Trials & Litigation

15 years of inaction on inmate's habeas petition is 'shockingly dysfunctional malfeasance,' judge says

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A South Dakota judge said Tuesday that 15 years of inaction on an inmate’s habeas petition was breaking his heart.

Judge Doug Hoffman of the Second Judicial Circuit spoke at a court hearing that discussed how David Allen Lee’s habeas corpus appeal fell through the cracks, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports.

“This is a massive, shockingly dysfunctional malfeasance in the justice system in South Dakota,” Hoffman said. “We have to clean up this disastrous mess.”

Lee was convicted of second-degree murder in 1998 for the killing of his cellmate. A circuit judge denied his first habeas appeal in 2004, but Lee’s first private lawyer didn’t discuss an appeal with him, Hoffman said in court. Lee asked to file a second petition.

Lee was represented by a public advocate on the second petition, but the lawyer sought to withdraw in 2008 because of a conflict. Lee says he wasn’t told about the withdrawal, and he was surprised when he called the public advocate about two years later and was told a different lawyer has been appointed to represent him.

Lee told a circuit judge in 2016 that he hadn’t heard from the new lawyer for five years. In court, Lee said the lawyer is “a nice guy,” but he would like someone new to represent him.

Hoffman said he wants the case resolved within six months.

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