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The U.S. Supreme Court refused, 6-3, to expand the role of the judiciary in reviewing arbitration awards under the Federal Arbitration Act. Hall Street LLC v. Mattel Inc., No. 06-989. Hall Street Associates LLC leased an Oregon factory site to toy manufacturer Mattel Inc. Hall Street sued Mattel after it failed to clean up contaminants from the factory. The parties initially agreed to arbitrate the dispute, subject to judicial review of findings of fact and conclusions of law. The issue before the justices was whether Mattel and Hall Street could agree in advance to broad court review of an arbitration award to correct any errors of law. An arbitrator ruled that Mattel did not have to pay for environmental cleanup. An Oregon federal judge reversed. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Mattel, saying the Federal Arbitration Act bars judicial review of arbitration awards in such circumstances. The justices affirmed. Writing for the majority, Justice David H. Souter said the law’s essential virtue is in “resolving disputes straightaway.” The Supreme Court, he wrote, has “no business” expanding judicial review beyond what the law allows. Sections 10 and 11 of the Federal Arbitration Act restrict judicial review of arbitration decisions for the purpose of vacating, modifying or correcting an award to limited instances, such as fraud. Souter said that the statutory grounds found in those sections are exclusive. “The Federal Arbitration Act provides for expedited judicial review to confirm, vacate, or modify arbitration awards . . . .The question here is whether statutory grounds for prompt vacatur and modification may be supplemented by contract. We hold that the statutory grounds are exclusive,” Souter wrote. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel A. Alito Jr. concurred. Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer dissented. • Seethe related story on the justices’ 6-3 ruling that the Bush administration does not have the authority to direct a state court to comply with a ruling of the International Court of Justice. Medellin v. Texas, No. 06-984. • CONSTITUTIONAL LAW Are mentally ill defendants who are found competent to stand trial also competent to represent themselves in court? The justices struggled with that question last week during an oral argument that weighed the Sixth Amendment right to self-representation against a state’s interest in not having trials “descend into farce.” Indiana v. Edwards, No. 07-208. The issue in the case is whether a state may impose a higher standard of competence for self-representation than the fairly minimal test for deciding whether a defendant is competent to stand trial. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Ahmad Edwards, diagnosed as a schizophrenic, was denied his right to represent himself at a 2005 trial for a department store robbery and shooting. [NLJ, March 17.] The trial judge found that, while Edwards met the standard for competence to stand trial � he understood the proceedings and could assist his lawyer � he did not have the additional competence to represent himself. Indiana, backed by the Justice Department, argued that, in the interest of fairness and protecting the dignity of the courts, states should be allowed to set higher standards for self-representation. “If the public sees the spectacle of a mentally ill defendant . . . attempt to communicate to the jury on his own in a very delusional way, it really casts the justice system into disrepute,” Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Michael Dreeben told the justices. Edwards’ lawyer, Mark Stancil of Washington’s Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber, was just as adamant that a defendant declared competent to stand trial should be allowed to handle his or her defense. “The expressed premise of the Sixth Amendment and of our adversarial system generally is that the defense belongs to the accused and not to the state,” he said. States have adequate tools, including appointment of standby counsel, to handle problems that arise. The justices’ comments suggested they might favor a higher standard for self-representation in the interest of fairness. Souter told Stancil that, “by the time standby counsel is required to take over, the damage is done.” Breyer said, “We’ve heard lots of complaints from trial judges. Very disturbed people are being deprived and end up in prison because they’re disturbed rather than because they’re guilty.” Scalia took the opposite view, arguing that, if a competent defendant decides to represent himself, any resulting taint “would be his own fault.” Rather than a judge barring a defendant from self-representation before the trial starts, Scalia said, why not “wait to see whether he’s going to pull it off or not?” If a defendant can be allowed to plead guilty, Scalia added, he or she should also be allowed to make the less serious decision in favor of self-representation. As the justices compared the attributes of self-led defense and lawyer-led representation, some jokes were probably inevitable. When Stancil noted that his client understood voir dire and other trial basics, Kennedy blurted out, “There are all kinds of nuts who could get 90% on the bar exam.” At another point, Kennedy also said it was unrealistic to believe that some disturbed defendants would obey judges’ orders to keep their arguments on track. “They don’t communicate,” Kennedy said. “It’s two ships passing in the night or, in the case of some defendants, about five ships passing in the night.”

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