Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (that’s the highest court in the state for criminal matters), has been named in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the widow of Michael Wayne Richard. Richard was executed by the state on September 25th, after his lawyers tried unsuccessfully to file a last-minute appeal.
Keller contends that while she ordered the clerk’s office closed promptly at 5 p.m., state law clearly gave attorneys for death row inmate Michael Wayne Richard the power to contact judges on the court directly.
In papers filed in U.S. district court in Austin, Keller said Richard’s lawyers made no attempt to contact any judges on the court, even though three were available Sept. 25, the date of Richard’s execution in 1986 rape and murder of Marguerite Dixon, a Houston-area mother of seven. Keller said the clerk’s office was closed but the court’s building remained open.
Keller has garnered national attention for refusing to extend the court’s closing time prior to Richard’s execution, despite calls from Richard’s attorneys alerting her office they were experiencing computer problems and begging for extra time.
But in a motion to dismiss the suit, Keller said Texas law “provides a clear and unambiguous avenue for litigants to file documents with the (Court of Criminal Appeals) directly through any of its judges, so Richard did not need the CCA clerk’s office to stay open after hours to file his motion.” This is the first time Keller has claimed Richard’s lawyers could have directly gone to other judges on the court. She previously has tried to shift blame to Richard’s lawyers by saying they had all day to file.
Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, called Keller’s argument “shameless” and said “The rules of procedure in the law are supposed to serve justice and here you have a case where a guy’s life is at stake. It’s literally a matter of life or death and to fall back on some off-the-wall assertion, ‘go find a judge and file it that way’ is absurd. It makes a farce of the law.”