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Prisoner wins right to recruit counsel in federal civil suit

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A prisoner was improperly denied counsel to help with discovery in his federal lawsuit that claimed a medical provider was deliberately indifferent to glaucoma that ultimately required removal of part of his eye.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an order of summary judgment in favor of the healthcare provider Friday in Leonard Dewitt v. Corizon, Inc., et al., 13-2930.

District Judge William T. Lawrence in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division, denied Leonard Dewitt’s motions to recruit counsel and granted summary judgment to Corizon, which provided medical care to Dewitt while he was incarcerated.

“Because we find that the district court abused its discretion in denying the motions for recruitment of counsel, and those denials affected Dewitt’s ability to develop and litigate his case, we will not reach the merits of the summary judgment order. Therefore, we reverse and remand so that the court may recruit counsel and so Dewitt can conduct further discovery in order to litigate the case,” Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote for the 7th Circuit panel.

Lawrence found in favor of Corizon because he reasoned that doctors exercised reasoned professional judgment inconsistent with deliberate indifference to Dewitt’s condition, but the 7th Circuit found Dewitt was prejudiced by denial of counsel to assist with discovery.

“(C)ould a lawyer have helped Dewitt present sufficient facts to create a genuine issue about why the doctor declined to follow a specialist’s recommendations or advised a continuation of ineffective treatments that prolonged his pain? We think there is a reasonable likelihood counsel could have aided here and made a difference in the outcome,” Williams wrote.

The District Court also improperly disregarded Dewitt’s Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) request for additional time for discovery. “While a district court has broad discretion to deny such motions … it is improper to decide summary judgment without first ruling on a pending 56(f) motion,” the 7th Circuit held.

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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