U.S. Supreme Court

Federal PDs have 40 days to explain inmate's letter saying he didn't authorize SCOTUS appeal

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court gave federal public defenders in Pennsylvania 40 days to respond to a death-row inmate’s letter saying he never authorized anyone to seek review of his case in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Northampton County district attorney forwarded the letter signed by quadruple murderer Michael Ballard to the U.S. Supreme Court, report the Legal Intelligencer, the Express-Times and the Allentown Morning Call. “It is my most ardent plea that asks now of you that the appeal filed in my behest be rejected summarily,” Ballard wrote. The federal public defenders “are acting against my own wishes to waive my appeals.”

Marc Bookman, the director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, told the Morning Call that he was not Ballard’s attorney and he would not comment on the case.

The Legal Intelligencer says the unusual request is not the first time the federal public defenders’ tactics were questioned. In a concurring opinion, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille accused the office of using “abusive” litigation tactics to create delay and “impede and sabotage the death penalty in Pennsylvania.”

U.S. District Judge John Jones III of the Middle District of Pennsylvania had similar criticism for the office, saying public defenders were “gaming a system and erecting roadblocks” to capital punishment in a different case that has been on the federal docket for 12 years.

Bookman responded to Castille’s criticism in a May 8 letter to the editor, the Legal Intelligencer says. “This ‘gaming’ is nothing more than outstanding lawyering,” he wrote. He referred to more than 100 death sentences that were reversed because of constitutional error rather than delay tactics.

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