Tale of Two Advocates:
The question of whether lay advocates can represent parents in special education due process hearings is being answered differently around the country.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 and IDEA 2004 contain a "lay advocacy" statute as follows:
Special Education Law, page 72)
In March 2004, the Florida State Bar instituted an investigation of advocate Lilliam Rangel-Diaz for the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL).
As the Florida State Bar explains, "The main purpose of UPL investigations and prosecutions is protection of the public from fraud and bad advice affecting legal rights." (See FL Bar UPL)
the Florida State Bar finds that an individual is guilty of the unauthorized
practice of law, an injunction is usually issued against that individual.
If the person persists in the UPL misconduct, a contempt violation
is issued and six months of jail can be expected. Many states have
similar procedures and penalties.
On March 7, 2005, the Florida Bar issued their decision in Lilliam Rangel-Diaz's case, as described in this news release:
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MIAMI, March 7, 2005 - The Florida Bar Unlicensed Practice of Law Committee 11A ("UPL Committee") issued its decision in the Unlicensed Practice of Law ("UPL") Investigation of Lilliam Rangel-Diaz of the Center for Education Advocacy, Inc., closing its file in the matter on January 12, 2005 and dismissing all UPL charges against Mrs. Rangel-Diaz.
Four Miami-Dade County School Board Attorneys had alleged in a complaint filed on March 8, 2004 that Mrs. Rangel-Diaz's attempts to act as a qualified representative in Exceptional Student Education ("ESE") due process hearings constituted UPL.
UPL Committee found that Rule 6A-6.03311, Florida Administrative Code
allows non-lawyer advocates to act as qualified representatives and
to appear on behalf of clients in ESE hearings.
This decision is of great value to students with disabilities and their families in Florida and to those who advocate for their rights in the highly complex system of special education due process that Florida has in place at this time. The federal government should further clarify how non-lawyer special education advocates should proceed to avoid UPL issues. Full text of News Release
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Delaware Advocate Found Guilty of Unauthorized Practice of Law
Lay advocate Marilyn Arons had a different outcome when her case was heard by the Delaware Supreme Court. (See Delaware Supreme Court Issues Decision in Arons Case.)
July 2000, the Supreme Court of Delaware ruled that Marilyn Arons
was guilty of the "unauthorized practice of law" when she
represented parents in special education due process hearings. Decision
in Arons case.
Unauthorized Practice of Law published by the Florida Bar Association
2004 Florida Statutes
Title XXXII: Regulation of Professions and Occupations
Special Education Law