computer problem, because printing the filing took extra time. The lawyers needed about another 20 minutes.
Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said he was thinking about filing a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct about Keller.
"When I saw that, I think I would just describe my reaction as 'stunningly unconscionable,' " Harrington said of her refusal. "There has to be some kind of accountability for this."
Seana Willing, executive director of the Texas commission, said she isn't sure Keller could be sanctioned, were a complaint to be filed, because she isn't aware of anything in the Code of Judicial Conduct that would cover her decision to close the clerk's office while a death penalty case was pending. She indicated she looked through the code after learning of the dispute but could find "nothing specific" dealing with it.
Keller, who was re-elected last year to a six-year term, and Cochran also said they couldn't think of a provision that Keller's action would violate. Judge Mike Keasler, noting he teaches judicial ethics, said he knows of no violation related to such an administrative action by the court's presiding judge.
Harrington said, "I think you'd take the totality of it and have to make some sort of argument this was a gross miscarriage of justice."
Lawyers said that without a ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Richard's appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court couldn't consider it. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed another man's execution the same week, after his appeal was denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals.
So using that clause, it should be possible for the commission to act, even though Keller's specific ethical lapse is not listed in the Code of Judicial Conduct.
According to quotes in the Chronicle, it appears that Judges Cochran and Womack believe that Keller was the cause of the problems. If they believe that, then according to the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct they themselves may be ethically obligated to file a complaint against Keller with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The code says, "A judge who receives information clearly establishing that another judge has committed a violation of this Code should take appropriate action. A judge having knowledge that another judge has committed a violation of this Code that raises a substantial question as to the other judge's fitness for office shall inform the State Commission on Judicial Conduct or take other appropriate action."