TV Shows That Take From Pending Cases: Harry's Law and the Case of the Big Firm Who Failed the Death Row Inmate

I don't know if you caught any of the new David E. Kelley television series, Harry's Law, but it's online for free if you want to catch at least the season finale, "Last Dance."   I liked the show - even though admittedly it probably jumps the shark at least once an episode on the political soapbox platform stuff - and I hope it returns next year.  And that's not just because Kathy Bates is the lead, not some big-haired younger actress with stillettos, a smart mouth, and a love interest.  I like Castle, too. 

Anywho.  The episode became a bit more fascinating than merely entertaining to me when I began to realize that the storyline was a twist on an actual miscarriage of justice that Terry Lenamon and I have been monitoring over at the Death Penalty Blog

It's really true that a mother calling to check the appellate clerk's docket was the one to inform the fancy schmancy law firm that there had been a ruling.  After the deadline to appeal that ruling had passed, of course.  What to do?  The man faced execution. 

That's right: unless some lawyer or judge pulled a rabbit out of a hat, a man would die because of a law firm mailroom messup.  Talk about form over substance.

In the television show, the inmate is played by the same actor who portrayed Michael Oher in The Blind Side.  Quinton Aaron.  He's good, I hope he gets more roles.

In real life, the inmate is Mr. Cory Maples. The law firm that messed up is the highly esteemed Sullivan & Cromwell.

What really and truly happened is this (quoting from the DP Blog): 

... two New York associates from swanky Sullivan & Cromwell walked into an Alabama trial court, post-conviction (pro hac vices granted), and filed a motion under Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure. Thereafter, the two associates left the law firm, and when the court clerk sent out notices that the Rule 32 motion had been denied (tick tick tick of the appellate clock), Sullivan & Cromwell returned the notices: "return to sender."
Of importance, the Rule 32 Motion was denied in part because of (1) failure to state a claim and (2) asserting arguments that were to be made in direct appeal. Also of importance, their signature blocks never gave the firm's name, just the individual attorneys -- and yet, the law firm kept the representation after the two lawyers left its employ, learning of the missed appellate deadlines only after their client's mother called to check on status.
We'll have to wait until next season to see what Harry's law firm does to save their fictional Death Row inmate - who had a 30 day ticker before his scheduled execution date.

For Cory Maples, we must wait on the United States Supreme Court.  They took the case last month; however, their review is limited to only one argument (no. 2) in his petition for writ of certiorari. Here's that question:

Whether the Eleventh Circuit properly held - in conflict with the decisions of this Court and other courts - that there was no "cause" to excuse any procedural default where petitioner was blameless for the default, the State's own conduct contributed to the default, and petitioner's attorneys of record were no longer functioning as his agents at the time of any default.

Now, we wait on the vote.

The docket for the Supreme Court's decision about Cory Maples can be followed here.

The schedule for Harry's Law?  Right now, I don't know that the show has been renewed.  Apparently, NBC won't decide until mid-May, after its advertisers get together and vote or something (story here). 

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