Judge Mary Lou Keel appeared at the Downtown Pachyderm on February 25, 2016, to promote her candidacy for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in our state. This court reviews death penalty cases along with all other criminal appeals and makes decisions on important issues like prosecutorial misconduct.
Judge Keel is the current judge of the 232nd Criminal District Court. In October 2015, Keel impaneled the grand jury that indicted pro-life activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merrick and failed to act against Planned Parenthood.
The indictments have been controversial to say the least and few, if any, questions have been answered. One of the biggest questions – who was on Keel’s grand jury? During Keel’s appearance at the Downtown Pachyderm, I asked her if she would release the names of her grand jurors and she responded that it was illegal to release these names. I found this response curious because, during the 83rd Legislative Session, I successfully campaigned to kill a bill that would make the names of grand jurors secret.
Keel returned to the Downtown Pachyderm on St. Patrick’s Day. Again, I asked Keel about the names of her grand jurors. This time I was ready for her predictably dismissive response. I then asked Keel why she had an order on file with the Harris County District Clerk to protect the names of her grand jurors if it was illegal to release these names. According to Keel’s position, didn’t existing law already protect her position of secrecy? There is only one answer –Keel, running for the top appellate criminal court in Texas, wants to hide the names of her grand jurors.
Listen to Jim Leitner describe the problem of secret grand jurors.
On May 13, 2013, Jim Leitner and I traveled to Austin to lobby the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on SB 834. Jim Leitner is the former First Assistant in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office – the number two in command. He also has experience as a criminal defense attorney and grand juror. Leitner told the legislators that the ability to get the names of grand jurors acts as a deterrent to inappropriate actions by grand jurors. This concept is crucial when grand juries are involved in political cases or those with political implications, such as the Planned Parenthood investigation. Leitner emphasized that our country has never benefited from secret tribunals.
Three different Texas Attorney General opinions have been written on this subject and all three opinions state that no law precludes the release of grand juror names. One opinion is from Governor Greg Abbott and another is from Senator John Cornyn, both former justices on the Texas Supreme Court.
Grand juries are secret tribunals. The evidence presented to grand juries is one-sided as the prosecutors are the only attorneys permitted to attend the sessions. Witnesses enter the grand jury room without counsel by their side. The check and balance to these secret proceedings is the ability to release the names of grand jurors once their term has ended.
At this point, how do we know that the president of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast was not Keel’s grand jury foreman? The only check we have against a political conflict is the ability to see and understand the identities of these grand jurors. The concept of this check and balance is fundamental to our system of justice and is as important as the grand jury itself. It is basic and understood. Now we have a Judge who apparently has something to hide about the make up of her grand juries. What is Mary Lou Keel hiding?
Keel’s candidacy for the Court of Criminal Appeals is a flawed one. Fundamental to an appellate court judge is the recognition of important legal concepts involving grand juries. The concept of checks and balances is crucial to our justice system and our government. Transparency is the key. Keel likes to hide things and this type of thinking is not what we need on the state’s highest criminal court. Please vote for Ray Wheless.