‘We Need Courts That Work,’ Says TX CCA Candidate David Schenck

Former Justice David Schenck and Judge Sharon Keller | Image by Tiffany Chartier/The Dallas Express

FAIRVIEW — Former Justice David Schenck did not mince words last week as he shared a table on stage with incumbent Judge Sharon Keller, both of whom are vying to sit on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after this election cycle.

Schenck and Keller attended the Republican Club candidate forum at Heritage Ranch in Fairview on the eve of early voting in the primary election. Joining a packed ballroom of 260 people, Schenck took the opportunity to throw two direct blows at Keller: her inability to complete the upcoming six-year term and her unwillingness to turn in her colleagues for not managing the court efficiently.

Keller is a prominent legal figure in Texas, having served as the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for over two decades. She first assumed office in 2001 and has since been re-elected three times. Keller is the court’s longest-serving presiding judge. Keller’s tenure on the court dates back to 1994 when she was first elected. Over the years, she has gained a reputation for being a tough judge committed to upholding the rule of law.

“We have turned the court around, and it has not been easy,” Keller said during the event, addressing her long-standing career and wealth of experience. “We have a nine-person court. In the court we have now, we help each other and respect each other. We are a well-working court. We have a court that follows the constitution, and I am very proud of the work we have done.”

Despite running for re-election, Keller’s time on the court is limited due to her age. Under the Texas Constitution, individuals aged 75 or older are prohibited from holding a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. As a result, Keller would not be able to complete a six-year term if she were to be re-elected, as she will turn 71 this August.

“My opponent, I commend her for her many years of service, but she cannot serve the term she is running for,” said Schenck in his opening statement at the event.

“I believe that this country is facing a crisis. I believe the state is facing a crisis,” said Schenck. “We need to be promoting public confidence and the fairness of our courts. We need to ensure that people see the court as competent. The public is losing confidence in the judiciary generally due to a lack of stewardship. I think it is time for a change.”

Schenck went on to state that “the lower courts … are facing challenges in terms of getting the work done, particularly in the big cities.”

“Right now, the [Texas Court of Criminal Appeals] is struggling to get its cases decided timely,” he said, noting a 2019 case dealing with felony murder, intoxication, and manslaughter that is still pending.

Schenck further addressed his concerns regarding stewardship and accountability on the court.

“I grade judges of the courts on fairness, competence, and efficiency,” he said. “No court is a law unto itself. You don’t get to say we want to be collegial, so I’m not going to follow the ethics rules. You work for the people, not the other way around.”

Keller responded, “I believe in elected judges. I trust the citizens of Texas to know what they want in a judge. I trust the public. I am a member of the public. I want the judges to be responsible to me and accountable to me. I believe in judicial independence. The judges on our court are accountable to you.”

“We have a judiciary in this state that is not being well led. It is totally unacceptable to put collegiality and fun at work over doing the job,” Schenck said. “The idea that we are going to have criminal cases pending for five or longer years, or we are going to have appeals docketed and lost for decades and kicked down to the lower courts without a solution, is likewise intolerable.”

Keller claimed that Schenck had misunderstood the nature of the job of presiding judge, stating, “It is not about getting along and having a nice place to work. Collegiality is about getting things done. If you don’t have a collegial court, it is counterproductive.”

Schenck stood firm in his conviction that the court needed proper stewardship. “If there is not someone at the helm who is going to grab the lazy and the incompetent by the scruff of the neck and say this is not going to work anymore, we are going to keep getting the same. And if the public loses confidence in our courts, where are they going to go?” asked Schenck. “We need courts that work.”

“The problem in this state and country is not corruption,” added Schenck. “There is a very small number of people who are actually corrupt. The real problem is that 85% or so of the other people are unwilling to confront [the corruption] when it is happening — the laziness, the corruption, the stupidity. We can survive all of that if we just have someone who will stand up and lead.”

“Crime is not being prosecuted,” Schenck said about cases not being decided promptly and efficiently. “It is bad for everyone. People see it, and it undermines the rule of law and people’s confidence in the system, the elections, and the judiciary. I intend to change this to the greatest extent of my ability,” Schenck told The Dallas Express.

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