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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Queen of Qualifications, Mary Lou Keel, Is Ready to Rise

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Larry Meyers must be a strange cat. He was the first Republican of the wave that washed over the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. And then he switched to the Democratic party to run for the Texas Supreme Court, and having not succeeded there, he now defends his seat as the only Democrat not only on his court, but as the only statewide Democrat in Texas.
Mary Lou Keel, presiding judge of Houston's 232nd Judicial District Court, believes that this is her moment.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is an appellate court. Unhappy litigants in criminal court and people claiming that they are illegally imprisoned send papers to the court, and it orders relief or doesn't. Some of the most important work that it does is to write opinions that not only decide cases, but also guide Texas's criminal courts how to do all their cases. These opinions interpret the United States Constitution, the Texas Constitution, opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States, former opinions of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and Texas statutes among many other authorities. And yet, in this most scholarly and intellectual of Texas criminal courts, prospective judges are sometimes not the strongest scholars.
But this doesn't apply to Judge Keel. She started her career as a briefing attorney for the First Court of Appeals in Houston, an intermediate appellate court. Then she spent eight years as a Harris County prosecutor, first as a trial lawyer, than an appellate lawyer. While she was there, she became board certified in criminal law, which puts her in the specialization elite. After that, she's spent the last two decades-- more actually-- on her bench. And she's no ordinary judge, she's the wiretap judge for the Second Administrative Judicial District. For pro bono work, she does Spanish translations to support Cuban dissident journalists and bloggers.
Poor woman, she grew up in Austin and went to undergraduate school and has lived the rest of her life in the Houston area-- backwards from what I would think is luck.
What bad things do her adversaries say about her? That her husband is a Democrat.
She is a clever, tough campaigner, showing on her candidate website that she's done hundreds of appeals while her adversaries' appeal counts are in the single digits, that she's been a felony judge longer than her adversaries, that she's been a specialist longer than the one of her adversaries who's also a specialist. The one thing that seems conspicuously absent is experience as a defense counsel.
She's an introvert, a little awkward with strange reporters, but of everybody I know who's worked with her closely-- they all love her: former Harris County prosecutors Colleen Barnett (now a realtor), Celeste Blackburn (now a Board Certified Criminal Law specialist in Conroe, Texas), and Brett Ligon (elected Montgomery County District Attorney).
Her Republican adversaries are Ray Wheless and Mr. Chris Oldner.

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