Can’t Get an Attorney for Your FBI-Conspiracy Case?

File it yourself.

Corporate embezzler in an Armani suit or trailer-park guy who just knocked over a liquor store—both are told the same thing as those metal bracelets lock around their wrists: "You have the right to an attorney."But that right only applies in criminal court. If you feel you were wrongly fired, wrongly hit by a car, or wrongly kicked out of a nursing program 20 years ago as part of a federal conspiracy, you either have to cough up $200 an hour for representation or convince a percentage-based attorney you have a real shot at winning. Or go it alone. So when Stephen Odell decided to sue Seattle Pacific University and the FBI last month, he printed out the necessary King County Superior Court forms and filled them out himself.Odell alleges that he was on track to become an RN at the small Methodist school in 1988 when a foreign student at the school took out a restraining order against him. According to municipal court records, he violated it and was kicked out of the nursing program. Odell says he was set up by the FBI, working in conjunction with the university. The whole thing put a strain on his family, he says, and 20 years later contributed to the nervous breakdown his mother suffered this March.Leaving aside the substance of the complaint, Odell might have some trouble with the statute of limitations. In Washington, most damages claims must be filed within three years. University of Washington Professor of Law Thomas Andrews says there's a little leeway based on when someone realizes they've been wronged. For instance, in asbestos litigation, many people brought suits after developing symptoms several years after exposure. In Odell's case, he claims he only connected the dots of the conspiracy after discussing the situation with his mother this spring.Odell's claim of a conspiracy between a bunch of academic Methodists and the FBI to ruin his nursing career with a misdemeanor restraining-order violation might be a tad outlandish, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't have his day in court, Andrews says."We simply have to have a rule that says any justice system which is fair and impartial has to let people speak for themselves if that is their wish and certainly if that is their only alternative," he says.

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