Robin Maher heads the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project. She asks attorneys at large, prestigious civil firms to take on the cases of murderers for what could be years of effort and scant compensation, the Washington Post says. The ABA and other groups estimate that hundreds of inmates are without legal representation. With the nation’s death-row population nearing a record level and the appeals process constricted by federal and state laws, soliciting pro bono counsel for them has become increasingly critical and difficult, Maher said. The bar project has found lawyers for more than 100 cases since the late 1990s.
Alabama is one of Maher’s top priorities. It has no resource center, no statewide public defender, no requirement that a death row prisoner have an attorney to the end. Jack Schafer, a retired partner at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C., worked 14 years on a case in the South. Before it ended in 2002, he and colleagues had spent tens of thousands of hours and the firm paid for countless experts and investigators. The Alabama attorney general’s office disputes that any condemned prisoners there lack lawyers. At least half of its roughly 140 appellate cases are defended by firms from beyond its borders. “If the point is that somehow that’s wrong, my point is, so what?” said Clay Crenshaw, the attorney general’s chief litigator. As he sees it, the incursion stacks the deck in inmates’ favor: Out-of-town lawyers arrive with deep pockets. “The state doesn’t have the resources to combat that kind of power on the other side,” he said.