BigLaw Attorneys Miss Death Penalty Appeal, Draw Ire of Supreme Court

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on October 07, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The first week of the Supreme Court's October 2011 term was not a pretty one for lawyers at Sullivan & Cromwell or the Office of the Alabama Attorney General.

On Tuesday, the Court heard oral arguments in the case of death row inmate Cory Maples. Maples missed his appeal deadline as a result of an S&C mailroom mix-up and a lazy clerk of the court.

Alabama doesn't care, and still wants to put him to death.

This entire debacle began when two Sullivan & Cromwell attorneys appealed Maples' sentence on ineffective assistance of counsel grounds. During a year-long down period, the two attorneys left the firm. They did not notify Cory Maples.

Later, the Alabama court would send letters notifying counsel that they had 42 days to appeal an order. Instead of forwarding the letters, the S&C mail clerk returned them, stating that they were no longer employees.

The court clerk also did nothing, even though the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that home addresses and numbers were on file.

Alabama has fought tooth and nail against extending the appeal deadline. Justice Alito, who almost never sides with defendants, finds this bizarre.

He asked why the state was "push[ing] this technical argument," given the original ineffective assistance of counsel claim. He also wanted to know why the state was forcing the court to "consider rules that would have far-reaching effect." Why not "just consent?"

Justice Kennedy seemed equally as annoyed. Justice Scalia, as predicted, did not.

In fact, he was the only Justice who appeared to favor the state's argument, according to the Constitution. He doesn't think the state should be held responsible for S&C's errors.

Speaking of which, why didn't the firm notify Cory Maples of counsel's departure? Or require the attorneys to do so for themselves? And shouldn't they forward court mail to ex-employees? Talk about an epic fail.

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