There’s something really strange going on in Florida right now. Apart from Gov. Rick Scott’s puzzling failure to sign the ‘Timely Justice Act’ which I’ve excoriated here and here, there’s an absolutely insane set of circumstances playing out in the imminent execution of William Van Poyck.
It seems that, rather than sign the bill, Gov. Scott signed some sped up death warrants for 3 inmates, one of whom is Poyck.(who has a blog). At the time, Van Poyck was represented by an attorney named Gerald Bettman who runs a two-lawyer office in FL, never having represented a death row client. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the closer the execution gets, the more intense and hurried the work gets. Bettman was totally out of his league, recognized that and then asked the Court to let him out and appoint someone who was experienced in this area. Nope, said the lower court and nope said the Florida Supreme Court. So Van Poyck, facing the last month of his life was saddled with an inexperienced defense attorney who had no clue how to navigate the maze of Florida death penalty appeals work, who didn’t want to do it.
But that was last week. That’s when things started to get really fucking strange. After that ruling, the Florida Supreme Court reversed itself last Friday, stating that Bettman didn’t have to represent Van Poyck, but instead that every lawyer who ever had his name associated with Van Poyck was eligible to be appointed.
In a surprise move, the Florida Supreme Court reversed itself and said Jacksonville attorney Gerald Bettman should not have to represent Van Poyck alone in the high-pressure, high-stakes appeals that lead up to any execution. Possibly, he won’t have to represent him at all.
The high court ordered Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton to review the qualifications of more than a dozen lawyers who have filed appeals on Van Poyck’s behalf since he was convicted of killing Glades Correctional Institution guard Fred Griffis in a failed attempt to free a buddy from prison.
The attorneys Burton ordered to attend a hearing on Monday include two of the top death penalty lawyers in the state. It includes out-of-state civil litigators who took on Van Poyck’s cause to win pro bono points and could now find themselves saddled with handling the complex, time-consuming and expensive appeals.
The problem is that half these attorneys don’t know shit about the case; some don’t even practice in Florida. Now these lawyers are on the hook for a mad, choatic, intense and intensely specialized death penalty process? Would you want to be in that position?
But that was last Friday. On Monday, Judge Burton had his hearing and appointed three lawyers to navigate this complex maze. They weren’t happy and had the same thing to say:
In a two-hour long hearing Monday that most involved described as bizarre, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton appointed the three lawyers even though all said they have neither the time, resources nor expertise to represent Van Poyck as the clock ticks toward his scheduled June 12 execution.
[Jeffrey Davis, who practices civil appellate law in Milwaukee] and Jacksonville attorney Gerald Bettman were tapped because they have represented Van Poyck, 58, in appeals he has launched since his conviction for the 1987 murder of Glades Correctional Institution prison guard Fred Griffis outside a West Palm Beach doctor’s office.Therefore, Burton said, they have the most knowledge about the case. He appointed Tallahassee attorney Mark Olive to help them navigate the complex appeals that occur after a death warrant is signed.
As one of Florida’s top death-penalty defense attorney, Olive said he has the legal chops but knows nothing about Van Poyck’s case. “It’s just a farce, frankly,” he said.
A Friday deadline, three attorneys who either don’t have the time or the experience or the knowledge required to file appeals. A man who sits on death row. A system that weeps silently.
But. But then came Thursday. On Thursday all three filed separate motions with the Florida Supreme Court stating that they wanted off.
“With a mere four days to prepare Van Poyck’s final pleading, any attempt to mount a viable challenge on behalf of Van Poyck would be a farce,” attorney Jeffrey Davis, a civil litigator from Milwaukee, Wisc., wrote in his motion. He suggested that the high court delay Van Poyck’s execution for 60 days to give him and other attorneys time to prepare. He asked the court to appoint an attorney who is skilled in death warrant appeals to assist him.
Mark Olive, a Tallahassee attorney who was also appointed Monday, has such expertise. But, in his motion, he said it would be a violation of professional standards to take on Van Poyck’s case on such short notice. Not only would he be unable to mount a thorough investigation of possible appeals but he would have to do so at the expense of other clients. Olive said he would be willing to help Davis represent Van Poyck if he was given more time to prepare.
Another disturbing fact: there was no attorney to represent Van Poyck in his appeals because his first appellate attorney:
was arrested for possession of cocaine, claimed insanity as a defense, disappeared from the case and let his Florida Bar membership lapse.
And all this because we want to “speed up” the appeals process. The Florida Supreme Court apparently hasn’t ruled yet. Stay tuned. This could get worse.