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Court: Lawyer necessary in federal litigation

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Although the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions of a defendant and his company for violations of the Clean Water Act in an unpublished opinion today, the appellate court wrote a separate opinion to discuss the issue of whether a limited liability corporation can proceed pro se in federal litigation if an attorney had already worked on the case.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals addressed this issue in a September 2008 opinion ruling owners of an LLC must be represented by an attorney to appeal a decision in federal court. In today's opinion, United States of America v. Derrik Hagerman and Wabash Environmental Technologies, LLC, Nos. 07-3874, 07-3875, the judges had to consider whether Hagerman could continue pro se because an attorney representing Derrik Hagerman and his company had filed an opening brief and reply brief on behalf of the company. Hagerman then fired his attorney, hasn't replaced him, and now wants to represent the company pro se.

The case that comes closest to addressing this issue is Dial-A-Mattress Franchise Corp. v. Page, 880 F.2d 675 (2d Cir. 1989), but in that case, Page had incorporated his business just before his appeal was argued. Because the injunction was targeted specifically at Page and not the company, he could continue to appear pro se.

"In this case, with the appeal fully briefed and the merits free from doubt, we would be mistaken to grant the (imputed) motion," wrote Judge Richard Posner. "For that would allow Wabash to argue in future regulatory proceedings that the merits of its defense had never been fully adjudicated."

The federal appellate court found it best to affirm the judgment of the District Court in order to "lay to rest any doubt about the company's guilt."

"But it bears emphasis that at any point in a federal litigation at which a party that is not entitled to proceed pro se finds itself without a lawyer though given a reasonable opportunity to obtain one, the court is empowered to bar the party from further participation in the litigation," he wrote.

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  1. Access to the court (judiciary branch of government) is the REAL problem, NOT necessarily lack of access to an attorney. Unfortunately, I've lived in a legal and financial hell for the past six years due to a divorce (where I was, supposedly, represented by an attorney) in which I was defrauded of settlement and the other party (and helpers) enriched through the fraud. When I attempted to introduce evidence and testify (pro se) in a foreclosure/eviction, I was silenced (apparently on procedural grounds, as research I've done since indicates). I was thrown out of a residence which was to be sold, by a judge who refused to allow me to speak in (the supposedly "informal") small claims court where the eviction proceeding (by ex-brother-in-law) was held. Six years and I can't even get back on solid or stable ground ... having bank account seized twice, unlawfully ... and now, for the past year, being dragged into court - again, contrary to law and appellate decisions - by former attorney, who is trying to force payment from exempt funds. Friday will mark fifth appearance. Hopefully, I'll be allowed to speak. The situation I find myself in shouldn't even be possible, much less dragging out with no end in sight, for years. I've done nothing wrong, but am watching a lot of wrong being accomplished under court jurisdiction; only because I was married to someone who wanted and was granted a divorce (but was not willing to assume the responsibilities that come with granting the divorce). In fact, the recalcitrant party was enriched by well over $100k, although it was necessarily split with other actors. Pro bono help? It's a nice dream ... but that's all it is, for too many. Meanwhile, injustice marches on.

  2. Both sites mentioned in the article appear to be nonfunctional to date (March 28, 2017). http://indianalegalanswers.org/ returns a message stating the "server is taking too long to respond" and http://www.abafreelegalasnswers.org/ "can't find the server". Although this does not surprise me, it is disheartening to know that access to the judicial branch of government remains out of reach for too many citizens (for procedural rather than meritorious reasons) of Indiana. Any updates regarding this story?

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