Chuck Herring, an expert in legal malpractice and lawyer discipline, is working with several other lawyers to circulate a petition to file with the Court of Criminal Appeals to request a very modest rule change—to permit e-filing, which would have saved Mr. Richard’s life on September 25. As you may know, Judge Sharon Keller denied his lawyers’ request for a 20-minute extension of time to file his papers, after their computer crashed (and then she concealed her actions from the other judges on the court). If the court had permitted e-filing, his lawyers would have been able to file his papers timely, and he would have received a stay of execution. Instead, he was killed on a day when he should have lived.

If you could sign this petition and return it to Chuck, that would be great. They are trying to get this ready to file by next Wednesday afternoon. They are also trying to get as many signatures as possible, so if you have a way to circulate this in your firm—or have a way to distribute it more broadly—that would be wonderful, too. Some background information below and Chuck’s contact information appear below. Thank you.

You may have seen the extensive press reports concerning the recent actions of Presiding Judge Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In a death-penalty case (Richard), she allegedly refused to permit Mr. Richard’s lawyers to file papers after 5:00 p.m. on the very day when he was scheduled to be executed. The lawyers’ computer had crashed, and they asked for only a twenty minute extension of time to permit the filing–which ordinarily the Court grants routinely in death penalty cases when execution is imminent. On that same day the United States Supreme Court had granted certiorari review on the same point that Mr. Richards’s lawyers attempted to raise on his behalf concerning the constitutionality of lethal injection. Thus, almost certainly a stay of execution would have been granted if Judge Keller had permitted the filing. She also concealed her unilateral ruling from other judges on the Court, some of whom have publicly criticized her conduct. As a result, Mr. Richard was executed at 6:00 p.m.–on a day when he should have lived.

The press has reported that some twenty prominent Texas lawyers–including a former Bar president and various law professors–have filed a judicial disciplinary complaint against Judge Keller. Press coverage and editorials across Texas, the country, and even in other nations, have condemned both Judge Keller’s actions and the Texas system of justice.

The Richard case dramatizes a glaring deficiency in the Court’s procedures: the Court does not permit e-filing (filing by electronic means). Many courts and agencies, of course, permit e-filing. Some require e-filing. If the Court of Criminal Appeals had permitted e-filing in the Richard case, his lawyers would have been able to file the papers even by the 5:00 p.m. deadline that Judge Keller unilaterally imposed.

Therefore, to help avoid a recurrence of such a tragic, unnecessary execution, lawyers across Texas are joining together to petition the Court to adopt a rule to permit e-filings in death-penalty cases.

Please take a moment to review, sign, and return the attached petition, so that we can help avoid another similar malfunction of justice–and please circulate this petition to other attorneys who may be willing to sign the petition.

Please mail or email (pdf) completed petitions for delivery by Wednesday, October 24th, to:

Chuck Herring
Herring & Irwin, L.L.P.
1105 W. 12th Street
Austin, Texas 78703

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