in Houston, Texas
State Ethics Commission hits Judge Sharon Keller with $100K fine for disclosure omissions
Friday, Apr 30, 2010, 11:53AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

(UPDATED at 4 p.m. Friday to reflect that the fine set a new record.)

Embattled Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller was fined a record $100,000 by the state Ethics Commission today for failing to disclose interests in millions of dollars in properties and hundreds of thousands more in income including stocks and money market accounts.

The presiding judge for the appeals court, Keller has 30 days from the time she receives the order to appeal the decision, Sorrells said. Edward Shack, attorney for Keller, said Friday that his client intended to appeal.

Keller's is the largest fine ever handed down by the Ethics Commission since Texas voters approved creating the commission in November 1991, according to Tim Sorrells, the commission's general counsel. The previous record fine was $75,000, which had been levied upon Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, who was also ordered to repay more than $41,000 to his own campaign after an investigation of campaign finance irregularities, Sorrells said.

The $100K fine comes as Keller prepares to defend herself again for her handling of a last-minute filing for a postponement of the execution of convicted killer Michael Richard in 2007. In a hearing last August, District Judge David Berchelmann Jr. exonerated but criticized Keller, who had refused to review the execution stay because Richard's lawyers could not be ready before the court's 5 p.m. closing time.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has ordered Keller to appear at a hearing June 18 to address neglect of duty in the case of Richard, who was executed in 2007. Afterward, the commission has several options, including recommending that Keller be removed from office.

Keller has until Aug. 10 to pay one of the stiffest civil penalties meted out in recent memory by the Ethics Commission. The order, posted before 8 a.m. today, says that Keller failed to make known in required reports to the Ethics Commission a broad range of financial activity between 2004 through 2008, most of it in the last two years. The order says Keller filed corrected reports for those years, after formal complaints were filed against her.

Among the findings:

  • Keller failed to report beneficial interests in property valued at $2.9 million in 2007 and $2.4 million the year before.
  • Failed to report ownership of between 100 and 499 shares of stock, money market accounts and certificates of deposit in 2007 and 2008.
  • Failed to disclose nine sources of income totaling at least $121,500 in 2008 and at least $61,500 the year before.
  • Keller failed to disclose at least four executive or board of directors positions in 2007-08, as well as expenses covered by honoraria in those years.
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