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Cleveland Blah Association

Brian Woods looks like a hero from where I sit. The man's autistic son needed educational help. So his father sued to make it happen.

Oh, Mr. Woods is not a lawyer.

Happy ending? David met Goliath and justice triumphed?

It was until the Cleveland Bar Association stepped in. The bar sued Mr. Woods for the unauthorized practice of law. It sought a fine, legal fees and a promise that Mr. Woods would not help other parents of disabled children.

The bar association has withdrawn the complaint, and apologized to the parents. But it still has a chip on its shoulders. According to P. Kelly Thompson,a bar spokesperson, Mr. Woods should not have been sued until the United States Supreme Court decides whether to take up a related case, this one involving other parents representing their disabled children. A District Court judge ruled not long ago in the latter case that the parents need either find a lawyer or have the case dismissed.

It is not a wise thing for nonlawyers to practice law. While each of us has the right to represent ourselves, whether lawyer or not, that does not mean nonlawyers should represent others. Yet that rule probably ought to bend in the case of children. Should a family that has neither the funds for a lawyer nor the charm to seduce a public interest group be barred from the courthouse door?

Sanctions for frivilous pleadings can always clear the dockets of busy judges. But as the Wood case shows, a parent fighting for his child need not raise frivilous issues at all. In the Woods case, the father bested a team of lawyers for the local school district, winning an education for his son and an award of $160,000.

It's a pity that all the Cleveland Bar Association seems to be able to see is the lost opportunity to make a buck for a few of its members. Larger issues are at stake, issues obvious to parents but perhaps too sublime to be noted by busy ambulance chacers.