SCOTUS allows death row inmate to refile appeal after lawyer error

Prisons are stocked full of people who feel like they are in there because their lawyers screwed, um, up. Let our mailbox testify as much.

But perhaps no one has had worse luck with his lawyer as Alabaman Cory Maples. Maples was on death row and landed New York firm Sullivan & Cromwell to pursue the appeal of his death sentence, arguing that his trial lawyer was constitutionally insufficient.

But when the lawyers representing him left the firm, no one bothered to tell the Alabama court, who sent the notice that it would hear his appeal for post-conviction relief to the firm and had it returned. Maples didn’t learn of the error until he received a letter sent to him in prison telling him that his appeal was abandoned.

Sullivan & Cromwell tried to get the appeal reopened, pushing it as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, which by a 7-2 vote, decided to give Maples the appeal he sought. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the law firm’s mistake was “more than simple attorney negligence.”

Maples, wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on behalf of the Court, had been effectively abandoned not only by the two New York lawyers, but also by the Alabama lawyer, John Butler, whom the lawyers had associated with in order to practice in Alabama. Butler, upon signing onto the case, told his colleagues that he would not make any actual contribution to the case, contrary to Alabama’s requirement that local counsel be more than simple facilitators for out-of-state representation.

“That the minimal participation he undertook was inconsistent with Alabama law,” Ginsburg wrote, “underscores the absurdity of holding Maples barred because Butler signed on as local counsel.”

“Abandoned by counsel, Maples was left unrepresented at a critical time for his state postconviction petition, and he lacked a clue of any need to protect himself,” Ginsburg continued. “In these circumstances, no just system would lay” the blame for Maples’ missing the deadline to appeal at his “death-cell door.”

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Are parochial teachers ministerial employees? SCOTUS to decide

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certioriari to a pair of Michigan employment case dealing with the ministerial exception. Next term, the high court will hear EEOC et al v Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Church & School and Weishuhn v Catholic Diocese of Lansing.

Both cases were decided within five weeks of each other. At issue was how much time the teacher spent on “ministerial duties.”

First, the Michigan Court of Appeals found in Weishuhn (see You’re Fired!, February 8, 2010), the Michigan Court of Appeals said the parochial math teacher was a ministerial employee because she taught a religion class. Most of the teacher’s duties were spent teaching math but the court found that her activities teaching one religion class and participating in the church’s religious services was sufficient to make her a ministerial employee.

Later, the Sixth Circuit found in Hosanna-Tabor (see Perich v the parish, March 22, 2010) in a similar scenario that the teacher was not a ministerial employee because she didn’t “generally [teach] primarily religious subjects or [have]a central role in the spiritual or pastoral mission of the church.” The job duties between the two teachers were quite similar.

SCOTUS to hear another Michigan Miranda case

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a writ of certiorari in yet another Michigan criminal case, this time Howes v Fields.

The case is another 5th Amendment question involving a prisoner that was removed from his cell and questioned by police about a crime unrelated to the charges for which he was incarcerated without being informed of his Miranda rights.

You can read the 6th Circuit’s opinion in the matter (holding that the defendant was entitled to re-notified of his Miranda rights) here. Summary here.

Here’s the AP summary:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court will consider whether investigators must give a jail inmate his Miranda rights before questioning him on matters unrelated to what landed him behind bars.

The justices on Monday said they will hear Michigan’s appeal of a court ruling in favor of Randall Fields, who acknowledged to sheriff’s deputies that he had sexual contact with a minor. The admission took place during an interview in the same building where Fields was jailed on unrelated charges.

The deputies never advised Fields he could be silent or have a lawyer, hallmarks of the Miranda warning for criminal suspects. They did tell him he could leave when he wanted.

Arguments will take place later this year.

The case is Howes v. Fields, 10-680.

SCOTUS hears Wayne County ‘Confrontation Clause’ Case

On Tuesday, the justices of the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Michigan v Bryant, a Confrontation Clause case out of Wayne County.

The issue involved the police questioning a shooting victim at the scene about the identity and location of the shooter and whether the answers were “testimonial” in nature, and whether police officers can testify about what the victim said.

Only eight of the justices will decide the case. Newly-minted Justice Elena Kagen has recused herself because, as solicitor general, her office submitted an amicus brief supporting the prosecution. [Kagen will recuse herself from a number of cases this term, increasing the chances of ties and rehearings].

The case was argued by Wayne County assistant prosecutor Lori Baughman Palmer and State Appellate Defender’s Office attorney Peter Van Hoek. Transcript of the hearing can be found here. Briefs can be found here if you are so inclined.

And Kagan makes nine

The U.S. Senate has finally confirmed Elena Kagan as the newest Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court in a 63-73 vote. [CNN.com]

Five Republicans in the Senate had signaled their intention to vote for Kagan, meaning conservatives didn’t have the strength in numbers to delay the proceedings with a filibuster.

