In October, in connection with the Maples v. Thomas oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court, The PBEye offered guidance on risk management and best practices that pro bono lawyers should consider implementing with regards to supervision of pro bono work and the treatment of pro bono matters when the attorney primarily responsible for the matter leaves the law firm or legal department. During our 2012 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., we’ll have the chance to explore in greater depth these particular pro bono quality control and risk management issues and steps you can take to address them.
In case you missed it: Last week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority in a 7-to-2 decision, concluded that “no just system” would allow a missed deadline to be held against the inmate, Corey Maples, because – through no fault of his own – his lawyers missed a filing deadline in the Alabama state court. Justice Ginsburg’s opinion included a review of Alabama’s capital justice system. At the time of the Maples trial, court-appointed lawyers in capital cases were paid $40 an hour for time in court and $20 an hour otherwise, with a $1,000 cap on out-of-court work. “His inexperienced and underfunded attorneys failed to develop and raise an obvious intoxication defense, did not object to several egregious instances of prosecutorial misconduct, and woefully underprepared for the penalty phase of trial.” Justice Ginsburg was critical of how Alabama handles challenges to convictions. Nearly unique among the states, Alabama “does not guarantee representation to indigent capital defendants in post-conviction proceedings.” As The Birmingham News observed this week:
The hodgepodge system increases the chances of an innocent person being convicted and sentenced to death, as well as the likelihood of having to retry cases overturned by appeals courts. It also illustrates the arbitrary, unfair way in which the state puts people to death. A defendant with a strong, experienced legal team often can escape a death sentence, while one with poor representation can be sent to Death Row.
We recently explored other examples reflecting the crisis in indigent defense. Please join us at our Annual Conference in March to continue our discussions on how we can transform pro bono, justice, and lives.