Chief Texas Judge Reprimanded for Discrediting the Judiciary in Death Penalty Case

Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, received a public warning from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on July 16 for her conduct in barring access to the courts to a death row inmate who was about to be executed in 2007. The Commission said her actions constituted “willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties.” When requested at home to allow a late-appeal filing by death row inmate Michael Richard, Judge Keller responded, “We close at 5.” Richard was executed the same day, the last person to be executed in the country while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of lethal injections. Every other inmate scheduled for execution received a stay until the Supreme Court upheld the execution process in April 2008. The Commission described Keller’s response as “willful or persistent conduct that casts public discredit on the judiciary.”

Judge Keller may appeal the ruling. The Commission could have removed her from office, but instead chose one of the least severe remedies available.

(P. Weber, “Top Texas criminal judge warned but keeps job,” Associated Press, July 17, 2010). See Arbitrariness.