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Law professor argues case before U.S. Supreme Court

Professor Bob Bartels
October 13, 2011

Bob Bartels, the Charles M. Brewer Professor of Trial Advocacy at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, returned to the U.S. Supreme Court, Oct. 4, to argue a case that experts say raises one of the most important constitutional questions this term.

Working with the Arizona Justice Project, Bartels represented Luis Mariano Martinez, the petitioner in Martinez v. Ryan. It was Bartels’ fifth oral argument before the high court in 36 years of practice.

The question in this case is “whether a defendant in a state criminal case who is prohibited by state law from raising on direct appeal any claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, but who has a state-law right to raise such a claim in a first post-conviction proceeding, has a federal constitutional right to effective assistance of first post-conviction counsel specifically with respect to his ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim.”

Put more simply, ordinarily, criminal defendants have a constitutional right to representation at their trials and during direct appeals, but not during any subsequent post-conviction proceedings. When a state system only allows prisoners to argue that their lawyers were inadequate during post-conviction proceedings, does the defendant have a right to appointed counsel during that proceeding?

Martinez was accused of two counts of sexual conduct with a minor, his 13-year-old stepdaughter, in 1999. Although the child recanted her accusation before and during the trial, Martinez was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to consecutive prison terms of 35 years to life.

A series of legal missteps, by Martinez’s trial lawyer and by a different lawyer during post-conviction proceedings, resulted in the Justice Project’s taking his case in 2004.  

“Were it not for the project and for the extraordinary devotion of time and energy by people like Arizona State University law professor Robert Bartels … this matter would never have found its way to the October term,” Justice Project chair Larry Hammond, a founding partner of the Phoenix law firm of Osborn Maledon, wrote in an Oct. 4 editorial in The Arizona Republic.

Also seated in the chambers during Bartels’ argument were Interim Dean Douglas Sylvester, Director of Sustained Giving Liz Aiken, Samantha Williams, Director of Employer Relations, and several alumni of the College of Law. Earlier in the day, seven alumni were sworn in by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as members of the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court. They are: Clare Abel (Class of 1981), Florence Bain (Class of 1979), Ed Bull (Class of 1980), Andrew Jacob (Class of 2003), Hilary Sadler (Class of 1996), Jimmie Dee Smith (Class of 1970), and Yvonne Tagart (Class of 2002).