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Copyright (c) 2001 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics
Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics

ARTICLE: Depression as a Mitigating Factor in Lawyer Discipline

Summer, 2001

14 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 1081


Todd Goren* and Bethany Smith**



Whether alcoholism and drug addiction should be mitigating factors in attorney disciplinary proceedings has been thoroughly debated, but the issue of mental impairment, specifically affective mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, have only recently emerged. Recent studies indicate that one out of every seven people in the United States suffers from some type of mood disorder, translating to roughly seventeen million people. 1 Thus, various states have been forced to struggle with how much weight, if any, should be given to an attorney's impairment in determining an appropriate punishment.

Standard 9.3 of the ABA's Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions currently lists mental disability as a mitigating factor. 2 The comment to Standard 9.3 suggests that mental impairment or chemical dependency be given strong consideration in cases where the impairment is principally responsible for the misconduct. 3 Courts, however, have not universally adopted this proposition. While some courts have found mental impairment to be profoundly important in determining the appropriate sanction, others have been unwilling to consider mental impairment, even when it appears to be principally responsible for the misconduct. 4

Currently, there is no general consensus as to how mental impairment should be treated. Part I of this Note will give a general background on the affective mood disorders. Part II will synthesize the case law in this area with particular emphasis on the District of Columbia and California. Finally, Part III will discuss a framework for dealing with ...
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