Qualified death penalty lawyers don’t grow on trees
© Getty Images

In response to The San Francisco Chronicle’s recent editorial “Fight crime, not futility: Abolish the death penalty,” a thorough evisceration of Proposition 66 – the Grim Reaper ballot initiative seeking to speed-up state-sponsored executions – Sacramento D.A. Anne Marie Schubert promised California voters that, “[t]he overall changes” needed to repair the state’s discriminatory and horribly dysfunctional death penalty are, “easy fixes.”

To anybody who believes that: Not only do I have a snazzy bridge in Brooklyn to sell you, I’ll throw in a bridge to nowhere too.

The Chronicle, which published Schubert’s glib and disjointed talking points under the header “dissenting view,” was also clearly unimpressed. It excerpted just one devastating paragraph from its prior full-length blistering editorial to run beneath Schubert’s superficial response.

The Chronicle reminded Californians it urges a “No” vote on Proposition 66, and a “Yes” vote on the counter-initiative, Proposition 62, which would end capital punishment forever in California: “Prop. 62 offers a straightforward and certain solution: abolish the death penalty, and replace it with a punishment of life without the possibility of parole. The other [ballot initiative], Prop. 66, proposes a highly complex, probably very expensive and constitutionally questionable scheme for streamlining the appeals process in hopes of shaving years off the timeline between conviction and execution. Even the most ardent advocates of capital punishment should be wary of the promises in Prop. 66.”

Perhaps the biggest of the false promises made by Prop. 66  that The Chronicle alludes to – one that all Californians should be wary of – is Prop. 66 proponents’ claim (led by Schubert), that “Prop. 66 would expand the pool of qualified lawyers to deal with [capital] cases.” Again and again, this mantra has been repeated in their op-eds and public statements campaigning for more and quicker state-sanctioned death. I guess they figure if they keep repeating this claim – without a shred of evidence to back it up – that this canard of Prop. 66 will be plum overlooked by California voters. It won’t be.

As explained in “Proposition 66, The ‘Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016,’ is Fool’s Gold for Californians” qualified death penalty lawyers don’t grow on trees. Nor will a gigantic stork suddenly deliver them on November 9. There simply“are not enough willing and qualified lawyers in California to take these kinds of cases – the most difficult, emotional, time-sensitive, resource-draining cases our legal system has.”

Prop. 66’s “easy fix” for this catastrophic flaw in the death penalty system is, by its express language, to: (1) pressure defense attorneys who don’t currently handle death penalty cases to start doing so, or risk their livelihood, because if they refuse, they won’t be eligible for court appointments at all, and (2) handicap the quality of capital defense representation in California by decimating the independence and the leadership of California’s Habeas Corpus Resource Center (an agency which has been zealously and competently representing death row inmates in the state for decades).

Beyond windy platitudes and rehearsed talking points, not a single Prop. 66 proponent has articulated to voters just how, in practice, Prop. 66’s proposed shotgun-style-appointment of defense attorneys in capital cases, or its ruination of the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, will “expand the pool of qualified lawyers to deal with [capital] cases.”

There’s a reason for this, and it begins with that bridge in Brooklyn I mentioned earlier – the one I’ve said you can have for a steal – and it ends with that other bridge, you know, that one that’ll take us, and our state, nowhere.

Instead of embarking on that fruitless endeavor, I implore you, my fellow citizens, to vote “No” on Prop. 66 and “Yes” on Prop. 62. Ending the death penalty is the only sensible path forward for California.

Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.