Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday allowed a Washington state inmate to file a late appeal because his lawyer failed to file anything at all. In accepting convicted murderer Sergey Spitsyn’s claim that his lawyer committed misconduct by sitting on his file, a unanimous three-judge panel held that a one-year statute of limitation for filing a federal habeas corpus petition can be extended since Spitsyn may not be at fault for his tardy appeal. “We have previously held that equitable tolling may be appropriate when a prisoner has been denied access to his legal files,” Judge Richard Clifton wrote. “That logic would apply to Spitsyn’s situation as well.” He was joined by Judge Ronald Gould and Senior Judge Arthur Alarcon. Vancouver, Wash., resident Spitsyn was convicted of the murder of Tamara Gritchenko, a 14-year-old girl. Spitsyn, then 16, admitted to having sex with the girl but initially denied involvement in her murder. After a lengthy police interrogation in which Spitsyn changed his story several times, he confessed. He later recanted the confession, but was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. The case captivated Vancouver, Wash.’s Russian community. Spitsyn’s mother Ludmilla picketed outside the trial to protest her son’s innocence. After his appeal was denied by the Washington Supreme Court, Ludmilla paid $2,000 to Kelso, Wash., solo Robert Huffhines Jr. to file a federal appeal. Huffhines, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, never did so. He was disciplined by the Washington State Bar Association, telling the bar he didn’t think Spitsyn’s appeal had legal merit. When Spitsyn could not retrieve his files in time to file a pro se appeal, he asked a lower court judge to extend the one-year deadline. The judge denied the request. Seattle attorney Rita Griffith, appointed as Spitsyn’s counsel by the Ninth Circuit, said the panel seemed bothered by the fact that her client did not have access to his own materials. “What Mr. Huffhines failed to do was return the file,” Griffith said. “It was clear that Mr. Spitsyn and his mother were making efforts to get the file.” Huffhines eventually returned both the file and the $2,000 fee. Contrary to Huffhines, however, Griffith sees merit in Spitsyn’s case. “I am of the opinion that Mr. Spitsyn is innocent,” said Griffith, who does not yet know whether she will represent Spitsyn on the merits of his habeas petition. “His confession didn’t meet the facts of the crime.” Huffhines was admonished by the Washington Bar in 2000 for a separate incident, and was reprimanded for his handling of the Spitsyn matter in 2002. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the district court to develop a better record on why Spitsyn didn’t file an appeal until Sept. 2001 after he finally received his file in April. The Washington attorney general’s office did not sound too upset about losing the case. The state had offered speculation that Spitsyn could have filed a timely appeal anyway, urging the panel that late appeals are allowed only in extraordinary circumstances. “The argument that was made was based on the law, and the decision was based on equity,” Assistant Attorney General Carol Murphy said.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.