Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Legal community turns out in force to support Retention Judges

The Chicago Cultural Center's Preston Bradley Hall was the setting last evening for the 2016 Reception Honoring Retention Judges. The event was well attended, as always.

Last night's event was the only fundraiser for the joint retention effort (sparing the retention judges from the burden of raising funds on their own) and proceeds will fund advertising in support of the retention class.

Pictured above are two members of the retention class,
Judge Nicholas R. Ford and Judge Sharon O. Johnson.

Many retired judges were present at last night's gathering
offering their support to retention judges. Shown here
are retention candidate Edward Washington, II and retired Judge
(and current mediator) Jennifer Duncan-Brice.

A number of current jurists (not up for retention) also came out to support their brothers and sisters seeking retention.

Pictured here is newly selected Associate Judge
Mohammed Ghouse with retention candidates
Judges Clare Elizabeth McWilliams and Kay M. Hanlon.

Shown above here are newly selected Associate Judge Mary Catherine Marubio, Judge Kristal Rivers, and Judge William B. Raines.

Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown was at last night's event as well. She is pictured below, at lower left, with (clockwise) Travis Richardson, Tom McGuire, and retention Judge Bonita Coleman.

Twelfth Subcircuit candidate ("A" vacancy) James E. Hanlon also made the rounds last evening. He is shown below, at right, with (from left) retired Judge (and author) Sam Amirante and attorney Steve Daday.

Hanlon was not the only other candidate in a contested judicial race working the room. I'm sure I didn't see all, but I did have a chance to chat briefly with David Studenroth (one of the candidates for the Tristano vacancy in 12th Subcircuit). There was also a camera crew from Channel 2 in the room. I did not get to see whether any footage made the 10:00 News, but I'm certain some reader will know one way or the other.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It all turns on the meaning of "that" -- write-in votes for Judge Ahmad to be counted

Write-in votes for Judge Maryam Ahmad will be counted in the race for the 1st Subcircuit Hopkins vacancy.

That's the gist of Judge Alfred Paul's Opinion issued earlier today in the case of Maryam Ahmad v. Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, et al., 2016 COEL 000019. The Law Bulletin's David Thomas is reporting this evening that the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners will not appeal today's decision. (The Chicago Board of Elections had ruled Judge Ahmad's declaration of intent to run as a write-in for the Hopkins vacancy invalid because she had been defeated as a candidate in the March Primary for the 1st Subcircuit Brim vacancy.)

Judge Paul's decision today quotes the relevant portion of the applicable statutes, §§17-16.1 and 18-9.1 of the Election Code, as follows: "A candidate for whom a nomination paper has been filed as a partisan candidate at a primary election, and who is defeated for his or her nomination at the primary election is ineligible to file a declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate for election in that general or consolidated election."

The court found this language to be "clear and unequivocal." "Specifically," Judge Paul wrote, "the language of the statute states that a candidate 'is ineligible to file a declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate for election in THAT general or consolidated election (emphasis added).' That refers directly back to the prior language in the same provision regarding a 'nomination paper filed at the primary election.'" Therefore, although Judge Ahmad was a candidate for the Brim vacancy, she can now be a write-in candidate for the Hopkins vacancy in the upcoming general election.

Because the 1st Subcircuit includes both City and suburban precincts, today's order is binding as to both the Chicago Board of Elections and the Cook County Clerk. Judge Ahmad's election law attorney, Burton S. Odelson, told FWIW, today's decision is "a victory for ballot access and giving people a choice."

The only candidate whose name will be printed on the ballot for the 1st Subcircuit Hopkins vacancy is former law clerk Rhonda Crawford. (Crawford was dismissed from her job as a law clerk in the Chief Judge's office after it was determined that she had pretended to be a judge already and ruled in at least a couple of cases in a real judge's Markham courtroom.) Voters wishing to make a different choice will still have to write in Judge Maryam Ahmad's name.

My thanks to Mr. Odelson for providing me with a copy of today's order -- and for being gracious enough not to say 'I told you so' despite my erroneous speculation about the likely interpretation of the relevant statutes in this post.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

WGN investigating... what, exactly?

While many of us were watching the Bears getting picked apart by the Eagles, WGN-TV aired the latest installment of its long-dormant Judging the Judges series, Trouble in the courtroom. The link will take you to the WGN Investigates site and the text of last night's piece; the video link of last night's presentation was working at the time this post was published.

