|Well-heeled clients pay tens of thousands of dollars to hit the legal jackpot — Supreme Court review of their appeals. But on Tuesday, the court decided to hear cases filed by two people who couldn't afford or didn't bother to hire an attorney.
One was written in pencil and submitted by an inmate at a federal prison in Pennsylvania. The other was filed by a man with no telephone living on Guam.
Neither case seems destined to join the ranks of Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark 1960s case filed by a prisoner with no lawyer that established a criminal defendant's right to a lawyer. Both show, however, that when the court is looking to resolve finicky legal issues and the right case shows up, it doesn't matter whether the author of the appeal wears a natty suit or prison garb.
Longtime Supreme Court practitioner Tom Goldstein called the granting of two such lawyerless cases at the same time "unheard of." But both cases chosen by the justices will help resolve the ability of civilians to sue the government over claims of improper actions of federal and military employees on the job.
Kim Lee Millbrook, a prisoner at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa., sued the government after accusing prison guards at the Special Management Unit of sexually assaulting him in May 2010. Prison officials said Millbrook's claim was unsubstantiated.