Keith Hampton Endorsed by Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
The Dallas Morning News has endorsed Keith Hampton in his campaign to become a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The CCA's presiding judge is Sharon Keller, who has been issued a "Public Warning" for judicial misconduct. Visit Hampton's website at: http://www.hamptonforjudge.com.
Three seats on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are up for election this year. The Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest criminal court in the state, hearing criminal appeals – including death penalty appeals. Judges serve six-year terms. We are recommending in the only race being contested by both major parties.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has developed a reputation as a court that turns its back on verdicts that need a second or third look.
It's easy to see why. Seven of the nine judges have backgrounds as prosecutors, and the presiding judge once campaigned as "pro-prosecutor." Court-watchers recite a list of marquee cases of failed justice. The court's tilt is a concern, considering that Texas leads the nation in executions and has far more DNA-proven miscarriages of justice than any other state.
The Nov. 2 election for Place 6 on the court is an opportunity for a rebalancing. Austin defense attorney Keith Hampton, running against veteran Judge Michael Keasler, has the legal credentials and a perspective now missing on the court: If elected, he would be the only member to have involvement in a capital murder case from indictment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hampton, 49, a Democrat, has pushed for important legal reforms in Austin as legislative director for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. One effort led to a law giving juries the option of life without parole for murderers. An unsuccessful effort last year would have improved police photo lineups – an overdue reform in light of widespread cases of documented witness misidentification.
If elected, Hampton says, the robe goes on, the "advocacy stops" and the job becomes restrained application of legal precedent.
Likewise, Keasler says judges are bound to precedent, even when they don't like the result. Keasler says he prosecuted 432 jury trials for the Dallas County District Attorney's office before he was elected to a local judgeship in 1980. And he describes himself as on the conservative end of the appeals court.
Keasler concedes that the court has a poor reputation, but he says the quality of its work has improved drastically in recent years, bringing it into "the mainstream" nationally.
Still, in some death penalty cases, the court has appeared more concerned with procedure than the possibility of new information that could affect the outcome. A high-profile example involved murder accomplice Kenneth Foster, who raised claims of new information in 2007 that the court refused to address. (Gov. Rick Perry commuted the death sentence to life based on concerns that Foster was tried jointly with the triggerman).
Keasler has written and taught extensively and has been active in judicial organizations nationwide. He should be respected for his contributions, but this court would benefit now with Hampton sitting in his seat.
Frisco attorney Robert Ravee Virasin, 38, a Libertarian, also is on the ballot.