It was a big week in the fight to hold Keller responsible for her unethical behavior in the “We close at 5” fiasco. The Houston Chronicle wrote two news articles with new information from Keller herself and today Rick Casey comments on the situation in his column.
Casey’s column today “Death judge broke rules” asks if Sharon Keller will be held accountable. The evidence is mounting that Keller broke the rules of her court and so she certainly should be punished. In fact, since her behavior resulted in the death of a person, which can not be reversed, she should be sanctioned with the most severe punishment, including removal from office.
Casey’s column is in response to an earlier article by R.G. Ratcliffe on Dec 13th in the Chronicle (Judge in death case violated policies“) that reported that she admits there was an unwritten policy and she broke it.
Excerpt from Casey’s Sunday column:
Yet in response to public information requests from the Houston Chronicle and at least two lawyers, Keller herself disclosed a contrary policy that was in place on that day, though it wasn’t set down in writing until later.
The policy required that one of the court’s nine judges “be assigned to be in charge of each scheduled execution.”
“Unless the Court has been informed by defense counsel that no pleadings will be filed, or pleadings have been filed and ruled on,” both that judge and the court’s general counsel must be available “until the time of execution has passed.”
In other words, unless the condemned person’s lawyers notified them otherwise, the court’s policy was to assume there would be last-minute appeals and to be ready to receive them.
Part of the policy was carried out. Judge Cheryl Johnson was assigned to be the judge in charge, and made herself available to be contacted.
The policy also required that “all communications regarding the scheduled execution shall first be referred to the assigned judge.” That specifically includes “telephone calls.”
Johnson expressed anger that she was not alerted of the attempt to appeal. By the time she learned of it from media accounts, Richard was dead.
In another article on Dec 14 in the Chronicle “Judge wants wrongful death lawsuit dropped“, reporter Lisa Sandberg reported on a motion by Keller to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit against her. Keller’s new story is that Richard’s lawyers could have contacted any other of the judges on the court and submitted their appeal. But instead of her telling them that they could contact another judge, such as the duty judge, she instructed her clerk to tell them “We close at 5”. That is where she broke the policy. She should have told the clerk to inform the duty judge of their request to submit an appeal.
Excerpt from Sandberg’s article:
But in a motion, Keller said Texas law “provides a clear and unambiguous avenue for litigants to file documents with the (Court of Criminal Appeals) directly through any of its judges, so Richard did not need the CCA clerk’s office to stay open after hours to file his motion.”
This is the first time Keller has claimed Richard’s lawyers could have directly gone to other judges on the court. She previously has tried to shift blame to Richard’s lawyers by saying they had all day to file.