ADA lawsuit against Florida Board of Bar Examiners can proceed

A lawsuit against the Florida Board of Bar Examiners that claims applicants with mental health conditions must undergo invasive procedures in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be allowed to proceed, the ABA Journal reports. The lawsuit, brought by former Army captain and law student Julius Hobbs, claims he would have to submit to a range of expensive medical and mental evaluations for his bar application to be considered.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners told Hobbs that it needed all of his medical records. Also, he would need to submit a full medical evaluation, which would include a psychiatric evaluation, a substance disorder use evaluation, a complete physical examination and psychosocial testing, according to the order. The exams had to be done by one of 11 doctors specified by the board, and Hobbs would need to pay for it, with the procedures costing up to $5,000.

Hobbs says his mental health issues, including adjustment issues, anxiety, mood disorders and excessive alcohol use, stemmed from working with explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners had moved to dismiss the lawsuit, but Federal Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that it could proceed after dismissing the Florida Supreme Court as a defendant. Read more at the ABA Journal. 

Podcast: Diary of a part-time special ed lawyer

Being a lawyer can sometimes seem like an all-consuming obsession, but for those with responsibilities outside the law office, working part-time can help solve some of those struggles. In this podcast from the Legal Talk Network, Caitlin Peterson talks to attorney Melissa Waugh, who specializes in the legal needs of disabled children with a focus on special education. Waugh talks about how being an adoptive mother of two children with special needs helps her empathize with her clients, along with the advantages of focusing on a niche area of the law.

Video: Fraternity expelled for mocking disabilities

A fraternity has been expelled from Syracuse University after a video showed members mocking the disabled. Video from CNN shows members of the Theta Tau fraternity miming the sexual assault of a disabled person. The Washington Post reports that fraternity members can be heard describing a young man in a wheeled office chair as “brain dead.”

“He’s drooling out of his mouth because he’s retarded in a wheelchair,” a fraternity member says in the video, before three people surround the person in the chair and appear to mimic forcing him to perform oral sex. Others can be seen watching.

“They leave the helmet on for protection, but they don’t protect themselves,” the fraternity member says.

The video was first posted on a secret Facebook page, according to CNN, and later obtained by the Syracuse student newspaper The Daily Orange.

How a lawyer pulled off the greatest Social Security fraud ever

He called himself “Mr. Social Security.” And in a way, he was: Attorney Eric Conn ripped off Social Security for $550 million. Conn told his clients in Kentucky that he could get them disability money that they couldn’t get on their own. CNBC has a look at how Conn pulled off his con:

What Conn was not telling clients — or the Social Security Administration — was that his purported 99 percent success rate was the result of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal payments to Social Security Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty, who essentially rubber-stamped the claims. When the scam finally came to light, Social Security suspended disability payments to some 1,700 recipients, leaving many in desperate straits.

Click here to find out more about how Conn pulled it off, and how it could happen again. Go inside Eric Conn’s massive con, and see how he almost got away with it, on an all new episode of CNBC’s “American Greed,” Monday, April 2, at 10 p.m. ET/PT only on CNBC.

New Film Exposes Nationwide Abuses of Seniors and People With Disabilities, Calls for Reforms in Guardianships

social security disabilityPursuit of Justice is a film (36 min.) by Greg Byers which tracks the advocacy of civil rights attorney Thomas F. Coleman, clinical psychologist Nora J. Baladerian, and a growing network of activists as they travel the country promoting reforms in adult guardianship proceedings involving seniors and adults with various disabilities. The documentary is sponsored by Spectrum Institute.

Like the recent Oscar-nominated film Edith+Eddie, Pursuit of Justice shows how guardianships can be manipulated to abuse the rights of vulnerable adults. While Edith+Eddie involves an interracial couple in their nineties, Pursuit of Justice focuses on adults of various ages who have different types of disabilities.

Stephen and Greg are autistic men in their twenties. Mickey, in his thirties, had an intellectual disability. Kay, in her forties, has Down syndrome. Michael, an articulate young adult in his late teens, has cerebral palsy. David, a former NPR news editor was 59 when the onset of an illness devastated his mobility and impaired his ability to communicate.

There are currently more than 1.5 million adults in the United States who are in court-ordered guardianships or conservatorships. Tens of thousands of new cases are filed each year. In these proceedings, judges take away the rights of adults to make basic life decisions — where to live or work, control over finances, medical choices, whether to marry or have sex, who to socialize with, etc.

Each state uses its own rules in guardianship cases — rules which often deny meaningful access to justice to the adults whose fundamental rights are placed at risk in these proceedings.

Pursuit of Justice offers a path for significant reform by promoting federal oversight of these state-operated judicial proceedings.  Without voluntary changes by the states, it will require effective enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act by the U. S. Dept. of Justice to transform the status quo of unjust assembly-line practices into ADA-compliant proceedings that provide true access to justice.

Pursuit of Justice was released on March 1, 2018 — just days before the film Edith+Eddie was considered for an Oscar at the Academy Awards.  Edith+Eddie tells the story of an elderly couple who fell in love in their final years – only to be torn apart through an abusive guardianship proceeding initiated by an intruding relative.

Edith+Eddie touches the hearts of viewers, leaving them wondering how such an injustice could occur.  Although this masterfully produced and artfully directed film forcefully introduces viewers to a specific instance of oppression, the film’s audiences are left unaware that similar injustices are occurring every day in America and are ruining the lives of scores of adults of all ages, incomes, and political affiliations.

In addition to giving examples of injustices perpetrated on adults all along the age spectrum, Pursuit of Justice offers hope that sustained and creative advocacy will eventually cause systemic reforms to the judicial systems in all 50 states.

The combined impact of the films Edith+Eddie and Pursuit of Justice could make 2018 a watershed year for guardianship reform. These documentaries have just the right ingredients to become the impetus for significant and lasting political and legal reforms.

Watch the film online at: http://www.pursuitofjusticefilm.com/

Spectrum Institute is a nonprofit organization promoting equal rights and justice for people with disabilities — especially for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  In addition to its Disability and Guardianship Project, the organization also operates a Disability and Abuse Project.

The long wait for disability benefits

According to The Washington Post, 10,000 people have died in the past year waiting on disability benefits because of a backlog in the judicial system. 55-year-old Joe Stewart waited almost two years — 597 days — for a decision on federal disability benefits, after being rejected twice. In the past two years, the Post reports more than 18,000 have died while awaiting a judge’s decision on benefits. The simplest explanation? There simply isn’t enough money. More on the desperate situation is available at The Washington Post.

Helping young disabled people transition into adulthood

A new program in the South Side of Chicago is helping young disabled students make the often-difficult transition into living independently as an adult. Politico Magazine describes it as sort of a community college for special education students. Southside Occupational Academy was created to help students with intellectual and developmental disabilities prepare for living on their own and possibly getting a job. Read more about this unique school in this article at Politico Magazine.

The difficulty in getting off of disability

As the government steps up its call to remove more people from receiving disability payments, statistics show that the number of recipients who return to the workforce is small: only 3.7% of disabled workers do within 10 years of receiving their first payment. The Washington Post has more in this story about how hard it can be for disabled people to go back to work.

Dealing with the shame some have of applying for disability

Robert Fowler worked for 20 years at Exxon, helped run a family business, managed a retirement community, and even worked as a security guard. But an ischemic stroke last November left him unable to work, and forced him to apply for Social Security disability. But Fowler, like so many Americans, feels shame in having to apply for government benefits. His wife lost her job, too, forcing them to apply for food stamps. The Washington Post has Fowler’s first-person account of the shame so many disabled people feel when they have to apply for assistance.

 
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