Yesterday the Florida Supreme Court and First DCA released opinions. And Eric Scott Branch had a couple filings in his death warrant cases.
Two death row inmates denied relief at FSC
The Florida Supreme Court denied Hurst relief to Richard Eugene Hamilton, whose sentence was final in 1998, prompting a dissent from Justice Pariente. The court also denied relief to Jeremiah M. Rodgers, who waived a penalty phase jury. Rodgers was challenging his waiver based upon his undiagnosed mental illness at the time of the waiver. Justice Pariente concurred in the result with an opinion. No justice has taken the position that a defendant who waived a penalty-phase jury should be resentenced in light of Hurst.
Update on Branch death warrant cases
Also at the Florida Supreme Court, Eric Scott Branch filed his initial brief in his death warrant appeal and a petition for habeas corpus in a separate case. We are also watching for a cert petition at SCOTUS from the Hitchcock order that denied him Hurst relief a couple weeks ago. Branch initially asked that the Florida Supreme Court grant a stay of execution during the certiorari proceedings from the Hitchcock order (see State’s response here). On Tuesday, the court denied that request.
Branch’s execution is scheduled for February 22.
Rough day at 1DCA for plaintiffs’ lawyers in tobacco cases
At the First DCA, the court affirmed the dismissal of 73 tobacco cases in In re 73 Engle-Related Cases. The plaintiffs’ counsel rushed to file suit before time expired in these cases without confirming allegations or getting permission from the clients. Because they were dead.
These weren’t wrongful death actions where a personal representative of the estate is technically the client. Judge Osterhaus, writing for the court, pointed out that “[t]he lawsuits filed here were nullities because a dead person cannot file and maintain a lawsuit.” No zombie filings in Florida, in case you were wondering. He also mentioned in a footnote that “[f]our federal district judges recently signed a 148-page order penalizing plaintiffs’ counsel for similar Engle litigation conduct to the tune of a $9 million sanction.” That was another rough day at the office.
The First DCA had a companion case in which the lawyers didn’t know their client was dead when they filed suit. The problem there was that they didn’t amend the complaint when they found out, waiting eight years after filing suit to file their motion to amend the complaint. This didn’t please the trial judge, who denied the motion and dismissed the case with prejudice; nor did it impress the First DCA, which affirmed. This is a rare instance when denying a first motion for leave to amend, which are granted almost automatically, wasn’t an abuse of discretion.
Today we’ll be watching the Second and Fifth DCAs for opinions. We’ll tweet what we see, including updates in Branch’s case, @fla_ct_rev.