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Appeals Judge Who Closed Court Fights To Keep Job

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A judge nicknamed “Killer Keller” by death penalty opponents after she ordered her court shut while lawyers for a death row inmate tried to file a last-minute appeal is fighting to keep her job in one of several statewide races on the Texas ballot Tuesday.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller faced discipline in 2010 for closing the court at 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, 2007. Lawyers for condemned killer Michael Richard said they were blocked from filing a last-minute appeal, and he was executed that night for the rape and slaying of a Houston-area nurse.

She faces defense attorney Keith Hampton, a Democrat who is trying to win a six-year term on the Court of Criminal Appeals and break the GOP’s hold on the state’s highest court for criminal cases.

Keller, first elected in 1994, faced removal from the bench over the court’s closure. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct instead issued one of the least severe sanctions, a “public warning,” which later was tossed on appeal.

Keller also has appealed a $100,000 fine — the largest in Texas Ethics Commission history — for not disclosing more than $2 million in property and income on her personal financial statements.

In other statewide races:

— The nine-member state Supreme Court has three seats up for election. Republican incumbent Don Willett (Place 2) does not have a Democratic opponent. Nathan Hecht (Place 6), the longest-serving member of the court since his 1998 election, faces opposition from Democratic opponent Michele Petty, a San Antonio attorney, who has made an issue of a $29,000 ethics fine levied against Hecht in 2007 for an illegal campaign contribution. Hecht appealed and the case is still pending.

— Former state District Judge John Devine of Houston, who gained attention for fighting to keep the Ten Commandments on display in his courtroom, is on the Texas Supreme Court ballot in Place 4 after he defeated incumbent Justice David Medina in the primary. Devine does not have a Democratic opponent.

— The state Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, has two seats on the ballot. In the open seat in Place 1, Republican Christi Craddick, an oil and gas attorney and daughter of former House Speaker Tom Craddick, faces Democrat Dale Henry, a licensed petroleum engineer and former Mills County commissioner for the six-year term. Commissioner Barry Smitherman, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry and a former chairman of the Public Utility Commission, is running to fill the rest of his unexpired term in Place 2.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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