Public Defenders

Death Penalty Lawyers Want Withdrawal of Pa. Chief Justice Opinion Calling Them Abusive

Ronald D. Castille, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, lashed out last month at defense lawyers representing death row inmate Mark Spotz, claiming that the mostly federally funded work for the accused murderer was intentionally “abusive,” taking up as much court time and resources as possible.

The filing that sparked Castille’s ire, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, was a 100-page brief filed by four lawyers from the Capital Habeas Unit. The filing, Castille wrote in a concurrence (PDF) with an April 29 opinion (PDF) affirming the denial of Spotz’s petition for collateral relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act, “bordered on the perverse.” He also referred to the defense lawyers’ petition as “The zealous pursuit of what is difficult to view as anything but a political cause: to impede and sabotage the death penalty in Pennsylvania.”

The defense responded May 9, in a motion to withdraw (PDF) Castille’s opinion. The filing notes that Castille is a former Philadelphia district attorney. Also, the filing challenged a “suggestion” from the jurist that the practice of using federal lawyers in state court was a misuse of federal funds, and described Castille’s accusations as “unwarranted” and “unfounded.”

Spotz, convicted of four murders, has been in court more than a decade. Out of the four convictions, three resulted in capital sentences. The 100-page brief that Castille responded to appealed only one of Spotz’s convictions; even a successful appeal would have left Spotz on death row, the Inquirer reported. Pennsylvania has 215 death row inmates, but is has been approximately 30 years since anyone was involuntarily executed there.

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