Here is the text of the order from the Texas Ethics Commission in the matter of Judge Sharon Keller. She was ordered to pay a fine of $100,000 for failing to disclose at least $3.8 million in income and property on two annual financial statements.
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According to the ethics commission ruling, Keller failed to list eight Dallas-area properties on financial disclosure statements required of all elected state officials in 2006 and 2007. Appraisal districts valued six of those properties at almost $2.9 million combined in 2007. One property was valued at $750,000 in 2008, and the other property wasn’t appraised, the commission said.
Keller’s statements also omitted at least $183,000 in outside income, her ownership interest in a Dallas business, 20 certificates of deposit, one money market fund and her participation on five corporate boards and leadership positions, the commission said in an order signed Wednesday but made public Friday.
Keller had revised both reports last year to include the omissions.
The commission gave Keller until Aug. 10 to pay the fine, imposed for violating six sections of the Texas Government Code that regulate what information officeholders must disclose to the public.
Keller, however, will challenge the ruling and the fine, which her lawyer termed “excessive,” by filing a lawsuit in Travis County District Court within the next 30 business days — the established method of appealing ethics commission decisions.
“Judge Keller voluntarily amended her financial disclosures shortly after she was made aware of the matter, and her conduct was not intentional but rather the product of her father’s acquisition and management of properties without any input from the judge,” lawyer Ed Shack said Friday.
Keller’s father is Jack Keller, a Dallas entrepreneur and property owner famous for the Keller’s Drive-in burger joints in Dallas.
News of Keller’s financial form omissions, revealed in March 2009 by The Dallas Morning News, came at a sensitive time for Keller.
A month earlier, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct charged Keller with violating her duty as a judge by refusing to allow an after-hours appeal for death row inmate Michael Richard on Sept. 25, 2007. Richard was executed later that night.
In addition to denying that her actions closed the court to Richard’s legal team, Keller asked the judicial conduct commission to pay for her defense lawyers, arguing that she risked a “financially ruinous legal bill.”
The commission, a 13-member agency that investigates allegations of wrongdoing against all Texas judges, refused.
A month after making the request, Keller amended her disclosure forms to add several million dollars in assets, providing ammunition for her critics, including Texans for Public Justice, a left-of-center watchdog group that filed the ethics commission complaint against the judge.