Only six justices were on the panel last week when the Connecticut Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Michael Skakel habeas appeal, in which Skakel seeks a new trial based on the purported failure of his trial counsel (Mickey Sherman) to provide a constitutionally adequate defense. The Chief Justice recused herself, so the panel consisted of Justices Palmer, Zarella, McDonald, Espinosa, Robinson and Senior Justice Vertefeuille.
For reasons unknown, Justice Eveleigh was not on the panel last week. The Supreme Court, however, has now added him to the panel. That suggests (but does not necessarily mean) that the initial vote of the justices when they conferenced immediately after oral argument was 3-3 and that Justice Eveleigh was added to the panel to break the tie. In other words, three justices would have affirmed the judgment of the habeas court (Bishop, JTR), which found in favor of Mr. Skakel’s Sixth Amendment ineffective assistance of counsel claim, and three justices would have reversed that judgment.
Of course, we won’t know for sure whether this hypothesis is correct until the Court issues an opinion, which will likely take at least several months. Stay tuned.
Last week prosecutors filed their opening appellate brief in an effort to persuade the Connecticut Supreme Court to reverse a trial court’s judgment that Michael Skakel’s former attorney, Michael “Mickey” Sherman, did not provide a constitutionally adequate defense at Skakel’s murder trial. Not surprisingly, the gist of the state’s argument is that the trial judge improperly “second guessed” Sherman’s defense tactics.
According to the Supreme Court’s electronic docket, Skakel’s opposition brief is due on September 8, 2014, although I wouldn’t be surprised if his attorneys’ ask for an extension of time; the state’s opening brief is 247 pages long!
With the State of Connecticut having indicated its intent to appeal the trial court decision that Michael Skakel’s attorney, Michael (“Mickey”) Sherman, failed to provide a constitutionally adequate defense for his client, many are now speculating about what the Appellate Court or, more likely, the state Supreme Court will do with the appeal. Will the Court affirm Judge Bishop’s decision, or will it reverse?