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A Grand Slam of Professional Irresponsibility and Judicial Disregard

38 Pages Posted: 4 Sep 2006  

Stephen A. Saltzburg

George Washington University School of Law


Many examples of bad lawyering and indifferent judicial responses to bad lawyering concern those who seek to raise the standards of professional conduct and assure adequate legal representation for all clients. This article discusses one case (a death penalty prosecution of William Charles Payton for rape, murder and attempted murder in 1981) to illustrate just how poor the performance of lawyers can be and how largely indifferent judges often are to such performances. With the defendant's life on the line, it appears that none of the legally trained professionals at trial did what professional standards required of them. The prosecutor acted unprofessionally and disregarded the constitutional right of the defendant in a capital case to rely on mitigation evidence, the defense counsel failed in his responsibility to protect the defendant from the prosecutor's improper conduct, the trial judge failed to correct the prosecutor's conduct or to take measures to assure that conduct did not prejudice the defendant, and the California Supreme Court (and to some extent the United States Supreme Court) pretended that nothing untoward had occurred. The article concludes that the professionals at trial breached their responsibilities: the California Supreme Court failed to appreciate the extent of the breaches and affirmed the resulting death sentence; and federal habeas corpus review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) proved too limited to set aside a sentence that resulted from the breaches.

Keywords: standards of professional conduct, adequate legal representation, Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, habeas corpus, death penalty

JEL Classification: K14, K41, K42

Suggested Citation

Saltzburg, Stephen A., A Grand Slam of Professional Irresponsibility and Judicial Disregard. Hofstra Law Review, Vol. 34, pp. 783-819, 2006; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 220; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 220. Available at SSRN:

Stephen A. Saltzburg (Contact Author)

George Washington University School of Law ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-7089 (Phone)

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