The Judicial Ethics Forum (JEF)

An Academic Discussion of Judicial Ethics, Discipline & Disqualification

Archive for July, 2010

Warning the Public About Judge Keller

Posted by kswisher on Saturday, July, 17, 2010

In a surprising, but just, twist, the Texas Commission of Judicial Conduct  — contrary to the ambivalent findings of its special master — has issued a “public warning” against Presiding Judge Sharon Keller for the time when she let a capital defendant be executed notwithstanding meritorious grounds for a stay (for a more detailed account of her actions, see the earlier post here).  Among other violations, the Commission found that Keller violated Canon 3B(7) (renumbered 3B(8) in the Texas Code), for failing to accord the defendant and his lawyers the right to be heard according to law.  She may appeal.  In addition to this public shaming, this controversy ultimately caused the Texas Ethics Commission (a separate regulatory body) to investigate Keller’s financial disclosure statements, and on finding significant failures to disclosure, it levied a record fine of $100,000 against her.  

Read the public warning here; and read the order imposing the fine here

UPDATE: In yet another twist, a Texas special court of review dismissed the charging document on the ground that the state constitution does not permit the sanction of “public warning,” only “censure” (and recommendations for retirement or removal).  The court did not “express an opinion concerning the merits of the accusations against Judge Keller,” but its disposition effectively precludes the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct from re-charging her.  That disposition makes little sense to me in this context, provided that the re-charging and prosecution were to accord her due process (an issue obviously not addressed or perhaps even ripe).  The local news station has linked to the full opinion here

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Posted in Canon 2, Canon 3, Judicial Ethics Generally | Leave a Comment »

A Court Divided

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Saturday, July, 3, 2010

The growing rift between liberal and conservative justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court has once again caused indecision.  This time, the issue was whether Justice Gableman should be disciplined for the misleading advertisement that his campaign committee aired against former Justice Butler.  Butler had long ago been a public defender, represented a criminal defendant on appeal, won at the court of appeals level, but lost at the supreme court level.  The client then served his time, but regrettably committed another serious offense after he was released from prison.  From these facts, the campaign committee somehow crafted the following television attack ad, which Justice Gableman reviewed and approved: “Louis Butler worked to put criminals on the street. Like Reuben Lee Mitchell, who raped an 11-year-old girl with learning disabilities. Butler found a loophole. Mitchell went on to molest another child.”  [See the full ad here.] 

In short, the three liberal justices found disciplinable conduct in the ad’s misleading speech (opinion, here); the three conservative justices found the ad “distasteful” but not disciplinable (opinion, here).  Now, the judicial conduct authorities do not know what to do with this tie. 

This same three-three split occurred recently in the much-followed case of State v. Allen, in which a criminal defendant moved to disqualify Gableman (in part for the remarks above).  The resulting deadlock meant that the motion to disqualify was effectively denied.  And as a final example, the split essentially caused the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s anomalous Caperton response (or more accurately, nonresponse); see earlier post for details. 

Posted in Judicial Campaigns, Judicial Disqualification & Recusal | 1 Comment »