In this area of the site, you can find answers to non-legal questions about the human side of lawyering. Answers are written by licensed clinicians with the purpose of providing information, and are not a substitute for a clinical evaluation.
We do not post responses to questions that seem to be frivolous or unrelated to our mission, or that don’t seem to be from Massachusetts lawyers, law students, judges (or family members). We have no way to check back with you, because of the mechanism that keeps this anonymous.
or click any of the topics in the above list to access a wealth of information accumulated in years of archived Q&A columns.
CURRENT QUESTION(S) OF THE WEEK
A JUDGE WITH DECLINING JUDGMENT
I am an attorney concerned about a Judge in a court I frequent. The court clinician/psychologist and several court staff (clerks, probation, court officers) are concerned about his dramatic cognitive decline and difficulty processing and comprehending. He has become erratic and unpredictable in his misunderstanding of the law, and is often verbally abusive to lawyers, staff, and parties. He has become worse in the past year, and then he was in the hospital a few months ago and out of court for quite some time. He has become significantly worse since his hospital stay. He has announced publicly that he is “not up there to make decisions”. I am concerned about his ability to sit on the Bench, run a court, and make decisions that affect people’s lives. What should I do?
Sorry to hear about this; we all face cognitive decline with advancing age, some sooner or to a greater extent than others, and we all hope we’ll recognize when it’s time to retire from activities we are no longer up to. Of course, other factors come into play, such as staying long enough to qualify for pensions, not knowing what else to do after years of dedication to work, etc., not to mention denial, which is common not only people caught up in addiction but also in those with cognitive impairment.
If no one intervenes, a person, in this case the judge, will eventually hit an undeniable consequence that will call for crisis management. In that sense, it would be more humane for others to intervene and help ease him into understanding his situation and handling it responsibly. Of course, it would be important to determine whether his condition is ongoing or whether there is some way in which it might be expected to improve, but it certainly sounds as if he should not currently be working, and that someone should be making sure that he is being adequately assessed and treated.
It might be worthwhile having a group discussion among those you mention you share your observations and concerns – and LCL, if desired, can be a resource to moderate this conversation. It is not clear whether you are the one in the best position to initiate or push forward that process, and you have to take into account how it will affect you and your standing with the court, since there is a good chance that any intervention, even though it would come from a place of caring, will not be welcomed or elicit a positive response. The key participants would be those who have the closest personal relationship with the judge (including his peers) and/or his family. Two other thoughts: If you have a cordial relationship with the chief judge of that court, it might be worth having a discussion with him or her. The Commission on Judicial Conduct would likely become involved if the judge’s behavior continued along these lines; perhaps they would also be in a position to offer some guidance to concerned others such as yourself before it gets to that point – we’re sure this is not the first time they’ve dealt with this kind of situation.
LAW STUDENT’S BARRIERS TO GETTING HELP FOR DEPRESSION
I am a 3L who has struggled with depression for years, though I have a difficult time admitting it. I sought therapy through my undergrad a few times, but that did not seem to help and I stopped. I tried last year to go through my law school’s related university’s health center, which including some talking and medicine, but I stopped that as well. I know that I need to seek help again in the future, but I’m not sure where to go at this point, particularly as my health insurance is through my parents (cheaper while in school) and I cannot discuss this with them (but they pay close attention to bills and our health insurance often sends them information instead of me (and vice versa) – not that my parents pry or such, but it is likely that they will find out about it and be concerned, so ask).
Do I have to disclose this on my MA bar application? If I do, does it become public record with the rest of the application? Is there any way to stop it from becoming public record?
Our understanding is that the Massachusetts bar application does not ask about mental health/treatment history (unlike some other states). It is also our experience that, whenever the Board of Bar Examiners or the Board of Bar Overseers became aware that someone has a mood/behavior problem, their concern about it is largely to ascertain that the person has gotten or is getting appropriate treatment. So there is no reason not to get the treatment you need. (Whether it is a public record we don’t know, though we’ve never heard a client complaint about this – the BBE and SJC would be better sources for that question.)
It’s important that you seek assistance for your depression, not only to improve the quality of your life but to minimize the chances that it will affect your career. To the extent that you have not latched onto treatment in the past (whether because of your own reticence, a therapist who was not a good match for you, medication that did not work for you, etc.), we would encourage you to come meet with us at LCL (confidentially, of course), and use us as your consultant and troubleshooting partner until you find a treatment approach that is helpful. You need not limit yourself to services provided through your university’s counseling service. If your health insurance is under your parents’ policy, it is quite possible that they could receive statements showing the name of a provider that you see – it’s worth calling the mental health number on your insurance card to ask about that. If there is no way to prevent that relaying of information, then perhaps you and we can brainstorm ways to explain the treatment to them in such a way that it would not trigger undue worry for them. Certainly, law school presents such a high level of stress that one can easily make the case that every law student would do well to get psychological support in balancing their personal needs with their academic demands. At LCL, we provide evaluation and consultation, but not ongoing therapy – but at least for these services, we are free (supported by a small piece of Massachusetts lawyers’ annual license fee) and don’t submit claims to health insurance.