U.S. Supreme Court Amicus Brief for Death Penalty Client on Behalf of the American Bar Association


A team of advocacy attorneys is writing an amicus brief for the American Bar Association (“ABA”) on an expedited basis in support of certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court in a capital case. This is a rare opportunity, as the ABA is very selective about when and where it chooses to weigh in at the Court. 

The case comes out of Florida, which has been a source of both significant legislation and Supreme Court decisions regarding the death penalty in recent years.  The client in this case, Paul Howell, was represented in his state post-conviction proceedings by an appointed lawyer who had no prior experience and no understanding of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”).  The lawyer was either unaware of or entirely misunderstood the body of law concerning AEDPA’s statute of limitations, and she missed the filing deadline for the federal habeas claim.  Consequently, no federal court has ever examined the merits of this case, an outcome which one 11th Circuit judge characterized as “unjust,” “inequitable,” and “immoral.”  The question on which Howell’s attorneys will be seeking certiorari is whether the Court’s recent decisions regarding equitable tolling and AEDPA are grounds to reopen the case under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b).  60(b) relief would give Howell’s attorneys the chance to present several significant constitutional claims to a federal court for review on the merits.  The primary issue the ABA wants to raise in this brief is the importance of courts’ power to consider all relevant circumstances when evaluating claims for equitable relief, particularly in death penalty cases. 

The team consists of New York mass torts and products liability partner Jim Stengel, New York intellectual property counsel Cliff Michel, Silicon Valley senior intellectual property associate Misasha Suzuki, New York Supreme Court and Appellate Practice associate Chris Cariello, New York litigation clerks Shasha Zou and Tyler Bernstein, and San Francisco litigation clerk Matt Prewitt.