Prolonged alcohol use can have numerous serious and damaging effects on the human mind and body, and alcohol is often cited as the most damaging drug due to the impact it has on one’s entire being. Some of the more mild effects of alcohol abuse are anxiety, aggression, agitation, compulsive behavior, and depression. Tremors, seizures, hallucinations and cancer are some of the more serious conditions associated with the disorder. Alcoholism affects all walks of life, those in any stage of life and in any profession, and there are just as many alcoholic anonymous groups for lawyers and doctors as there are for the average Joe. There are many who have met their demise from the bottle.
Louisiana federal judge Patricia Minaldi was removed from several cases last December after exhibiting erratic behavior, and she has been diagnosed with a serious brain disorder caused by severe alcohol abuse. The disorder, termed Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is caused by vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. Alcohol depletes the body of vital nutrients needed to remain in good health. Court records do not reveal whether the judge is suffering from a mild or severe case of the syndrome, but mildly Wernick-Korsakoff causes mental confusion and an unsteady gait. As it progresses into its severe state, it will eventually lead to psychosis.
Minaldi, who has served as a federal judge since 2003, is now living in an assisted living facility that specializes in memory care. She has been on medical leave since late December. She was removed from the bench after her colleagues noted her questionable behavior and was ordered to get immediate treatment for alcoholism. A petition was filed in state district court March 16 seeking to have Minaldi declared mentally incapacitated and to appoint someone to manage her affairs. Local attorney Thomas Lorenzi filed the case on behalf of Kathleen Kay, a long time friend of Minaldi’s who worked under her as U.S. magistrate judge for the Western District of Louisiana. The woman feared for her friend’s life.
Minaldi spent a month at a rehab center in Florida before being moved into the assisted living facility. Chief Judge Carl Stewart of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans had originally ordered Minaldi get treatment for 90 days at the rehab. But upon evaluation at the center medical personnel indicated her level of cognitive impairment was serious enough to require admission into the alternative living program. Currently, Minaldi is mentally unable to handle her own affairs, and it remains unforeseen whether she will be able to return to the bench after treatment. The judge’s attorney, Glen Vamvoras, has stated his client is functioning competently, and will be able to regain control. However, limited information is being released at this time. “The law generally favors disclosure to the public of court proceedings and judicial records,” Vamvoras said. “However, public disclosure is weighed and balanced against the individual’s right to personal privacy. In this instance, the attorneys for both sides applied this balancing test in the best interest of justice.”