Judge Keller of the Court of Criminal Appeals is not out of hot water, yet. The Court of Criminal Appeals, of course, is the highest court in Texas for criminal cases. So, her case is significant. See San Antonio Express News report. The special counsel appointed in her case recommended that she suffer some sort of discipline. The Special master, Judge Berchelmann, had previously found her conduct deficient but said Judge Keller did not break any laws. Well, as the special counsel points out, Judge Berchelmann was very critical of her conduct. In the legal world, we are not supposed to violate custom or even unwritten rules without a good reason. Most lawyers would suffer some sort of discipline from the bar association for such conduct. So, the special counsel recommends that she be disciplined simply for violating protocol.
Judge Keller’s latest reaction is concerning. Her lawyer, "Chip" Babcock filed objections to Judge Berchelmann’s report. He referred to Berchelmann’s comments that Judge Keller showed poor judgment in not being more helpful as a public servant. Judge Berchelmann said her failure to keep the clerk’s office open was "highly questionable" and that failure was a reason many in the legal community are not proud of her actions. Mr. Babcock commented that Judge Keller is not part of some "popularity contest among Texas lawyers."
Judge Keller and her lawyer apparently do not "get it." Judge Berchelmann was explaining as respectfully as he could that Judge Keller violated known protocol. She did not violate any statute or law. But, for a lawyer or judge, violating known, expected protocol is also serious. "Discipline" in the legal world can include everything from a private letter of reprimand to suspension of the right to practice law. It is bad enough that she did what she did. It is even worse that she does not appreciate the gravity of her actions. Judge are public servants, after all. More is expected of them,. not less.
As I have discussed many times, the background and experiences of a judge do matter. Judge Keller spent many years in the appellate section of the Harris County District Attorney’s office before becoming a judge. So, she has done little actual litigation in her career. It shows…..