11th Circuit: Inmate Pays for Lawyer's Error
Attorney missed petition deadline by almost a year, despite client relaying warnings from jailhouse lawyers
An Atlanta-based federal appeals court panel again has rejected an inmate's claim that he should be forgiven for his lawyer's missing a deadline, despite being reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court twice in recent years after holding prisoners accountable for their lawyers' failings.
In the case decided on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that a Florida inmate's lawyer filed his federal habeas corpus petition nearly a full year late. The lawyer thought it had been filed with two days to spare, even though the previous year his client anxiously had told him that jailhouse lawyers were advising the petition was due soon. The jailhouse lawyers were right, and the real lawyer was wrong.
After the mistake was pointed out by the state's lawyers, Ernest Cadet, in prison for life on a child sex offense conviction, was appointed new counsel from a public defender's office, who argued that Cadet shouldn't have to suffer the consequences of his prior lawyer's mistake. The public defenders said the case was akin to those in which the Supreme Court in 2010 and 2012 reversed pro-state Eleventh Circuit rulings over missed deadlines in death penalty cases.
But the Eleventh Circuit decision issued last week said the Supreme Court decisions required an inmate to have been abandoned by his lawyer in order to be excused for his lawyer's mistakes, and the ruling said Cadet's case didn't meet that standard. In the 2010 case in which the U.S. justices demanded that the Eleventh Circuit take another look, Holland v. Florida, last week's panel noted, the inmate's lawyer had failed to communicate with his client during an extended period of time and the client had tried to fire him. In the 2012 case, Maples v. Thomas, the inmate missed a deadline because his pro bono lawyers in New York had left their firm, and the firm's mailroom returned envelopes from an Alabama court without anyone seeing them.
Cadet's new lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Janice Bergmann of Fort Lauderdale, said her office doesn't comment on its clients' cases. So it's not clear whether Cadet will ask the full Eleventh Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court to review the matter.
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up at least one similar Eleventh Circuit decision issued in the wake of Maples, that in the case of Alabama death row prisoner Ronald Bert Smith. The high court let stand a decision from which now-former Judge Rosemary Barkett had dissented.
As recounted in last week's opinion, Ernest Cadet in 2000 was convicted in Florida of sexual battery on a young girl (a state court opinion said she was 5 or 6 at the time of the first incident at issue) and simple battery, receiving a life sentence. Cadet's family hired North Miami Beach lawyer Michael Goodman to work on his direct appeal, but Cadet's convictions were affirmed by the Florida courts.
According to the Eleventh Circuit, the one-year statute of limitations for filing a federal habeas petition began to run on Dec. 23, 2002, when the time for filing a certiorari petition with the U.S. Supreme Court expired.
Acting pro se, Cadet continued to fight his conviction in the Florida state courts, resulting in some tolling of the one-year deadline for filing a federal habeas petition. On March 11, 2004, Cadet file a pro se motion under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850, an avenue by which inmates may seek to be released.
Goodman testified that he reviewed Cadet's post-conviction state court motions on a pro bono basis, and while the Rule 3.850 motion was pending, Goodman filed a notice of appearance.