EDITORIAL: Disclosure: Appeals judge already under fire apparently hid assets
The Lufkin Daily News
Thursday, April 02, 2009

Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is already battling ethics charges because she refused to work past 5 p.m. as attorneys for a condemned man tried to stop his 2007 execution. The lawyers said a computer breakdown had slowed their efforts to file a new appeal and asked for 20 extra minutes. Keller, who had gone home to meet a repairman, when contacted by her clerk, declined to return to work. Inmate Michael Richard was executed a few hours later.

Keller has been roundly criticized, and rightly so, for refusing to stay past closing time to consider Richard’s last-minute appeal. It has been standard procedure in the past for judges to stay late. As a result, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct has initiated proceedings against Keller that could result in her being removed from office.

Keller is considered one of the most avid advocates of using the death penalty. In 1998, she wrote an opinion rejecting a new trial for a mentally retarded man who had been cleared after his conviction of rape and murder charges by DNA evidence. She then told the “Frontline” host, “We can’t give new trials to everyone who establishes, after conviction, that they might be innocent. We have no finality in the criminal justice system, and finality is important.”

Maybe we’re just mixed up, but we think it’s more important that we don’t send innocent people to prison, or worse, to the death chamber, than having “finality.”

Now the Dallas Morning News has reported that Keller failed to disclose nearly $2 million in real estate holdings. Though required by the Texas Ethics Commission, the newspaper reported she didn’t list her ownership in seven residential and commercial properties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — including two homes in her family’s compound.

It would be stretching the imagination to think she just “forgot” about owning two homes together worth about $1 million.

There is a reason the state requires judges and all other state officeholders to disclose their personal finances. The public has a right to know of any potential conflicts of interest. It appears Keller purposely omitted listing these properties. Why isn’t known, since she refuses to comment.

We were already of the opinion that Keller should either resign or be removed from the court. The latest report that she has not disclosed a couple million bucks in assets as required by law only strengthens that view.

Texans deserve better on their court. We urge Keller to save taxpayer money and help restore faith in the state’s highest criminal appeals court by resigning.

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