Bryan Brown is a conservative, activist and unapologetic Christian. Of that there is no doubt. But does that mean he is also mentally ill? Too ill even to be a lawyer? The bureaucracy that controls access to Indiana’s legal profession believes that very thing.
Brown alleges that he was subjected to a series of hostile religious and political questions during a review of his fitness to practice law – a review that subsequently rejected him on mental-health grounds.
The lawsuit, filed by Brown himself this week in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, contends the Indiana Board of Law Examiners, created by the state Supreme Court in 1931 to screen bar applicants for character and fitness, ordered Brown – for reasons unknown – to appear before representatives of the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP) in January 2008.
According to its Web site, the program “offers to help judges, attorneys and law students who experience physical or mental disabilities.”
There is nothing inherently sinister or inappropriate about examining Brown, or anybody else, wishing to practice law in Indiana. State guidelines require applicants to “possess good moral character and fitness to practice law.” But how do you prove you’re not crazy when any attempt to do so would require a renouncement of your most deeply held religious beliefs?
For the 50-year-old New Haven native who passed the Kansas bar in 1996, an Indiana law license would do far more than allow him to make a living. It would enable him to use the legal system in behalf of pro-life and other traditional, Christian causes under the umbrella of the Arch Angel Institute, which he helped create two years ago and operates from a former abortion clinic at 827 Webster St. in Fort Wayne. And, in fact, Brown’s long history as a militant defender of the unborn may have raised some legitimate red flags as to his fitness.
In 1991, he and other members of Northeast Indiana Rescue were fined $61,600 for picketing too near the Webster Street Women’s Health Clinic. Brown admits to having been arrested “about a dozen” times for pro-life activities, although none of the charges was a felony, which would have disqualified him from the Indiana bar. But none of his actions can explain, or justify, some of the questions to which he was allegedly subjected by two mental-health professionals selected by the JLAP.
Fort Wayne psychologist Steven Ross, Brown claims, used a test including such questions as: Do you believe that you should be punished for your sins? Do you believe the husband should be the head of the family? Do you have strong political opinions? Do you believe that a multitude of people are involved in sexual sins? Have you ever had a vision?
Ross initially concluded that he had found nothing that “should preclude Mr. Brown from taking the bar exam,” but JLAP Clinical Director Tim Sudrovech allegedly added the conclusion that Brown’s religious fervor “suggests a sub-clinical level of bipolar disorder which would warrant further consideration by a psychiatrist.”
The JLAP then referred Brown to Indianapolis psychiatrist Elizabeth Bowman, who concluded he suffered from a personality disorder after questioning him about the Arch Angel Institute’s religious beliefs and his own “religious arrogance.” Bowman mocked his Christian “pro-life zeal,” Brown claims, and questioned his interpretation of Scripture. “If admitted to the Indiana bar he would likely continue his anti-abortion activities,” according to a portion of her report quoted in the lawsuit.