Mental Health At Core Of Florida Bar Admission Case

Nov 15, 2016

A board that oversees admissions to The Florida Bar is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by an attorney who alleges he has faced unfair scrutiny because he is a recovering alcoholic who suffers from depression.

The attorney, identified in court documents as John Doe, is licensed to practice in Arizona and Wisconsin and submitted an application last year to be admitted to The Florida Bar. But in the lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Tallahassee, the attorney contends that the Florida Board of Bar Examiners has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by asking questions related to mental-health conditions and requiring additional evaluation before deciding whether to sign off on his application.

But lawyers for the board, an agency of the Florida Supreme Court, filed a document last week asking U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to dismiss the lawsuit. In part, the document said John Doe's "application for admission is an ongoing judicial proceeding" and that it would be inappropriate for the federal judge to issue an injunction sought in the lawsuit.

Also, the board argued it was justified in a requiring an additional evaluation as part of what is known as a "character and fitness investigation."

The lawsuit said John Doe has been sober since 2005 and that questions asked of applicants about mental-health diagnoses and conditions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act because they "substitute an impermissible inquiry into the status of disabled applicants for a proper inquiry into the applicant's conduct, forcing qualified applicants to reveal highly personal and potentially embarrassing information that is not relevant to their fitness to practice law."

"The questions discriminate against applicants with mental health histories by subjecting them to additional burdens based on their disability, including unnecessary scrutiny, delay, embarrassment and potential or actual economic loss," the lawsuit said.