An Idaho attorney whose practice was interrupted by bouts of depression has lost a bid for admission by reciprocity to the Utah State Bar. 

The Utah Supreme Court on December 21 rejected Timothy Spencer’s argument that the bar ran afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it denied him admission. The five-judge panel determined that even though Spencer received disability payments for his depression while not practicing, the court was not required to waive the bar association’s requirement that attorneys seeking admission by reciprocity must have practiced for three of the past five years in another jurisdiction.

In addition, the court rejected Spencer’s arguments that the Utah Bar violated equal-protection rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.

Spencer was admitted to practice in Idaho in 1983 and practiced there until 1995, according to the decision. In 1995, he voluntarily quit his practice because of anxiety and depression. Two years later, he resumed practice but stopped again in 2001 for the same reasons. By that time, Spencer had actively practiced law for 16 years in Idaho and had received an award for his professionalism from the Idaho State Bar.

In 2003, the U.S. Social Security Administration declared Spencer disabled by depression and anxiety. The next year, he changed his status with the Idaho bar to “inactive” and moved to Utah, where he has remained. He worked there as a law clerk, helped with pro bono cases and acquired numerous continuing legal education credits, according to the court. In 2009, after his doctor said he could resume practicing law, he changed his status with the Idaho bar back to “active.”

In 2010, he sought admission to practice in Utah under reciprocity, which meant that he wouldn’t have to take the state’s bar exam. The bar association denied his request because he did not meet the active-practice requirement.

The court, in rejecting Spencer’s argument that the Utah State Bar violated the ADA, wrote that it was not clear whether he was disabled under that law, even though he received disability payments from the Social Security Administration.

Determining whether an individual is entitled to accommodation under the ADA requires a three-step analysis, which the court declined to make. Instead, it found that even if Spencer were covered by the ADA, he was not entitled to an accommodation.

“Waiving the active practice requirement would allow admission of an applicant who has neither satisfied the active practice requirement nor passed the bar examination,” Justice Matthew Durrant wrote for the court. “This would ‘fundamentally alter the nature’ of the bar admissions program and is not required under the ADA.”

The court noted that Spencer had the option of acquiring the required experience for admission by reciprocity in Idaho or taking the Utah bar exam.

The court held that the law requiring three out of five years of active practice did not violate the state or federal constitutions’ equal-protection clauses because the state had a rational basis for requiring the years of practice and did not treat people with disabilities differently from the non-disabled.

Representing Spencer was Michael Reason, a solo practitioner in Ogden, Utah.

“Frankly, it was a well-reasoned decision, but it was disappointing to us,” Reason said. Spencer has not decided what his next step might be regarding admission, he said.

Representing the Utah State Bar was Katherine Fox, general counsel for the organization. She did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Contact Leigh Jones at ljones@alm.com.