Sunday, 8 April 2007

Rehire Death Row lawyers

Rehire Death Row lawyers

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Fortunately, more of the Jeb Bush legacy soon may disappear.

In 2003, the well-known supporter of the death penalty and privatization combined his two passions into one very bad idea. For almost two decades, the state had paid for lawyers in Tallahassee, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale to handle appeals from Death Row inmates. The Legislature had acted not out of fear that the system could make a mistake, but because the state couldn't find enough private lawyers to take these expensive, time-consuming cases. So the rate of executions slowed.

Having failed in 2000 to limit Death Row appeals, Mr. Bush came back three years later with an idea to privatize Death Row appeals, under the fiction that the state would save money and inmates would get better counsel. In fact, the state limited the number of hours per capital case to one-fourth the average time required. New lawyers required more time and more expense.

Four years later, the Florida Supreme Court has determined that - surprise! - the state is back where it was in 1985. Not enough good lawyers are taking the cases.

Justice Raul Cantero, whom Mr. Bush put on the court, called the capital appeals work from the private attorneys "some of the worst lawyering I've seen." The court "unanimously and firmly" wants the Legislature to reopen the Tallahassee office. As a compromise, the Legislature kept open the Tampa and Fort Lauderdale offices. Two key legislators agree with the court's strong recommendation.

Coincidentally, the Innocence Project announced last week that it soon will exonerate its 200th inmate nationwide, based on DNA evidence. Florida leads the nation in Death Row exonerations, with 22. If the Legislature disbands this misguided privatization project, some lawmakers may grumble. But the state will sleep better.

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