CBS Evening News with Katie Couric will report on Sharon Keller’s action to close the court’s door.
Keller has said that she didn’t know that Richard’s defense lawyers in Houston were having computer problems when they asked the court for 20 more minutes to deliver their final state appeal to Austin hours before the scheduled execution on Sept. 25. Without a definitive ruling from the state court, the lawyers could not properly appeal to the United States Supreme Court to block the execution.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a complaint against Keller – the first judicial complaint the group has ever filed.
Now lawyers’ groups are filing complaints against Keller left and right. One group is circulating a petition calling for the court to accept electronic filings.
Also Houston Chronicle is reporting that 309 lawyers have filed a petition asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to accept electronic filings.
A petition signed by 309 Texas lawyers — including two former state Supreme Court justices — was filed Wednesday asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to accept electronic filings to avoid a repeat of the controversial events leading to the execution of Michael Richard.
Richard was executed Sept. 25 after Presiding Judge Sharon Keller told the court clerk’s office to close promptly at 5 p.m., cutting off Richard’s appeals for a stay of execution.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the day had agreed to consider whether the chemicals used in lethal injection constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
If Richard’s stay request had made it through legal channels, his execution likely would have been halted until the case was decided. Another Texas inmate had his execution stayed by the Supreme Court on the same grounds as Richard was requesting.
“To help avoid a recurrence of such a tragic, unnecessary execution, petitioners ask the court to adopt a rule to permit e-filing, to facilitate and expedite the filing of papers in death penalty cases,” said the petition by the Texas lawyers.
Such filings, they noted, are allowed in all the federal courts in Texas as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.
Because the Court of Criminal Appeals was meeting in Beaumont on Wednesday, the court’s spokesman, Judge Tom Price, was unavailable for comment.
Among those signing the petition were former state Supreme Court Justices Rose Spector, a Democrat, and Deborah Hankinson, a Republican. The Supreme Court handles civil matters.
Others on the petition included Houston attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Mark Lanier.
Richard, 49, was executed for the rape and shooting death of Marguerite Dixon, a Hockley mother of seven, in 1986.
Twenty lawyers previously filed a complaint against Keller with the Judicial Conduct Commission of Texas, saying her actions deprived Richard of due process and discredited the court. And 130 lawyers from Harris County filed a complaint with the State Bar of Texas.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Greg Abbott responded to criticism that he should have tried to stop the execution.
The criticism came from former Attorney General Jim Mattox and former Gov. Mark White, who both fought to enforce the state’s capital punishment laws during their terms as attorney general.
They said earlier this month that the state’s top lawyer has a duty to halt executions when they appear to violate an inmate’s due process rights. The attorney general handles the state’s case in death penalty appeals.
White said Abbott is an officer of the court and he “should have been obligated to ask for a stay” in the Richard execution. Mattox said the attorney general may lack actual legal authority to stop an execution, but the state prison system will follow an attorney general’s order.
Abbott said there was nothing he could have done.
“It’s up to the courts to make that determination. I don’t have the legal authority to stop an execution. Only the governor and only the courts have that authority and we have to rely upon the courts to exercise that authority,” Abbott said.
Mattox, who witnessed more than 30 executions, said he once ordered an inmate off the execution gurney over prison system protests because he knew the man would receive a stay.
“When the state is all-powerful, the state has got to be cautious in how it uses its power,” Mattox said. “Sometimes you do things not to protect the individual but to protect the system itself.”
Mattox and White are Democrats. White served as attorney general from 1979 to 1982, and Mattox from 1983 to 1990.
Abbott is a Republican who has served as attorney general since December 2002. Prior to that, he was a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.