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Chief Justice Keller, Judge Berchelmann, and Public Humiliation. Whoa.

When last we wrote about Chief Justice Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, she was down in San Antonio being tried for wrongdoing. That’s right — the top judge in the highest criminal court in this state, on trial.  State District Judge David Berchelmann, setting in Bexar County, Texas, was appointed to hear the evidence and make findings of fact.  These factfindings would then make their way to the State Judicial Commission for final resolution (read that “sentencing phase”).

All that bad, bad “Public Humiliation”

Well, last week Judge Berchelmann issued his ruling and you can read about it online at the Judicial Commission site (or download it as a pdf). And, boy howdy.  Judge Keller wins the round.

According to Judge Berchelmann, “Although Judge Keller’s conduct on that day was not exemplary, she did not engage in conduct so egregious that she should be removed from office, …[and should not receive] …. further reprimand beyond the public humiliation she has surely suffered.”

All those “Unwritten Rules”

Judge Berchelmann writes that Justice Keller did not violate any written or “unwritten” rule of procedure for this high court.  Then he discusses the rotation of the judge on duty for after-hours communications with the Court of Criminal Appeals.  Which we all know is important since they deal with last minute Death Row motions — like the one that caused all this controversy in the first place.  The duty judge business should looks like an “unwritten rule” ….

Read Page 7 of Berchelmann’s Opinion – Waffle, Waffle

It sure looks like Berchelmann found an “unwritten rule” here, too, though he fails to acknowledge it.  On page 7, (in section IV) he’s talking about the “oral tradition” that one justice would be the “point person for anything related to the case.”  Oral tradition, unwritten rule.  Potato, po-tah-toe.

And get this — in the very same paragraph where he’s discussing this “oral tradition” and how Justice Cheryl Johnson had been assigned as the point person for the Richard case, he uses the word “rule” to describe this internal court procedure.  Duoh.

Judge Berchelmann – Opinion or Argument?

Read Berchelmann’s product for yourself, and form your own conclusions.  See if you agree that what you’ve read is not a judicial determination of the facts surrounding these events, but instead a judge’s own argument to the Judicial Commission as to how it should rule.  The “factfinding” found in Section IV on page 7 does not comport with his determination that Justice Keller has done nothing wrong by his own standard of obedience to the “unwritten rules” of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Public Humiliation, Indeed

One thing he’s got right here, and that this circumstance reeks of public humiliation.  Public humiliation on the national front of our state’s criminal justice system, and now our internal attempts to bring our judiciary to task, as well.


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