The Yale Law Journal

March 2013

Mere Negligence or Abandonment? Evaluating Claims of Attorney Misconduct After Maples v. Thomas

Wendy Zorana Zupac

122 Yale L.J. 1328 (2013).

In recent terms the Supreme Court has attempted to carve out remedies for habeas petitioners with negligent lawyers. This Note explores the analysis used by the Court in these cases and applies a novel descriptive model to explain how the Court has applied two different models of analysis, a performance-based model and a relationship-based model, to examine attorney behavior. Over twenty years ago, the Supreme Court applied a rigid relationship-based model in Coleman v. Thompson, in holding that habeas petitioners were bound by the acts and omissions of their attorneys because their attorneys were the petitioners' "agents."  Last term, in Maples v. Thomas, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the application of agency principles in the habeas context, but carved out an exception for clients who are "abandoned" by their attorneys.  This Note explores the potential scope of the "abandonment" exception, and argues that federal habeas courts should draw on principles drawn from civil litigation cases and apply a flexible approach to determining when a client has effectively been "abandoned" by his attorney.