In his long-awaited findings of fact, a San Antonio judge has concluded that Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller’s conduct on the day the state executed Michael Richard “does not warrant removal from office or further reprimand beyond the public humiliation she has surely suffered.” [See the Special Master's Findings of Fact here.]
Judge David Berchelmann Jr. of the 37th District Court, who serves as special master for In Re: The Honorable Sharon Keller, issued his findings today. Berchelmann presided over the August 2009 hearing on the State Commission on Judicial Conduct’s charges against Keller. The judicial conduct commission initiated formal proceedings against Keller in February 2009, stemming from allegations that she made a decision that the CCA clerk’s office would not remain open past 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, 2007, effectively closing the court to Richard’s attorneys, who were trying to file a petition for writ of prohibition and for stay of execution to prevent his execution later that day.
But Berchelmann found that Keller’s conduct did not prevent the Texas Defender Service attorneys, who represented Richard, to be late in the filings, to “forget the other available avenues,” or to fail to have any of its experienced lawyers contact the CCA. According to the findings, “Indeed, although Judge Keller’s actions did not help the situation, the majority of the problems involving the Richard execution were the responsibility of the TDS.”
Berchelmann’s findings go to the judicial conduct commission, which must decide whether to dismiss the charges against Keller, publicly reprimand her, or recommend to the Texas Supreme Court that she be removed from office. Both sides will have an opportunity to object to the findings.
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