Tuesday, February 09, 2010

It was probably one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read.”

That was former SG Seth Waxman on this cert petition written by a bank-robber named Shon Hopwood for another inmate John Fellers. Cert was granted, and Waxman took over the case, but only if Hopwood would stay involved. Here's the NY Times:

Shon R. Hopwood was not a particularly sophisticated bank robber.
“We would walk into a bank with firearms, tell people to get down, take the money and run,” he said the other day, recalling five robberies in rural Nebraska in 1997 and 1998 that yielded some $200,000 and more than a decade in federal prison.
Mr. Hopwood spent much of that time in the prison law library, and it turned out he was better at understanding the law than breaking it. He transformed himself into something rare at the top levels of the American bar, and unheard of behind bars: an accomplished
Supreme Court practitioner.
He prepared his first
petition for certiorari — a request that the Supreme Court hear a case — for a fellow inmate on a prison typewriter in 2002. Since Mr. Hopwood was not a lawyer, the only name on the brief was that of the other prisoner, John Fellers.
The court received 7,209 petitions that year from prisoners and others too poor to pay the filing fee, and it agreed to hear just eight of them. One was Fellers v. United States.
“It was probably one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read,” said Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general who has argued more than 50 cases in the Supreme Court. “It was just terrific.”
Mr. Waxman agreed to take the case on without payment. But he had one condition.
“I will represent you,” Mr. Waxman recalled telling Mr. Fellers, “if we can get this guy Shon Hopwood involved.”
Mr. Fellers said sure. “It made me feel good that we had Shon there to quarterback it,” he said.
The former solicitor general showed the bank robber drafts of his briefs. The two men consulted about how to frame the arguments, discussed strategy and tried to anticipate questions from the justices.

Pretty cool stuff! He won other cases too:

The law library changed Mr. Hopwood’s life.
“I kind of flourished there,” he said. “I didn’t want prison to be my destiny. When your life gets tipped over and spilled out, you have to make some changes.”
He was a quick study, but he had a lot to learn.
“In 2000,” he said, “I couldn’t have named a right in the Bill of Rights.”
By 2005, the Supreme Court had granted a second petition prepared by Mr. Hopwood, vacating a lower court decision and sending the case back for a fresh look. Mr. Hopwood has also helped inmates from Indiana, Michigan and Nebraska get sentence reductions of 3 to 10 years from lower courts.
Mr. Hopwood was released from prison in the fall of 2008. Mr. Fellers was out by then, and he owned a thriving car dealership in Lincoln.
“Here,” Mr. Fellers said, presenting his jailhouse lawyer with a 1989 Mercedes in pristine condition. “Thank you for getting me back to my daughter.”

Now Hopwood is working for a Supreme Court printing company:

Mr. Hopwood now works for a leading printer of Supreme Court briefs, Cockle Printing in Omaha.
“What a perfect fit for me,” he said. “I basically get to help attorneys get their briefs polished and perfected.”
His boss at Cockle, Trish Billotte, said she had some misgivings about hiring Mr. Hopwood. It was hard to believe his story, for starters, and it struck her as curious that an aspiring paralegal was driving around in a Mercedes.
But she called Mr. Hopwood’s references, including the former solicitor general. “You don’t get through to Seth Waxman,” Ms. Billotte said. But she did, and Mr. Waxman confirmed the facts and offered his endorsement.
“We did take a risk, but we have no second thoughts,” Ms. Billotte said. “Zero regrets.”
Mr. Hopwood, who is 34, said he hoped to apply to law school next year. Richard Friedman, a law professor at the
University of Michigan who worked with Mr. Hopwood on the briefs for a recent Supreme Court case, said that he had already talked to the admissions office there about saving a spot.
Mr. Hopwood’s personal life is looking up, too. He married in August, and he and his wife had a son on Christmas Day.


Anonymous said...

I hope they don't get the NYT at FCI

Anonymous said...

I need Mr. Hopwood to help me out with a Supreme Court brief. I just called his boss at Cockle Printing.