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  • Judge Jeffrey Froelich, Retired

Just Do It

By Judge Jeffrey Froelich, Retired

As lawyers and judges, we have been trained to “think like a lawyer,” to reason out problems and to figure out on our own how to come up with the most logical and best conclusions.

After I passed the bar and started practicing law, I became even more aware that it is the lawyer’s job to help people fix problems. Then I became a judge and my responsibility was to decide whose problem would get “fixed” and who would “lose.” At the same time I was a spouse and a parent and tried to work out and/or decide jointly every conceivable problem – sometimes alone, sometimes together – but always moving on after a resolution.

As I am reminded of that, I think about helping others in our profession resolve their problems. Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to those who may be struggling or depressed, or not “handling life,” and we may feel that way about ourselves when we cannot immediately solve our own “issues.” Sometimes people define themselves or others by their problems rather than who they are as individuals. A few of the expressions that I have heard include “touchy-feely, warm and fuzzy, namby pamby, get a life, suck it up, man up, get over it, deal with it, push through it, buck up buttercup, put on your big boy pants.”

The truth is that some judges, magistrates, and lawyers have “issues.” You may rationalize that they are just not very smart, are lazy, take on too much, were brought up differently, are insecure or egotistical, overly emotional, or whatever else you can think of besides the obvious.

We are only judges of the law and facts, so instead of judging your colleague, remember that you never really know what another person is going through in their life or how they got there. What if:

  • They are being affected - as a judge, lawyer, or as a human being - by drinking or drugs (prescription or otherwise)

  • They have friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances who are sick or have died

  • They have personal or financial pressures of the job; maybe realizing that being a lawyer, a family member, a judge, or whatever is getting to them

  • They are dealing with an aging parent, disabled child, sick partner

  • This person could also be depressed or dealing with a substance use disorder.

We need to start helping other people in our profession and ourselves instead of judging the and/or turning a blind eye. You never know how far a “how are you doing?” or “everything okay?” or “let me help” can go – unless you try.

For example, Judge Pat has not seemed to be himself lately. He seems frequently tired and weary and almost falling asleep when you see him and on the bench. He is short with his staff and others when they ask him a simple question. He has been late to meetings and he seems distracted (or sometimes overly intense) when others interact with him. You know that he has been dealing with a child trafficking case. What do you do? Nothing? Because it is not your problem and he probably can handle everything that comes along (just like you can)? Or do you try to help?

There is a logical and personal resolution: OLAP – the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program. OLAP is a completely confidential and free program available to the Ohio legal profession. OLAP helps members of the legal profession cope with the stresses of life and their jobs. OLAP has served (and saved) hundreds of lives and families. As a matter of law and rule, OLAP (unless it receives consent from the client) cannot and will not divulge the person’s name or circumstance to anyone, even under subpoena and then only to the extent the client allows. There is not a situation with which OLAP has not dealt and, most importantly, OLAP works together with the client to make life better for the client and, by definition, for the legal profession.

You care about Pat, so you ask him how he’s doing and he opens up to you about his feelings. Maybe he tells you everything is okay and you should mind your own business. Because of your concerns, you – in confidence – call OLAP and ask what do to; OLAP may already be aware of the situation for others; they will work with you on how to approach Pat. Hopefully, you convince him to reach out to OLAP. He calls and acknowledges that he has been feeling down and does not seem to be able to control his drinking once he starts. He agrees to go to OLAP for an assessment but he is worried about his career and being labeled an alcoholic or “mental case.”

After Pat’s confidential assessment, the OLAP team, along with Pat, determine that he needs to deal with the secondary trauma from his case and how to cope without alcohol. OLAP works with Pat to get specific therapy and Pat agrees and is now learning how to deal with stress in a healthy and productive manner.

In addition to being a caring colleague and friend, as judges we also have a responsibility and duty to protect the public and to maintain the integrity of the legal profession. If you notice that an attorney or judge might be experiencing age-related cognitive decline, depression, anxiety or other issues that are affecting them as a human being, let alone their ability to practice competently, it is time to help. Not only are you helping them personally, but you are protecting the public from a person who is not doing his sworn oath of helping people.

And what about you? You are responsible for staying stable. Many lawyers and judges are unable or consciously or unconsciously refuse to recognize or even consider asking for help. They might feel that nothing affects them and/or they can handle everything on their own without any damage to themselves, their loved ones, their clients, or their profession. Maybe they are afraid of being labeled or seen as “weak.” The truth is that we often cannot fix ourselves and we need professional assistance – and you can do that in a confidential setting with OLAP.

I encourage you to be aware of colleagues around you. If you notice that they seem to be struggling or having a hard time, take a moment to be concerned about their wellbeing. If you are struggling, you will not be labeled or stigmatized, but will be able to live a better and fuller life.

Do you still believe that everything is just fine or that there is nothing you can do? Well, put on your big boy pants, get over it, and just do it.

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