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SAN JOSE — A district court judge should reconsider a child molester’s habeas corpus petition in light of evidence that the man’s former public defender suffers from a debilitating mental illness, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday. The attorney, Bramlett Hamilton, worked in the Santa Clara County public defender’s office for about six years beginning in the mid-1990s. Hamilton was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 2003 beating and stabbing death of his mother in Michigan. Mohammad Javaid Abdulrafi, who was sentenced for lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under 14, appealed the denial of his habeas petition upon learning of the slaying. The court rejected two motions to add documents to the case record that had not been presented to lower courts. But Ninth Circuit Judge Consuelo Callahan, Ninth Circuit Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima and Eighth Circuit Senior Judge Myron Bright, sitting by designation, agreed with Abdulrafi’s third such motion, without commenting on the merits of the case, and sent it back to U.S. District Judge William Alsup for reconsideration. No public defenders contacted wanted to comment on the record regarding the appeal, citing the personal nature of the case and their previous relationships with Hamilton. However, attorneys said they were not surprised to hear of the appeal, adding that most defense attorneys would explore similar actions for clients if appropriate. Hamilton graduated from Michigan State University and later attended Stanford Law School. He was admitted to practice in 1994 and soon went to work for the Santa Clara County public defender’s office. He is remembered as an energetic, hard-working attorney who slowly withdrew from friends and colleagues. “He was well respected and well loved within our office,” one attorney said. Hamilton kept a brisk court schedule, attorneys said. They said he started to withdraw only toward the end of his time in the office, in 2000, and eventually took a leave of absence. He moved back to Michigan and never returned to the office nor the practice of law. State Bar records show that Hamilton’s membership was suspended as of Sept. 1, 2001, for failure to pay bar fees; his status was soon changed to “Not Entitled.” Attorneys in the public defender’s office said they had heard of the Ninth Circuit case but did not know of any other similar appeals relating to Hamilton’s old cases. Public Defender Jose Villarreal could not immediately be reached for comment. There is no timetable for when the district court will review the case, but a new evidentiary hearing is possible. The case is Abdulrafi v. Lockyer, 04-15828.

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