AUSTIN(Legal Newsline)-The presiding judge of the highest criminal court in Texas has been charged by the state judicial ethics commission.
Judge Sharon Keller has been charged over her refusal to allow Michael Richard, a death row prisoner, to file an after-hours appeal in 2007.
Keller, a Republican, could be removed from office or reprimanded if she is convicted.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct, in its charging papers, said Keller's "willful and persistent failure" to follow her court's execution-day procedures on Sept. 25, 2007, constituted "incompetence in the performance of duties of office."
Court papers say Richard's lawyers, who were experiencing computer problems on their client's execution day, had asked the court to stay open for an appeal. His defense team wanted to appeal based on that morning's U.S. Supreme Court decision to consider whether death by lethal injection amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
Keller became the first woman to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994. She was elected presiding judge in 2000. Her current term ends in 2012.
Jim Harrington, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said he was pleased the commission has charged the judge.
"We hope this is a first step that will lead to her removal from office," he said. "What Judge Keller did was legally and morally reprehensible and brought the administration of criminal justice in Texas into ill repute across the nation."
Separately, a Texas state legislator, state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, is seeking Keller's impeachment.
House Resolution 480 calls for a special committee to consider impeaching Keller "for gross neglect of duty and conducting her official duties with willful disregard for human life."
From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at firstname.lastname@example.org.