A mailroom error by the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell may prove lethal to Cory R. Maples, a death row inmate in Alabama, reports the New York Times. When an Alabama court sent two copies of a ruling in Maples's case to the firm in New York, its mailroom sent them back unopened. One envelope had “Return to Sender – Left Firm” written across the front along with a stamp that said “Return to Sender – Attempted Not Known.” The other was stamped with slightly different language: “Return to Sender – Attempted Unknown.”
Two associates handling Mr. Maples's case had indeed left the firm, but it seems that no one bothered to tell the court or the mailroom that new lawyers there had stepped in. By the time Maples's mother called, her son's time to appeal had run out. The firm's name did not appear on the papers it had submitted in Alabama. The reason for that is not clear, but it may have been to avoid offending corporate clients. It certainly added to the confusion in the mailroom. Sullivan & Cromwell has worked hard to undo the damage, but it has so far failed to persuade the courts to waive the deadline for filing an appeal. After losing in the federal appeals court in Atlanta, the firm persuaded a former United States solicitor general, Gregory G. Garre, to represent Maples in the Supreme Court.