Fort Worth Rep. Lon Burnam Goes After "Killer" Judge Keller

Remember "Killer" Keller?: State Representative Lon Burnam knows how to hold a grudge. The Fort Worth Democrat this week filed a resolution in the House calling for the appointment of a commission to investigate whether the House should impeach Sharon Keller, the presiding judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, for something Keller did in 2007—something that didn't involve banking, or the stock market or home foreclosures. It was just a silly matter of life, death and justice.

What has Burnam so steamed is Keller's decision to close the court clerk's office at precisely 5 p.m. on September 25, 2007, shutting off the last avenue of appeal for death row inmate Michael Richard, convicted in 1987 for the murder of a Houston-area woman. On the day Richard was to die, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether death by lethal injection was a constitutional form of punishment. Richard's attorneys hustled to file a last-minute appeal before the court of criminal appeals, hoping to halt Richard's execution at least until the Supreme Court ruled. Because of a computer glitch, the lawyers requested an extra 20 minutes beyond the clerk's closing time to file the paperwork. Keller, ignoring past court practices, rejected the late filing. Richard was executed. Her unusual decision shocked the public and attorneys across the state. Complaints, petitions, letters and all sorts of protests were made. Her action was referred to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which, Burnam points out, has so far done nothing. Maybe they simply forgot about it. There are a lot of news cycles between today and 2007, and really, what's one more death at the hands of the state?

Burnam, God love his pacifist heart, isn't buying that argument. "What's more important than the violation of due process that leads to someone's death?" Burnam, the executive director of the Dallas Peace Center, asked Buzz. (If your answer to that question is, "My 401(k) balance," please move to the back of the class.)

Nevertheless, we asked Burnam what sort of traction he thought his belated resolution might get. (Keller had no comment.) Plenty, he said. He'd even heard from The New York Times' editorial board. Burnam, at least, knows how to maintain his sense of outrage, and he's hoping to pick up some co-sponsors for his resolution if he can get enough media attention. In any event, he's unwilling to forget. "Her attitude is 'I don't give a damn,'" he says of Keller. "And my attitude is 'I do.'"

 
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