One thing I learned last week was that no matter how much news is going on, and no matter how much we are dedicated to our technology, sometimes the big stories fail to catch our eye or at least not a lot of my friends are talking about it on Facebook, twitter or other media. Here are two of the bigger legal stories from last week.
First off, the news that the U.S. Supreme Court came down with their decision in the criminal case of Maples v. Thomas. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-63.pdf What did the Supremes have to say in this one? Simply put, in a 7-2 decision, written by Justice Ginsberg, they said that even though normally we don’t allow people who have attorneys to ask for a do-over, this time, we will allow the lower court to consider what we have found in their decision to determine whether or not Mr. Maples gets another bite at the apple. The basis is agency law, not due process or equal protection.
As you may or may not know already, Mr. Maples is a convicted murderer in Alabama, who has been sentenced to death. He sought post conviction relief (PCR) in the case, and had 2 attorneys from big law in NYC who “volunteered” to take his case on pro bono. Now in order to accomplish this task of “volunteering” they (big law) had to hire an attorney admitted to Alabama to assist in the case. This local (small law) attorney agreed to help the NYC attorneys become admitted pro hac vice. He also told them that he could not help any further than to be admitted, which is in violation of Alabama Court Rules, but apparently is something that they don’t really follow anyway.
Well, needless to say, Mr. Maple’s appeal was denied, and he was told by a letter to his lawyers, that he had 42 days to appeal the PCR decision. Meanwhile, after working on the case for 7 months big lawyers got jobs elsewhere. They left big law and oops! Forgot to tell the court, the clerks, or their client that they were leaving!! Further they either did tell their co-workers and big law dropped the ball as well as the lawyers themselves, or big law didn’t know that they were dining the case pro bono. Either way no one picked up the case, and it sat for 9 months! Small lawyer, in the meantime, didn’t know that big law was fumbling the case, and when he got notice of the PCR denial, he ignored it. When notice was received by big law, the mail clerk(s), saw that it was addressed to someone who wasn’t in the firm anymore, so they returned it unopened. Then the clerk back in Alabama received it, and did nothing with it. Meanwhile time for appeal expired.
In the end seven Supremes said because in this extraordinary situation where MR. Maples couldn’t have known about the denial, or the appeal process, or that his lawyers left him, he gets another chance. By the way, the other two, said that procedure is procedure and sorry charlie, but you shouldn’t get another bite. You Loose.
In another arena, environmental law, the Vermont Yankee lawsuit decision was handed down by District Court Judge Murtha. http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/vermont-yankee/ Vermont yankee is the only nuclear power plant in Vermont, and is the only source of power that does not come from another state. Earlier last year, Entergy, the corporation that owns Vermont Yankee, petitioned the NRC to extend the close date of the power plant for 20 years. That was granted, and then sent to the state legislature for approval. Vermont is the only state that requires legislative approval for nuclear relicensing.
In the summer the state senate took up the measure and soundly defeated it, and because of this, the house never acted on the measure. This set up a legal battle that brought the case before the U.S. District Court and Judge Murtha. After holding a 3 day trial in September, last week, Judge Murtha issued a 102 page opinion that in essence, told the state that federal pre-emption rules the argument and that safety is a concernt the the state really was arguing, which is a major concern that the feds get the last say in.
Needless to say all this does is send the issue of shutting Vermont Yankee down to the Vermont’s Public Safety Board for the final say. Though there is certain to be an appeal to the 2nd Circuit in the very near future. That is unless the state of Vermont hires the attorneys that represented Mr. Maple in his PCR case.