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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Court of Criminal Appeals?

The Court of Criminal Appeals is our state's highest criminal court, our supreme court for criminal cases.  Its has statewide jurisdiction, and its nine judges are elected statewide.

What is the Court's work?

The Court's work consists of three broad categories:  (1) the discretionary review of decisions made by the intermediate appellate courts in criminal cases; (2) death penalty cases; and (3) felony writs and other extraordinary matters.  In terms of numbers of cases, felony writs are the biggest category.

Why are CCA judges called "judges" and not "justices"?

The Texas Constitution specifies that we are eight judges and one presiding judge.  That is distinct from our courts of appeals and the Texas Supreme Court whose officers are justices or chief justices.  

What is a felony writ?

Felony writs are petitions for relief from final felony convictions.  They are collateral attacks on the convictions and usually depend on evidence developed in the post-conviction setting.  Examples include claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, and false evidence.  

Felony writs are filed in the court where the petitioner was convicted.  The judge in the convicting court must review the petition and may recommend that relief be granted or denied.  The Court of Criminal Appeals reviews the record and the trial court's findings and recommendation, if any, and makes an independent decision about whether to grant relief.

What is a direct appeal?

A direct appeal is a review of a criminal matter by an appellate court.  Most direct appeals follow a conviction, but some are interlocutory, meaning that the case is still pending in the trial court while the appeal is taken. 

Did you ever practice before the Court of Criminal Appeals?

Yes.  As an appellate prosecutor for Harris County, I represented the State many times in the Court of Criminal Appeals. 

What is the most serious kind of case you argued in the Court of Criminal Appeals?

Capital murder where the death penalty was assessed by a jury.

What is the most serious kind of case you have presided over as a trial court judge?


Capital murder.


Did you ever preside over a trial where the death penalty was assessed?


Yes, I presided over five cases where the State sought and the jury assessed the death penalty.  I also presided over cases where the State sought but the jury did not assess the death penalty.

What can you tell us about your family?


My husband, Jim Hippard, Jr., is a native Houstonian.  He retired from the practice of law in 2017 and moved to Austin with me.  Our three children are adults pursuing careers in nursing, plumbing, and art.

My parents are Patty and Tom Keel, and they live on Lake Travis.  They raised my five brothers and me in Austin. My brothers are, in descending order, Tom, Thornton, Terry, Patrick, and Chris.  I also have a cousin, John, who is like a brother to me.  I fall in the middle of the sibling lineup.  


How did you develop your Spanish language skills?


I was introduced to Spanish in the first grade at Sacred Heart Elementary School and continued taking classes through college.  As an adult, I have taken classes at the University of Houston and the Bi-lingual Education Institute in Houston.  In 2014, my daughter and I attended a Spanish language school in Santiago, Chile.


I have translated for, and I have also volunteered as interpreter for the Houston Volunteer Lawyer project.  Reading books in Spanish and watching and listening to Spanish-language programs are also good practice.


Why translate for


Cuban dissident bloggers and independent journalists  take enormous personal risks in order to write candidly about Cuba, and they benefit from the wider exposure that offers.  You can read some of my translations here.  

What else do you do in your free time?

I enjoy reading, cooking, gardening, bird watching, snow skiing and playing pickleball.  

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Texas Court of Criminal Appeals resides in the Supreme Court Building next to the Texas Capitol.

Christmas 2014 with the 232nd

Judge Mary Lou Keel's children

Greer, Colleen, and Connor Hippard, Mother's Day 2013

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Sunday brunch 2021

Judge Mary Lou Keel's bird hunting relatives

Bird hunters:  Keel's father, two of her brothers, two of her nephews, and her oldest son, Greer, (second from the right)

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