Kansas Bar Journal
Vol. 78 No. 9.
Thinking Ethics: Impaired Lawyers
Vol. 78 No. 9 October 2009Thinking Ethics: Impaired LawyersBy Stanton A. Hazlett Some things just don't seem to change. Impaired lawyers are a continuing problem for the profession. An impaired lawyer is quite likely to find his or her way into the disciplinary system. At a disciplinary hearing the respondent often introduces evidence of an impairment from which he or she suffers. If the case results in discipline, the Court's opinion will contain a discussion of a claimed impairment and whether that impairment is considered to be a mitigating factor in the lawyer's disciplinary case. Disciplinary cases can be viewed on the Kansas Supreme Court's Web site at www.kscourts.org.
The Court has responded to the impaired lawyer problem by establishing the Kansas Impaired Lawyers Assistance Program (KILAP aka Kansas Lawyers Assistance Program). KILAP was established in 2002. (Supreme Court Rule 206). There have always been lawyers willing to help other lawyers who are impaired, but KILAP is a well-funded program with volunteers and resources to help the impaired lawyer. Don Zemites and Wally Underhill were the first two directors of KILAP. Anne McDonald now fills that position. I have had the pleasure of working with all three of these individuals and each of them was completely committed to helping impaired lawyers.
My first year working in the Disciplinary Administrator's Office was in 1987. Respondent or counsel to either the panel hearing the case or the Court rarely brought up the fact that a lawyer might be impaired. The first case I recall in which a lawyer suggested impairment might have contributed to his misconduct involved a lawyer who admitted his alcoholism. The respondent testified at the panel hearing and told the Court in his appearance before the Court that his alcoholism contributed to the fact that he lacked diligence in handling his client affairs. No testimony from a medical professional or alcohol counselor was presented. The Court, in its opinion publicly censuring the respondent, noted that the respondent had acknowledged his lack of diligence in client matters. The Court held that the respondent attributed his problems to alcoholism and accepted the respondent's assurances that he had his impairment under...