The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals–Justice Closes at Five

There is a big ruckus being raised in Austin against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Chief Judge Sharon Keller’s refusal to hear the last-minute appeal of Death Row inmate Michael Richard which was filed 15 minutes late because of computer problems. Four hours later, Richard was executed by lethal injection–the exact method of execution the United States Supreme Court had agreed to review that same day.

“We close at Five,” said Judge Keller.

The furor over her actions continues to rage in Austin. Demonstrators picket her house every day at 5:15 pm, and the Court of Criminal Appeals has a large gathering of protesters every week day. Many judges and hundreds of criminal defense lawyers have spoken out vigorously against her actions. Some of these same lawyers and judges have filed complaints with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct demanding that she be disciplined and removed from the bench. Editorials in the Texas Monthly, Austin American Statesman, and Austin Chronicle have called for her impeachment.

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This is hardly the first time Judge Keller has turned a mean eye on fairness; she is already infamous for ignoring DNA evidence in cases which showed conclusively that the defendant was innocent of the crime for which he spent many years in prison. Some are now calling for her impeachment. I think this is a dim hope; the Texas Legislature must decide on such an issue, and most of these members are “law and order” types who are responsive mostly to the District Attorney and Police lobbies. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see people get involved in the process who have been silent until now.

How did we get this woman? We elected her. And she’s not up for reelection until 2012.