Why, Adam Liptak asks, is it morally permissible to blame clients for their lawyers’ mistakes? In the case in point, a death row inmate was represented by a drug-addicted attorney who eventually committed suicide. Not surprisingly, legal motions were improperly filed and, precisely for this reason, a court refused to hear the defendants case. Here’s Liptak’s discussion of the primary issue:
. . . why is it morally permissible to blame clients for their lawyers’ mistakes?
The legal system generally answers by saying that lawyers are their clients’ agents. The answer makes perfect sense when you are talking about sophisticated clients who choose their lawyers, supervise their work and fire them if they turn out to be incompetent or worse.
But the theory turns problematic . . . when the clients are on death row, have no role in the selection of their lawyers and have no real control over them.
As a legal layperson, I have never understood why defendants should suffer for the sins of their attorneys. But they do. All the time. AGB
Published: January 7, 2013
WASHINGTON — Twice in recent years, the Supreme Court rebuked the federal appeals court in Atlanta for its rigid attitude toward filing deadlines in capital cases. The appeals court does not seem to be listening.
A few days after Christmas, a divided three-judge panel of the court ruled that Ronald B. Smith, a death row inmate in Alabama, could not pursue a challenge to his conviction and sentence because he had not “properly filed” a document by a certain deadline.
As it happens, there is no dispute that the document was filed on time. But it was not “properly filed,” the majority said, because Mr. Smith’s lawyer did not at the same time pay the $154 filing fee or file a motion to establish something also not in dispute — that his client was indigent. (more…)