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Presiding Judge Sued Judicial immunity is at issue in a suit filed recently. The widow of executed murderer Michael Richard has sued Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller and unnamed defendants, alleging that Keller prevented the filing of Richard’s motion to stay his execution, resulting in his death. Marsha Richard alleges in her original complaint in Richard v. Sharon Keller, et al., filed Nov. 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in Houston, that Keller ordered the CCA’s clerk not to accept paperwork concerning Michael Richard after 5 p.m. on Sept. 25. The state executed Richard later that day for the 1986 murder of a Hockley woman. Among other things, Marsha Richard alleges in the complaint that Keller denied Michael Richard due process and access to the courts, as guaranteed by Article 1, �13 of the Texas Constitution. She further alleges in the complaint that Keller and the John Doe defendants “acted in concert to deprive Michael Richard of his rights to due process, life and liberty, his day in court, and to be free from arbitrary and capricious acts and unlawful seizure of his person.” As alleged in the complaint, Keller acted without authority when she stopped Michael Richard’s lawyers from filing a motion for stay in the CCA. Alternatively, if Keller has administrative authority to stop an appeal, then an analysis of her qualified immunity is in order. Marsha Richard, who is suing Keller and the John Doe defendants individually and in their official capacities, is seeking punitive damages. U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon is presiding over the suit. Keller declines comment about the suit, saying, “I haven’t seen it yet.” Houston solo Randall Kallinen, who represents Marsha Richard, says Keller ordered the court’s clerk to close the office on Sept. 25. He maintains that when there is a custom of allowing something to happen, such as an after-hours appeal, that action must be allowed in every case. Kallinen notes that other judges on the court were still in their offices and could have acted on the appeal. Kallinen also says that Keller did not act in her judicial function but was acting administratively. “When you do something in your administrative function, you only get qualified immunity,” he says. “Then you’ve got to ask if what happened violated clearly established constitutional rights.” History and Philosophy Craig Watkins has received plenty of good press since he was elected as Dallas County’s first-ever African-American district attorney. Watkins has even caught the attention of the national press for his philosophy of seeking justice instead of mere convictions, embracing exonerations of the wrongly convicted and diversifying the office’s supervising prosecutors. But last week one of the supervising attorneys whose employment was terminated shortly after Watkins took over as DA on Jan. 1 filed suit in U.S. District Court in Dallas against Watkins and the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, claiming he was terminated because of his race. In the Nov. 2 complaint in Rick Jackson v. Craig Watkins, et al., Rick Jackson, a white prosecutor who worked for the office for 17 years and rose to the rank of felony supervisory prosecutor, alleges he was replaced by a less-experienced African-American prosecutor. Jackson, who now works as a Denton County assistant DA, declines to comment about the suit. Matthew Bobo, a partner in Las Colinas’ Broome Bobo who represents Jackson, says Jackson had an impeccable record at the Dallas County DA’s office. “There’s no doubt that when an elected official comes in, he has the ability to bring in his own people,” Bobo says. But “when you terminate people who spent 20 years with the office and replace them with blacks, that’s racial discrimination.” Watkins disagrees. “I knew that historically this office had never had a person of color in an administrative position. In our determination we wanted to make sure that the person we put in the positions were qualified and [agreed] with the philosophy that we were using,” Watkins says. “Unfortunately Rick Jackson didn’t meet that criteria.” Bobo says he plans to file similar suits against Watkins and the Dallas County DA’s office on behalf of other prosecutors who were dismissed by Watkins. Watkins says he dismissed about 10 prosecutors, all of whom were supervisors, after he took office. Race was not a factor in any of those decisions, Watkins says. “That was not the determining factor if we were going to hire or fire someone. It just so happened that the people we decided to hire were of color. And they just fit our philosophy.” Watkins says the better question to ask those who want to file suit is, Why weren’t there people of color in supervisory positions before?

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