The ostensible subject of the piece was the Turner-Crawford business, I guess, with an emphasis on Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans's role in hiring Crawford as a law clerk and assigning Judge Turner to the courtroom where Crawford would, for a little while, pretend to be a judge and dispose of some traffic cases on Judge Turner's call.

I'm going to indulge in a little speculation here, clearly labeled as such, and suggest that Judge Evans's responsibilities for both Turner and Crawford are more of the captain-of-the-ship variety as opposed to his having any extensive involvement in the placement of either. And while Crawford was, technically, in the employ of the Chief Judge's office, I'd guess that, before this incident, Judge Evans likely had little or no contact with Crawford whatsoever. She was presumably not, as the MBAs like to say, a 'direct report.' (It would be interesting, though, to know what Ms. Crawford was supposed to be doing and for whom. I'm pretty sure her job was not to follow Judge Turner around the courthouse.)

An attorney by the name of Dan Konicek was brought in to note that the fact that former law clerk Crawford is running unopposed for the bench this November is "not a good situation. It just isn't." (WGN did not mention, and may not have been aware of, Judge Maryam Ahmad's recent write-in effort.)

Why was Mr. Konicek the only attorney quoted in the piece? Who knows? Mr. Konicek is a well-known civil trial attorney, and an ITLA board member (although that wasn't mentioned either), but his principal office is in Geneva according to his own firm website and the ARDC. Speculating again here, but I doubt Mr. Konicek has logged a lot of time in the Markham Courthouse where the Turner-Crawford business took place. Konicek's appearance may just mean he was known to the series producer and answered the call when it came. But did other, more local, worthies take a pass on the chance to make similar statements?

Judge Evans has already been reelected as Chief Judge; WGN's report did note that. So... what was WGN's point?

WGN did mention its role in the recent JIB prosecution of Judge Beatriz Santiago, even quoting Judge Santiago's attorney as saying that she accepts her censure and is "ready to go forward and work hard to be a good judge."

In taking its bow, WGN observed that ARDC and JIB investigations are "secret." And slow. So... is last night's piece the opening salvo in a battle to make these sorts of investigations more "transparent"? (I believe that's the current buzzword.) The piece did make the point that, while it will probably come too late to change the outcome of the November election, investigations are probably ongoing into Ms. Crawford's conduct.

Maybe it's the word "investigates" that arouses unnecessary speculation and concern. Maybe all WGN is trying to do is educate, to give its viewers at least a rudimentary understanding of how our courts work. That would be a laudable objective. I suppose we'll just have to wait for WGN's next installment and see what develops.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The headline is Judge Evans wins a sixth term, 129-103

The Tribune article (which I tweeted out last night) says some are calling this a repudiation. But, then, to hedge, it quotes Professor Dick Simpson as saying, in politics, a one-vote win is still a win.

In other words, close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades.

But one very interesting part of the story was the assertion that "several" eligible voters did not show up. Given the recent allegations about no-show judges, that's a pretty loaded word-choice. Let's examine this statement.

According to the Tribune there were 241 judges eligible to vote. If we add up the number of votes reported, we get 231. So that means 10 judges who could have voted weren't there. Ten votes which, if voted as a bloc, would not have changed the outcome.

By my ciphering, 231 actual out of 241 possible is a 95.85% turnout. Given the far-flung nature of the Cook County court system, the difficulty for some in coming downtown from a remote work location during the rush hour and then turning around and heading back... well, have you seen the Kennedy or the Ryan or, really, any "expressway" heading into the City during rush hour?

There could be other reasons why someone might choose not to go. I'm sure you can think of some (and, no, I'm not inviting speculation in this regard).

I don't know who didn't appear... but 95.85% attendance sounds a lot better than "several of the 241 judges able to vote [were] not in attendance." Both, technically, are accurate. But the phrase used puts a more negative spin on the turnout than the alternative available. Do you think that was an accident?

It is important to read any news story with a skeptical eye. Are the writers (or someone on the copy desk, assuming these still exist) taking sides?

