ILNews

Judge: query goes too far

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

A federal judge has found that one of the Indiana bar exam application questions violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because it infringes on potential lawyers’ privacy rights.

U.S. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt upheld three other questions about mental health and determined the Indiana Board of Law Examiners has the right to make those inquiries of people who want to practice law within the state.

The Southern District of Indiana judge released a 23-page ruling Sept. 20, less than a month after she heard arguments in the two-year-old case.

The lawsuit boils down to accusations that four questions on the state’s bar exam application violate the ADA because those inquiries treat certain applicants differently based on their mental health history. By answering affirmatively on any of those specific questions, applicants are required to fill out a different form that sparks a more individualized review by the BLE and Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program.

Plaintiffs who have challenged the questions as too intrusive are students at Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis as well as a 2007 Valparaiso University School of Law graduate who lives in Indiana and wants to become a lawyer here after practicing at a prestigious Chicago law firm.

The BLE argued that by simply asking these questions, the state is doing nothing wrong and is not treating individuals differently; rather the process is gathering more information to determine if a potential concern exists that might impact a person’s ability to practice law.

Attorneys disagreed about what triggers an “injury” under Title II of the ADA, and Judge Pratt sided with the plaintiffs in making a determination that they are treated differently simply by answering questions about their mental health.

In her ruling, Judge Pratt began by noting the important context of the case: how mental illness is pervasive in society, disproportionally affects lawyers nearly at four times the rate of the general public, and how a social stigma does exist for those dealing with these issues. She looked at Questions 22 through 25 and asked whether those queries go too far.

Judge Pratt found specifically that Questions 22, 24, and 25 – all delving into specific medical history and mental and psychological conditions that might impact one’s current practice of law – do not violate the ADA and are permitted. The BLE presented sound evidence and background for asking those questions, she ruled.

But describing Question 23 as quite possibly the most expansive bar application question in the country, Judge Pratt found the state’s BLE violates the ADA by asking bar applicants to disclose any mental, emotional, or nervous disorders they have had from age 16 to the present.

The judge found the question is too open-ended, and could be confusing to bar applicants – such as a 1L who might have to disclose that he or she sought counseling to help relax because of one-time anxiety about an upcoming exam. She cited statistics that only 17 of the 94 applicants who answered Question 23 affirmatively in 2009 were referred to JLAP – showing that the inquiry produces false positives and that the time period in the question is arbitrary and not designed to capture “direct threats” to the state’s bar. The judge also determined that any information produced from that question can be obtained from the other three questions.

“Perhaps no set of bar application questions could strike the perfect balance between detecting problematic bar applicants and respecting applicants’ privacy,” Judge Pratt wrote, noting that these types of reviews will also lead to some false positives and negatives in flagging problematic applicants. “While the Board has no doubt endeavored to strike the right balance, in the Court’s view, Question 23 simply goes too far and strays outside of the parameters of the ADA.”

American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana legal director Ken Falk said he isn’t sure what comes next, but he’s pleased the court acknowledged Question 23 was too broad because that impacted the most applicants. Indianapolis attorney Jon Laramore, who chairs the BLE, said the judge’s ruling fits with mainstream caselaw that’s been established in about a dozen jurisdictions nationwide on this topic. The state might remove that question and determine how other questions could be revised to be a little more specific, he said.

“We try to make this process as unintrusive as possible, and the board’s view is that we can still fulfill our core function without that broad question,” he said.•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  2. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  3. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  4. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  5. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

ADVERTISEMENT