Sharon Keller received a "public warning" from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for refusing to keep her office open past 5 pm on the day Michael Wayne Richard, a death row inmate, was scheduled to die.
"Judge Keller's conduct on September 25, 2007 did not accord Richard access to open courts of the right to be heard according to law," the report says, "[It] constitutes willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties as a judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals." (Download the report to the right.)
A public warning indicates an official finding of judicial misconduct. It falls short of suspension, the most severe penalty the commission can issue. (Find a full description of the Commission's possible sanctions here.) Chip Babcock, Keller's attorney, said the Criminal Court of Appeals judge plans to appeal the decision. If she's successful, the Texas Supreme Court will appoint three appellate justices to act as a special court to review her case.
"Judge Keller is disappointed and shocked that the Commission has completely disregarded the findings of respected trial judge David Berchelmann, who presided over a four-day trial," Babcock said in a statement on behalf of the judge. "It is perhaps not surprising that the same Commission that made the charges finds them now to be valid despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Judge Keller looks forward to challenging this decision in the judicial system."
In April, the beleaguered judge received a record $100,000 fine from the Texas Ethics Commission for failing to disclose sources of income — including stocks, money market accounts, honorariums and interests in real estate appraised at $2.4 million — on her personal financial statements from 2004 to 2008.
She has been the presiding judge of the state's highest criminal court since 2000.
Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht received a public admonishment — a harsher form of sanction than a warning — from the Commission in 2006 for publicly supporting the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was later overturned on appeal. His lawyer? Chip Babcock.