Law school graduate Thomas Skelton is down to his last role of the dice, and the odds are against him.
Some might say he’s crazy — an indelicate word — to even ask. But then, it’s Skelton’s mental health that is the issue.
Skelton, a 2017 graduate of the John Marshall Law School, was denied the opportunity to practice law in Illinois because of serious mental-health issues.
Now his lawyers contend that Illinois’ decision to reject Skelton’s bar application is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act because it is refusing to make “reasonable accommodations” that would allow Skelton to become a licensed, practicing lawyer.
Here’s how Skelton’s lawyers framed the legal question in their request for U.S. Supreme Court review.
“This case presents a narrow, frequently presented and yet unresolved question regarding the applicability of the ADA to bar admissions cases: May a state bar regulatory authority deny an applicant certification to practice law in its jurisdiction by using an applicant’s disability as a factor in finding the applicant’s lack of fitness to practice, without providing reasonable accommodations?”
Against all odds
Skelton’s lawyers are appealing a 3-2 decision by a state bar character and fitness committee to deny him a license to practice law. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed that decision in a brief order.
The U.S. Supreme Court hears only a very small percentage of the cases it’s asked to review. So the odds always strongly disfavor those seeking review.
Court records indicate that Skelton graduated in 2010 from St. Louis University with degrees in history and philosophy. After working for a few years, he enrolled at John Marshall in 2014 and, owing to the stress of law school, began struggling with depression and delusions that prompted verbal outbursts.
School officials documented instances of him being “loud and vulgar,” “yelling at himself” and “yell(ing) profanity” at a school administrator.
He sought mental-health treatment, graduated from law school in 2017 and subsequently passed the bar exam.
Whatever progress he made under medical care dissipated, however, and Skelton “began experiencing delusional thoughts” about the members of the bar association panel reviewing his suitability for licensing.
He subsequently sent members of the panel angry emails that include the following excerpts.
“This Inquiry Panel is nothing but punishing me because I can’t sit silently and tolerate the insane illegal garbage (John Marshall) does to benefit conservative bullies.”
“If you give me a law license, I will spend the rest of my life exposing your ongoing patterns of fraud.”
“I am sick of wasting more of my life playing corrupt games with the corrupt justice system in this state.”
New and improved
Now under more intense medical treatment and new pharmaceutical regimen, Skelton contends he has the proper insights into his conduct and is better able to control his reactions to some of his thoughts.
His doctor testified that Skelton’s emails were “motivated by feelings of not being understood and of persecution, and that he inappropriately spoke his thoughts in the emails.” Skelton’s doctor also said Skelton has not “acted out” in recent months and “demonstrated insight and self-reflection.”
Skelton sought a provisional license to practice law, one in which his conduct would be monitored by the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission. His physicians testified that “his prognosis is good.”
But the hearing panel majority concluded that Skelton failed to prove — “clearly and convincingly” — his character and fitness to practice law.
The two dissenters found Skelton “demonstrated the essential eligibility requirements necessary for admission to the bar” and suggested Skelton be licensed and subjected to a “monitoring period beyond the normal two-year period.”
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at email@example.com or 217-351-5369.