Monday, October 24, 2011

Doe v. Busby (9th Cir. - Oct. 24, 2011)

I can figure out the law.  The opinion makes sense to me.  So that's not the issue.

But I have two lingering questions.  None of which really matter, but that bear mention regardless.

First, why a "Doe"?  This isn't a sexual molestation case or a minor or anything like that.  It's an adult.  Not just an adult, but an incarcerated adult.  Someone convicted, at a public trial, of killing his wife.  Someone who's filing a habeas claim in the hope he's let out of prison or, at a minimum, obtains a new trial.

It seems to me like there's a public interest in knowing who this person is.  Especially if, as here, he's claiming (pretty persuasively) that his lawyer was incompetent.  Identities in cases like this may matter.  And I don't, at least offhand, see any reason why permission should be granted to file anonymously.

(Plus, I gotta say, it took a lot of digging to figure out his identity.  Louis Peterson.  And even then, I can't tell whether this was his "old" (pre-murder) name or a new one, since I can't find any reference to the underlying murder anywhere.  But that's perhaps because it was fifteen years ago.  Even odder, although the opinion by the Ninth Circuit quotes a California Court of Appeal decision, I can't find that opinion anywhere.  Weird.)

Second, I don't understand why the case was reargued.  It was originally argued in April 2010, and Judge Thompson was on the panel.  As you may recall, Judge Thompson died fairly suddenly in February 2011.  My sense is that Judge Thompson was probably the one assigned to write the initial opinion, because his replacement, Judge Milan Smith, ultimately ends up authoring the decision.  So, sadly, a fair amount of work by Judge Thompson and his clerk probably went largely to waste.

All that I understand.  But why reargument?  The opinion is unanimous.  The issues, while complicated to a degree, are understandable.  Usually the replacement judge simply listens to the previous oral argument and joins -- or, less often, writes -- the relevant opinion.  Presumably Judge Smith was the one who wanted the reargument.  Which is, of course, his right.  But unusual to see.  At least in unanimous opinions like this one.

So some lingering questions for us outsiders.