The Tribune was certainly not plumping for Evans in this election. The recent spate of articles certainly played up the expressions of support from the African-American community that Chief Judge Evans received in the days leading up to yesterday's vote. I've linked to some of these in recent posts. In the Tribune article linked here, it is reported that Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown endorsed Evans. (Among judges, would that endorsement really have helped Evans? I can't imagine it swayed any actual voter.) In the Tribune account, one judge is quoted as expressing resentment that some African-American ministers had threatened to organize a big "no" vote on retention candidates if Evans was not returned as chief. But I sure didn't see whether anyone asked the ministers if they were aware that Evans himself is among the judges standing for retention this year. Reading the articles casually could create an impression that the Chief Judge contest had become another manifestation of racial polarization -- but, if one read closely, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has long had public disagreements with Judge Evans, was said to be one of the "party leaders" working for his ouster. Her office denied it, and there's no way we can know, one way or the other, who's telling the truth.

And that's the point.

We should strive to form opinions based on facts, and refrain from formulating more than working hypotheses where facts are uncertain. Just because we are inclined to agree with a newspaper article doesn't make it more accurate, or less accurate, than one with which we are inclined to disagree. We have to examine the motives of the writers and publishers of any news account. We have to notice what questions weren't asked, or which answers weren't reported. By refraining from forming fixed and definite opinions based on uncertain facts we can face up to our own biases and potentially overcome them.

The farther one is from a news story, that is, the less one knows personally about the events reported, the more likely it is that one will accept uncritically the slant put forward by those media outlets we are inclined to follow. My current favorite illustration of this is the difference between Candidate Obama---who was absolutely certain that Guantanamo Bay must be shut down immediately---and President Obama who, in nearly eight years, hasn't done that. I assume Candidate Obama was entirely sincere; I know President Obama is not entirely powerless. So there must be another explanation, presumably based on Mr. Obama having better personal knowledge now than he had when first running for office. Seemingly sharp edges, seen from a distance, may grow fuzzy and indistinct on closer inspection. And every lawyer who's ever had any kind of a high-profile case can cite flaws in any news coverage of that matter.

Some readers will be happy this morning that Judge Evans was retained. Some will not. (Others will be too geeked by the Cubs backing into a division title overnight to care.) But all might benefit by taking a moment to evaluate how we analyze this news story and what lessons we can draw from it about analyzing news accounts generally.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Retention Judges reception set for September 26

The Committee for Retention of Judges in Cook County has its website up and running and invites are in the mail and email for tickets to the September 26 reception for the Retention Judges, to be held again this year at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., in Preston Bradley Hall, from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m.

Tickets for the event are $125 each and sponsorships are available (Platinum - $5,000, Gold - $2,500, and Silver - $1,000). Platinum sponsors receive 20 tickets to the event, Gold sponsors receive 10, and Silver sponsors receive 5, and tickets can be purchased online. For more information about the event, call (312) 854-8018.

Full Disclosure: I have purchased a ticket for this reception, as I've done in the past.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

And then there were two....

I have it on very good authority that Judge Sandra Ramos has, just this evening, withdrawn her candidacy for Cook County Chief Judge. In an email to colleagues, Judge Ramos noted that Hispanics make up more than 30% of the population of the City of Chicago but there are no Latino judges in either the Law or Probate Divisions. A "democratic society must embrace diversity," she wrote. Although she declined to endorse either Chief Judge Evans or his remaining challenger, Judge Tom Allen, Judge Ramos her colleagues to search their consciences and "vote for the candidate that exemplifies and embraces these principles as well as adhere to the rules required for the administration of the Circuit Court of Cook County."

The Cook County Bar Association has issued a statement of support for Chief Judge Evans; it is accessible on the CCBA website. Just tonight I received a copy of a letter (posted on the Chicago Defender website), signed by 19 former Presidents of the Cook County Bar Association, urging Evans's reelection as Chief Judge.

The election is tomorrow. More updates if and when they become available....

Mother Tribune weighs in on Chief Judge election... sort of

The Tribune story, by Steve Mills and Todd Lighty, can be found here.

Mills and Lighty quote UIC Professor (and former Alderman) Dick Simpson as saying that "[t]here's obviously a rebellion going on. * * * There's no doubt there's some pushback against Tim Evans."

On the other hand, the authors acknowledge that letters from challengers Tom Allen and Sandra Ramos asking their colleagues for support "are so buttoned-up it is hard to know that a race is even on." The authors quote Simpson, "It's a little like the old days of the machine. It's a pretty closed world."

Simpson ventures no prediction on the outcome of tomorrow's election in the article; he does say that Chief Judge Evans has the "upper hand."

That's called the advantage of incumbency. It's a little like making the home team a 3-point favorite in an NFL game. The person setting the line is not marking anyone a clear favorite.