Only one Democrat announced his opposition: Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

"I have heard concerns from Nebraskans regarding Ms. Kagan, and her lack of a judicial record makes it difficult for me to discount the concerns raised by Nebraskans, or to reach a level of comfort that these concerns are unfounded," he said in a statement.

SCOTUSblog discusses what’s next for Kagan in her new job.

SCOTUS to hear USERRA discrimination case

With so many reserve service members returning home to a less-than-robust economy (I’m being generous), it shouldn’t be a surprise to find the number of USERRA violations has skyrocketed, according to Military.com.

Last week, we reported on a Sixth Circuit case in which one such service member was fired because IBM refused to reintegrate him because he had fallen behind the technology while serving in Afghanistan. The Sixth Circuit upheld the firing in that case, in part because of procedural mistakes by the plaintiff, and in part because the veteran accepted a severance buyout.

Other service members have not been so lucky. The U.S. Supreme Court has granted cert to hear a case that veteran’s groups hope will curb the number of discrimination claims filed with the the Department of Defense’s Employer Services for Guard and Reserves unit.

In Staub v Proctor Hospital, Vincent Staub returned from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he trained Army personnel on how to establish a radiology unit in a combat environment.

Before he was recalled, his supervisor had systematically disregarded his military obligations by scheduling him to work on weekends, knowing he needed one weekend a month for his reserve duty. She forced Staub to use his vacation days and posted bulletins asking his co-workers to volunteer to cover his shifts.

The supervisor told him and others his reserve duty was “bull[BLEEP]” and told him to “get the [BLEEP] out” of her office. She even went as far as to call the administrator of his military unit and asked for Staub to be excused. When she was told the weekend drilling was mandatory, she called the administrator an “[BLEEP]hole” and hung up on him.

Another supervisor referred to his military drill weekends as “Army Reserve bull[BLEEP]” and “a bunch of smoking and joking and a waste of taxpayers’ money.” Despite this, Staub had excellent performance reviews as late as four months before he was fired.

He was later fired for two incidents: one, in which he broke a rule that both he and another co-worker testified did not exist at the time he allegedly broke it, and two, for the heinous act of phoning his supervisor to say he was going to lunch with the same co-worker and not having that voicemail received before another supervisor decided to fire him. The other co-worker was not disciplined.

He sued the hospital for discriminating against his veteran/reserve status in violation of USERRA. A jury found the employer’s actions were largely motivated by Staub’s veteran/reserve status. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the verdict, saying that the human resources vice president that delivered the news of his firing was not under the “singular influence” of the allegedly biased supervisors.

SCOTUS will hear the arguments in December.

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SCOTUS makes Michigan’s Asian carp case sleep with the fishes … again

The U.S. Supreme Court again killed Michigan AG Mike Cox’s action to close the canal between the Illinois and Chicago Rivers in hopes of stopping the Asian carp from infiltrating Lake Michigan. This time, it’s dead dead. [SCOTUSblog].

UPDATE: Here’s the AP story:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to get involved in a dispute over how to prevent Asian carp from making their way into the Great Lakes.

The justices turned down a new request from Michigan on Monday to consider ordering permanent closure of Chicago-area shipping locks to prevent the invasive fish from threatening the Great Lakes.

The court had declined previously to order the locks closed on an emergency basis while it considered whether to hear the case. Michigan has led the legal fight to close the locks, arguing that the ravenous carp, which weighs up to 100 pounds (45 kilograms), could devastate the lakes’ $7 billion fishing industry by starving out competitors such as salmon and walleye.

UPDATE II: Again from the AP, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is requesting a study of the potential effects of Asian carp on the lakes. Sounds like a good idea for six months ago:

A New York senator said a full federal study is needed to determine how big a bite Asian carp would take from the regional economy if they invade the Great Lakes.

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said he will request a comprehensive study in a letter he plans to send Monday to the Environmental Protection Agency, Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and Fish and Wildlife Service.

Two species of Asian carp are threatening to enter Lake Michigan from Chicago-area waterways.

State officials and scientists say if the carp spread across the lakes, they could threaten the $7 billion fishing industry by starving out competing species.

Schumer says a broader analysis is needed that would consider potential damage to other industries such as tourism and shipping — and costs to governments from monitoring and control programs.

"No studies have been conducted to assess the true economic impacts of allowing Asian carp to establish a breeding population in the Great Lakes," Schumer said in the letter, which was provided to The Associated Press. "The lack of this crucial information makes it impossible to weigh the options before us and determine the best course of action to fight the spread of Asian carp."

An economic analysis released this month by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce found that closing the shipping locks in Chicago waterways would cost the area economy about $4.7 billion over two decades.

That report envisions a far greater economic ripple than a February study commissioned by the state of Michigan.

Transportation specialist John Taylor of Wayne State University in Detroit and James Roach, a consultant, said Illinois was overstating the economic damage closing the locks could cause. They estimated it would boost the costs of transporting and hauling cargo by about $70 million annually — a fraction of Chicago’s $521 billion economy.

The U.S. Supreme Court twice has rejected Michigan’s request to order the locks closed.

 

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