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What part of "forthwith" does Your Honor not understand?

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Opponents of reform of the process for reviewing capital cases often claim that long, intensive reviews are needed to prevent injustice in these cases.  Putting aside whether that is generally true and whether the delay itself causes injustice, there are undeniably some judges who simply sit on cases, sometimes for years.

For federal courts, Congress has provided that victims of crime have "The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay."  18 U.S.C. §3771(a)(7).  Congress amended the statute in 2006 in the Adam Walsh Act to include habeas corpus proceedings as well as federal criminal prosecutions.  §3771(b)(2).

The statute further provides that when the victim or the government on behalf of the victim makes a motion for relief, "The district court shall take up and decide [the motion] forthwith."  §3771(d)(3) (emphasis added).

Robert Ladd murdered Vicki Ann Garner in Tyler, Texas over 16 years ago.  His standard appeal, state habeas, and federal habeas reviews were completed 10 years ago.  He has been allowed a second federal habeas review to hear a claim that he is retarded and thus exempted from the death penalty by Atkins v. Virginia, which established a retroactive new rule.  Okay, the statute on successive petitions permits that.  See 28 U.S.C. §2244(b)(2)(A).

But the evidentiary hearing and post-hearing briefing were completed over seven years ago, and U.S. District Judge Richard Schell has been sitting on the case ever since.  In June of last year, the state made a motion to rule on the petition, and Judge Schell has been sitting on that for over seven months.

When courts issue writs of mandamus to executive officers, they wax eloquent about the need for government officials to respect and obey the law.  Nobody is above the law, etc., etc.  But too often it is the judges who simply ignore laws they don't like.  Clearly, the right of the victim to proceedings free from unreasonable delay has been violated here.  By no stretch of the imagination is seven months "forthwith."

The state and the victim's sister have filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Fifth Circuit. Let us hope respect for the law reaches a higher level there.

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This judge has acted in an appallingly cruel manner. Ms. Garner's family didn't ask to be the family member of a murder victim, and yet the judge sees fit to put them through hell. I am sure that the Texas AG's office warned them that pushing the judge ran the risk of the judge simply tossing the death sentence out of pique. So, the judge, by his conduct not only put these poor people through a long cruel wait, but also put them in an awful quandry of trying to end their suffering but risking justice for their loved one.

What a disgusting show.

The Supreme Court deserves blame here as well. The Supreme Court has either imposed or tolerated stays that fly in the face of its own pronouncements. With that example, one can expect that lower court judges would feel empowered to thwart justice for these horrible killers. The Supreme Court will tolerate blatant abuses of judicial power in death cases, yet reach down to decide a case with lightning strike facts.

And here, this case is a direct result of an act of raw judicial activism. The Supreme Court has a large hand in the suffering inflicted on this family. As an institution, it ought to be ashamed of itself.

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