DeMott amica brief in Maples v. Thomas gains notice

February 3, 2012Duke Law News

An Amica Curiae brief filed with the Supreme Court on behalf of Deborah DeMott, the David F. Cavers Professor of Law, in Maples v. Thomas garnered media attention this fall for two unusual characteristics. Tony Mauro of the National Law Journal called the brief unique because it was only the seventh amica brief — one filed on behalf of a single woman — in the Court’s history; and because it focused solely on the law of agency, DeMott’s specialty, which is rarely used in capital punishment cases such as Maples.

The case arose after pro bono lawyers for an Alabama death-row inmate left their firm and missed a deadline for filing his post-conviction appeal. DeMott’s brief argued that at the time the deadline passed, none of the inmate’s lawyers could have been regarded as his agents to the extent that he could be bound by their mistakes; they had abandoned him, according to the rules of agency. Because the attorneys did not inform the court of their departure from the firm or appointment of new counsel, their actions “do not meet any plausible standard for attributing responsibility to [Cory] Maples,” the brief states.

The brief was written and filed by Walter Dellinger, Duke’s Douglas B. Maggs Professor Emeritus of Law, a leading appellate advocate and partner at O’Melveny & Myers.

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On Jan. 18, the Supreme Court ruled 7–2 in favor of Maples.
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