Submitted: June 15, 2016
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Pine Bluff
SMITH and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges, and KETCHMARK,  District
J. Williams appeals the district court's dismissal of his
habeas petition as time-barred. He argues that the one-year
statute of limitations provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)
should be equitably tolled because of the outrageous conduct
of his attorney, John Stratford. Because Williams did not
diligently pursue his federal habeas rights, we affirm.
February 29, 2012, a Pulaski County, Arkansas jury convicted
Williams of aggravated residential burglary and aggravated
robbery. The jury then sentenced Williams to 300 months'
imprisonment. Williams's trial counsel, Darrell Brown,
told Williams that he had a right to appeal the conviction.
But Brown also made clear to Williams that he would not
represent him on appeal. On March 16, 2012, the court entered
the judgment and commitment order in Williams's case.
That same day, Brown mailed two blank forms to Williams: a
notice of appeal and an affidavit of indigence. On March 20,
2012, Williams's mother asked Brown to handle the appeal.
Brown declined and filed a motion to withdraw as
Williams's attorney. On March 22, 2012, Brown met with
Williams's mother and reiterated that he was withdrawing
from the case and would not represent Williams on appeal. The
next day, Brown followed up with Williams's mother by
e-mail, repeating his intent to withdraw from the case and
providing her with a notice of appeal and an affidavit of
indigence. On March 27, 2012, the court entered an amended
judgment and commitment order; this final order started
Williams's 30-day window for appeal, which expired on
April 26, 2012. On April 9, 2012, the court granted
Brown's request to withdraw.
in jail, Williams found attorney Stratford's telephone
number on a wall. Williams gave the number to his mother, who
contacted Stratford. She met with Stratford before the
amended judgment and commitment order had been filed.
Stratford asked attorney Craig Lambert to attend the meeting
and consult on Williams's case. At that time,
Williams's mother gave Stratford $1, 500 and agreed to
continue making monthly payments toward a $4, 000 retainer.
Having researched Williams's case before the meeting,
Lambert told Stratford and Williams's mother that the
time to file a notice of appeal in Williams's case had
not yet expired and that it would cost approximately $2, 000
to prepare the trial-court transcript for appeal. Stratford
undertook Williams's representation but never filed a
notice of appeal in Williams's state case.
March 2012 until December 2012, Williams's mother met
with Stratford and made monthly $400 payments toward
Stratford's retainer. In December 2012, Stratford told
her to stop. Stratford had allowed Williams's case to
languish for nine months without any progress. On January 10,
2013, Stratford called Williams to schedule a meeting to
discuss the situation. Lambert and Stratford agreed to
ghostwrite an application for belated appeal that Williams
would file pro se in the Arkansas Supreme Court. The one-year
statute of limitations for a federal habeas petition and the
18-month statute of limitations for an application for
belated state appeal were approaching. On January 30, 2013,
the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected Williams's pro se
application because it was procedurally deficient-it lacked a
verified signature and a certified copy of the amended
judgment and commitment order.
6, 2013, the Arkansas Supreme Court acknowledged receipt of
Williams's resubmitted application for belated appeal.
Williams took no other action on his case. He did not file a
pro se habeas petition in the federal court. He did not
contact Stratford or Lambert regarding federal habeas relief.
Stratford and Lambert failed to seek federal habeas relief or
advise Williams that the one-year statute of limitations
would bar a claim for relief.
6, 2013, the Arkansas Supreme Court denied Williams's
resubmitted application for belated appeal. The application
that Stratford and Lambert wrote argued for relief by
alleging that Brown had provided ineffective assistance. The
claim was without merit and rejected.
did anything on Williams's case until November 2013. At
that time, Stratford-not Williams-initiated contact and
discussed filing a federal habeas petition. Williams filed
the instant pro se petition for habeas relief-again
ghostwritten by Stratford and Lambert-in December 2013.
an evidentiary hearing, the district court dismissed
Williams's habeas petition as time-barred, reasoning that
Williams did not diligently pursue his federal habeas rights.
Williams appeals. We have jurisdiction to review this final
judgment of the district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
district court concluded that Williams's habeas petition
is time-barred because he did not pursue his rights
diligently. Williams argues that he acted with ...