AUSTIN — A state district judge has ruled that Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, should not be punished for her part in refusing an appeal from a death row inmate in September 2007.
Although defense attorneys for Michael Richard had tried to file an appeal after hours, Keller said the court closed at 5 p.m. Richard was executed that night. But District Judge David Berchelmann Jr. said in a Jan. 20 decision that Richard’s lawyers were to blame for not filing Richard’s appeal in time and that Keller “did not violate any written or unwritten laws.”
The commission that filed the charge against Keller is not bound by Berchelmann’s decision. After considering the judge’s ruling, the commission can dismiss the charges, reprimand Keller or recommend she be removed from office.
Keller’s attorney, Chip Babcock, said he would be surprised if the commission did anything but dismiss the charges after such a resounding decision in his client’s favor. The commission will meet to consider Berchelmann’s decision.
Medina in GOP debate
After the first Republican gubernatorial debate on Jan. 14, long-shot candidate Debra Medina has risen in the polls so much that she has been added to the Jan. 29 debate with Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Medina, the former Wharton County Republican chairwoman who carries a 9 mm pistol with her, crashed though the double-digit polling barrier to win a place on the debate stage in Dallas. Originally, debate sponsor Belo Corp. did not include Medina, which prompted loud outcries from her supporters.
Some observers believe Medina’s growing support could throw the March 2 gubernatorial primary into a runoff. Though she has little chance of winning the primary election, she could prove a spoiler for either Perry or Hutchison.
Perry hit for
President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan slammed Gov. Perry for refusing to apply for up to $700 million in federal grants to help Texas schools. Perry has said Texas will not participate because he doesn’t want to adopt national curriculum standards for English and math.
Texas and Alaska are the only states to refuse to participate in a standard national curriculum. That non-participation would have cost Texas significant points in the competition for $4 billion in education grants.
Perry refused to seek the grants, saying the curriculum standards signal a national takeover of public schools. Duncan said the Obama administration would never require that national standards be mandatory.
Gunshots at Capitol
Some lawmakers are calling for tighter security at the state Capitol after a Houston man fired several shots in the air from the building’s steps.
Fausto Cardenas, 24, was arrested by Texas Department of Public Safety officers as he was trying to reload a pistol. Cardenas had tried unsuccessfully to enter the office of state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. That prompted some lawmakers to ask for metal detectors and other security measures at the Capitol. Gov. Perry dismissed those calls, saying he opposed checkpoints and metal detectors in the building.
Legislative leaders said a working group would be appointed to study security measures at the Capitol. Efforts to ban handguns inside the Capitol have failed, in part because so many lawmakers carry concealed weapons.
UT tuition hike urged
A panel studying tuition at the University of Texas has recommended a 3.95 percent tuition increase for 2010-11 and again for the 2011-12 school year. The higher tuition is necessary to keep UT from cutting staff and programs, according to the panel composed of UT students, faculty and administrators.
Without higher tuition, the school would be forced to trim more than $30 million from its budget over the next two school years. If adopted, tuition and fees would rise to $4,709 in 2010-11 and $4,895 in 2011-12. The report now goes to the UT Board of Regents for consideration.
DMV head named
Edward Serna has been named the first executive director of the new Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
Formerly assistant executive director for support operations at the Texas Department of Transportation, Serna headed the team that shifted motor vehicle services from TxDOT to the new DMV.
The bill creating the new department was signed by Gov. Perry last June, and the agency began operations in November. The DMV oversees vehicle registration and titling, motor carrier authority and enforcement, licensing vehicle dealers and awarding grants to reduce auto theft.