US Supreme Court

Justices Sympathetic to Inmate Whose BigLaw Counsel Didn't Open Mail, Missed Capital Appeal Deadline


It appears that a convicted murderer who missed a critical death penalty appeal because of his BigLaw counsel’s failure to open the firm’s mail and see that the clock was ticking on a 42-day deadline may be about to catch a break from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Almost all of the nine justices seemed sympathetic during oral argument today to Cory R. Maples’ plight, according to the Associated Press, CNN and the Huffington Post.

When two Sullivan & Cromwell lawyers who had been representing the Alabama inmate pro bono left the firm for other jobs months before the ruling, “They never told the court, and they never told Maples,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said today.

A subsequent Birmingham News story notes that Maples’ local counsel in Alabama did get notice of the deadline, but apparently assumed the New York lawyers leading the case were aware of the situation. A prosecutor alerted Maples to the missed deadline.

The justices had harsh words for lawyers who abandon their clients and a court system that didn’t seem to care, the AP reports. However, they didn’t seem to feel that Maples should pay the price for his counsel’s errors, as clients ordinarily do, since the death penalty is at issue.

A decision is expected within the next six months or so.

Additional coverage:

ABA Journal: “Lawyers on the Docket: Court Term Kicks Off with a Look at Legal Representation”

ABAJournal.com: “Represented by Top BigLaw Counsel, Inmate Facing Death Sentence Hopes to Be Allowed to Appeal”

Updated on Oct. 5 to include information from Birmingham News article.

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