I’ve been thinking a lot about the Michael Richards death penalty case. Richard’s attorney’s had computer difficulties and despite notifying the proper authorities, the judge in charge, Judge Sharon ‘Killer’ Keller slammed the door on them and forced the execution to proceed.
There are things that we can do. For years now, there has been a movement slowly brewing against Judge Keller. Lawyers around the state are mobilizing to prevent this type of travesty from ever happening again. The petition to allow electronic filings in capital cases is certainly an important step in the right direction but the problem is larger than that.
Judge Keller’s behavior is a nauseating example of what happens when judges push their own personal beliefs at the expense of the entire justice system. I for one have had my faith in the Texas judicial shaken by the fact that a rogue judge can deny justice to an individual for some undisclosed reason. To say that she “didn’t care” about Richards would be to suggest that Judge Keller was indifferent or apathetic towards his cause. No, Judge Keller DID care- she cared enough to go out of her way to block review for Mr. Richards’ case. Other judges working that afternoon had already vocalized their willingness to stay 30 minutes late on a friday afternoon in an effort to give a man every possible shot at due process.
I can understand the responsibility that judges have to adhere to rules that have been previously established in order to ensure fairness, but this is nothing short of a complete perversion of the concept of justice. Judges are first and foremost entrusted to produce the most fair outcome possible, especially when it comes to a discretionary decision like the one here. Judge Keller wasn’t adhering to any democratically established guidelines for review. She had the discretion (responsibility?) to use her judgement to extend the time for Mr. Richards’ appeal and she chose not to exercise his delegated responsibilities.
Something about this case gives me the chills. Every time I read about it or even see the headline to my post again, I feel helpless on a level that I don’t often experience. Cases like this are an alarming reminder to myself about why I want to go to law school and practice law. Sure, I’ll probably never experience a case as outrageous as this one or work for the public defender on capital cases like this one but hopefully I’ll be able to do a little bit of good.
Question: How common is it to do any form of pro bono work? I’m curious to see how popular it is for lawyers to give back to their communities. Heaven knows they can afford it.