Stories & Grievances
Parentadvocates.org Files Amicus Curiae Brief in Support of Jacob Winkelman v Parma City School District
Parentadvocates.org, the Disability Law and Advocacy Center of Tennessee, Ilise L. Feitshans, Parents for Autistic Children's Education, the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, Jeff and Sharon Podowitz, and the Autism Society of America file a Brief of Amici Curiae with the assistance of Prashant Khetan of Ross, Dixon & Bell, LLP, in support of a petition for certiorari on the issue whether, and if so under what circumstances, non-lawyer parents may prosecute an IDEA case in federal court. The case of Jacob Winkelman v Parma City School District could set a precedent when brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. Betsy Combier
We at Parentadvocates.org recognize the need for parents to represent their children to assert their rights guarenteed by the IDEA in federal court. The IDEA was designed to ensure that all children with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) and to protect the rights of children and parents. 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(B). The Sixth Circuit, however, rejected the notion that the parents of Jacob Winkelman, a child with autism, had their own rights under the IDEA. Winkelman v Parma City Sch. Dist., 150 Fed. App'x. 406 (6th Cir. 2005). See Pro Se Plea: Parents Seek the Right to Represent Their Son's Case in Federal Court.
Soon after we posted the article above, we were contacted by Jean-Claude Andre via email, and asked whether we would be interested in participating in an amicus curiae for this case to be presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, with other similarly interested groups and individuals. We said "yes". Prashant Khetan of Ross, Dixon & Bell, LLP, in Washington DC contacted us soon after, and wrote the brief for submission to the US Court:
Brief of Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioners in Jacob Winkelman et al., Petitioners, v. Parma City School District, Respondents
We were joined by:
Ilise L Feitshans JD and ScM
Member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States
120 Warwick Rd HAddonfield NJ USA 08033
856 428 0605 firstname.lastname@example.org
Melissa J. Bowman, Staff Attorney
Kentucky Protection and Advocacy
100 Fair Oaks Lane - Third Floor
Frankfort KY 40601
502.564.2967 (Frankfort voice, tty)
502.564.0848 (Frankfort fax)
800.372.2988 (Frankfort toll free voice, fax)
859.858.2928 (Wilmore voice, fax)
Docket for Winkelman v Parma City School District
US Court of Appeals, 6th circuit decision that denied Jacob Winkelman's parents the right to represent their son in Federal Court.
COPAA Files Amicus Curiae Brief in Supreme Court Supporting Parents' Rights to Represent Themselves in IDEA Cases
COPAA News: IDEA 2004
THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 2004"
Prashant K. Khetan, Ross, Dixon & Bell, LLP
Jean-Claude Andre, Counsel of Record
Ivey, Smith & Ramirez
Autism Society of America
The argument against a parent's representation in court seems to be that nonlawyers cannot know what they are talking about, and therefore if they are permitted to represent their children, they will bring harm to their children.
However, as always, there is another side to the Bar Associations and Judges throughout America joining together to stop parents from representing their children: "they" - the legal industry - will lose millions of dollars in salaries, awards, and benefits. It's all about the money, we believe, and we at parentadvocates.org are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this case and set,with their decision for petitioners, a precedent that finally gives parents their right to represent their child(ren) in Federal Court.
Pending Supreme Court School Cases
Below is an article on the Cleveland Bar Association suing a nonlawyer parent, Brian Woods, for the unauthorized practice of law:
May 6, 2006
Nonlawyer Father Wins His Suit Over Education, and the Bar Is Upset
By ADAM LIPTAK, NY TIMES
Several years ago, Brian Woods sued the school board in Akron, Ohio, on behalf of his autistic son Daniel. Mr. Woods wanted to make sure that Daniel received an appropriate education, and he won several concessions and about $160,000.
"I soundly defeated a team of lawyers," Mr. Woods, an adjunct professor at Cuyahoga Community College, said yesterday.
When the Cleveland Bar Association got wind of Mr. Woods's victory recently, it also went to court - to sue Mr. Woods.
The bar association said he had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. It sought a $10,000 fine, lawyers' fees and a promise that he would not continue to assist other parents seeking to represent their own children in court.
The Ohio Supreme Court was not impressed. On April 20, it ordered the bar association to produce evidence by next week in support of its complaint, saying the available facts suggest that Mr. Woods "has not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law."
With that deadline looming and after reports on the controversy in The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, the bar association backed down. Sort of.
In a statement on Wednesday, its president, P. Kelly Tompkins, said the complaint against Mr. Woods "had a legitimate, technical basis." Mr. Woods did, after all, represent someone else in court - his son - without being a lawyer.
The filing of the complaint was nonetheless a mistake, Mr. Tompkins said, withdrawing it and apologizing to the Woods family. The association should not have considered filing the complaint, he said, until after the United States Supreme Court acted in a case it might decide to hear this month.
That case involves two other Ohio parents, Jeff and Sandee Winkelman. In November, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati gave the Winkelmans, who had been representing their autistic son Jacob in a suit against the Parma, Ohio, school district, 30 days to find a lawyer or have their case dismissed. Justice John Paul Stevens issued a stay of that order in December.
Federal courts around the country are divided over the circumstances in which parents who are not lawyers may represent their children in federal court under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.
Ms. Winkelman said the ruling of the appeals court effectively barred the courthouse doors to her son. Her family, she said, simply could not afford a lawyer.
"One quoted $60,000," Ms. Winkelman said. "She wanted $2,600, biweekly. I was in tears. I decided to go on my own. We had no money, and we had nowhere to send Jacob to school. When you're in a do-or-die situation, you do what you have to do."
Christina H. Peer, a lawyer for the Parma district, said there were good reasons for requiring that only lawyers might handle such cases.
"People who are not attorneys cannot represent the interests of another in a court of law," Ms. Peer said.
Where disabled minors are involved, she added, courts should be even more reluctant to let others, even parents, speak on the minors' behalf.
"Do they have the skills," Ms. Peer asked, "to adequately represent the rights of their children?"
A lawyer for Susan Woods, Daniel's mother, said he was furious that the bar association had pursued charges of unauthorized practice of law against her and her husband.
"I'm very angry about it," the lawyer, Allan M. Michelson, said. "I'm upset that my fellow attorneys should spend their time like this."
In an interview, Mr. Tompkins of the bar association sounded conciliatory.
"Our board had not approved this filing," he said. "We had a breakdown internally on this."
But he refused to rule out the possibility of further action after the Supreme Court acted in the Winkelman case.
"We'll stand down until it's resolved," Mr. Tompkins said.
Mr. Woods said he suspected that the peace might be temporary.
"The issue is," he said, "to shut me up so that I can't beat them again."