CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has established the West Virginia Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being to make recommendations on how to address mental health and substance abuse issues in the legal profession.
The task force is to report to the Supreme Court by Dec. 31.
Chief Justice Margaret L. Workman issued an order establishing the task force on March 21. Justice Beth Walker will serve as Chairperson of the task force.
“The Court is grateful for Justice Walker’s leadership in this area, and for the time all the members of the task force will contribute,” Workman said. “We hope that the work will not only help lawyers experiencing health issues, but also those who rely on their legal services.”
Walker said the demands of modern life, together with the demands of being a lawyer striving to help clients who often are at the lowest points in their lives when they go to court, can be overwhelming at times.
“It is the duty of the leaders of our profession to do everything we can to ensure clients and the public are well-served,” Walker said.
Workman’s order says to maintain public confidence in the legal profession, to increase access to justice and to promote civility over the toxicity that has contributed to the mental health and substance abuse challenges in the profession, strategic action is required.
“The Court acknowledges that lawyer well-being contributes to organizational success, influences ethics and professionalism, and is a humanitarian concern,” the order says.
National studies indicate lawyers and law students experience chronic stress and higher rates of depression and substance abuse than the general population.
To address those issues, the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistant Programs, the National Organization of Bar Counsel, and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers established a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.
That task force issued a report in August.
The national report makes recommendations for judges, regulators, legal employees, law schools, bar associations and lawyer professional liability carriers.
Workman’s order calls on the West Virginia task force to study that report and provide guidelines to implement its recommendations.
“We are very fortunate that a member of the national task force — Chris Newbold — has agreed to serve on our task force,” Walker said. “West Virginia is one of the first few states to be taking action based on the excellent work at the national level.”
Workman also appointed the following people to the task force with Newbold: Robert E. Albury, Jr., Executive Director of the West Virginia Judicial and Lawyer Assistance Program; Judge Michael J. Aloi, United States Magistrate Court Judge; Charles F. Bagley III of Campbell Woods; Gregory W. Bowman, William J. Maier, Jr. Dean of the West Virginia University College of Law; Rachael L. Fletcher Cipoletti, Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel; Judge Bridget F. Cohee, judge of the Twenty-Third Judicial Circuit; Dana F. Eddy, Executive Director of the West Virginia Public Defender Services; Mark Gaydos of McNeer, Highland, McMunn & Varner LC; Brian A. Glasser of Bailey & Glasser LLP; Michele Grinberg of Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso PLLC; Dr. P. Bradley Hall, Medical Director of West Virginia Medical Professionals Health Program; Karen E. Kahle of Steptoe & Johnson PLLC; John R. McGhee Jr. of Kay Casto & Chaney; Madeleine J. Jaeck, Bar Admissions Administrator of West Virginia Board of Law Examiners; Meshea L. Poore of the Law Office of Meshea L. Poore; Debra H. Scudiere of Kay Casto & Chaney PLLC; and Teresa A. Tarr, Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Judicial Investigation Commission.