Professor of Law Monroe H. Freedman was the principal drafter of a Judicial Experts’ Declaration, signed by two dozen ethics experts, that has been filed in the matter of Judge Sharon Keller with the Texas Judicial Conduct Commission. Judge Keller ordered the clerk’s office closed promtly at 5:00p.m. to prevent a late filing of pleadings by lawyers for Michael Richard, who was scheduled for execution that evening. As a result, Mr. Richard was executed a few hours later. In response to the Declaration, Professor Freedman has been threatened by Judge Keller’s lawyer with a defamation action and a perjury prosecution. See below for the article in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
Lawyer; law students here weigh in on Texas judge’s disciplinary case
By John Flynn Rooney
April 21, 2009
A group of ethics experts, including a Chicago lawyer, is calling for the removal of a Texas criminal court judge accused of improperly cutting off appeals for a condemned inmate on the night of his execution.
Five Loyola University School of Law students also worked on the Ethics Experts’ Declaration filed in the matter of Judge Sharon Keller, under the supervision of Robert P. Cummins, who teaches a professionalism class at Loyola.
The students worked with Cummins on an initial draft of the declaration based upon their research efforts, which included looking into the underlying facts in the case, Cummins said Tuesday. The students also performed legal research and participated in conference calls with a number of judicial ethics experts, he added.
The students are Erica Greene, Elizabeth Cebula, Michael Baniak, Christopher Blum and Nicholas Morjal.
In February, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct filed a complaint against Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, that could lead to her removal from office.
Convicted killer Michael Richard was put to death by lethal injection on Sept. 25, 2007, after Keller ordered a clerk to close the court’s office promptly at 5 p.m. Lawyers for Richard had asked that the office stay open an extra 20 minutes to permit a late appeal.
“In brief, our opinion is that Judge Sharon Keller has violated judicial ethics under the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, which includes her obligation to provide litigants due process of law,” states the Ethics Experts’ Declaration submitted by Cummins and 23 other experts in the field of judicial ethics and disciplinary enforcement. “These violations are sufficiently serious to require that Judge Keller be removed from the bench, pursuant to the Texas Constitution.”
Cummins, a former chair of the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, and Monroe H. Freedman, a professor at Hofstra Law School, took the lead in drafting the declaration. The document was shipped to Texas on Monday evening, Cummins said.
Keller has denied engaging in misconduct and sought dismissal of the charges. Keller’s attorney, Charles L. Babcock of Houston, also maintains that the charges are unconstitutional because his client has been denied the right to counsel.
Babcock asserts that Commission of Judicial Conduct and Texas Ethics Commission “are forcing [Keller] to an election; either defend herself pro se or risk a financially ruinous legal bill to defend against these charges, which are without merit.” Keller’s answer was filed with the commission in late March.
But the declaration cites Keller’s “dishonesty in her financial reporting and her dishonesty in her attempt to obtain money from the state.”
The declaration added that “[i]n her financial disclosure statements, Judge Keller repeatedly omitted reference to her ownership interest in several residential and commercial properties that could be valued at close to” $2 million. That information was gleaned from a March 30 article in the Dallas Morning News.
“Apparently, Judge Keller also withheld this information from her lawyer, who said he had not known about her real estate holdings when he made his claims on her behalf,” a footnote in the declaration states.
Babcock was said to be attending a court hearing Tuesday morning and could not be reached for comment.
When asked why the declaration was filed, Cummins replied, “There are people still around that [believe] reporting lawyer and judicial misconduct is an obligation. That is what motivated the folks involved in this declaration to act.”