There will be a press conference at 1:30 PM on Wednesday, Oct 10, in front of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to announce the filing of a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller.
Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network, will be present, along with others.
The Houston Chronicle has reported about how Keller refused to accept a late appeal from a person about to be executed, saying “We close at 5”.
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.
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.”
The Dallas Morning News editorial board has written about Keller’s action:
When the state takes the life of a condemned criminal, it must do so with a sense of sobriety commensurate with its grave responsibility. Hastening the death of a man, even a bad one, because office personnel couldn’t be bothered to bend bureaucratic procedure was a breathtakingly petty act and evinced a relish for death that makes the blood of decent people run cold.