VOL. 130 | NO. 42 | Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Office That Defends Death Row Inmates Comes Under Fire
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – A state agency that defends death row inmates is being criticized for using taxpayer dollars to pay for a legal battle that seeks information on the drugs and people involved in executions while also challenging a law that says electrocution can be used as an alternative to lethal injection.
Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, said the Office of Post-Conviction Defender stepped outside its legal authority when it filed a civil lawsuit seeking the identities of executioners and the drugs used in an execution, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/18hkYlV).
Yager, who is chair of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, is the author of a state law that was enacted last year that says inmates can be electrocuted if lethal injection drugs are not available. In a specially-arranged appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Yager said state law does now allow the OPCD to file civil court lawsuits and it had done so in the case of West v. Schofield, which is set for oral arguments before the Tennessee Supreme Court on May 6.
Post-Conviction Defender Justyna Garbaczewsksa Scalpone disagreed with Yager, saying state law allows her office to get involved in "collateral matters" and that would cover the litigation. Scalpone also characterized the court case as a "discovery proceeding" rather than a lawsuit.
It seeks to reveal the identity of those involved in the execution process – including physicians, pharmacists and medical examiners – to defense attorneys for the death row inmates but not be made public. The office is also seeking information about the drugs involved and challenges the constitutionality of the use of the electric chair.
Yager's presentation came last week while the Senate Judiciary Committee was reviewing OPCD's proposed $2.29 million budget for the coming year, which is in Gov. Bill Haslam's spending plan. State law created the office to represent death row inmates in their appeals.
"I really am disturbed that this office would use its resources in civil lawsuits to sue Tennessee," Yager the Judiciary Committee. "They are using taxpayer dollars to sue the state."
Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, www.knoxnews.com
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