The Harder They Fall: A Hand Up for Impaired Judges

Article excerpt

An edited transcript of a portion of the American Judicature Society annual meeting program on August 6, 2005.*


Richard A. Soden, Goodwin Procter LLP, Boston

Richard P. Carlton, Deputy Director, State Bar of California Lawyer Assistance Program

William J. Kane, Director, New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program

John W. Stiemke, Director of Clinical Services, Rush Behavioral Health, Chicago

Seana Willing, Executive Director, Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct

Honorable Warren D. Wolfson, State of Illinois Appellate Court

Richard Soden: I'm chairman of the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyers' Assistance Programs. Over the years, the Commission has been interested in working with lawyers around the nation who are dealing with problems in their lives, and we've always tried to address the concerns of judges as well.

Assistance programs

Soden: I'm going to ask Judge Wolfson to talk about the Illinois Lawyers' Assistance Program.

Warren Wolfson: At the risk of preaching to the choir, let me just remind you that we are talking about a chronic, progressive, incurable disease. That's why it's worth taking our time today to talk about it, to see if we can recognize it when we see it, and if we can understand it.

I've been part of the Illinois Lawyers' Assistance Program for the past 25 years, since the day it was formed. A group of interested and caring lawyers and judges got together and decided it was time to do something. The Chicago Bar and the Illinois State Bar put us together in a formal setting and for many, many years we operated on a purely voluntary basis. Finally, it got to the point where we couldn't do that any more. We went to the Illinois Supreme Court, and about two and one-half years ago the court, with the legislature, formally organized us, named our board, and decided to assess every lawyer in the state $7 to fund us.

We go around talking to people about how this really is a problem in the legal profession. The experts say that 10 to 15 percent of all adults have some kind of alcohol control problem. The black robe of the judge and the law license of the lawyer offer no immunity. And I know that lawyers and judges are somewhere within that 10 to 15 percent, probably the upper regions of it because of the profession and because lawyers and judges have more money and the opportunity to use and buy.

If you look at the judicial discipline cases-the abusive language, the bizarre sexual behavior, the sexual and racial discrimination, using the office improperly to gain some favor for themselves or others-much of the time chemical abuse is there when those things happen. One of our goals at LAP is to keep lawyers and judges out of the grasp of the disciplinary agencies, and needless to say, out of jail.

The Illinois Lawyers' Assistance Program is basically an intervention program. We don't wait until all the destruction of life and property and health takes place. We reach people two ways. One is direct contact where the people who have the problems call us and ask for help. That's pretty easy because denial has been overcome when they call, and it's easy to get somebody to a place where help is waiting or to the kind of peer assistance that they need. Second is when somebody else calls and we have to put together an intervention that will break the denial of the subject. That is the harder way to do things.

We decided early on that judges would play an important role in the intervention process. We do not have a separate program for judges, but we do bring judges into our program and train them. When we're dealing with a judge as the subject, only other judges will take part in the intervention.

All of our intervenors are trained by health professionals, whether they're judges or lawyers. All of the people taking part in the intervention will have the information about the person. …