CURRENT LITIGATION

LOUISIANA BAR CONDITIONAL ADMISSIONS

In January 2011, the Bazelon Center filed an administrative complaint with the Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division on behalf of a young attorney granted a “conditional admission” to practice law in Louisiana because of her mental health diagnosis.

Less than a full license to practice, conditional admissions have been justified as a means of expanding opportunities for practicing law for people with mental illnesses. In practice, however, conditional admissions have become a vehicle for imposing onerous and discriminatory conditions on people with mental illnesses who seek admission to the Bar. See our comments on Tennessee’s conditional Bar admission proposal in 2009.

The Louisiana Bar requires applicants to disclose on its “character and fitness” questionnaire any diagnosis or treatment for bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia, or any other psychotic disorder in the five years prior to application. Our client sought treatment during law school for relatively mild bipolar disorder. The Louisiana Bar imposed her conditional admission without any evidence or medical opinion that her condition was likely to interfere with her practice of law.

Our client was required, among other things, to submit for a period of five years to regular “check-ins” by a court-appointed monitor and have a psychiatrist submit quarterly reports to Louisiana’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel.  Further, her monitor may make inquiries of her employer or supervising attorney concerning her work. These stigmatizing and intrusive conditions, we claim, violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The complaint requests that DOJ secure for our client an unconditional license to practice law and an end to Louisiana’s discriminatory pattern and practice of subjecting people with mental illnesses to conditional admissions based solely on their diagnosis and without just cause.

On February 10, 2014 the U.S. Department of justice informed Louisiana officials that they were subjecting law graduates who seek admission to the bar to unlawful inquiries concerning their mental health condition and treatment.

 

FORUM

U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section

DATE FILED

January 2011

PARTIES

Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana, Louisiana Committee on Bar Admissions, Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel

 

STATUS

Ongoing

 

 

RESOURCES

LEGAL DOCUMENTS

  • DOJ Letter on Bar Admissions
  • Redacted Complaint
  • Expert Report by Dr. Howard Zonana: This expert report made by Dr. Howard Zonana to the Rhode Island Supreme Court explains why inquiries into past mental health treatment are not relevant to determining a person’s fitness to practice law. Dr. Zonana cites relevant studies, including a study showing that bar applicants with pre-admission mental health histories were no more likely than other applicants to later engage in misconduct as attorneys, and that histories of conduct problems were far more relevant in predicting attorney discipline issues. Dr. Zonana teaches at Yale School of Medicine and has previously served as an expert witness in a number of related cases.
  • Comments on Tennessee’s Conditional Bar Admission Proposal
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