Here's the way I read the Tribune's article: There's an election for Chief Judge tomorrow. There are three candidates. One of these has been Chief Judge for quite some time. All else is speculation... if not outright horseradish. The biggest dose of horseradish is in the lede:
Before a law clerk in Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans' office last month allegedly donned a robe and impersonated a judge, the race to unseat Evans was relatively restrained, with two judges waging a quiet challenge to Evans' 15-year rule.
The implication, of course, is that now---only now, after this business in Markham---Cook County judges are reassessing their personal satisfaction with their chief. And, sure enough, in the next paragraph, the authors claim that the Turner-Crawford case "has given the race to become the county's top judge new urgency."

Let me suggest a different reading, namely, it was only after the unfortunate business in Markham that Mother Tribune took notice that Chief Judge Evans was up for reelection. My assumption is that the judges voting tomorrow will not be forming their opinions about who should lead them on the basis of that one incident.

Granted, I'm speculating here.

But at least I admit it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Judge Maryam Ahmad will/will not be write-in candidate against Rhonda Crawford

Shortly after announcing her write-in candidacy for the Hopkins vacancy in the 1st Subcircuit, the Chicago Board of Elections ruled Judge Maryam Ahmad ineligible.

Judge Ahmad was defeated in her attempt gain nomination to the 1st Subcircuit Brim vacancy in the March primary; this was the seat to which she had been appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court. She planned to run as a write-in candidate for the 1st Subcircuit Hopkins vacancy. Rhonda Crawford is the duly nominated Democratic candidate for this vacancy. Crawford faced no Republican opposition in November. However, after it was learned that she had pretended to be a judge already, hearing at least two cases in the Markham Courthouse, Crawford was dismissed from her job as a law clerk in the Chief Judge's office. Being as delicate as possible here, the episode does not reflect well on Ms. Crawford, or on her judgment. Judge Ahmad's supporters wanted to present her as a credible alternative to Ms. Crawford.

A potential obstacle to Judge Ahmad's candidacy is suggested by Section 17-16.1 of the Election Code, 10 ILCS 5/17-16.1. The statute provides, in pertinent part, "Write-in votes shall be counted only for persons who have filed notarized declarations of intent to be write-in candidates with the proper election authority or authorities not later than 61 days prior to the election."

But not everyone who files a proper declaration of intent can be a write-in candidate. The statute also provides, "A candidate for whom a nomination paper has been filed as a partisan candidate at a primary election, and who is defeated for his or her nomination at the primary election is ineligible to file a declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate for election in that general or consolidated election." There is identical language in Section 18-9.1 of the Election Code, Article 18 being the Chicago-specific statute, applicable to the conduct of elections and making of returns in municipalities under the jurisdiction of boards of election commissioners.

I've heard these provisions referred to colloquially as the 'sore loser' provision -- and this confused me initially, until I'd had the chance to review the actual statutory language.

A true 'sore loser' provision would simply prevent Candidate Jones, who lost to Candidate Smith in the primary, from trying to force a rematch in the general election.

If the relevant language of the applicable statute is read as a true 'sore loser' provision, Ahmad should be permitted to pursue her write-in candidacy against Crawford. And, according to an article in last evening's Law Bulletin, this is the tack that Judge Ahmad's election law attorney, Burton S. Odelson, will take in a mandamus suit he plans to file (and may have filed already) against the Chicago Board of Elections.

The actual language of the statute, however, would seem to preclude a candidate defeated in the primary from seeking any office whatsoever in the general.

Mr. Odelson, however, is an expert in election law; I am anything but. So I will refrain from making any grandiose predictions and await further developments....

Stephanie Saltouros appointed to 10th Subcircuit vacancy

Still waiting on the press release (I'll link it when it's posted) but the Illinois Supreme Court yesterday appointed Stephanie Saltouros to the 10th Subcircuit vacancy created by the recent elevation of Judge Eileen O'Neill Burke to the Illinois Appellate Court.

Saltouros's appointment is effective September 29 and is scheduled to terminate on December 3, 2018.

FWIW readers will recall that Saltouros was slated by the Democratic Party for a 10th Subcircuit vacancy in the March primary. She withdrew from the race, however, throwing her support to Eve Marie Reilly, the eventual primary winner, and the judge appointed to that vacancy by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2014.

