The U.S. Supreme Court has forwarded letters in a Pennsylvania death-row case, in which the defendant claimed “federal defenders” were attempting to get involved in his case against his wishes, to the Disciplinary Board of Pennsylvania.
In an order issued Monday, the court directed that the letters from death row inmate Michael Ballard, along with letters from Marc Bookman, the director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, and Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, whose office prosecuted Ballard, be sent to the board “for any investigation or action it finds appropriate.”
In June, the court refused to review the death sentence of Ballard, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to killing four people, including his ex-girlfriend, in Northampton County. But the high court took note of a letter from Ballard complaining about the federal defenders’ attempts to get involved in his case and ordered Bookman to respond to Ballard’s June 2 letter within 40 days.
In his letter, Ballard said he “never authorized anyone” to file anything on his behalf and that he’s not appealing his sentence “any further than it has been.”
“It is my most ardent plea that asks now of you that the appeal filed in my behest be rejected summarily,” Ballard wrote. “The reasons being: the ‘federal defender’s’ filing have acted without my authorization; without my knowledge even. They are attempting to secure themselves as ‘attorney’s of record’ so as to circumvent having to obtain my authorization.
“And lastly, but most importantly, they are acting against my own wishes to waive my appeals.”
Bookman responded to the Supreme Court in a letter dated July 8 in which he said he filed a writ of certiorari after being approached by an “attorney in the federal office of the Defender Association of Philadelphia” who said Ballard “had asked him to find an attorney to file” a petition.
“Under the circumstances, I had good reason to believe that Mr. Ballard had authorized counsel to file a petition for writ of certiorari on his behalf,” Bookman wrote. “First, a member of the Federal Defender office had asked me to do so after meeting with Mr. Ballard and receiving authority to seek counsel to represent Mr. Ballard. Second, I knew that Mr. Ballard had authorized prior counsel to litigate his direct appeal in Pennsylvania. Third, I knew that Mr. Ballard had spoken to the press, stating before his sentencing that he did not want to die, and stating after the imposition of a death sentence that he would fight the sentence, that he wouldn’t be a volunteer who waived his appeals and requested his own execution.”
Bookman ended his letter by saying he represented Ballard pro bono because he was authorized to do so and “acted in the finest tradition of the pro bono bar consistent with the Rules of Professional Conduct.”
But in his July 14 letter to the Supreme Court, Morganelli challenged Bookman’s response, saying, “The evidence I have discovered establishes that Mr. Ballard never authorized anyone to act on his behalf.”
Morganelli included a July 11 letter from attorney Michael Corriere, who had been the chief public defender of Northampton County and had represented Ballard in state proceedings. In the letter, Corriere said he had been contacted by Eric Montroy of the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia in December 2013 who told him he knew someone who might be willing to take Ballard’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Corriere said he asked Ballard more than once if he wanted to appeal his case. He said Ballard wrote to him and told him he did not want any more appeals.
According to Corriere, Montroy called him in February to ask about Ballard’s appeal.
“I informed Mr. Montroy that Mr. Ballard did not want to file a writ of certiorari,” Corriere wrote. “I also advised I was not authorized to provide any file information to him. Mr. Montroy advised his office will take it from here and speak directly with Mr. Ballard about the appeal.”
Corriere said after the writ was filed, Ballard called him and asked who Bookman was. He said Ballard also told him that he told the federal defenders he did not want to appeal and that he wanted to try to prevent the appeal from moving forward.
Morganelli said “unauthorized pleadings cause substantial work for prosecutor’s offices.” He said there was no evidence Bookman was authorized to file an appeal in Ballard’s case.
“In fact, the evidence is to the contrary,” Morganelli said. “If Mr. Bookman was misled, he was misled by another attorney which should also result in an inquiry by the Supreme Court. Lawyers represent clients, not causes. Intervention by lawyers who are acting without authorization from their clients is unethical conduct.
“I believe some sanction or reprimand should be considered.”
Morganelli’s letter brought a response from Bookman, dated July 16. Bookman said Morganelli’s arguments hinged on “the contradictory statements of a man with serious mental health disorders whose credibility has been challenged, repeatedly, by Mr. Morganelli.”
“Mr. Ballard sent a letter to the court claiming that I was not authorized to file a petition for writ of certiorari,” Bookman wrote. “I was directed to respond and did so. Mr. Morganelli’s effort to subject me to further ‘investigation’ should be rejected.”
Morganelli, Corriere and Montroy did not return a call for comment. Bookman declined to comment.