During an exchange with judicial conduct commissioner Tom Cunningham, a Houston attorney, Babcock said he did not believe the commission had given Keller a fair hearing. To which Cunningham responded, "Isn't it ironic that's what Mr. Richard was asking?"
That's from a report on yesterday's hearing before the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct which is charged with determining what to do about Sharon Keller.
I could go on (and I have) about Sharon Keller. If you're new to this blawg or the story, she's the Chief Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the avowedly prosecution-friendly judge who faces serious ethics charges and possible removal from office.
She's fighting two cases.
One involves her failure to report on a couple of millions of dollars in assets. She's challenging the $100,000 fine she's been ordered to pay. (And she's hoping not to be criminally charged.) Her defense: Her father, now in his 80s, had acquired the property in her name but never told her.
Yes, that's right. Her defense is that it's all her father's fault.
The second case, the one that gets most of the attention, is for judicial misconduct. That's the one that could get her removed from the bench. It's the one that's been back in the news this week.
The claim, in the simplest terms, is that she shut the courthouse door when she shouldn't have. It's more complicated than that, of course, but that's the guts of it.
Michael Wayne Richard was to be executed on September 25, 2007. That morning, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether Kentucky's lethal injection protocol was constitutional. Richard's lawyers scrambled to file a petition in the Keller's court, but were running late. They asked if the court would stay open. Keller should have referred the question to the Judge in charge of the case. Instead, she said, "No." Since then, she's dissembled.
That, too, is way too simple a description of what happened and what she's charged with. Go back and read about it.
Anyway, there was a hearing. The judge who was specially assigned to hear the ethics case, David Berchelmann, Jr., issued a report which said, roughly, this:
Yes, her behavior was bad, Richard's lawyers acted badly, too. Anyway, although Keller says she'd do it again, that's obviously a lie. And since she wouldn't do it again, and since she's not wholly responsible for what happened and didn't actually violate a technical rule (just an obligation) but merely acted badly, she shouldn't be punished. Besides, she lied when she said she wouldn't do it again, so she's learned her lesson.
I'm not being altogether fair. Berchelmann didn't actually say she "lied." He said, instead, that her claim that she would do the same thing again "couldn't be true." And he only said it once.
In the latest written salvo (here and here, in two parts), Keller took a different attack, she's been victimized by . . . . Aw, let her say it:
This course of events would not seem out of place in the old Soviet bloc, where show trials were not really trials, but were degradation ceremonies staged to depose officials who deviated from party doctrine.
Really, that's what she (OK, her lawyers) wrote.
Anyhow, yesterday was the next step, the hearing before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. John J. "Mike" McKetta, who prosecuted the case against Keller, squared off against Charles "Chip" Babcock (it's not just Texas attorneys who have nicknames; it just seems that way sometimes). I haven't found a transcript, but if press reports are right (here's a link to the fullest, a report by Mary Alice Robbins reproduced at Law.com), Babcock pretty much repeated what was in his last filing. McKetta, didn't say much new, either. But he had a power point.
Scott Henson, who serves us Grits for Breakfast, concludes that whatever the Commission decides, it's likely to be a split vote.
That may be so. It's hard to sanction a judge, especially one who has proved over the years (as Bobcock reminded the Commission) to be a prolific vote-getter. And if the Commission voted to remove her, that would just begin a whole new round of proceedings in the Texas Supreme Court.
Still, Chutzpah Keller has been setting herself up. Grits suggests that she might be losing some of her clout on the court. She seems not to have lost any of her defiance, though. And that makes unlikely what might be the best that can reasonably be hoped: That she'd just take her millions and fade away.