A Cooperative Program of the
United States District Court for the Middle District of PA
and The Middle District Chapter of the Federal Bar Association
THE NEED FOR PRO BONO ATTORNEYS
For many years the Middle District has struggled in locating resources to assist pro se, indigent litigants. One of the resources that is crucial to our system of justice is assistance from members of the bar. As Judge Becker wrote in the case of Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 157 (3d Cir. 1993), “Representation of indigent litigants is...an important responsibility of members of the bar...We encourage lawyers within this circuit to volunteer for such service, and we urge the district courts...to seek cooperation of the bar in this regard.”
In March 1998, Chief Judge Becker announced the formation of the Task Force on Counsel for Indigent Litigants in Civil Cases, noting that “[t]here is no more important endeavor than providing access to the courts and having our justice system operate fairly and effectively.” With this challenge before it, the Court seeks your cooperation. In federal court, requests for appointments are frequently made by plaintiffs seeking to vindicate or to enforce important civil rights, such as 42 U.S.C. § 1983 plaintiffs alleging violations of their constitutional rights. Volunteer attorneys are sometimes needed to help pro se indigent litigants avoid what might otherwise be unjust consequences.
HOW TO VOLUNTEER
The Middle District Chapter of the Federal Bar Association has established a pro bono program in cooperation with the United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania that provides attorneys to represent indigent parties in civil litigation after the Court has preliminarily evaluated the case and made a determination to seek counsel for the unrepresented indigent party. Attorneys are encouraged to enroll in the Chapter’s pro bono panel by completing the form provided upon admission to practice before the District Court, or by contacting the chair of the pro bono program. The Chapter’s pro bono chair is responsible for acting upon the Court’s requests for volunteer attorneys.
An important feature of the pro bono program is that new attorneys are allowed a “grace period” of two years of practice (from their first state court admission) before they are asked to accept a case assignment. Additionally, assignments generally are not made to a given attorney more frequently than once every five years, assuming that the volume of cases and the number of panel attorneys permit this approach. Another important feature of the program is the availability of a panel of mentors to assist volunteer attorneys in the mentors’ specialized areas of practice. Additional steps soon to be taken by the Federal Bar Association include contacting county bar associations to obtain pro bono credit for volunteers in the pro bono program.
MECHANISM FOR REQUESTING A VOLUNTEER ATTORNEY
A pro se indigent litigant may apply to the Court to have a volunteer attorney appointed to represent the litigant in a civil case. When the Court makes a determination that a request for a volunteer attorney is appropriate, it conditionally grants the motion for the appointment of counsel. The Court in its order directs that a copy of the order be sent to the pro bono chair of the Middle District Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and directs that the Court be informed in due course by the pro bono chair whether a volunteer attorney will enter his or her appearance. When the Court requests that an attorney be found for an indigent litigant, the pro bono chair examines the list of panel attorneys practicing near the litigant’s residence or near the city in which the judge handling the case is based. Attorneys are then contacted by the pro bono chair to obtain a volunteer who will meet with the litigant to determine, as an initial matter, whether the case has merit. Assuming that a volunteer attorney does undertake to pursue the case, the attorney is asked to file an entry of appearance promptly. When no volunteer attorney is willing to accept an appointment of counsel, the court may revoke the conditional order for the appointment of counsel.
FUNDS TO REIMBURSE VOLUNTEER ATTORNEYS
To defray the out-of-pocket expenses incurred in representing indigent litigants, two expense funds now exist. The court has established its own non-appropriated fund for the purpose of reimbursing court appointed pro bono attorneys for costs necessarily incurred while representing indigent litigants in civil cases. To address shortfalls and to achieve the flexibility to provide “midstream” reimbursement of litigation expenses, the Federal Bar Association Chapter is creating a non-profit corporation to provide expense money to attorneys representing indigent litigants in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The Chapter has received a grant from the national organization as seed money for this fund and is seeking additional grants and contributions from major law firms and other potential donors.
PROCEDURE FOR REQUESTING REIMBURSEMENT
At the conclusion of a case, any court-appointed pro bono attorney may request reimbursement from the court for costs necessarily incurred, not to exceed the maximum amount established by Standing Order (currently $1,500.00), provided that the attorney has not otherwise received or will not receive funds sufficient to cover the costs incurred. Specific requirements for requesting reimbursement of costs are set forth in Local Rule 83.34.6. A similar written application is presented to seek funds from the Federal Bar Association’s expense fund.
U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGES
Honorable Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge
Honorable Yvette Kane
Honorable John E. Jones III
Honorable Robert D. Mariani
Honorable Malachy E. Mannion
Honorable Matthew W. Brann
Honorable William J. Nealon
Honorable Richard P. Conaboy
Honorable Sylvia H. Rambo
Honorable William W. Caldwell
Honorable Edwin M. Kosik
Honorable A. Richard Caputo
Honorable James M. Munley
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGES
Honorable Susan E. Schwab, Chief Magistrate Judge
Honorable Martin C. Carlson
Honorable Karoline Mehalchick
Honorable Joseph F. Saporito, Jr.
Honorable William I. Arbuckle, III
CLERK OF COURT
Peter J. Welsh, Acting Clerk
To volunteer as a panel attorney or to obtain additional information about the pro bono program, please contact one of the following individuals:
James P. DeAngelo, Esq.
McNees Wallace & Nurick
100 Pine Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101
717.237.5470 (Direct dial)
Peter J. Welsh, Acting Clerk of Court
William J. Nealon Federal Building
and United States Courthouse
235 North Washington Ave.
Scranton, PA 18501
507-207-5680 (Direct dial)
Peter J. Welsh, Acting Clerk of Court
Federal Building and
United States Courthouse
228 Walnut Street, Room 1060
Harrisburg, PA 17108
717-221-3920 (Direct dial)
You may also complete and submit an application form via email or fax.