Disability Law

Was denial of open-book bar exam for man with memory loss an ADA violation?

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Mark Tetzlaff, the Florida Coastal School of Law graduate who recently argued that his student loans should be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing because of undue hardships related to depression, being an alcoholic in recovery and having various misdemeanor convictions, is now suing the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, claiming that its refusal to give him an open-book test with 100 percent extra time amounts to an Americans with Disabilities Act violation.

Tetzlaff, who is currently pursuing a LLM at Temple University, has short-term memory loss, a condition for which he receives Social Security income, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. According to his federal complaint (PDF), filed July 24 in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Tetzlaff requested to take the July 2017 Illinois State Bar Exam in a semi-private room, over a four-day period, and consult a BARBRI Convisor Mini-Review Study Guide to help answer questions.

The Illinois agency granted Tetzlaff’s request to take the state bar over a four-day period—rather than the traditional two—and take the test in a semi-private room. It denied his request for taking the test in an open-book format, with 100 percent extra time.

The agency, which was administering the test Wednesday and Thursday, did not respond to an ABA Journal interview request. Tetzlaff is not taking the July 2017 exam, according to his complaint, but he would like to sit for the one in February 2018 with his requested accommodations.

This is not the first time Tetzlaff, described as a “seasoned, albeit unlicensed attorney” in the lawsuit, has requested extra test-taking time from the agency. Although he failed the July 2016 Illinois State Bar, the agency granted his request to receive 50 percent extra test-taking time and a semi-private room, based on medical information about his anxiety. He also failed the February 2012 bar exam.

And in Wisconsin, Tetzlaff took and failed state bar exams twice in 2015, and once in 2016, according to his lawsuit. Despite those failures, Tetzlaff does research and drafting projects for various lawyers, including Seifert & Associates, the law firm representing him in the ADA lawsuit.

Tetzlaff argued his own bankruptcy appeal, regarding student loan discharge, in front of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports, and Temple awarded him a scholarship for its LLM program, according to his July 24 lawsuit.

“In sum, had it not been ‘but for’ Mr. Tetzlaff’s ability to use coping tools, such as notetaking and consulting referencing sources to complete work projects, school work, etc., he would not have achieved the aforementioned accomplishments,” the complaint states. “But, for all of Mr. Tetzlaff’s legal, educational, and resiliency accomplishments, one challenge remains—he cannot pass the bar exam.”

If he passes a bar exam, the complaint states, Seifert & Associates would hire him as an associate, with an annual salary of $105,000. For now he earns $45 an hour, which works out to approximately $550 a month. Besides his JD, the filing notes, Tetzlaff also has a MBA from Marquette University and a MA in Religion from Trinity Divinity School.

In the student loan matter, the U.S.Supreme Court denied Tetzlaff’s cert petition (PDF) in January 2016. James Wilton, a Ropes & Gray partner, represented Tetzlaff in the filing, which noted that there was a circuit split between the 7th and 8th Circuits, regarding what amounts to undue hardship for student loan discharge.

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