Only infrequently do we get a glimpse into the inner workings of a court. We have been looking at the inner workings of the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest court in Texas for criminal cases, and the inner thinking of Judge Sharon Keller. Now, we have the report of a relatively impartial observer, Judge David Berchelmann, of San Antonio. Judge Berchelmann is a sober, careful judge.
He finds that while Judge Keller’s actions do not bring credit upon the judiciary, he believes that her actions did not rise to the level required to call for serious sanction. He finds her decision to not keep the clerk’s office open to accept a late motion "highly questionable." From one judge to another, it rarely gets more direct than that. In judge-speak, that is pretty critical of her actions. Judge Berchelmann thinks her decision was very poor. I am not a criminal expert. But, I am amazed that she would deliberately, knowingly, prevent an appeal in a death penalty case. The stakes could not be higher. Contrary to what many non-lawyers may think, few judges want to base any decision on a "technicality." Most judges go to great lengths to avoid decisions based on administrative or clerical concerns. One would hope most judges would be focused on justice, not on closing time. Only more so when a man’s life hangs in the balance. Her actions bring great discredit upon her and her office.
The scary thing is if this is what the Court of Criminal Appeals does in a high profile matter like a death penalty case, what are they doing in the less visible cases?