Client protection be damned: “Asking would-be lawyers standard questions about their mental health, including their history of diagnosis and treatment, could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.” [ABA Journal]
This fairly gripping New York Times account by reporter Serge Kovaleski gives the backstory of the horrendous Navy Yard massacre — a contract employee with a security clearance had been displaying increasingly florid symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, yet was not taken off his job — but is missing one angle I was curious about:
On Aug. 9, the director of human resources for the Experts spoke to Mr. Alexis’ mother, who told the director of his previous paranoid behavior, the person with knowledge of the investigation said. His mother told the director that Mr. Alexis’ paranoia tended to subside with time, but that “he likely needed to see a therapist.”
That same day, the director convened a meeting of “senior-level personnel” at the Experts who concluded that he could be sent back to work. The Hewlett-Packard investigation found that the Experts did not attempt to get Mr. Alexis to seek mental health care, a finding that the Experts has not disputed.
…In an e-mail message, the Experts said that a Hewlett-Packard manager in Newport said she was “comfortable” having Mr. Alexis come back to work after he reported hearing voices.
Hewlett-Packard said its manager in Newport was a low-level employee who was not given full details by the Experts about Mr. Alexis’ problems. The company said it has placed that manager on administrative leave.
The missing angle is: what if any role was played by the legal constraints on the various entities that directly or indirectly employed Mr. Alexis? Severe mental illness is a protected condition under the ADA, and employers may not be free to take workers off their duties unless and until they can assemble evidence that would stand up in court documenting a “direct threat,” “undue hardship” or other adequate reason for removal; the law places limits on the employer’s right to demand medical exams to evaluate the exact contours of disability; and privacy rules limit sharing of medically relevant information between different entities, as we saw in the Seung-Hui Cho/Virginia Tech case. All these rules apply to ordinary larger private businesses, but some come in especially stringent form when applied to federal contractors.
Did any of these legal doctrines influence the course of decision-making by which Mr. Alexis received oddly hands-off treatment even as his mental state spun out of control? One hopes a future NYT article will return to take a look at those questions.
Justin Caldwell Somers, in jail for not paying a jaywalking fine, brutally murdered his sleeping cellmate by stomping him to death on the cement floor, but was found not criminally responsible because he had been acting under the influence of delusions and hallucinations. Now he is suing various personnel of the remand center for not preventing the incident, in part by not heeding the recommendation of a nurse and psychiatrist that he be housed alone: since the murder Somers “has experienced severe mental anguish and mental distress as a result of his role in causing the death of Mr. Stewart, as well as a result of the conditions of his incarceration.” [Edmonton Journal]
From Cato Institute chairman Robert Levy, who was co-counsel in the landmark D.C. v. Heller case. [National Law Journal] More: Trevor Burrus, The Blaze. And the New York Times takes up the topic of guns and suicide, but with some pretty big omissions [Tom Maguire, Ira Stoll/SmarterTimes]
Further: “Senate Judiciary Committee Hears from Cato on Gun Policy” [Ilya Shapiro, citing contributions by David Kopel, Randy Barnett, etc.] And while Bing’s real-time reaction tracker isn’t a scientific voter survey (though the sample size is large, and there’s a partisan breakdown) it seems I was not alone in being put off by President Obama’s demagogic “they deserve a vote” State of the Union wind-up on gun control. [Mediaite]
At Cook County Judge Cynthia Brim’s trial this week, “she was found not guilty of misdemeanor battery because she was ‘legally insane’ at the time.” Cook County voters re-elected Brim in November despite reports of her troubles [South Bend Tribune/Chicago Tribune, earlier]
Not only can she, but it seems she does. [Austin American-Statesman]
Checking out a published report, Erik Magraken contacted former New Mexico state senator Duncan Scott and found that it was true, the lawmaker had indeed introduced a legislative amendment in 1995 providing that:
When a psychologist or psychiatrist testifies during a defendant’s competency hearing, the psychologist or psychiatrist shall wear a cone-shaped hat that is not less than two feet tall. The surface of the hat shall be imprinted with stars and lightning bolts. Additionally, a psychologist or psychiatrist shall be required to don a white beard that is not less than 18 inches in length, and shall punctuate crucial elements of his testimony by stabbing the air with a wand. Whenever a psychologist or psychiatrist provides expert testimony regarding a defendant’s competency, the bailiff shall contemporaneously dim the courtroom lights and administer two strikes to a Chinese gong…
The amendment — intended satirically, one should hasten to add –”passed with a unanimous Senate vote” but was removed from its bill before consideration by the state house and never became law. (& Coyote, Above the Law)
My new podcast at Cato discusses the American Psychiatric Association’s ongoing project of redefining and often loosening the criteria for diagnosing mental illness, and some of its legal implications in fields like disability law (earlier).
As part of its revision of its influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the American Psychiatric Association is proposing to lower diagnostic thresholds for some conditions and recognize other entirely new (and sometimes controversial) disorders. That will have implications for the coverage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws, as I explain in a new post at Cato at Liberty. (& Alkon, Alex Adrianson/InsiderOnline)
“Macomb County Probate Court officials can’t explain how a man falsely claiming to be a medical doctor was allowed to decide whether people were mentally competent to handle their own estates and whether jail inmates needed mental health care.” [Detroit News]