The Judge Sharon Keller case

Notice one thing missing in the New York Times’s discussion of the ethical complaint against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller? That’s right: any discussion of the underlying merits of the appeal that Keller refused to permit to be filed late. The Supreme Court held in Baze v. Rees that lethal injection was constitutional. Michael Richard, who raped and murdered a mother of seven, had multiple levels of meritless appeals, and this is a complaint that he should have gotten yet another one at the eleventh hour to raise a brand-new attack on his death sentence, and that Judge Keller should have politely informed the lawyers that they were asking permission for a late filing from the wrong judge to pointlessly delay the execution for another year while the Court decided Baze. One hopes that this ethical complaint and related press coverage is looked at as the political attack that it is. See also Beldar’s earlier analysis and follow-up.


  • The problem in this case is that Keller refused to read the appeal. The whole point to the complaint is that the argument was not judged on the merits. Why should the New York Times dismiss the issue “on the merits” when the judge who was actually supposed to make that determination killed the man without bothering to see if there were any merits?

    Prior appeals are irrelevant. The defendant in this case had the legal right to file the particular appeal in question. The judge had him killed without reading the appeal that was filed, because it came in just barely past “quitting time” – in violation of standard practice when execution is imminent. She seized on a procedural matter so breathtakingly trivial, with someone’s life at stake, to deny an opportunity for due process that the defendant was legally entitled to, that it amounts to summary execution. If a mob had dragged him from the jail and lynched him, he would have gotten no less benefit of law than he did from this judge.

    If the appeal actually was meritless in content and substance, then it should have been denied after due consideration. But we’ll never know, because she didn’t give it any consideration at all, and sent him to die just hours later, thus ensuring that he never got the due process and consideration on the merits that he was legally entitled to. It was the equivalent of suppressing evidence. She should not merely be disbarred, but held to trial for obstruction of justice, if not murder.

  • Nope, sorry. Judge Keller is a Neanderthal troglodyte who should not be sitting behind the bench in a judge’s robes. She couldn’t wait to accept an appeal for 45 minutes past “closing time”, one that she had been informed by her colleagues would likely be on the way, when an irrevocable decision on a man’s life hung in the balance? Justice is blind, not stupid. She was negligent in the kindest light and should be removed for it.

  • Yes, failure to discuss the underlying merits of a LOT of legal stuff is a big problem in American journalism — this case included. The reporter makes the easy assumption that it’s valid. Not hard when you’ve got 1) the death penalty involved, which as everyone knows is barbaric and racist and 2) a Texas judge involved, which as everyone know is barbaric and racist. It’s amazing to me how the press can take the world’s most shockingly immoral killers and flip it so that it’s the COURT SYSTEM that’s immoral.

  • Kevin Keith: “The judge had him killed ”

    Yeah, Kevin, you go girl!

  • I remember arguing the death penalty with erudite Ted Frank in usenet, usually in He never saw a death penalty he didn’t like, and that was before the Innocence Project exposed a frightening number innocent people on death row.

    Here in NC because of advances in DNA research, and further reform in post-conviction relief which exposed prosecutorial, defense attorney, and law officer misconduct, we have seen a shocking number of men freed from death row.

    For Judge Keller the righteous outcome would be a formal and sound defrocking. It is not enough that justice is done; justice must also be SEEN to be done, and that cardinal rule she violated with the insouciance of a queen waving her sceptre.