|Home > The Beacon, Fall, 2001|
At first, most parents, advocates and attorneys view organizing and maintaining documents as overwhelming.
of The Beacon includes several articles by experienced attorneys
and advocates about how to organize and manage documents generated in
special education litigation. All writers agree on the importance of a
systematic approach to organizing and maintaining documents.
Step One: Get Copies of Parent's Documents
The first step in the file organization process is to secure copies (never originals) of all the parent's documents. The attorney should also request copies of all documents about the child from schools, agencies, mental health clinics, and evaluators in the private sector and public sectors.
on the child's history, you may have boxes of documents from many sources
- and many duplicates.
While you are receiving the documents, you can begin the second step of the file organization process. (I recommend that the attorney undertake this work and not delegate it to an associate attorney, advocate, paralegal, or parent.)
Using a pencil, lightly write the date of each document in the lower right corner of the first page of each document (i.e., 12/7/01). Do not examine or read the documents, just date them. (Note: At a later point, you will erase the penciled dates and replace them with black ink.)
With seemingly duplicate documents, compare them to check for alterations. Hold the document up to a bright light. Look for shaded lines that suggest "white-outs" and other inconsistencies.
After you date the documents, sort and file them in chronological order. If you have several copies of the same report or evaluation, select the best-quality document to use as your master document.
Step Three: Examine and Evaluate Documents
After you date and file the documents, it is time to examine the documents. Think about whether this document should be included as a possible exhibit to use at trial.
In most of my due process hearings, we have approximately 100 exhibits. Usually, the case revolves around five to eight key exhibits.
Four: Create the Master Document List
Assume you have an educational evaluation completed on August 20, 2001 by Mary Jones, a private sector evaluator. According to this evaluation, the child's reading comprehension score was at the 3.2 grade equivalent (GE) level.
In your document
list, you would enter this information into your table:
Assume you have a psychological evaluation completed one week later by Deltaville Public Schools psychologist Lisa Smith. On this evaluation, the child received a score of 2.2 GE on the "Letter Word Identification" subtest.
You would enter this information in your table:
Assume that the September 12, 2001 IEP changed the child's program from LD resource to LD self-contained.
You would enter this information into your table:
Now assume you have a letter written by the parent about this IEP.
You can include this letter in your master list as follows:
Step Five: Incorporate New Documents
New documents will continue to arrive. You will have to decide which documents to exclude and include. You will continue to modify your list as you receive more information.
Using the "sort" feature of your word processing program, you can sort the documents by date, author, or subject line. When you add a document, resort your table by date to place the new entry in the proper place.
Step Six: Prepare Your Exhibits and Exhibit List
As the trial
date and exchange of documents nears, you are in the final stage of exhibit
One the first page, below the style of the case and above the actual list of exhibits, I add additional information as follows:
child's dob: 1/3/94
During the heat of trial, this cross-reference about the child's age and school placement will help refresh the memories of witnesses as they testify.
Step Seven: Send Your Master Exhibit List
your "Master Exhibit List" and documents early. This author
usually sends the exhibit list and documents one or two weeks before the
required date. You can add late-arriving exhibits, vita, and journal articles
at the last minute, before the mandatory date.
Your final trial exhibit list and documents should also include vita of your expert witnesses, and journal articles that may be relevant to the issues in the case. This author often includes portions of Back to School on Civil Rights (published by The National Council on Disabilities in 2000).
You need to have sets of exhibits for the Hearing Officer / Administrative Law Judge, opposing counsel, your clients, yourself, and one for the witness chair. You already provided your witnesses with the exhibits.
Eight: Create a Comprehensive Master Exhibit List
This column includes the attorney's confidential notes about specific exhibits, a page number to quote during witness examination, test scores, and other pertinent data. This new document will help you keep track of the theme of the case and important data in specific exhibits during the heat of trial. During the trial, the simpler "Master Exhibit List" is the primary document utilized, but, from time to time, you will find yourself reviewing your "Comprehensive" List.
While parents can view this "Comprehensive Master Exhibit List" before the hearing, do not provide them with a copy of this document. Parents may be inclined to rely on this list to help their recollections while testifying. When a witness refers to a document to refresh their memory while testifying, opposing counsel is entitled to see the document.
Nine: Pre-trial Preparation
to five a.m. on the morning of the first day of the hearing, review each
exhibit again. At this time, mark and highlight key exhibits that you
will use during the hearing. Add this new information to your "Comprehensive
Master Exhibit List" and print the list again.
"This is your report, right?"
"Johnny was 14 years old when you tested him?"
"Please turn now to page three, second paragraph, first line. Your report states that 'Johnny was reading at the third grade level as measured by the Woodcock Johnson Reading Mastery Test.' You use the Woodcock to measure reading grade level?"
"In the middle of page 5, I believe you reported that Johnny's Full Scale IQ score is 93 and that is in the average range?"
"Do you find that most 14 year old children with average IQs are in the ninth grade?"
"Johnny was in the ninth grade when you tested him, wasn't he?"
"Most ninth graders generally read around the eighth, to ninth to tenth grade levels, right?"
"Johnny is six years behind his peer group, isn't he?"
"If my memory is correct, I believe that he has been in special education for his reading problems for the past five years. Is my recollection correct?"
"Despite the program your system provided, Johnny has fallen further behind his peers, hasn't he?"
"The program has not worked, has it?
"Thank you, I have no further questions."
During this examination, you did not look at the exhibit, but locked eyes with the witness. By using inflection, the witness is merely agreeing with your "testimony" and responding "yes" to each question. (For more about this technique, see Posner and Dodd's "The Science of Cross-Examination" in the Advocate's Bookstore at Wrightslaw.)
prepare the "Master Exhibit List" and "Comprehensive Master
Exhibit List" as described in this article, you will have a structure
and framework that will provide you with excellent pre-trial preparation.
About Pete Wright
With his wife Pam, Pete co-authored Wrightslaw: Special Education Law and Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy - The Special Education Survival Guide.
written many articles that are available from the Wrightslaw website,
the Special Ed Child: A Manual for the Attorney and Advocate
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