Bar Association Drops Threat Against Parents For Representing
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 11, 2006
CLEVELAND, OHIO--The Cleveland Bar Association has apologized to a couple that successfully represented their son in a special education dispute, and dropped its threat to fine them $10,000 for not hiring a lawyer.
The organization came under sharp criticism last month when it announced it would fine Brian and Susan Woods. Four years ago, the couple settled a lawsuit against the Akron School District over special education services for their son, Daniel, who has autism and is now 11.
Michael Harvey, the attorney representing the association said at that time that special education cases are too complicated and risky for nonprofessionals to handle, and that Ohio law bans non-lawyers from representing other people -- even parents representing their own children's interests.
According to the May 6 New York Times, the association's president, P. Kelly Tompkins, suggested that his group had not agreed to pursue Mr. and Mrs. Woods before the announcement.
"Our board had not approved this filing," he said. "We had a breakdown internally on this."
Tompkins wrote the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Filing this complaint was a mistake."
Mr. Woods said he is not convinced that the issue is resolved.
"The issue is to shut me up so that I can't beat them again," Woods said.
Laws concerning whether a parent can legally represent a child under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act vary from state to state. Rulings have also varied from one federal appeals court to another. The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to decide whether another Ohio couple, Jeff and Sandee Winkelman, can represent their son, Jacob, who also has autism.
"The U.S. Supreme Court should first resolve the unsettled state of the law in this important area of federal law," Tompkins wrote. "Until then, we intend to invest our efforts toward addressing the broader and very real needs of parents with special needs children."
"Lawyers group drops case against parents" (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
"Nonlawyer Father Wins His Suit Over Education, and the Bar Is Upset" ( New York Times)