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Judge: query goes too far

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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.•

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  1. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

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  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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