Sherri Renner: The Case of My Career

Why I Kept Quiet for Two Years

Why did I remain silent about this injustice for nearly two years, and why am I choosing now to break my silence? 

  • The Humiliation. At the beginning I kept silent because I was utterly humiliated. I told who needed to be told, and no one else.
  • The Shock and Trauma. For the first month or two following the order of disbarment, I appreciated that I was too shocked and traumatized to reliably weigh possible outcomes. I had no way of knowing whether publicizing my plight would help or hinder the next steps I needed to take to rebuild my life, and the trauma made it too risky to follow my gut feelings. There simply was no template for this. So, maintaining the status quo — silence — was the wiser, safer route.
  • The Multitude of Biases. Silence was wiser and safer also because I was acutely aware of all the unfavorable biases at play. After all, I was a disbarred woman with a mental health history who couldn’t get a lawyer to represent her. To repeat, I was a disbarred (the bar and court wouldn’t do anything that violates the ADA because they’re all about fairness and equality through the rule of law) woman (too emotional to be truly credible), with a mental health history (extreme lack of credibility, perhaps a weak grasp of reality, especially considering her sex) who couldn’t get a lawyer to represent her (even her own kind has rejected her). With all these biases strung together, I knew the optics would not favor me.
  • Being a Good and Responsible Litigant. Courts frown upon litigants trying their cases “in the court of public opinion.” There’s good reason for that: Too much publicity can taint the jury pool, making it difficult to find jurors who haven’t already formed opinions about the matter. I also knew that the judge in my case was not immune from the biases described above, and if I took my story to the media, that might be enough to convince him to develop a reason to dismiss my case.
  • Giving the Bar and Court Space for Correction. I have friends who urged me to broadcast my story, but I held back for the reasons noted above and because I held hope. I hoped that the bar and court would accept that they are not above the law that requires them to refrain from subjecting their attorney members to ADA-prohibited discrimination. I hoped they would take full responsibility for the wreckage they have made of my life. My silence gave them dignified space to reverse their course and even craft a public relations win for themselves. A successful early resolution would have benefited me, as well, because it would have halted my descent into financial ruin.
  • Hope Ends. Of course, they have neither corrected their course nor accepted responsibility to comply with the ADA. In fact, their worsening conduct in the lawsuit (I’ll write more about that later) has liberated me from the hope I held. In its place are left a memory of folly and an iron will.
  • Hypocrisy Grows. The Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar has recently launched a campaign known as #stigmafreeyld. It is an honorable initiative with the laudable goal of helping “end the stigma over mental health and illness in our profession.” Do these young members know that stigma and discrimination are baked into the system that regulates their livelihoods? Do they know that the Bar cabal is not their friend, is not their partner in breaking the stigma? Do they know about me? They should. The hypocrisy of the Bar, especially current Bar President Michelle Suskauer, in praising these efforts publicly while vigorously defending against my lawsuit is nauseating.
  • Hypocrisy Deepens. Speaking of hypocrisy and the current bar president, Suskauer is now under investigation for violating professional conduct rules concerning the employment of disbarred attorneys. The hypocrisy deepens.
  • The Last Straw. More recently, the Florida Bar Board of Governors has been congratulated for its unanimous vote in support of considering a rule amendment “designed to eliminate outdated language in Rule 1-3.2(b) that refers to ‘conditionally admitted members’ with ‘a prior history of drug, alcohol or psychological problems.'” (To clarify, this change would not end conditional admissions for bar applicants with histories of mental health treatment.) Where’s the amendment to create a procedure that conditionally-admitted members can invoke to obtain confidential judicial review of their statuses? I put the bar on notice of the need for such a procedure four or five years ago. Their obstinance supports my allegation that the bar and court covet their “power to seek disbarment of second-class Bar members who are protected by the ADA.” The hypocrisy has become unbearable, so here I am. 

Was waiting the right thing to do? I don’t know.

What is the right way to behave after someone has taken everything from you? 

Further reading

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