Multi-millionaire Top Judge Claims to be Unable to Hire Defense
Judge discloses $2.4 million previously unreported
© 2009 The Associated Press
May 2, 2009, 11:45AM
AUSTIN, Texas — The top judge on the state's Court of Criminal Appeals has revealed more than $2.4 million in previously undisclosed income and real estate holdings.
Presiding Judge Sharon Keller revealed the assets in an amended report on her personal finances filed this week with the Texas Ethics Commission in Austin .
The Dallas Morning News reports in Saturday's editions that Keller explained that she had omitted the assets from previous disclosures because her father, Dallas landowner and hamburger restaurateur Jack Keller, hadn't told her of them.
The amended filing is aimed to correct previous filings that had drawn ethics and criminal complaints from the nonprofit liberal watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. The group accused Keller of failure to disclose nearly 42 million in commercial and residential real estate holdings.
"If a defense attorney in a death penalty case before Judge Keller's court filed briefs as carelessly as Keller filed her financials, the client in question already would have been executed," said Andrew Wheat, the group's research director.
The Morning News had reported in late March that Keller hadn't complied with legal requirements that she disclose her ownership interest in seven residential and commercial properties in Dallas and Tarrant counties
Keller did not return telephone messages left Saturday by The Associated Press. However, she wrote in her ethics filing that her father, "over a number of years has acquired and managed, without input from me, all of these properties."
Her attorney, Ed Shack, told the newspaper that "we're not saying she is excused. She is at fault. But she wasn't trying to deceive anybody."
Keller already faces misconduct charges from the state Judicial Conduct Commission for not keeping her office open past 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, 2007, the night Michael Wayne Richard was executed. His lawyers have said that prevented them from filing an appeal. Keller has said that attorneys for Richard, who raped and murdered a woman in 1986, had other options to appeal.
Keller has argued that the commission's misconduct charge violates her constitutional right to counsel. She has said the state refuses to allow attorney Chip Babcock to represent her at taxpayer expense and paying for her defense herself would be financially ruinous.
Babcock has said he's willing to represent Keller for almost nothing, but that the ethics commission has not clarified whether that was an ethics violation.