|Kay v. Ehrler (90-0079), 499 U.S. 432 (1991)|
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.
KAY v. EHRLER et al.
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit
After respondent Kentucky Board of Elections denied petitioner Kay's request to have his name placed on a primary ballot for President of the United States, Kay, an attorney licensed to practice in Florida, filed a civil rights action on his own behalf in the District Court, challenging the constitutionality of the state statute on which the Board relied. Although he prevailed on the merits, the court denied his request for attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988 and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
Held: A pro se litigant who is also a lawyer may not be awarded attorney's fees under 1988. Neither 1988's text nor its legislative history provides a clear answer to the question whether a lawyer who represents himself should be treated like a client who has an independent attorney or like other pro se litigants, who, the Courts of Appeals have correctly decided, are not entitled to attorney's fees. However, 1988's overriding concern is with obtaining independent counsel for victims of civil rights violations in order to ensure the effective prosecution of meritorious claims. That policy is best served by a rule that creates an incentive to retain counsel in every case rather than a disincentive to employ counsel whenever a plaintiff considers himself competent to litigate on his own behalf. Even a skilled lawyer who represents himself is at a disadvantage in contested litigation because ethical considerations may make it inappropriate for him to appear as a witness, and because he is deprived of the judgment of an independent third party during the litigation. Pp. 3-6.
900 F. 2d 967, affirmed.
Stevens, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.