Friday, September 18, 2009


"On September 25, 2007, at about 4.45pm, Judge Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, received a telephone call from a member of the court’s staff.

He told her that lawyers acting for Michael Richard, a prisoner facing execution that evening, were asking if the court could stay open to accept a petition to stay the sentence. Judge Keller replied: “We close at five.” Richard was executed at 8.20pm. The extraordinary judicial misconduct proceedings heard against Keller last month should result in her dismissal from office."

Full story here.

I was truly lost for words when I saw this, hence the rapid succession of posts. For the record, I am very much opposed to the death penalty. This isn't the place to rehash the debate, but I'm sure that even those in favour of the death penalty can see the problem with the system when this sort of person is allowed to participate.

"Judge Keller gave evidence at the disciplinary hearing that she had left work early to meet a repairman at her home. She explained that the request for the court to stay open late did not fall within the rules: “I think it’s a close call, but I think that’s right,” she said of her decision. “I was doing exactly what I was supposed to do.” She confirmed that she would not act differently if faced with the same circumstances again."

This is the worst sort of administrative legalism, and when the State is imposing the ultimate penalty, should be avoided at all costs.


  1. I disagree. The court was open for business between x & y. If the defendants lawyers want to play a game of brinkmanship and leave things as late as possible then so be it. I can see no reason why the Judge should hang around for a late submission.

    Well done that Judge.

  2. Which makes me wonder why that Nazarene carpenter bloke bothered yakking on about love and compassion all those years ago.

    Of course it's only emotion, but comments like anon's turn my stomach.

  3. I actually typed out a proper reply, but then I realised you must be what I'm told is known as a "troll". Or "arse" as such folk were known before the internet was so common. If these are genuinely held views, please do pick a name, tell us they're genuine views, and we can start a debate (six different people posting as "anonymous" just confuses me).

  4. I was under the impression that there is an established practice to keep the court registry open beyond its opening hours for clemency appeals in death penalty cases. While compassion & sympathy certainly are good points, this established practice would seem to be the most significant argument in favour of 'de-benching' the Judge.

  5. I have been reading about this case on the "Grits for Breakfast" blog who is based in Austin Texas. They have a very good review of the Texas Criminal Justice System. In this case there was an appeal going through about the constitutional legality of the use of lethal injection at the Supreme Court of the US and all other States had a moratorium on death sentences pending the decision of SCOTUS. Judge Keller was not even duty judge on the scheduled day and the duty judge was waiting in the building believing that an appeal was to be filed. The following week during the judges meeting the duty judge for that night expressed their surprise at why no appeal had been filed, but Judge Keller did not mention what had happened. Save to say it is not the only case there have been issues with.

  6. Well even if we had the death penalty, it could never happen here. The case would never have got to that critical point. CPS would have gone for the lowest possible offence, to ensure they get the tick in the prosecution box. Then some Magistrate would have given the offender the easiest possible sentence, in the name of compassion/sentencing guidelines/its not me guv, its the bosses that make the rules. Meanwhile, ordinary, Joe average, member of the public, look at you all and wonder whose side you are on. May it never come home to roost. I would hate any of you to feel what its like to be a victim, when the court system does not give a toss about you.

    How many of us "annonymous" people have to tell you that we are fed up with you and your excuses, before you change somethingand stop treating this as some sort of game, where you get extra points for your liberal attitudes and towing the party line.

  7. I have never, ever, undercharged an offence, and certainly not to get a tick in a box. I find the whole culture of targets in the Criminal Justice System repellant.

    As for sentencing, magistrates do have guidelines, and departing from them is allowed. However, as most "anonymous" people seem to want more custodial sentences, I suggest you write to your MP and ask them to table a motion toughening up the sentencing guidelines, increasing sentences, etc.. Courts apply the law, the legislature creates it.

    I make no excuses; British justice is among the best in the world, and your ignorant whinging about "liberal attitudes" is pitiful. If you want a really strict justice system, may I suggest you emigrate to Saudi Arabia? Or even France, where they can lock you up for up to four years before you'd be charged with an offence?

  8. Point proved. You, of course, know best. We, the public should just doff our caps, say "thankyou sir" and stop our "whinging".

    Write to my MP? About as futile suggestion as I have ever heard.

    Oh well, I'll just continue to watch these recidivist criminals walking around the streets, as if they own the place. Dont you understand that they probably agree with you that we have the best criminal justice system in the world?

  9. I don't "know best". I am very well qualified to appreciate the differences between the criminal justice system in this jurisdiction and those found elsewhere. This isn't about cap-doffing, but understanding basic constitutional principles.

    If you think recidivist criminals are walking around "as if they own the place", when really what they need is a good bit of of neck-stretching, then I'm very sorry, but you need to take it up with politicians, not lawyers and judges.

    Courts apply the law, governments make the law. If you disagree with a law (including any criminal legislation), then you should be directing your ire at the government, and not lawyers / judges. If you think writing to your MP is futile, you are effectively writing off your only chance to participate in democracy beyond casting a vote.

    Again, if you don't feel you need to trouble your government with anything so humble as the views of a citizen, I hear Saudi Arabia is delightful at this time of year.

    Oh, and I'm sure our system does, on occasion, acquit the guilty, but that's a far sight better than condemning the innocent.