Death Penalty

Joe Freeman Britt won’t forgive murder. Or, apparently, people who DON’T commit murder.

Well, let’s say, if I was a bully, he is a pussy. How about that? I think Johnson Britt has been hanging around too much with the wine and cheese crowd.

– Former District Attorney Joe Freeman Britt, discussing his successor (and relative), current DA Johnson Britt, because the younger Britt had the audacity to support releasing men that Britt the Elder prosecuted for rape and murder just because the DNA evidence exonerated them. Britt the Younger blames his predecessor’s bullying and browbeating style for hindering the search for truth, such as ignoring the serial rapist living 100 yards from the crime scene. Joe Britt has no time for such cream puff notions. Will Justice Scalia follow Joe Britt’s lead?

It looks even better next to some of the other cases currently before us which Justice Blackmun did not select as the vehicle for his announcement that the death penalty is always unconstitutional — for example, the case of the 11-year old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat. How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!

– Justice Antonin Scalia in Callins v. Collins, 510 U.S. 1141 (1994). The quote looms large today as Justice Scalia’s smugly presented example of how the death penalty can’t possibly be unconstitutionally applied fell apart in epic fashion. DNA evidence exonerated the men convicted of the brutal rape and murder of Sabrina Buie. The prosecutor did not oppose release of the men because DNA evidence pointed to the real perpetrator, a criminal who was convicted of a similar crime soon after Sabrina’s murder. Of all the capital cases in America, many (though certainly nowhere near all) of which do involve criminals who actually committed the crime, Justice Scalia chose at random a case that ultimately confirmed Justice Blackmun’s argument. On the heels of his dissent in Windsor, it’s worth wondering if Justice Scalia is cursed to have his every sarcastic quip fly back in his face.

This week, a Texas campaign ad and a Pennsylvania death penalty appeal each illustrate what happens when lawyers lose sight of for what — and whom — they claim to be working.
Wendy Davis, in the final throes of her Texas gubernatorial race against Attorney General Greg Abbott, launched a controversial campaign ad a few days ago. The ad accuses Abbott of “siding with a corporation over a rape victim,” spotlighting a 1998 Supreme Court of Texas case brought by a woman seeking damages from a vacuum manufacturer after a door-to-door salesman of the vacuums allegedly raped her in her home. A background check should have revealed that the man had a criminal history. Abbott was then a justice on the Texas court. He dissented from the majority’s decision in favor of the woman. Davis’s ad ignited heated debate, with even her supporters questioning the propriety of the ad. Abbott’s campaign called the ad “despicable.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the United States Supreme Court on Monday issued a highly unusual order in a Pennsylvania death penalty case. The Court asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Disciplinary Board to investigate and take appropriate actions against Marc Bookman, an attorney who filed a petition for review of Michael Eric Ballard’s death sentence. Ballard slaughtered four people in 2010: his former girlfriend, her father, her grandfather, and a neighbor who tried to help the family when he heard screams coming from the home. Ballard was sentenced to death in 2011. In November 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the sentence. On June 23 of this year, SCOTUS denied Bookman’s petition to review Ballard’s case, but the Court then ordered Bookman to file additional responses about his relationship to Ballard. Apparently not satisfied by Bookman’s replies, the Court referred the case to the state disciplinary authority.

So, what’s the problem in either of these situations? Why the controversy? And what do they have in common?

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Jodi Arias

I do not believe it is in your best interest … I strongly urge you to reconsider.

– Judge Sherry Stephens, shortly before she granted Jodi Arias’s request to represent herself during the second penalty phase of her murder trial. In April 2013, Arias was convicted of murdering her ex-boyfriend.

A summer associate livin’ the life.

* All work and no play makes summer associates sad, but they had a really great time this year, what with the lucky law students attending Broadway shows, sporting events, and Russian cabarets. Sounds like fun! [Am Law Daily]

* Alas, not everyone was getting wined and dined this summer. Some lawyers can’t even find a place to work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the legal services sector lost ~200 jobs during the month of July. [WSJ Law Blog]

* It may be the “worst time in the history of legal education to go to law school,” but because of new programs being launched, at least some of our recent graduates will be less screwed. [New York Times]

* “The ABA is used as a whipping boy for standing in the way of innovation,” but soon it’ll vote on revisions to its accreditation standards. Welcome to the party, ABA, thanks for being late. [National Law Journal]

* It took 15 doses of lethal injection drugs to execute Joseph Wood when it should’ve taken one. Don’t worry, it wasn’t cruel and unusual punishment — the Arizona Department of Corrections says so. [CNN]

Convicted murderer Joseph Wood’s execution began at 1:52 p.m. yesterday. He was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., according to a statement from Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. Some witnesses insist that Wood continued to gasp for air at least 600 times after he was supposedly fully sedated. Others argue that he was merely snoring. Everyone agrees that the lethal injection process took a lot longer than the expected. Death by lethal injection typically occurs within ten minutes or so.

