blogadmin | 20 January, 2010 18:54
The ruling today in the ethics case against Judge Sharon Keller reads like an Orwellian primer for closing ranks.
In a stunning display of Newspeak, a hearing judge declared it mostly the fault of uber-attorney David Dow's team that their client was executed as scheduled in 2007, and not the fault of Texas' most senior criminal court judge, who blocked them from filing a motion to spare his life because it would have been minutes late.
In his decision, District Court Judge Judge David Berchelmann Jr. of San Antonio threw out state Judicial Conduct Commision charges against the still-defiant Keller, finding she did not break any rules -- even unwritten ones.
Berchelmann was the special master for hearings last summer that examined the commission's accusations that Keller's behavior in refusing to remain open late for a motion to stay the execution of Michael Richard "constitutes incompetence in the performance of duties of office" and "casts public discredit on the judiciary."
After taking weeks of testimony under advisement, Berchelmann proved himself a master translator of English to Newspeak, the language from George Orwell's 1984, in which a totalitarian government mandates a new tongue that promotes the expression of approved thoughts and lacks the capacity to communicate forbidden ones.
The strong language of the commission in charging Keller proved no match for Berchelmann's mastery of Newspeak:
Keller's refusal to keep the court open so lawyers could plead for Richard's life was, at worst, a "highly questionable" behavior. The incompetence and discredit the commission alleged are really a mild disagreement between Keller and colleagues, told philosophically they have "valid reasons" if they are "not proud" of her actions.
Such a translation might impress Orwell himself. But the futuristic elucidation by Berchelmann -- a former member of the Court of Criminal Appeals -- cannot alter the subtext that roils like algae beneath the surface: Judges, like cops, are susceptible to closing ranks behind a colleague under fire, even when the criticism is well deserved.
His wet kiss for Keller where a less polite gesture is demanded adds to the landfill-sized heap of evidence that public servants at every phase of the criminal justice system must be scrutinized constantly for evidence they are unethically putting their small, personal interests above the overarching interests of jutice.
Elizabeth Ann Stein produces EXECUTION WATCH on KPFT FM Houston 90.1, HD-2 and www.executionwatch.org. The program, hosted by Ray Hill, airs at 6 p.m. Central Time any day Texas executes someone. It is designed to counteract the virtual news blackout in the mainstream media when prisoners are executed. She has worked as a political reporter for United Press International, police reporter at a daily newspaper, and an editor for PC Week.