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Public Defenders

Anti-Lethal Injection Lawyers Struggle on Way to and in High Court

Posted Jan 8, 2008 6:39 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A public defender who helped prepare the case against lethal injections argued yesterday took “a humble road" to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the headline in the Kentucky Herald-Leader.

Public defender David Barron, who contends the state’s three-drug death cocktail is cruel and unusual punishment, “drove to Washington in an aging Toyota Corolla with temperamental tires and an odometer pushing past 233,000 miles,” the newspaper reports.

He went through some tough financial times as he studied law, according to the article. During his first year at Brooklyn Law School, he couldn’t find an affordable place to live and slept on a bench in front of the New York City courthouse for several days. He speaks in a nasal voice because he was beaten and robbed on the subway and didn’t have the health insurance to get his broken nose fixed.

The lawyer for the Kentucky Department of Corrections, Jeff Middendorf, also saved on travel costs. He was in Washington, D.C., late last week, but flew home for the five days before the argument because of the high cost of hotels.

Barron's case in Baze v. Rees faltered in the Supreme Court yesterday, the New York Times reports. Another lawyer arguing on behalf of two Kentucky inmates had difficulties persuading the justices that defects in the state’s procedure made it unconstitutional.

Many had thought the justices accepted the case because they were sympathetic to arguments for the inmates, the Times says. But as the arguments unfolded, it appeared the votes to hear the case may have come from justices who wanted to quickly dispose of the anti-capital punishment arguments.

Some of the court’s liberal justices suggested sending the case back to the lower courts for more evidence on whether a better alternative is available, the Washington Post reports.

Justice John Paul Stevens suggested a way to save the issue for another day: Find that, in this case, Kentucky is administering the drug cocktail properly.

The court posted transcripts (PDF) of the arguments.

The ABA Journal previewed the issues in a January article.

A hat tip to Legal Blog Watch, which posted the Kentucky story.

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