FORT LAUDERDALE — An investigation has been ordered into a Fort Lauderdale attorney that serves as the legal counsel to death row inmates through the state’s registry of lawyers.
Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga has issued an investigation into attorney Mary Catherine Bonner after attorney Martin McClain voiced concerns in a letter to the court on April 4. Bonner sits on the state’s registry of lawyers that are appointed to represent death row inmates in their post-conviction appeals. Bonner has a clean record with The Florida Bar.
Bonner’s actions have come into question regarding her representation of two death row inmates, Alphonso Cave and Paul William Scott. Both Cave and Scott have asked to have Bonner removed as their attorney as they claim that years have gone by without her contacting them.
In 2009, Bonner confronted others issues with the courts after filing federal appeals more than 200 days after the one-year deadline for inmates Mark James Asay and William Greg Thomas. Bonner claimed that she and her husband have health issues that are causing the delays.
Chief Justice Labarga has appointed Judge Kevin Emas from the Third District Court of Appeals as the referee in the investigation. He has also named Belvin Perry to serve as special counsel to Judge Emas. Perry is a former Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Chief Judge that presided over the Casey Anthony trial.
“I have not seen an administrative order such as the one Chief Justice Labarga issued appointing a referee in what essentially is a non-disciplinary case at this point,” Joseph Corsmeier, an attorney at Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A., told the Florida Record. “It is highly unusual. I don’t think this has ever happened.”
While the issues against Bonner are being investigated, at this time she only faces removal from the state’s attorney registry list to represent death row inmates. She doesn’t face disciplinary action at this time but that could change if the findings from the report are sent on to the court.
“The only issue is whether she should continue representing death row clients in death penalty cases,” Corsmeier said. “That would be the only action that I could see might be taken if there is a determination that she is unable to represent those clients. The court may decide to forward it on for potential disciplinary actions.”
Judge Emas has 90 days to complete the investigation that was ordered on Nov. 8 and to file a report on the matter.
In a report by The News Service of Florida, McClain, who has taken over Asay’s case, discussed the difficulties he underwent trying to get his client’s records from Bonner, who delayed getting documents to him even with the urgency of Asay’s death warrant that was issued for March.
When Bonner did eventually provide the documents, they were moldy and insect-infested and contained information that wasn’t related to the case, the report stated. Additional boxes were left out in the rain and were waterlogged, the article by The News Service of Florida stated.