Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Proper Treatment Of Mental Illness In Bar Disciplinary Proceedings

An attorney who had engaged in misconduct in two matters during a period when he was "experiencing mental health issues" was suspended for three years by the Washington State Supreme Court.

While representing two clients, the attorney left the state for around three weeks and his outgoing phone message "stated that his office was permanently closed."

At a hearing in one of the client matters, he "appeared but exhibited exceedingly odd behavior" that included bared teeth, shadow boxing and karate moves. He "asked nonsensical questions and made rambling objections." After a recess, he "laughed hysterically, very loudly and walked off laughing down the hallway."

The attorney later left "bizarre voice mails" with the city attorney's office. He was taken by police for an evaluation and diagnosed with substance abuse induced psychosis.

He abandoned his solo practice after his service dog (he is visually impaired) was "apparently shot and killed by a fish and wildlife officer."

While the court majority was sympathetic, it concluded that public protection required the sanction imposed.

A thoughful dissent from Justice McCloud:

Mental health problems require mental health solutions...we should not punish a person for his or her mental illness. It is not an effective way to deter the individual from slipping under the bell jar [citing Sylvia Plath]...[a]nd it is not a proper or moral response to mental illness.

(Mike Frisch)

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