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Sharon Keller Saga Ends Not With a Bang, But a Whimper

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  • Sharon Keller Saga Ends Not With a Bang, But a Whimper

    Well, we weren’t entirely sure that Sharon Keller, the presiding judge the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, was going to get in big trouble over the events of Sept. 25, 2007.

    But we hardly expected that the special master presiding over the judicial misconduct charges against Keller would blame another party for the unfortunate series of events. Or that the master, San Antonio-based judge David Berchelmann Jr., would express sympathy for Keller.

    But all of that happened earlier Wednesday. Berchelmann ruled that Keller doesn’t deserve to be removed from office or even given “further reprimand beyond the public humiliation she has surely suffered” for her conduct in a death row inmate’s failed effort to file a last-minute appeal before his execution. Click here for Judge Berchelmann’s findings; here for the Houston Chron story; here for the story from the Texas Lawyer; here here and here for earlier posts on the Keller situation.

    The very quick recap: On Sept. 25, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear a case concerning the use of lethal injection in a Kentucky case. That same day, death row inmate Michael Richard was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection.

    Shortly before 5 p.m. that day, Keller took a call from Richard’s lawyers. They said Richard’s attorneys were running late and were asking if they could file after 5 p.m., the normal closing time of the court clerk’s office.

    Keller responded “no.” Berchelmann noted that Keller has asserted she was referring to whether the clerk’s office, not the court as a whole, would close at 5 p.m. Richard’s lawyer did not file a petition, and Richard was executed that evening.

    Berchelmann, in blaming the Texas Defender Service for the bulk of the problem, wrote that it didn’t begin contemplating a lethal injection claim until two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Kentucky case and that it assigned a junior attorney to draft the necessary papers.

    At the same time, Bechelmann saved a few mild barbs for Keller. He said she “should have been more open and helpful” about how the Texas Defender Service could file. “Further, her judgment in not keeping the clerk’s office open past 5:00 to allow the TDS to file was highly questionable,” Berchelmann wrote. “In sum, there is valid reason why many in the legal community are not proud of Judge Keller’s actions.”

    Berchelmann added, however, that Keller “did not violate any written or unwritten rules or laws.”

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