AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Two of Texas’ top judges have been able to put off paying huge ethics fines for more than two years, and neither case stands to be resolved before Election Day when both are on the ballot for new six-year terms.
The $100,000 fine in 2010 against Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, and the $29,000 fine levied against state Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht in 2008 rank among the largest in state history.
Both Republicans have appealed the fines and the cases have dragged on the point where court watchdogs and political opponents are asking if state ethics laws are truly a deterrent.
Read more about Judge Sharon Keller’s ethics violations here.
Outside of small circles within the state bar, very few Texans are likely familiar with the nine judges who sit on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - which acts as the Supreme Court for criminal cases in our state. The one exception to this judicial anonymity: Judge Sharon Keller.
Judge Keller made national headlines in 2007 for a reprehensible lack of judgment when she refused to keep the court clerk’s office open past 5 p.m. to allow attorneys to file a stay of execution for the next day in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court accepting a case on the unconstitutionality of lethal injection.
Violating the court’s execution-day procedures, Judge Keller let an execution proceed that should have been delayed. Holding the powers of life and death, Judge Keller seemed to care more about punctuality than due process.
As a result, hundreds of lawyers from around the state filed judicial complaints with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which in 2009 charged Judge Keller with five counts of misconduct and in 2010 issued a public warning to her.
But this is not the only black mark on Judge Keller’s record. She has a history of dismissing legitimate concerns raised by DNA testing and newfound evidence. And the Texas Ethics Commission fined her $100,000 in 2009 for failing to disclose more than $2.8 million in personal holdings.
This newspaper strongly recommends respected attorney Keith Hampton in his campaign for presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
An architect of the state’s DNA laws, Hampton was on the ballot for this court two years ago, and he earned our recommendation then, too, based on his credentials in improving criminal law.
The stakes are higher this year. The post now in question is held by a person who has brought embarrassment to the court. Presiding Judge Sharon Keller made herself and the state caricatures of indifference to justice, on more than one occasion, not just her infamous “we close at 5” comment that closed off a last-minute execution appeal. Voters have the chance to cleanse the court of a stain, and they should.
Hampton, 51, a Democrat, has the confidence of seven former presidents of the State Bar of Texas and 22 former presidents of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, people of both political parties who endorse his candidacy.