Sunday, March 1, 2009

Judge Keller isn't as blind as Lady Justice should be!

The following article appeared on, a Local Houston Chronicle news paper and further story details are on Grits For Breakfast.......

It spells out just another of the many ills facing The Lone Star State's legal system. While we try to focus on issues that directly affect the impact of inmates of the TDCJ, there is definitely a direct connection to the Courts.

I am appalled at Judge Keller's actions, and further more the actions of all 9 Judges who participated in the Vote described in this story. Has Judge Keller decided that she can remove the blindfold of Justice in the state of Texas? Or is she serving another political agenda? Do pollsters in her district (s) show a high support for the death penalty?

While duly noted in the Article, it is normal for informal discussions between the Judges to take place, should an informal Vote be sought without the presence of the defense's argument? What if that argument is valid, and merits the appeal be granted? Did the informal vote prejudice the Court before hand? You decide, but in either case, her removal from the Bench should be, and must be done swiftly.

We will never know the truth here I'm afraid, Mr. Richards was executed that night without his Attorney's being allowed to file the motion.

The Story:

Vince Leibowitz, a reporter for a blog called Capitol Annex, reported this week that several judges on the state’s highest court for criminal matters want their chief judge, Sharon Keller, to resign.

Keller has been charged by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with violations of the judicial conduct code in connection with her alleged refusal to keep the court clerk’s office open for a last-minute appeal for a death row inmate, or to inform the judge assigned to take last-minute appeals that the inmate’s lawyers were attempting to file one.

Now Keller must face the equivalent of a public trial and could lose her office.

Leibowitz quotes his source as saying the judges, at least some of whom would have to testify, feared more media scrutiny could hurt their re-election chances.

Their concern is justified. A good portion of the public might be alarmed to know, for example, that the judges acted a bit like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.

“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”

Life rarely imitates art exactly. As usual, it was a little more complicated.

Convicted murderer Michael Wayne Richard was set to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Sept. 25, 2007. That morning the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a case called Baze v. Rees challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection.

According to the formal charges by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, Judge Cathy Cochran at 11:29 a.m. e-mailed to Keller and her other colleagues an Internet link to the Kentucky Supreme Court decision that was being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The document then says that in “early afternoon” the court’s general counsel, Edward Marty, “began drafting a proposed order for the court in anticipation of Mr. Richard’s appeal based on Baze. The Honorable Judge Tom Price drafted a dissenting opinion in anticipation of Mr. Richard’s appeal and circulated the dissent to the other judges.”

What the document omits is that the judges first took an informal vote. I have it on good authority that the tally was 5-4 to turn down Richard’s appeal.

They made up their minds without waiting for the arguments of Richard’s lawyers.

David Dow, the University of Houston Law Center lawyer who headed Richard’s defense team, called the procedure “outrageous.”

“It’s the equivalent of them sticking their fingers in their ears,” he said. The judges may well have felt confident they could anticipate the arguments, and they didn’t want to wait until late in the day to begin taking up the matter.

Robin Norris, an El Paso lawyer who was a staff attorney at the Court of Criminal Appeals for 10 years ending in the mid 1990s, said it was common for judges to discuss such matters informally in such situations. He said he never saw an actual informal vote taken before papers were filed, but didn’t think there was anything “improper” about it, so long as a formal process took place when the papers were received. Norris may be right, but it doesn’t promote the wise, deliberative image a court wishes to project.

Footnote: Dow’s team was not able to submit its appeal for Richard, who was executed that night.

Two days later Dow swapped Carlton Turner’s name for Richard in the documents and asked for a stay of execution on the same grounds — the pending Supreme Court decision.

The Court of Appeals denied it on a 5-4 vote. Price dissented, joined by Judges Paul Womack; Charles Holcomb; and Cheryl Johnson, the judge assigned to handle Richard’s appeal.

The Supreme Court overruled the Court of Appeals and ordered the execution stayed.

But the Supreme Court later upheld lethal injection. Turner, like Richard, has been executed.

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