Byline: Derek Hawkins
7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Case Name: Lawrence L. Pickett v. Chicago Transit Authority
Case No.: 18-2785
Officials: EASTERBROOK, BARRETT, and BRENNAN, Circuit Judges.
Focus: 6th Amendment Violation
In 2015 a passenger on a bus operated by the Chicago Transit Authority screamed at and threatened Lawrence Pickett, the driver. He took six months off from work while recovering. After his physician concluded that he could return to work (though not as a driver), Pickett appeared one morning and requested a light-duty job. He was given one by the personnel on duty, but four days later he was told that the CTA was not ready to permit his return to work.
Pickett's principal contention on appeal is that the district court should have recruited counsel to represent him. He filed one motion for counsel, to which the judge replied: "Picketts [sic] Motion for Attorney representation is denied at this time." That was it. No explanation. Pro bono counsel representing Pickett on appeal accurately observes that we have told district judges that explanations are essential. Prui8 v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647, 660 (7th Cir. 2007) (en banc); McCaa v. Hamilton, 893 F.3d 1027, 1033 (7th Cir. 2018). How else would an unrepresented litigant know what more must be done to obtain judicial assistance? Prui8 and later cases set out considerations that bear on the proper exercise of discretion, but without an explanation how can this court determine whether the district judge has abused that discretion? A few words might have sufficed, but the judge left both Pickett and this court in the dark.
The district judge should have said one or more of these things. Denying the motion without explanation was an error, but a harmless error. See Pennewell v. Parish, 923 F.3d 486, 49092 (7th Cir. 2019). It is enough for us to say that...