Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals
Sharon Keller (Incumbent), David Bridges
TPP recommends Sharon Keller for the following reasons:
Sharon Keller was first elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) in 1994, the first woman ever elected to this court. She was elected Presiding Judge in 2000 and re-elected to that position in 2006 and 2012. Judge Keller has a reputation for outstanding work on the Court of Criminal Appeals where she has proven to be a fair-minded, brilliant lawyer and one of the hardest workers on the court.
One of the principal roles of the CCA is to administer appeals of death penalty cases. The anti-death penalty movement vigilantly seeks opportunities to attack Texas judges who rule on death penalty cases by filing complaints against. In Texas, the focus of these attacks is on the members of the CCA, since death penalty cases go directly from the trial court to the CCA, bypassing the District Courts of Appeal. Judge Keller was the target of such an attack in 2007, when lawyers for a death row inmate claimed they were unable to file a last minute stay hours before he was executed because Judge Keller had closed the court at its normal closing hour. These sensational charges received nation-wide attention and condemnation. However, Judge Keller was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing when it became clear that the complaining lawyers failed to follow long-standing precedent and rules which provided 10 other methods to file appeals after office hours, including hand-delivery to any one of the Court’s 9 judges or contacting the judge who was on-call to receive such last-minute motions.
In 2010, Judge Keller was fined by the State Ethics Commission lapses in her financial disclosure reports. She explained the omissions as oversights not a deliberate attempt to mislead, which appears credible because: 1) the amounts not disclosed came primarily from family assets controlled exclusively by her father; and 2) there has never been any suggestion that Judge Keller gained any benefit from the omissions.
Texas voters in 2012 re-elected Judge Keller with 55% of the vote notwithstanding lingering criticism about the timely closing of the court and her personal financial disclosures.
David Bridges has served on the 5th District Court of Appeals for the last 20 years where, because death penalty cases are appealed directly to the CCA, he would not have been involved in the most important type of cases handled by the CCA. Other than the fact that Justice Bridges has been Board Certified in Criminal Law since 1989 and in Criminal Appellate Law since 2011, we have been unable to find evidence that Justice Bridges displayed exceptional judicial skills in his current position. In fact, in the Dallas Bar Association’s May, 2017 rankings of the justices on the 5th District Court of Appeals who were considered either Excellent or Acceptable, he ranked lowest (70%) of all the 12 justices on that court. From his campaign’s financial reports, it also does not appear Justice Bridges has received much financial support for his campaign. Justice Bridges’ challenge to Judge Keller appears to be opportunistic; based primarily upon a hope that voters will reject Judge Keller due to the issues mentioned above.
Recommendation: Considering the value and leadership she has been providing the CCA, we believe the court would lose a significant asset were Judge Keller not re-elected as Presiding Judge.