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Florida Supreme Court Rules Lawyer Must Stay On Case of Death Row Inmate
On Thursday, a divided Florida Supreme Court ordered that a lawyer for a Death Row inmate must stay on the case despite the wishes of convicted murderer James Robertson. According to The Tallahassee Democrat, Robertson wants to be executed.

Steven Bolotin is the public defender for Robertson. Bolotin asked to be taken off the case earlier in 2014. He argued that the Florida Bar rules require him to represent the wishes of his client. Robertson was sentenced to death in 2012 for killing his cellmate in 2008. He has been in prison for more than 30 years.

“If the attorney is required to seek reversal of his client’s death sentence when the client adamantly desires affirmance of the death sentence it is a legal fiction, at best, to say that the attorney is acting ‘on (the client’s) behalf’ ... or providing advocacy of the client’s interests,” Bolotin wrote in a motion filed in January.

Bolotin was ordered to remain as the lawyer for Robertson in a 4-3 ruling by the state Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga led the majority. Labarga was joined by justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and James Perry.

The majority opinion stated, “We conclude that there is simply no reason to depart from our reliable, established, and necessary procedure for requiring current counsel to proceed with diligent appellate advocacy to facilitate our mandatory review in death penalty cases where the defendant, in effect, seeks this court’s assistance in being put to death.”

The dissenting justices were Peggy Quince, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston.

According to the majority opinion, permitting Bolotin to withdraw from representing Robertson “would be both erroneous and unwise, and would result in a serious threat to the soundness of Florida’s capital sentencing scheme — not the least of which is the disruption and delay that would be engendered by granting the motion to withdraw.”

In the dissent, which was accompanied by Polston, Canady wrote that forcing Robertson to appeal a death sentence goes against his rights. The state constitution does not require those on death row to appeal their sentences.

“A defendant under a sentence of death should not be deprived of basic rights that are afforded to all other criminal defendants. Defense counsel in this case has been placed in an untenable ethical position because Mr. Robertson has not been allowed to waive his right of appeal,” Canady wrote.

Pariente wrote a separate opinion that supported the majority ruling of the court. Pariente wrote that the ABA guidelines require a lawyer to defend clients regardless of wishes of the clients.

“In other words, not only does the client have no right to commit state-assisted suicide, but it is actually ineffective — and therefore unethical — conduct for an attorney to accede to this request,” she wrote.

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