Supreme Court hears Winkelman argument tomorrow


     Oral argument will be held tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb. 27) at the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Winkelman v. Parma City School District [official docket sheet; update (Feb. 27): SCOTUS Blog Argument Preview].  The question presented to the Court is whether non-lawyer parents of a disabled child may bring a case pro se (without a lawyer) under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act [IDEA], 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.  We’ve discussed this important case in two prior postings:  Can a parent be the “self” in “pro se” (Sept. 21, 2006) and Will Winkelman Harm Children? (Nov. 7, 2006).  Six federal circuit courts of appeal have ruled on this issue, but they have a three-way split on how to treat pro se parents under IDEA.

houseG Today, at his Supreme Court Times weblog, Ross Kunkel predicted a split decision: “The Winkelmans will lose on the primary issue of whether they can, without a lawyer, represent their son in federal court. The Winkelmans will win on the minor issue of whether they can represent themselves as to their own rights.” (via SCOTUS Blog)  You can find a summary of the case, with links to pleadings, prior decisions, and other materials, at this earlier Supreme Court Times LawMemo. 

  • As SCOTUS Blog reported last September, the U.S. Solicitor General asked the Court to take this case, and supported the Winkelmans. The SG will participate in tomorrow’s oral argument. At SCT, you’ll find links to amicus briefs by Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children With Disabilities et al.; National School Boards Association et al.; Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc., et al.; Autism Society of America, et al.; Senator Edward M. Kennedy, et al.; Equal Justice Foundation, et al. and Council of the Great City Schools. 

pennyS pennyS None to soon, the (previously unknown to me) National Council on Disability offered its Two Cents on the issues presented in Winkelman.  NCD is an independent federal agency that makes recommendations to the President and Congress “to enhance the quality of life for all Americans with disabilities and their families.”  It issued a press release today (Feb. 26, 2007), in which it “urges that the resolution of the Winkleman case give full effect to the educational guarantees of IDEA by supporting the rights of parents to pursue the interests of their children regardless of whether they have a lawyer to assist them.” 

Legal Times/ also published an article on Winkelman today, “Parents Fight for the Right to Represent Their Children in Case Before High Court,” which notes “Local bar associations have investigated parent-advocates for unauthorized practice of law” (by Tony Mauro, Feb. 26, 2007).  Here are a few apt excerpts from that article:

If the Winkelmans lose, says Georgetown University Law Center professor David Vladeck, “it means these cases just can’t be litigated — not because they’re not valid, but because they are brought by people of modest means. I hope the Court understands that.”

The issue of nonlawyer representation has been hard-fought around the country by desperate parents who say there are not enough lawyers able or willing to take on their costly and complex disputes with local school districts.

Meanwhile, a skilled corps of parent-advocates has sprung up to fill the void left by lawyers. As a reward for the parents’ zeal, however, some local bar associations have gone after them, claiming they are engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.


1 Comment

  1. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » Winkelman: Scalia frets over pro se burden on courts

    February 28, 2007 @ 11:34 am


    […]    Yesterday’s oral argument in the Winkelman IDEA “pro-se-parent” case was apparently quite interesting.  Usually, a person is only allowed to appear at court pro se for himself or herself, and not for another person.  Winkelman asks whether the parent can appear without a lawyer to represent their child to appeal a special ed ruling by a school district (prior post). You can read the oral argument transcript here (via SCOTUSBlog).  […]

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