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BLE suit moves forward

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Even as the Indiana Board of Law Examiners searches for a new leader, a federal lawsuit remains pending against the state agency’s questions to prospective lawyers about their mental and emotional health.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in late December upheld the May ruling of Magistrate Judge William Hussmann that applicants’ privacy concerns outweighed the need for the BLE to obtain any additional mental health information in discovery. The judge and magistrate assignments have since changed, and Judge Pratt has been weighing that discovery issue for the past several months.

Filed in late 2009, the case of Amanda Perdue, et al. v. The Individual Members of the Indiana State Board of Law Examiners, No. 1:09-CV-0842, boils down to accusations that the Indiana bar examination application violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because of certain mental health questions. The plaintiffs are Amanda Perdue, an Indiana resident who’s admitted to practice in Illinois but wants to practice in her home state, as well as the student ACLU chapter at Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis where individuals could be impacted by the BLE’s questions.

Judge Pratt’s order Dec. 23 affirms what Magistrate Hussmann had decided earlier last year: that Perdue doesn’t have to answer specific interrogatories from the state BLE and that the board is barred from additional discovery on any of the anonymous class members.

Examining the magistrate’s order and the case at hand, Judge Pratt wasn’t persuaded by the board’s argument that it needs that information to determine whether Perdue is a qualified individual with a disability and constitutes a direct threat to public safety. The applicant has already provided a significant amount of information about her mental health history and that is good enough for the state’s analysis, the judge ruled.

This case is a facial challenge and not one that constitutes a “regarded as” claim, and Judge Pratt decided based on that she isn’t convinced the magistrate’s ruling was clearly erroneous or contrary to law.

Previously, a status hearing was set for April and the court docket doesn’t indicate whether that remains scheduled now that Magistrate Mark Dinsmore has been assigned to the case. Currently, the state has requested that it have until Jan. 19 to file a motion for summary judgment and a response to the summary judgment motion filed by plaintiffs late last year. The extension is needed because BLE counsel took an extended holiday vacation and because of “the complex legal issues and important public policy implications raised by this case,” according to the filed motion.

This is the latest happening since early December, when the BLE’s executive director Linda Loepker resigned from her position unexpectedly. Neither the court nor Loepker has offered an explanation as to what caused the departure and none of the court filings indicate that her departure was connected to this litigation or that it has impacted its progress at this point.

BLE attorney Anthony Overholt with Frost Brown Todd declined to comment on the case progress in recent weeks and instead referred questions to BLE president Jon Laramore.

In an e-mail to Indiana Lawyer, Laramore wrote, “Linda Loepker's departure has not affected the litigation. The briefing will go forward on the schedule set by the court.”

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