The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals now will accept emergency e-mail filings in death penalty cases in an effort to avoid a repeat of the controversial execution of Michael Richard, reports the Houston Chronicle. He was executed Sept. 25 after Presiding Judge Sharon Keller ordered the clerk’s office to close at 5 p.m., even though Richard’s lawyers had asked for more time to file an appeal after having computer problems. Three other judges said theyh could have handled Richard’s appeal had they known about it. More than 300 lawyers asked the court last month to adopt an e-filing system in death cases so that emergency requests for a stay can be filed up to the time of the execution.
The court said its new “instant response system,” which takes effect immediately, will send emergency pleadings in death penalty cases and other extraordinary matters by e-mail to an on-call duty judge and the rest of the court so it can begin considering the matter. The new procedure was described as a “stop-gap” measure until a wide ranging electronic filing system is adopted by all Texas appeals courts in 2010. “This system will supplement the court’s current routine for these emergencies so that nothing will be left to chance or miscommunications,” said a news release from the court. “The court intends to have a fail-safe system.”