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June 01, 2009

Case Spotlight

The Project is currently seeking volunteer counsel to assist two death row prisoners in Florida in their federal post-conviction proceedings.  Although otherwise unconnected, both clients received grossly inadequate representation from the same attorney and were granted the extremely rare relief of equitable tolling by the federal district court.  In both cases, counsel missed the federal statute of limitations filing deadline by months, even after her clients begged her to file a timely petition.

Before the filing deadline, Client A’s attorney advised him that the court would probably not act on a motion to appoint counsel quickly enough and told him to file a habeas petition pro se.  Client A completed a pro se habeas petition and sent it back to his attorney, who never filed the petition.  Instead, she filed her own incomplete petition more than nine months after the statute of limitations had passed.  The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida held oral arguments on the timeliness issue and ultimately granted Client A equitable tolling based on his attorney’s “bad faith” during the representation.

Client B filed a pro se motion with the circuit court requesting a status conference because he had no confidence that his attorneys understood the time limits on his petition.  He then contacted his attorneys and provided them with his own calculation of the time limits.  Client B’s attorneys ignored their client’s requests and filed a habeas petition more than seven months after the statute of limitations had passed.  The Court also granted Client B equitable tolling relief.  “While [his attorney] was aware of the limitations deadline, she deliberately chose to ignore it,” stated the Court.

It is unlikely that any proper investigation was ever conducted in either of these cases.  In each case, the investigation and preparation of an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court must begin immediately.  Some attorney fees and costs will be available from the federal court.  If you are interested in either of the Florida cases, please contact Staff Attorney Emily Williams at (202) 662.1735 or [email protected].