U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS sends inmate's claim he didn’t authorize cert petition to ethics board


The U.S. Supreme Court has forwarded to Pennsylvania lawyer ethics regulators a death-row inmate’s claim that he never authorized anyone to file a cert petition on his behalf.

The Supreme Court referred the claim to the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board for “any investigation or action it finds appropriate,” report the Legal Intelligencer, SCOTUSblog and the Allentown Morning Call.

The Morning Call spoke with Paul Killion, the chief disciplinary counsel of the board. “I would say if we had the Supreme Court of the United States saying we should take a look at it for appropriate action, we would definitely take a look at it,” he said.

Convicted quadruple murderer Michael Ballard said in the letter that lawyers seeking an appeal in his case were acting against his wishes. “It is my most ardent plea that asks now of you that the appeal filed in my behest be rejected summarily,” he wrote. The Supreme Court denied cert on June 23 and asked for a response from the lawyer who filed the cert petition, Marc Bookman, the director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation.

Bookman responded that a lawyer with the federal office of the Defender Association of Philadelphia had asked him to file the cert petition, and he had good reason to believe Ballard had authorized it. He noted that Ballard had told reporters he did not want to die. Bookman said he worked pro bono, acting “in the finest tradition of the pro bono bar consistent with the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli had forwarded Ballard’s letter to the Supreme Court. After Bookman responded, Morganelli submitted more information to the court.

According to the Legal Intelligencer, Morganelli forwarded a letter from a state public defender who said Ballard had not authorized the cert petition, and the state PD informed a lawyer with Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia about Ballard’s wishes.

“If Mr. Bookman was misled,” Morganelli wrote, “he was misled by another attorney which should also result in an inquiry by the Supreme Court. Lawyers represent clients, not causes. Intervention by lawyers who are acting without authorization from their clients is unethical conduct.”

Bookman responded that Morganelli’s arguments were based on “the contradictory statements of a man with serious mental health disorders whose credibility has been challenged, repeatedly, by Mr. Morganelli.”

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