Precedent-Setting Decision Ends Mental Health Discrimination Against Prospective Lawyers

Rob Wipond
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The US Department of Justice has determined that the Louisiana Supreme Court has been operating in breach of the Americans with Disabilities Act by unfairly preventing people with mental health histories from becoming lawyers. Before admitting them to the bar, the Louisiana Supreme Court had been asking prospective lawyers with mental health histories for copies of their medical records, and had been forcing them to submit to medical examinations and other “onerous monitoring and reporting requirements,” stated a DOJ press release.

“The department’s investigation found that during the Louisiana bar admissions process licensing entities based recommendations about bar admission on mental health diagnosis and treatment rather than conduct that would warrant denial of admission to the bar,” the DOJ press release stated. “The department found that diagnosis and treatment, without problematic conduct, did not effectively predict future misconduct as an attorney and did not justify restrictions on admission.”

“Today’s [settlement] agreement will ensure that qualified bar applicants with mental health disabilities are able to pursue their dream of becoming licensed attorneys, without discrimination based on diagnosis or treatment,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Molly Moran of the Civil Rights Division said in the press release.

According to the settlement agreement, the investigation was launched after a complaint from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “We are pleased that the settlement reiterates what our complaints made clear,” Bazelon legal director Ira Burnim was quoted saying in a blog post from the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. “The ADA prohibits bar examiners from inquiring into applicants’ mental health conditions when the applicants’ past conduct and performance demonstrate that they are fit to practice. There are state bar examiners that continue to operate under policies similar to those Louisiana had used. Those states are on notice that they also must end such policies.”

Department of Justice Reaches Agreement with the Louisiana Supreme Court to Protect Bar Candidates with Disabilities (US Department of Justice Press Release, August 15, 2014)

SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT UNDER THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (US Department of Justice ADA.gov)

Victory Over Discrimination Against Bar Applicants (New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, August 21, 2014)

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Rob Wipond
Rob Wipond is a Victoria, British Columbia-based freelance journalist who has been writing on mental health issues for fifteen years. His research has particularly focused on the interfaces between psychiatry, the justice system, and civil rights. His articles have been nominated for three Canadian National Magazine Awards, six Western Magazine Awards, and four Jack Webster Awards for journalism. He can be contacted through his website.

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