The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from a death row inmate who faces execution after a mailroom mix-up at one of the nation’s most prominent law firms.
Lawyers at the firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, had agreed to represent Cory R. Maples, a death row inmate in Alabama, without charge. When an Alabama court sent two copies of a ruling in Mr. Maples’s case to the firm in New York, its mailroom sent them back unopened and stamped “Return to Sender.”
Two associates handling Mr. Maples’s case had indeed left the firm, but it appears that no one told the court or the mailroom that new lawyers there had taken over. A court clerk in Alabama put the returned envelopes into the court file and did nothing more…
In urging the court not to hear the case, Troy King, Alabama’s attorney general, wrote that Mr. Maples had been represented by “a team of attorneys from a multimillion-dollar law firm” who should know that rules are rules.
“Filing deadlines apply to death row inmates,” Mr. King wrote. “Countless attorneys have missed filing deadlines over the years, and state and federal courts routinely dismissed their client’s tardy appeal as a consequence. This case is no different, and it presents nothing new or nationally compelling.”
Mr. Garre responded that the case, Maples v. Thomas, No. 10-63, was hardly routine. Among other things, he said, “the state contributed to the missed deadline” and “a man’s life is at stake.”
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal. Which surprises me as much as the cold heart of the Alabama Attorney General doesn’t.