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Denial of Recruitment of Counsel for Wisconsin Prisoner Affirmed by Seventh Circuit

This was the second appeal brought by Wisconsin prisoner Randy McCaa. His civil rights action alleged that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his threats to commit suicide or harm himself in other ways. The first appeal came after the district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

The Seventh Circuit found the district court’s denial of McCaa’s fourth motion for recruitment failed to sufficiently address McCaa’s ability to present his case himself. It remanded for reconsideration of the recruitment of counsel, but it did not require such appointment. [See PLN, December 2018, p.56.]

On remand, the district court again denied McCaa’s motion to recruit counsel. In this second appeal, McCaa asserted the district refused to comply with the Seventh Circuit’s mandate. The Seventh Circuit disagreed.

It noted that on remand the district court “took a fresh look at the issue” and reached the same conclusion in “a detailed and persuasive opinion” that explained why the court believed “this was not an appropriate case for attempting recruitment of counsel.”

Two reasons were given for that conclusion. First, McCaa failed to renew his own efforts to recruit counsel. Second, McCaa’s ability to “send and receive correspondence, make copies, write motions and briefs, and perform legal research” suggested he could adequately litigate his case.

Because the record supported the second finding, the Seventh Circuit did not address the first. In the first appeal, the Seventh Circuit was greatly concerned with McCaa’s fifth-grade reading level. Since then, he earned a GED and reached a ninth-grade reading level.

The court further said a “decision to try to recruit counsel can and should be informed by the realities of recruiting counsel in the district.” The district court said “it is incredibly difficult to convince local lawyers to take” prisoner cases. The Seventh Circuit recognized it has an easier time at recruitment because appeals have “paper records and limited scope.” District court cases, on the other hand, “are often longer-term and more expensive commitments.” These factors said this put district courts “in the business of rationing a limited supply of free lawyer time.”

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Related legal case

McCaa v. Hamilton