As you’ll recall, the Chief Justice for the highest criminal court in the State of Texas was on trial in August 2009 for her alleged bad acts on the day that Michael Richard was executed. 

The same day that the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that Richard’s attorneys argued should have stayed that execution, but whose motion to stay never made it to the court for consideration because of some logistical problems that afternoon.  Logistics that revolved around Justice Keller, who was at home meeting with repairmen that fateful day. 

You’ll remember — when the attorneys got to the high court, the doors were locked.   It was 20 minutes after 5.  When they called the lackey inside, who then called Chief Justice Keller at home for guidance, she said the clerk’s office always closes at 5 pm.  Nevermind that Justices were on stand-by for this motion.  Everyone knew it was coming, including Justice Cheryl Johnson, the justice on call that day for emergency motions.

Michael Richard was executed by lethal injection within hours of Chief Justice Keller’s dismissive phone response. 

So, a trial was had and a state district judge, David Berchelmann, was assigned to act as fact-finder in the trial of Justice Keller,  His findings then go to the state’s Judicial Commission for final disposition (removal, etc.). 

The fact-finding judge issued his report last week.  And he’s apparently so sympathetic with the "public humiliation" that the Chief Justice has already experienced that he thinks she’s suffered enough.  However, if you actually READ his opinion, it’s very curious.

Substantively, he’s arguing that the Chief Justice didn’t violate any rule, and then he explains (on page seven) that the "tradition" or "rule" of having a justice on duty to answer queries like the ones made by Richard’s attorneys may have been ignored.  Like maybe ignoring having Justice Johnson take the call, having Justice Johnson run with the ball, instead of shutting things down with "the clerk’s office closes at five"?

Experienced jurists and experienced criminal defense appellate attorneys know that there are occasions when filings are placed before the court after the standard close of business.  Especially on days when the United States Supreme Court makes rulings that impact the possibility of stay in death penalty cases. 

This fact finding report is shocking.  One can only wonder what the State of Texas will do next. 


For other responses to Judge Berchelmann’s report:

Gamso for the Defense

Grits for Breakfast

Dallas Morning News

Houston Chronicle (great headline here, "Keller is lucky judge wasn’t just like her.")