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The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has launched a class action against that state’s board of law examiners, asserting that inquiries into the mental health of those seeking a law license violate federal disabilities law. The ACLU filed the lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of a woman licensed in Illinois who is seeking admission to the Indiana State Bar Association. Identified as “Jane Doe” in the action, the plaintiff seeks an injunction prohibiting the Indiana State Board of Law Examiners from asking certain questions about mental fitness. She also seeks a declaratory judgment that the questions on the application and the board’s follow-up procedures violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. The case mirrors actions in other states that have challenged certain questions regarding mental health on professional license applications. Similar challenges have resulted in the removal or modification of such questions in Maine, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The Indiana application asks, among other questions, whether an applicant has been treated or diagnosed “for any mental, emotional or nervous disorders” at any time from age 16 to the present. It requires applicants who answer affirmatively to provide detailed information about the type of problem and in some cases to submit to evaluation by the Indiana Supreme Court’s Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program. “The whole inquiry is misguided,” said Kenneth J. Falk, an attorney with the ACLU of Indiana who represents the plaintiff. The size of the class potentially could include about 10 percent of the 700 people each year who seek a law license in Indiana, based on the proportion of people with mental or emotional problems among the general population, Falk said. The Indiana state Attorney General’s Office, which was served with the complaint, declined to comment. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the board’s questions and procedures subject the plaintiff and the class members to “different and elevated burdens” because of their “history of mental, emotional or nervous disorders” as qualified individuals with disabilities, in violation of the ADA. Doe v. Individual Members of the Indiana State Board of Law Examiners, No. 1:09-cv-0842. According to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, the plaintiff is a graduate of an Indiana law school who is in good standing with the Illinois bar and was diagnosed as suffering from anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. She has received counseling and has functioned at a high level in law school and in practice, the complaint said. After the board of examiners called for an evaluation of her application by the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program last year, she withdrew her application. She hopes to take the bar exam in February. The ACLU is pursuing a preliminary injunction preventing the board from making its inquiries while the case is pending.

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