The Supreme Court's appointment of Saltouros comes on the recommendation of Justice Mary Jane Theis; Justice Theis announced that her screening committee would consider applicants for the Burke vacancy back in June.

According to the campaign website posted on Saltouros's behalf during her 2016 primary run, Saltouros served as an Assistant State's Attorney from 1996-2008. The campaign website highlighted her experience leading the "Domestic Violence prosecution team in the Second [Municipal] District, where she used her expertise in that area to prosecute hundreds of domestic abusers" and her subsequent service in the Felony Review Unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office, where, according to her campaign site, she "worked closely with police officers from Chicago, Park Ridge, Niles, Des Plaines, and Glenview, assisting in hundreds of investigations that led to the prosecution and conviction of thousands of criminals." The last five years of her career in the State's Attorney's Office were spent as a felony prosecutor. Saltouros has been in private practice since 2008.

Saltouros is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Emergent Theatre Company.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A cautionary tale about a tempting email

The email, when I opened it, looked almost legit. Yes, it wasn't from anyone I knew. But it was actually addressed to me, not to a group or seemingly to the sender itself, like so many of the junk emails we all get. And the name attached to the email matched the name of the alleged sender and both were consistent with the domain name used in the email address.

In terms of content, the email was typically vague, suggesting that the writer had a "breach of contract claim" but providing no explanatory details other than the purported fact that the sender was an architect. On the other hand, the email was written in grammatical, even colloquially appropriate, English, without the obvious misspellings that characterize so many of these scam emails. And the amount allegedly owed---$174,000---was large enough to potentially incite interest, but not so large as scream implausibility.

I was sure the email was a phony because the writer suggested he had called my office "but it seemed you were closed." As a solo sans staff, I know whether my phone has rung or not. I knew for a fact that this "Mr. Nathan Silver" had not called.

Still, the email was a definite cut above the norm; it was worth a Google (I believe that's a catchphrase these days).

And, lo and behold, there is a Nathan Silver, an architect in London, with a prominent Web presence. I visited his website and quickly verified that the real Mr. Silver's email address was significantly different from the address in the scam email I'd received. I forwarded the email I'd received in case the real Mr. Silver was unaware that his name had been misappropriated.

As is so often the case, I was a step-and-a-half slow: Mr. Silver was already painfully aware of his digital doppelgänger. He wrote back, "Someone has cloned my website entirely (including pictures of me and my cat), changed the email address and phone number, and since December 29th, has been trying to get at least 70 legal firms in south Florida, North Carolina and Washington DC to respond to his scam."

Silver even knew how the scam was supposed to work. He explained that, "after the fraudster gets the interest of a legal practice, he 'tries one more time' to get payment of a huge unpaid fee bill. He then 'succeeds,' and asks the legal target to receive the payment, deduct the legal fee to date, and forward the balance to him. In a few cases I’ve been told about, the target receives a forged bank draft or certified check. The fraudster obviously hopes some lawyers will be incautious enough to send him money before the bank says the check is no good. It seems a preposterous plan, but this creep keeps trying!"

There might be some temptation to disburse settlement proceeds quickly after receipt of a seemingly certified check; after all, a certified check is supposed to be a cash equivalent. But that temptation is, or should be, tempered by the fact that, under the rules of the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, banks holding IOLTA accounts are required to "report client trust account overdrafts to the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission." In other words, a bounced IOLTA check triggers an automatic ARDC beef. The Nathan Silver impersonator should find pickings slim in Chicago for this reason alone.

The real Mr. Silver says he's never had a Chicago-area client -- or any client in Florida, North Carolina, or the District of Columbia for that matter. He doesn't recognize the client names used by the fraudster. Nor are the honorifics that Mr. Silver is authorized to use following his name the same as the hearty helping of alphabet soup served up by the faux-Mr. Silver at the end of his email to me. The real Mr. Silver writes that he's reported the hijacking of his name "to the UK fraud authorities twice, but they are apparently so inundated they say it may take a long while to attend to my case."

Silver has asked me to notify my 'regional law society.' I am hopeful that reporting all this to my FWIW readers will both honor Silver's request and help him reclaim his own identity.

UPDATE 9/16/16: The North Carolina State Bar has published a warning about the fake Nathan Silver scam.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Michael A. Forti obtains 8th Subcircuit appointment

In an order entered yesterday, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Michael A. Forti to the 8th Subcircuit vacancy recently created by the passing of Justice Laura Cha-yu Liu.