America has grown accustomed to long delays in carrying out the death penalty. Inmates sit on death row for years, even decades. As Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote, “Old age, not execution, is the most serious risk factor for inmates at the San Quentin death row.” We may be used to delays before denizens of death row get to the death chamber, but we have only recently started to see delays once an execution has actually begun….

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Joseph Wood

This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, “Let’s worry about the drugs.” Why didn’t they give him a bullet? Why didn’t we give him Drano?

– Richard Brown, brother-in-law of Debra Dietz, the woman whom the recently executed Joseph Wood murdered in 1989. Wood was the subject of the latest botched execution in Arizona, where he reportedly gasped about 640 times throughout a nearly two-hour period as he lay dying on the excutioner’s gurney. It typically takes 10-15 minutes for lethal injection procedures to run their course.

Joe Francis

* The day after the Supreme Court lifted a stay on Joseph Wood’s execution, it took nearly two hours for Arizona authorities to kill him using the very drug cocktail he contested on appeal. [New York Times]

* So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu: Spencer Barasch, the lawyer at the center of some blowback due to his dealings with Ponzi schemer R. Allen Stanford, is now leaving Andrews Kurth. [Am Law Daily]

* A dead body was found inside of this West Texas law firm, and the man who was pegged as a suspect claimed he lived at the firm, along with his recently deceased friend. This seems sketchy. [KCBD 11]

* Suffolk Law is hosting a contest where students, coders, and entrepreneurs will try to figure out a way to hack the justice gap. Start by creating an app to help new lawyers earn a living wage. [BostInno]

* Donald Sterling isn’t going to let the fact that he’s already involved in one contentious lawsuit about the L.A. Clippers stop him from filing another contentious lawsuit about the L.A. Clippers. [Bloomberg]

* Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild infamy is in some trouble with the law. He just got hit with a $5,000 per day fine until he returns two luxury cars to the pornography company’s bankruptcy estate. [WSJ Law Blog]

The old ball and chain, dischargeable in bankruptcy only in the most limited of cases. Go ahead, try and prove you’ve got a ‘substantial hardship’ preventing you from paying. We dare you.

* Now that a federal judge has classified California’s death penalty as unconstitutional, it’s only a matter of time before the issue reaches the Supreme Court. We have a feeling the justices will likely roll their eyes. [National Law Journal]

* Word on the street is that Bingham McCutchen has got the urge to merge, and has apparently spoken to a handful of potential partners over the course of the past three months. We’ll have more on these developments later. [Reuters]

* As it turns out, it was neither Wachtell Lipton nor Jenner & Block that managed to snag the coveted GM litigation oversight job. Nice work, Quinn Emanuel — you’re considered a “well-respected outside law firm.” [WSJ Law Blog]

* Congrats, Flori-duh, you did something right. A state court judge has ruled that Florida’s ban on gay marriage violated the U.S. Constitution in the latest post-Windsor victory for equality. Yay! [Bloomberg]

* Thanks to their hundreds of thousands of dollars in law school debt, many graduates are considering declaring bankruptcy. Too bad most won’t be able to get their loans discharged. [Connecticut Law Tribune]

Amal Alamuddin, ready to graduate from law school

* There’s a very good chance that if you go in-house, you could wind up making more money than even the wealthiest of Biglaw partners. But how much more? Take a look at the latest GC compensation survey. [Corporate Counsel]

* GM has hired outside counsel to review the way the company handles its litigation practices. Since we’re not sure which, we’ll take bets on whether this “well-respected outside law firm” is Wachtell or Jenner & Block. [WSJ Law Blog]

* A federal judge in California ruled that the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional. It seems that allowing a defendant to live with the “slight possibility of death” violates the Eighth Amendment. Damn you, appeals! [New York Times]

* “He hasn’t been charged with anything at the moment and we’ll deal with the charges when they’re filed.” Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is currently being represented by Yale Law lecturer Eugene R. Fidell, a recognized military law expert (and husband of noted legal journalist Linda Greenhouse). [New Haven Register]

* We all know that George Clooney’s fiancée, Amal Alamuddin, has both beauty and brains. What we didn’t know is that she poses for incredibly embarrassing pictures, just like the rest of us. [Us Weekly]

* How do Americans feel about the Supreme Court’s recent cellphone privacy ruling, Riley v. California? [Digital Constitution / Microsoft]

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