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For Children With Special Needs, Pro Se May Be the Only Way

SCOTUS Blog reports here that the Solicitor General has thrown its support behind a petition for certiorari seeking reversal of a the 6th Circuit's decision in Winkelman v. City of Parma, barring parents of a disabled child from enforcing their child's rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) unless represented by an attorney. In Winkelman, the 6th Circuit dismissed an IDEA case brought by parents on their child's behalf, directing them to locate counsel to represent them. And in a related case, the Ohio Bar brought a suit for unauthorized practice of law against a dad who succeeded in winning thousands of dollars in educational services for his son in an IDEA action against a school board.

Several groups have filed amicus briefs in support of the Winkelman's petition. But to date, the ABA (which professes an interest in improving the legal system for the public) has remained silent. Though in theory, children would be better served if represented by attorneys rather than their parent, many families already burdened by added costs necessitated by children with special needs can't afford an attorney. And unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that it's far easier to find first rate pro bono counsel if you're an enemy combatant in Guantanamo Bay than a child with special needs. The ABA and bar associations should be supporting parents' rights to represent their children, and if they won't, then they ought to come up with a way that children can find pro bono or low-cost attorneys. 

Here's hoping that the Supreme Court accepts the Winkelmans' case for review and, when it does, that the ABA jumps in on the right side of the merits.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 21, 2006 at 05:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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