Appeals court nixes federally funded lawyers

Thursday, March 27th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A federal appeals court ruling means an Oklahoma death row inmate will not have legal representation when he goes before the clemency board Monday, the inmate's attorney says.

Scott Allen Hain is set to be executed April 3 for the 1987 killings of two restaurant workers in Tulsa.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Wednesday that inmates on death row aren't entitled to have federally appointed and funded lawyers represent them in state clemency proceedings.

Lawyer Steve Presson of Norman had sought a ruling that federal courts were obligated under federal law to provide representation for Hain in the state proceeding at federal expense.

Presson and co-counsel Robert Jackson argued that the obligation existed because Hain had been denied relief in federal courts and the state proceeding was his next step.

The federal courts are paying Presson and Jackson to represent Hain in his federal court proceedings in Tulsa and Denver.

Presson said he plans to petition all 11 full-time 10th Circuit judges to reconsider Wednesday's decision of a three-judge panel.

U.S. Attorney David O'Meilia argued that the federal law that creates a right for ``financially unable'' death-row inmates to have federally appointed and funded lawyers applies only to federal court proceedings.

The appeals court judges in the majority agreed, saying a broader interpretation of the law ``defies common sense and would produce absurd results.'' Those judges were Mary Beck Briscoe of Lawrence, Kan., and Michael Murphy of Salt Lake City.

The dissenting judge, Carlos Lucero of Denver, said ``there is nothing absurd whatsoever'' about Congress intending for the law to provide federal funds in situations such as Hain's.

The court's ruling applies to all death-row inmates in the six states that constitute the 10th Circuit.

On Friday, the appeals court denied Hain's emergency request to postpone his execution pending the outcome of the appeal that was decided Wednesday.

Hain was convicted of murdering Michael Houghton, 27, and Laura Lee Sanders, 21, after abducting them from a parking lot. Hain was 17 at the time.

Co-defendant Robert Wayne Lambert, then 21, also was convicted and sentenced to death.