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April 18, 2007

Press Contact: Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330 or kfortune@law.utexas.edu.

Capital Punishment Clinic Assists in Panetti Case before U.S. Supreme Court

AUSTIN, Texas—Students and faculty in the Capital Punishment Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law assisted in a death penalty case, Panetti v. Quarterman, that was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court today. This is the fourth Supreme Court case that the Clinic has been involved in this 2006–2007 term.

During its most recent term the Supreme Court agreed to hear only 78 of the 8,517 cases filed, or less than one percent. Of the cases selected for review this term, students and faculty in the Supreme Court Clinic and the Capital Punishment Clinic have been involved in five–an unprecedented number of active Supreme Court cases at any law school in a single term.

Students in the Capital Punishment Clinic worked on the Panetti case under the supervision of UT Law professors Maurie Levin and Jim Marcus, who served as co-counsel in the case.

Greg Wiercioch, an attorney with the Texas Defender Service (TDS), a private, non-profit law firm that represents death row inmates, presented the oral argument in the Panetti case on behalf of the inmate on death row. Levin works part-time as a staff attorney at TDS, where Marcus was executive director before joining UT Law. Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, who argued the state’s case in Panetti before the Supreme Court, teaches a seminar at UT Law on Supreme Court litigation.

The issue in the case is whether Scott Panetti, sentenced to death for murdering his wife’s parents, is mentally competent to be executed. Marcus said that Panetti, with a long history of severe mental health problems, has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and doesn’t have a rational grasp of why Texas intends to execute him.

Several of the students worked on the opening brief in Panetti, which was filed at the end of February. During spring break in March, clinic students traveled with Marcus to death row at Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Polunsky Unit in Livingston to meet their client, Panetti, face to face for the first time.

Last fall, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it was granting “certiorari” (or review of a lower court’s decision on the merits) in three death penalty cases filed by the Capital Punishment Clinic. Assisted by students and faculty co-counsel, law professors Rob Owen and Jordan Steiker argued those cases (Smith v. Texas, Brewer v. Quarterman and Addul-Kabir v. Quarterman) before the Court in January and are awaiting decisions. The Court is expected to decide these cases along with the Panetti case by the end of June.

In January, the Court also announced it was granting certiorari in a case filed by one of the Law School’s newest clinics, the Supreme Court Clinic, organized by UT law professor Michael Sturley, who co-directs the clinic along with Washington, D.C., attorney David C. Frederick, a 1989 graduate of UT Law and a partner in the D.C. firm of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel. The decision of the Court to hear the Supreme Court Clinic’s case, Altadis USA v. Sea Star Line, resulted in a settlement between the parties in mid-February–before the case could be argued before the Supreme Court. The settlement represented a huge victory for the Clinic’s client, a Florida company, which was offered a settlement more generous that the result the client would have achieved if it had won the case before the Court.

Related Links:

UT Law School’s Capital Punishment Clinic Argues Three Cases Before U.S. Supreme Court:
http://www.utexas.edu/law/news/2007/011807_supremecourt.html

Newly Formed Supreme Court Clinic Persuades U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case:
http://www.utexas.edu/law/news/2007/011007_supremecourt.html

Capital Punishment Clinic:
http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/clinics/capital/

Supreme Court Clinic:
http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/clinics/clinics.html#supreme

Texas Defender Service:
http://www.texasdefender.org/