Here is my Opinion piece on the George Souliotes case in today's Modesto Bee.
Speaking of how the procedural complexities in habeas cases cause unwarranted delay and expend enormous court resources and attorney fees on litigation unrelated to the merits of a case, check out this excerpt from a 5/1/12 Recorder article at law.com:
Capital defense counsel — can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.
That's what the California Supreme Court must have been thinking Tuesday, as the justices' tough threat to clamp down on lengthy habeas corpus petitions with monetary sanctions was quickly withdrawn when the court ran into an unrepentant defense lawyer and a courtroom packed with his colleagues wielding a threat of their own.
"What am I supposed to do as exhaustion counsel?" demanded Berkeley attorney James Thomson. "The federal court has told me I have to be here. I'm here."
Last week the Supreme Court sent Thomson and his co-counsel a letter warning that the court was considering monetary sanctions because of the 519-page habeas petition they filed in 2004 raising 143 claims on behalf of a client who calls himself Reno. The petition included dozens of claims already raised and rejected on appeal or in a previous habeas petition.
The letter upset the capital defense bar, with California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the federal public defenders of Los Angeles and Sacramento submitting an amicus curiae brief a few days later.
"The difficulty this court has had with the recruitment of qualified counsel to take capital habeas appointments is well-known," San Francisco attorney Cliff Gardner wrote on their behalf. "There are currently 328 prisoners on death row without habeas counsel." The threat of sanctions "while attempting to navigate the shoals of complex and often contradictory state and federal habeas law will only increase the difficulty in obtaining counsel for these cases in the future."
Gardner, California Appellate Project executive director Michael Millman and UC-Berkeley Death Penalty Clinic director Elisabeth Semel were among the defense bar luminaries supporting Thomson in person Tuesday. But before Thomson even got up to speak, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced that the court would allow additional briefing on the sanctions issue, and Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar told Deputy Attorney General Mary Sanchez, "I want to take off the table the thought of sanctioning any of the attorneys in this case."
It remained clear, nevertheless, that the case has touched a nerve with the court and that the justices want to use it to reduce the enormous resources spent on capital habeas petitions.