JACKSON (AP) — An attorney for 16 Mississippi death row inmates filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming a state office failed in its duty to provide adequate legal representation for prisoners’ post-conviction appeals.

    The lawsuit against the state was filed in Hinds County Chancery Court by Jackson attorney Jim Craig, who has handled dozens of death row appeals.

    Craig contends in the lawsuit, which gives only one side of the legal argument, that the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel is inadequately staffed and its attorneys are not versed in handling death row appeals.

    Attorney General Jim Hood was in a meeting Thursday and was not immediately available for comment, said spokeswoman Jan Schaefer.

    Among the 16 inmates is Gerald James Holland, whose execution was set Thursday for May 20 by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Holland, at 72, is the oldest inmate on Mississippi’s death row.

    Craig asks a judge to delay Holland’s execution and to not allow execution dates to be set for the other 15 plaintiffs until a ruling is issued in the case.

    The lawsuit, Craig said in court documents, was filed to ‘‘compel the state to provide the plaintiffs with competent and conscientious counsel for future proceedings and to remedy the denial of those rights in past proceedings.’’

    Craig said he wants the Hinds County court to allow the inmates to pursue new post-conviction claims and bar any attempts that the state to argue the inmates had exhausted all appeal avenues.

    In a post-conviction petition, in which an inmate argues he has found new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

    The Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel was created in 2000 to lift the burden off counties to pay for continuing death row appeals.

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