Support for Legal Professionals Suffering from Addiction and Mental Illness
John Connor had a successful legal career as a solo lawyer, as the chief of liquor control in the attorney general’s office, and then as a common pleas court judge.
“All during that time, I was still a pretty heavy drinker. I got my work done, but I was drinking more than normal so you wouldn’t call me a social drinker,” Connor said.
Despite several drunken driving arrests over a span of two decades, a public reprimand by the state’s disciplinary board, and a DUI conviction while on the bench, Connor didn’t recognize he had a problem until he was pulled over for drunk driving in 2002.
“I had my bright lights on and they were shinning in a police officer’s face, and I knew I had a conviction before and I had gotten some publicity in ’99 when I was convicted. I just thought the world had ended, that my career had ended,” he said of the experience.
That low point brought more publicity and discipline from the Ohio Supreme Court.
Connor was able to keep his law license and continue to serve on the bench – as long as he complied with terms of a contact with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, or OLAP.
“The primary purpose of the lawyers assistance program is to protect the public from impaired legal professionals,” according to OLAP Executive Director Scott Mote.
Mote added that chemical dependency is a big problem in the legal profession.
“Ten percent of the non-lawyer population has a problem with alcohol and drug use, among lawyers it’s 20 percent. And once we’ve been practicing law, been in the profession 25 years, the number statistically jumps to 25 percent,” he said.
OLAP’s confidential help for lawyers, judges, and law students recovering from chemical dependency and mental health issues includes education and awareness; intervention services; and monitoring support.
That support is what Connor said helped to hold him accountable while he was struggling to maintain sobriety.
Connor has been sober since December 2002, and his sobriety led to the high point in his career when he served as a visiting judge on the Ohio Supreme Court while an appeals court judge.
“So here I am, the guy in 2003 that was going to be disbarred because I was a drunk, and then in 2010 I get to sit on the Supreme Court by assignment. My life has been so unbelievably great in the last 12 years that I would be stupid to take a drink and throw it away,” Connor said.