Forti's appointment is effective September 30 and terminates December 3, 2018.

Forti was slated for a countywide vacancy in 2012 (he lost to Jessica O'Brien). He made the Associate Judge 'short list' in 2014. He served as Chief Counsel and Ethics Officer for the Illinois Department of Transportation from 2012-15. Before that, Forti served as Deputy Corporation Counsel for the Constitutional and Commercial Litigation Division of the Chicago Department of Law and as the Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel of that division.

Blogger submits to self-criticism concerning Chief Judge election

When the comment is written in ALL CAPS you know someone's serious. In this case, the comment began:
Well---says the blogger, shuffling his feet nervously, gazing mostly at the floor---I had heard that Judge Ramos was running for Chief Judge. I'd even communicated with Jean Lotus, the reporter for the Cook County Chronicle that ran this August 29 story about the Chief Judge contest. (You may have seen Ms. Lotus's comment here asking E.P. to contact her---E.P., your comments here have made you famous.) Anyway, if you follow the link you'll read, inter alia, Lotus's interview with Judge Ramos about her candidacy.

My problem with covering this election---scheduled for mid-September---is that it's only slightly less secretive than a papal conclave. I've been buttonholed walking through the Daley Center or on the street about this candidate or that one, or this rumor or that one, usually prefaced with, "don't use me as a source," so I don't have a lot of facts that I can share. I'm on the outside looking in... and the knothole in the fence is pretty small.

So, yes, Judge Timothy C. Evans is seeking another term as Chief Judge; it would be his sixth. Judge Tom Allen and Judge Sandra Ramos are running against him. I don't know if there are others; the Cook County Chronicle doesn't name any.

Somehow, I suspect the candidates for Chief Judge will measure, identify, and cultivate support from the very limited electorate even without extensive coverage on this blog. But I admit my failures to announce Judge Ramos's candidacy (not that I was asked to) and I await the judgment of the Intertubes on my failings.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

A note about today's guest post, which follows immediately

In writing about the Turner-Crawford business, I suggested that, surely, someone must have seen some warning signs. I found it difficult to believe that an experienced, respected judge would just wake up suddenly one morning and decide it was a good idea to let a law clerk (now an ex-law clerk, though still an unopposed judicial candidate) hear cases in her stead.

In the course of ruminating about the specific situation, I asked some general, rhetorical questions, like, if it was you who'd wound up, for whatever reason, in a bad place, wouldn't you want someone to offer help? Wouldn't you want someone to warn your supervisors before you harmed yourself or your livelihood? Therefore, wouldn't you, shouldn't you, want to offer help if you saw a judge---or any colleague---drifting into peril?

But I couldn't offer concrete suggestions about how to help.

A comment to a post from Ira Helfgot reminded me that there are people who are available to us, who can offer concrete suggestions. I reached out to Robin Belleau, the Executive Director of the Lawyers Assistance Program, who enlisted the assistance of Chelsy A. Castro, LAP Clinical Case and Program Manager. It is Ms. Castro who supplies the post that follows below.

Please note: Ms. Castro is writing generally and not about any specific person or situation. To help make sure that's entirely understood, I've put these prefatory remarks in a separate post.

Crisis in the Legal Profession: What you can do to help

by Chelsy A. Castro
Clinical Case and Program Manager
Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program

News stories about mental health and addiction issues in lawyers seem to be increasingly commonplace and yet still surprising. The recently published ABA study (JAM, Feb 2016) highlighting the high incidence of anxiety, depression and substance abuse issues in lawyers and law students helped to broadcast what mental health and substance abuse practitioners have known for far too long: lawyers, judges, and law students are uniquely at risk for mental health and substances abuse issues.

Most legal professionals work in high-stress environments that demand many hours and in which they have a lot to lose, both for themselves and for their clients. Reputation, financial stability, and the ability to practice, among a plethora of other things, are constantly on the line. The world of the legal professional is, more often than not, far from that of the polished, well-dressed, in-control attorney we are so accustomed to seeing on television and in the movies. As the ABA study points out, many of our colleagues are hesitant to seek assistance despite its availability and the well-known need for it. So why is it that such a well-educated and presumably well connected group of people accustomed to solving problems fails to seek help for themselves, and what can we as a profession do about it? The answers to both questions are simpler than you might think.

Q: Why are lawyers, judges and law students unlikely to seek help?

