September 8, 2020
Jane Doe had practiced law for a number of years in Florida, when she moved to Kentucky. She passed the Kentucky bar and sought to be admitted. But there was a problem: Doe suffered from Bipolar Disorder. It does not appear to have affected her ability to practice law, but the powers-that-be in Kentucky wanted to take a closer look at her medical history. A seriously close look.
It took them three years.
During that time, Doe taught civics, safety and sewing to refugees.
After finally being sworn in, Doe sued the Bar Association in federal court for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
The federal district court ruled that, since Doe had been admitted to practice in Kentucky, she no longer had a justiciable claim, and dismissed her suit. But the court was obviously unhappy with the result, which was the legally correct decision, but left hanging a very important moral and ethical principle. As the court wrote, “Aspiring lawyers should seek the health care they need. But if Kentucky continues to punish people who get help, many won’t. And one day a law student will die after choosing self-help over medical care because he worried a Character and Fitness Committee would use that medical treatment against him — as Kentucky’s did against Jane Doe.”
“It is not,” the court concluded, “a matter of if, but when.”
Postscript: New Hampshire has removed from its bar admissions application any questions about mental illness and therapy.