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September 27, 2020

How Should The Bar Weigh Aspiring Attorneys' Mental Health?


Partner Trisha Rich spoke with Law360 about representing Thomas Skelton in his fight for admission to the Illinois bar. Mr. Skelton passed the Illinois bar in 2017, but was rejected by the Committee on Character and Fitness following a mental health episode. He was later diagnosed with delusional disorder and put on medication. Mr. Skelton went back to the Committee to request conditional admission citing that his illness was under control, but was rejected once again. He is now urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case so it can clarify whether the Americans with Disabilities Act is applicable to considerations of admission to state bars, and whether an applicant's disability and any related "reasonable" accommodations should be factors to be considered in making such determinations. His rejection continues to raise questions about whether members of state bar admissions boards are best suited to make decisions about candidates' mental disabilities.

It's not doctors or therapists or social workers who sit on that committee, Ms. Rich said, and the committee ignored Skelton's doctors' testimony that he has his illness under control. "That testimony was unrebutted, and the committee disregarded it," she said. "His medical providers show up and say the treatment is working, and we say, that's still not good enough for us, that really undercuts our goal to tell people to get help." Ms. Rich said she felt it was vitally important to bring Skelton's case, saying the legal industry can't "feign surprise" about experiences like his anymore. "The profession cannot talk out of both sides of its mouth on this any longer. Either this is something we care deeply about and are committed to working on and fixing, or it's not."

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