Sharon Keller won election to Texas’ highest criminal court 13 years ago with a promise to be a staunch supporter of the death penalty and a “pro-prosecution” judge, says the Houston Chronicle. Keller has risen to become the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals with a term lasting through 2012. Depending on the point of view, she is either a tough-as-nails jurist or an ideologue who puts the execution of convicted criminals ahead of constitutional due process. A fellow judge accused her of turning the court into a “national laughingstock” after Keller said DNA tests clearing a convicted rapist were not conclusive because the man could have worn a condom. Twenty lawyers have filed a grievance against her with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct because on Sept. 25 she ordered the court clerk’s office to close promptly at 5 p.m., denying death row inmate Michael Richard an opportunity to get a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court. He was executed a little more than three hours later.
“This isn’t a liberal or conservative matter. No matter what your opinion is on the death penalty, you’ve got to have due process,” said Jim Harrington, a civil rights lawyer who filed the complaint. “She’s out of control. It’s frightening to think of the arbitrary power she wields.” Former Presiding Judge Mike McCormick, who led the court in a conservative direction in the 1990s, said Keller has worked hard to preserve the idea that once convicted, the burden is on the defendant to prove they got a bad trial or that they are innocent. “Sharon Keller is one of the brightest individuals I have ever known,” he said. Keller, 54, declined to be interviewed.