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Posner Blasts Judge For Bullying Disabled Woman At Trial

Law360—Aebra Coe

A Cook County judge deprived a woman with a neurological condition of a fair trial by failing to properly accommodate her disability and even yelled at her and insulted her in front of a jury, according to a Friday Seventh Circuit opinion penned by Judge Richard Posner, reviving a federal lawsuit against the state court.

Linda Reed, who has a neurological condition that affects her ability to speak clearly, now has a second shot at her federal lawsuit against Judge Sidney A. Jones III, the Circuit Court of Cook County and the state of Illinois alleging that Judge Jones not only improperly failed to accommodate her condition when she represented herself pro se in a personal injury trial, but also embarrassed her and shouted at her in front of the jury because of behaviors related to her condition.

“The judge knew or should have known that it was her condition, rather than willful defiance of courtroom proprieties, that was responsible for the long, involuntary pauses in her statements; yet he kept telling her to ‘hurry up,’” the Seventh Circuit decision said. “He also at times yelled at her, glared at her, smacked his bench, leaned forward and otherwise expressed annoyance with her — all in front of the jury.”

Reed was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called tardive dyskinesia in 2011, according to court records. It is a side effect of antipsychotic medication and results in random movement of different muscles in the body, including the lips, tongue, jaw, arms, legs, fingers and toes. Reed also becomes mute, screams or makes non-verbal sounds, particularly under stress.

She filed the federal lawsuit in 2012, alleging that the Cook County Circuit Court had failed to accommodate her tardive dyskinesia in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, both of which create federal remedies for disability discrimination by state and local government agencies.

But the suit was thrown out under Illinois’ doctrine of collateral estoppel on the grounds that the finality of the state court’s decision following trial that killed her suit could not be revised by the federal court.

But, the Seventh Circuit concluded that while the tenet of according finality to the ruling in a previous case makes sense if the party made the same argument in that case and it was rejected on a sound ground, that was not the case in the immediate suit.

The federal appellate court concluded that, in Reed’s personal-injury suit, she was in no position, being pro se and seriously disabled, to establish the applicability to her case of the federal laws against disability discrimination.

“She knew she needed help to litigate her personal-injury suit, especially having no lawyer. And so she asked for help,” the opinion said. “Many of her requests were ignored or denied by the judge, who was at times impatient with and even rude to her; and his conclusion that her disability had been adequately accommodated was untenable.”

Counsel for Reed, Paul Mollica of Outten & Golden LLP, said he thinks the opinion will make a positive impact on discrimination law.

“From my colleagues in the disability law community, I hear that the decision was very well received,” Mollica said. “There are not a lot of decisions out there about applying Title II of the ADA and the Rehab Act in court proceedings — most cases have to do with physical disabilities — there are very few, if any, related to people with neurological or mental disabilities. We consider it a great advancement and we’re very happy to have an opportunity to pursue it in the district court.”

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Reed is represented by Paul Mollica of Outten & Golden LLP.

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The case is Linda Reed v. State of Illinois et al., case number 14-1745, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.