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Wisconsin Prisoner's Pro-se AEDPA Action Rejected by Seventh Circuit

In an appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Ronald Romanelli, a prisoner at the Columbia County Jail, was unsuccessful in convincing the Seventh Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals to overturn a district court jury verdict failing to grant him relief for alleged violations of his civil rights, for denial of medical care.

The decision, published on August 11, 2010, upheld the district court's denial of the prisoner's motion for court-appointed counsel, and its decision to allow impeachment evidence based upon his prior felony convictions.

The prisoner had claimed that Dalia Suliene, a jail physician, and Christopher Kuhl, a jail Sergeant, "violated his right to receive acceptable medical care during his pretrial detention at Columbia County Jail... (and that they) "were deliberately indifferent to what Romanelli considered serious medical needs, particularly with respect to his needs for Crohn's disease treatment and replacement eyeglasses." The jury, after a trial in which Romanelli represented himself, returned a special verdict finding that neither of the alleged health concerns constituted a serious medical condition. The only two issues raised on appeal were the district court denial of the three pre-trial motions for court-appointed counsel, and the district court's permitting evidence of prior felony convictions for purposes of impeachment.

As to the issue of court appointed counsel, the district court relied upon the holding of Luttrel v. Nickel, 129 F.3d 933, 936 (7th Cir. 1997), that "civil litigants are not, as a matter of right, entitled to court-appointed counsel in federal court, and that under Farmer v Haas, 990 F.2d 319, 322 (7th Cir. 1993), only under "exceptional circumstances" will a court appoint counsel for indigent litigants. The district court judge observed that if Romanelli received appointed counsel merely because of his indigence and incarceration, an "overwhelming number of pro se prisoner litigants would be become entitled to counsel."

The district court also stated that Romanelli had competently represented himself in the case, turning aside defendants' motions for summary judgment, that he had been provided detailed instructions with regard to the applicable governing law and trial procedures, and the case was not factually or legally complex.

As to the issue of permitting evidence of his felony conviction to stand, the Appellate Court noted that "at the time of the court's ruling on the evidence, the jury was already aware that the lawsuit was a prisoner's civil rights case. Furthermore, Romanelli confirmed his criminal history in his opening argument ... the district court provided post-trial limiting instructions detailing how the jury should consider that evidence."

The court further noted "that even if there had been error as a result of Romanelli's conviction ..., such error would have been harmless. The outcome in this case turned on Romanelli's utter lack of personal credibility and the paucity of corroborating evidence to support his claims-not on what the jury heard with respect to his prior convictions. We find that the district court did not abuse its discretion." See: Romanelli v. Suliene, 615 F.3d 847 (7th Cir. 2010).

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Related legal case

Romanelli v. Suliene