Eleventh Circuit

SCOTUS has spoken on S&C's screw-up.

We’ve previously written about the mailroom of death at Sullivan & Cromwell. To make a long story short (read our prior posts for the full background), a mailroom mix-up at 125 Broad Street caused an Alabama death-row inmate to miss a deadline for filing an appeal. The Eleventh Circuit rejected the condemned man’s attempt to reopen his case.

Presumably feeling bad for what had happened, S&C appealed to the Supreme Court. The firm hired a leading SCOTUS advocate — former Solicitor General Gregory Garre, now a partner at Latham & Watkins — to argue that prisoner Cory Maples shouldn’t forfeit his life because of S&C’s screw-up.

This morning, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Maples v. Thomas. What did the high court have to say?

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* Will the DOJ ask the 11th Circuit to reconsider Obamacare before appealing to SCOTUS to get the president reeelected? Does a bear sh*t in the woods? [Los Angeles Times]

* The verdict is in on Elena Kagan’s first year on the bench, and one thing’s for sure: the ladies love her. That’s definitely what she said. Right, RBG? [Washington Post]

* Casey Anthony now owes Florida over $217K. That’s almost as much as it costs to raise a child to age 18. Talk about a bad return on an investment. [CNN]

* Antonin Scalia, the Rock Star of One First Street, banned paparazzi from his Duquesne Law appearance. Tiger Beat had to settle for pictures of Taylor Lautner. [Blog of Legal Times]

* Meth dealer: not a viable career alternative for attorneys. This 2011 law school graduate will be heading to jail after she gets her bar exam results. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]

* Never accuse an elderly New Yorker of incest. She might sue, because she “was never that hard up that [she] would tap on family.” You go, girl grandma! [New York Post]

Aw crap, there go my approval ratings.

The Eleventh Circuit has declared that Obamacare’s individual health care mandate is unconstitutional. Today’s decision will be lauded as a victory for the 26 states, led by Florida, that challenged the law as unconstitutional.

In a 2-1 decision (and the first in which a judge appointed by a Democrat has voted to strike down the mandate), the Eleventh Circuit stated that Congress does not have the power to require all Americans to buy health insurance. The court also ruled, however, that the rest of the law could remain in effect.

The Eleventh Circuit decision comes in the wake of the Sixth Circuit upholding the individual mandate as constitutional (a ruling joined by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a George W. Bush appointee). The Sixth Circuit case has already been appealed to the Supreme Court. We have a feeling that this case will also be appealed to the Supreme Court, setting quite the stage for a ruling within the next year or so.

Click here to read the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion, and read on for some more interesting facts about the case….

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Last year, we covered a mistake made in a death penalty case by the white-shoe firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. It was a noteworthy development because of the rarity of the occurrence — S&C doesn’t often make mistakes, at least not ones as elementary as missing a deadline — and because of the stakes involved.

Well, the stakes are getting higher: S&C is now seeking SC review. The firm wants the Supreme Court to step in and essentially forgive the firm’s error in missing the deadline to file an appeal. Adam Liptak tells the tale, in the New York Times:

Sullivan & Cromwell is a law firm with glittering offices in a dozen cities around the world, and some of its partners charge more than $1,000 an hour. The firm’s paying clients, at least, demand impeccable work.

Cory R. Maples, a death row inmate in Alabama, must have been grateful when lawyers from the firm agreed to represent him without charge. But the assistance he got may turn out to be lethal.

Please note: that last sentence originally appeared in the august pages of the Times. Despite its tabloid tone — we can imagine an announcer for Inside Edition intoning darkly, “the assistance he got may turn out to be lethal” — it did not appear first in Above the Law. [FN1]

So how did S&C put a man’s life in jeopardy? Let’s descend into the mailroom at 125 Broad Street….

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Sullivan Cromwell LLP new logo Sullcrom.jpgMore than a decade ago, Cory Maples of Alabama murdered two people. After an evening of heavy drinking, playing pool, and riding around in a friend’s car, Maples killed two friends, shooting them execution-style.

According to court documents, he signed a confession, “stating that he: (1) shot both victims around midnight; (2) had drunk six or seven beers by about 8 p.m., but ‘didn’t feel very drunk’; and (3) did not know why he decided to kill the two men. Faced with this confession, Maples’s trial attorneys argued that Maples was guilty of murder, but not capital murder.”

A jury found Maples guilty and sentenced him to death.

Maples appealed his capital murder conviction with the help of attorneys at Sullivan & Cromwell:

Maples subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 32, claiming, inter alia, that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate or present evidence of: (1) Maples’s mental health history; (2) his intoxication at the time of the crime; and (3) his alcohol and drug history.

The trial court dismissed Maples’ Rule 32 petition, and sent notice of the decision to the attorneys at Sullivan & Cromwell and to local Alabama counsel. There was a 42-day period for filing a notice of appeal, but all the lawyers involved dropped the ball on the case, PepsiCo-style.

So what’s the explanation for S&C’s missing the deadline for filing an appeal?

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Leading law firm blows deadline in death penalty case.

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