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For all the criticism the Connecticut state bar examiners have attracted, they might as well be wearing a “Kick Me” sign. The Connecticut state bar president William F. Gallagher and state Senate president pro tem Kevin B. Sullivan have both sent stinging letters of protest to Connecticut Bar examining committee (CBEC) head Raymond W. Beckwith; and on June 22, University of Connecticut law professor Jon Bauer filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s disability rights section. The complaint to the Justice’s Civil Rights Division invokes the Americans with Disabilities Act. It asks the CBEC to scrap questions about disabilities, and expunge the record of complainant Rose M. Gower, a successful 1998 applicant who had to disclose details of her hospitalization, at age 17, for mental health treatment in the aftermath of a traumatic incident. The complaint cites the new question that asks about “bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia, clinical depression or any other psychotic disorder/condition” found or treated in the last five years. Beckwith’s committee met June 16, but made no changes in the questions for February, 2001. Those queries do not have to be final until about a week before the questionnaire is printed for Oct. 1 availability, says Beckwith. In the meantime, the CBEC is researching the question. Interestingly, 35 states have their character and fitness research conducted by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which uses a uniform application. It’s viewable at NCBEX.org, notes John Delaney, its director of admissions. Nationally, mental health questions haven’t been highly controversial since the mid 90′s, says Delaney. But in Connecticut, which conducts its own investigations and asks its own questions, the new queries hit a nerve. NOT APPROPRIATE In Gallagher’s letter to Beckwith of June 12, he wrote, “While we understand the Committee’s goal of determining the character and fitness of individuals to enter the profession, and its efforts to protect the public from inept lawyers, the Connecticut Bar Association agrees with Senator Sullivan that the questions are intrusive of privacy and unacceptable.” He wrote that in Rhode Island, the inquiry was trimmed from a five-year period to “current conditions.” That state’s question is a model: “Are you currently suffering from any disorder that impairs your judgment or that would otherwise adversely affect your ability to practice law?” Gallagher cites with approval the fall 1997 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics article, “Narrowing of State Bar Examiner Inquiries into the Mental Health of Bar Applicants: Bar Examiner Objectives are met Better Through Attorney Education, Rehabilitation and Discipline.” The American Bar Association, he notes, passed resolutions in 1994 encouraging bar examiners to “consider the privacy concerns of bar admission applicants” and to tailor questions about mental health and treatment “narrowly in order to elicit information about current fitness to practice law.” The questions should not discourage people from seeking professional help with personal problems. On behalf of the Connecticut Bar Association (CBA), Gallagher asks the examiners to reconsider its position and to drop the mental health questions. Beckwith is a former CBA president. He replied to Gallagher June 15, and questioned the process by which the CBA found the questions unfit. In an interview, Gallagher said the opinion did not come from a formal vote by the Board of Delegates. However, the view was shared by the immediate past, present and upcoming bar presidents and was communicated to the delegates by e-mail. “We plan to bring it up at the next meeting. If there was real opposition to this,” he said, “believe me, they’d have let me know.” A YEAR’S HUMILIATION Bauer’s client in the federal ADA complaint is a 1995 Wesleyan alumna who graduated from the University of Maine School of Law in 1998. Without delay she became a member of the Maine bar in Feb. 1999. Her work as a Connecticut Superior Court law clerk led to a clerkship with the Maine Supreme Court, scheduled to begin in October of this year. According to her complaint, however, her subsequent effort to become a member of the Connecticut Bar was “humiliating and degrading,” due to the mental health inquiries. She continued responding to requests for more medical disclosures in March, April and May, detailing all medications taken since 1991, including contraceptives, antihistamines and cold medicines. Finally, on June 12 she was admitted to the Connecticut bar. Under Practice Book Rules, her disclosures may be made available to judges of the Superior Court, the Connecticut Bar examining committee’s 24 members, the Statewide Grievance Committee or any foreign jurisdiction in which she applies for admission. The complaint says the material is “irrelevant to her fitness to practice law” and should be expunged. It also says the mental health questions should go. Beckwith was concerned about the disclosures in the applicant’s complaint. “I want to make clear that none of the information in the complaint came from us,” he said. Except for a few exceptions, he emphasized, the CBEC files are confidential.

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