INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – The Indiana State Board of Law Examiners places unlawful burdens on people with disabilities, making unwarranted inquiries into Bar applicants’ emotional disorders and treatments, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, an attorney claims in a federal class action.
The Jane Doe plaintiff claims that mental health inquiries in the Indiana Bar exam application, and extensive follow-up questions that must be answered upon admission of a diagnosis of emotional or nervous disorders, violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The plaintiff is an attorney who practices in Illinois but does not meet the requirements for admission to the Indiana Bar on a foreign license. She claims that by their very nature, questions about bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia and past substance abuse create an unfair barrier during the process of admission to the Indiana Bar.
A series of questions on the exam application ask whether the applicant has ever been diagnosed with a mental, emotional or nervous disorder, whether the applicant has been diagnosed with this disorder since the age of 16, whether the applicant has any condition that could affect her ability to practice law, and whether the applicant is being treated for such a condition.
An affirmative response to any of these questions triggers a requirement that the applicant must answer more detailed personal questions about the condition and the treatment being received. The applicant is also asked to sign a blanket request for all of her medical records.
Finally, the application process requires that any applicant answering affirmatively to the original battery of questions submit to further evaluation and assessment as ordered by the Judges and Lawyers assistance Program, a program of the Indiana Supreme Court.
The plaintiff says she is a graduate of Illinois Law School and a member in good standing of the Illinois Bar. She has been diagnosed as suffering from anxiety disorder and pos- traumatic stress disorder.
Having received mental health counseling, while in law school and afterward, Doe says she has been able to function at a high level and has never been subject to discipline as an attorney.
Despite not meeting the requirements for admission under foreign license, she meets all the educational qualifications for taking the Indiana Bar exam, her suit states.
Doe answered all the questions truthfully, and presented letters from the mental health professionals who treated her, attesting to her soundness as an individual and an attorney.
Despite this, the Indiana State Board of Law Examiners maintained that no determination of her character and fitness could be made until it had completed its own examination. Doe withdrew her application before a determination was made.
She does not estimate of the size of the class, but suggests that the number is significant. A total of 816 people took the Indiana Bar exam in 2007, and another 745 in 2008.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an estimated 1 in 4 adults experience a mental health disorder in any given year. A 4-year study of law students at the University of Maryland found that 15 percent of them sought counseling during the study period; nearly all were diagnosed as suffering from a mental illness.
Doe demands declaratory judgment, an injunction and costs. She is represented by Kenneth Falk with the American Civil Liberties Union.