A: They are afraid that seeking help is an admission to weakness, and/or that it will damage their reputations and limit their ability to practice in the future.

Q: What can we as a profession do to help?

A: Step 1: Keep a look out for indicators that could mean there is a problem. An easy way to remember is to follow the MAP: 1) Mood or attitudinal disturbances; 2) Appearance or physical changes; and 3) Productivity and quality of work changes.

These might look like any of the following:
  • Obvious changes in mood
  • Work tasks taking longer to complete
  • Noticeable need to re-do work
  • Absenteeism
  • Tardiness
  • Withdrawal and/or increased isolation
  • Indifference or apathy to self or others
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Fatigue
  • Expressions of worthlessness
  • Increased feelings of guilt
  • Increased self-blame
  • Changes in sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Missed deadlines
  • Unusual amount of unopened mail
  • Unusual amount of unanswered or unreturned calls
  • Incivility in the courtroom
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased worry
  • Pain such as headaches, back pain and digestive issues that cannot otherwise be medically explained
  • Rumination
  • Perfectionism
  • Scent of alcohol
  • Unexplained trembling
  • Missed deadlines
  • Increased arguing
  • Increased fear of potential consequences
  • Racing thoughts
  • Pressured speech
  • Slurred speech
  • Focus on seemingly irrelevant things
  • Increase in goal-directed activity
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Increased risky behavior
Step 2: Don’t just observe, take action. To repurpose a potentially overly used and often misattributed quote “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” In our case “evil” is a disease that disproportionately plagues our profession and “good men” are every lawyer, judge, and law student who notices that a colleague or classmate might be suffering. It’s up to each of us to help each other prevent the loss of reputation, loss of career, and/or loss of life. Most of the tragic events that we hear about lawyers in the news could have been prevented if someone had spoken up about what they had observed.

Once we notice that something is “a little off” it is critical to take action. This is both the easiest and hardest thing to do. You don’t want to offend someone, but you also know that there may be serious consequences, and perhaps loss of life, if you don’t do anything. Many people dismiss their concerns by telling themselves “it’s none of my business.” It may not be your business, but it IS in your interest to protect clients from attorneys who may not be capable of effectively representing others, it IS in your interest to protect your profession’s reputation for quality service, and it IS in your interest to help your colleagues. A brief conversation or phone call may be a little uncomfortable in the short term, but it is likely to result in a lasting and positive change in the long term. How’s that for risk-benefit analysis.

Option 1: Share your concern with the individual.

Talk to the person who you are concerned about. Do it privately or with one other trusted colleague or friend who is also concerned. Be warm, kind, and express yourself from a place of concern for the individual’s well-being, rather than from a place of judgement. You can say something like: “I have noticed ……. and am concerned. I care about you. What’s been going on? How can I help?” Be specific in your observations. Ask open-ended follow up questions like: “When did you start feeling like that?,” “How often does that happen?,” and “What changes have you noticed recently?

Sometimes people will admit that your concerns are valid, and sometimes they will just dismiss them. Either scenario is OK because the individual now knows that someone has noticed and cares enough to talk about it. In either scenario you can recommend that he or she call the Lawyers’ Assistance Program (1-800-LAP-1233), a non-profit committed to providing free and confidential mental health and addiction assistance to lawyers, judges, and law students in need. You can also offer to call with the individual, or ask the individual if he/she would like LAP to call them. If none of the above options are feasible, you can confidentially call LAP to express your concern. See Option 2 below.

Option 2: Share your concern with the Lawyers’ Assistance Program.

The Lawyers’ Assistance Program (LAP) is there to confidentially help both you and the individual you are concerned about. If you do not feel comfortable sharing your concerns with the individual, or if you were unable to assist the individual in getting help, you can confidentially contact LAP (1800-LAP-1233 or gethelp@illinoislap.org). Simply let LAP know who you are concerned about and why, and whether or not you would like to remain confidential and/or be involved in assisting the individual in getting the help he/she needs. It’s as simple as one phone call or email. Your identity will remain 100% confidential if you choose. There is nothing to lose.

It’s really as simple as that. 1) Observe; and 2) Take action. If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact LAP – even if just to further inquire confidentially about the process described above. Check out LAP’s website at www.illinoislap.org and call (1-800-LAP-1233) or email them (gethelp@illinoislap.org) anytime. No problem or concern is too big or to too small. You have the ability to affect the future of our profession for the better.