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Judge unsure about ACLU student chapter

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An Indianapolis-based federal judge wants to know more before he decides whether a student chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has standing to seek class certification in a lawsuit against the Indiana Board of Law Examiners. At least one student alleges her constitutional rights are violated by questions on the bar exam application.

But the judge found that an Illinois attorney who wants to sit for the Indiana bar exam does have standing to seek class certification, and he's granted that status in this litigation while the issue involving the student chapter at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis remains open.

U.S. District Judge William T. Lawrence on Friday issued a 10-page order in Amanda Perdue, et al. v. The Individual Members of the Indiana State Board of Law Examiners, 1:09-CV-842. In the past week, the ACLU of Indiana amended its complaint to include Perdue's real name after the judge had previously ruled that she couldn't proceed anonymously.

Perdue challenges the BLE requirement that she provide information about her physical and mental health when filling out her application to take the state bar exam. She'd answered "yes" in response to a question about her mental health, and as a result the BLE requested additional detail and referred her to the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program for a mental health review. Instead of consenting, Perdue withdrew her application and in July sued the state over the issue, alleging that some of the application questions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ACLU student chapter later joined her as a plaintiff to prevent the BLE from inquiring about future bar applicants' mental health. One student, the president of the student organization, signed on and said she was aware of at least one group member who intended to take the Indiana bar exam at some point and could be impacted by these questions.

Both parties requested class certification, but the state argued that the student chapter doesn't have standing to be a class representative in this case.

"As an initial matter, the Defendants vigorously argue that the ACLU is not an appropriate class representative.... Much of the Defendants' argument against the ACLU's role as a class representative appears to be an allegation that the ACLU lacks standing," the judge wrote. "The Plaintiffs Reply does not address this issue. Because the Court is presently unable to determine whether the ACLU has standing, the parties are ordered to brief this issue. Until the Court determines that the ACLU has standing, the Court will not address whether it is an appropriate class representative."

Judge Lawrence gave the ACLU three weeks to file a brief in support of its standing, and 14 days from then for the state to reply before he again considers the issue.

As for Perdue, the judge determined she met the standard required by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure about class action status and that it should be granted. A hearing is set for March 12 in the case, but that date may be continued to a later time. The anticipated two-day trial is planned for April 2011.

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