Published on: Monday, September 27, 2021

A lawyer in the Alabama Attorney General’s office who made an unsupported and incorrect statement to a federal court in written filings and a hearing must personally pay the court $1,500 in a death row inmate’s case about how he would be executed (article available here).

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama also formally reprimanded both the prosecutor who made the statement, Assistant Attorney General Lauren Simpson, and the attorney general’s office Sept. 24.

Willie B. Smith III, who is on death row in Alabama following a conviction for capital murder, alleged that state prison officials violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by distributing a printed form about a new method of execution without accommodating his intellectual disability.

The form, originally prepared by the federal defenders’ office, gave inmates a streamlined way to opt into the new method, nitrogen hypoxia, which has been touted as more painless than lethal injection. Smith alleged he didn’t understand the form and therefore didn’t return it by the opt-in deadline.

Simpson moved to dismiss and later answered Smith’s complaint by saying that the distribution wasn’t a prison system “policy, protocol, or program” under the ADA because then-Warden Cynthia Stewart simply provided the form on her own initiative, according to the court. Simpson reiterated this statement at a hearing on the motion to dismiss.

Simpson made improper assumptions that led to a false statement, the court said. “Under the circumstances, the failure to conduct any inquiry was more than negligent—it was reckless,” especially in a death penalty case. It was also “akin to contempt,” but not malicious, she said.

The “monetary penalty shall be borne personally by Simpson and shall not be borne by the State of Alabama.”

The case is Smith v. Dunn, No. 2:19-cv-927-ECM (M.D. Ala. Sept. 24, 2021).