Friday, January 11, 2008

Deadlines, deadlines

That is both a lament about how behind I am on so many fronts (but not blogging!) and a reference to the fact that in less than a year we have seen 3 high-profile cases in which a litigant paid dearly for missing a deadline.

First, we had the Supreme Court's outrageous decision in Bowles v. Russell, denying a habeas corpus petitioner's right of appeal on the ground that he missed the properly calculated filing deadline, even though he complied with the deadline as calculated and told to him by the federal district judge. (See my discussion of the case here.) Then came the Texas man who was executed by lethal injection---despite a de facto moratorium on such executions pending the Supreme Court's review of the issue---because his petition for a stay was delayed by a computer malfunction and, in the words of the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, "we close at 5," even though other judges were in the courthouse and would have entertained the petition. (See story here.)

And most recently, we have the case of the one-minute late courier, in which a $1 million fee application was denied because the courier arrived, well, one minute after the deadline, due to unexpectedly heavy traffic. "[T]he entirely foreseeable obstacle of traffic in Southern California in the late afternoon . . . cannot justify an enlargement of time," said the judge.

Is there a trend in these three unrelated cases? Maybe, maybe not, but I do think there is at least a political irony. Strict adherence to deadlines is a hallmark of modern formalism, which is in turn a creature of the political right. Yet in each of these cases, I daresay that most people would say that the courts have lost sight of the point of litigation as a means of dispute resolution: namely, decisions on the merits. Of course, no legal system could function without deadlines, but in each case there was a good reason to think that the judge had discretion to permit the filing. The cold insistence on deadlines in these circumstances looks uncomfortably like the mindless bureaucracy run amok that conservatives are supposed to detest.

Posted by Mike Dorf

13 comments:

egarber said...

This barely relates, but I'm reminded of the Hawks / Heat controversy over Shaq's foul count.

If I'm not mistaken, the league recently accepted Miami's protest over a Hawks win earlier in the season -- because the scorers table erred when it claimed Shaq had fouled out late in the game. So now the two teams have to re-play the final 51.9 seconds the next time they meet.

The lesson about formalism isn't the same I suppose, since I'm thinking NBA rules "formally" allow for such an outcome (here the league said Hawks employees doing the scoring were "grossly negligent"). But even if this wasn't the case. there would be a common sense argument that the league shouldn't punish people who play by the rules when authority mis-applies those same rules.

Of course, this is bad news for my Hawks, but there's no rational argument (imo) beyond one based on strict formalism for not correcting the problem.

Michael C. Dorf said...

what a great solution. suppose that a key player on one team (Wade?) had been injured at the time of the original game. must he sit out the replayed 51.9 seconds?

egarber said...

Here's the ESPN.com story about it:

http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=3192421

The most remarkable thing in the article --

For now, playoff-contending Atlanta has one less win, while the Heat have one less loss on their miserable record.

playoffs??? Atlanta??? :)

I wonder what would have happened if it had been some bench guy -- i.e., does the league apply some sort of impact test?

sorry for getting off-topic...

Sobek said...

As long as we're off-topic anyway, Bush's DOJ just filed an amicus brief on the DC gun ban case, asking the Supremes to overturn the appellate court's decision.

http://www.redstate.com/blogs/gildas/2008/jan/12/attention_the_administration_just_blundered_in_a_catastrophic_fashion

Jane said...

Interesting, especially in comparison to the recent articles in the NY Times about federal agencies (e.g., Social Security Administration and Citizenship and Immigration Services) falling so far behind their own deadlines to rule on applications for things like SSI benefits and citizenship.

No penalties for the agencies though; Congress and the courts have been unwilling to hold the agencies accountable so far.

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