NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana Supreme Court recently denied an unnamed applicant’s
request to take the July 2016 bar exam, which would have been his third time to
take the exam, arguing that the he failed to demonstrate good moral character
based on his criminal history to practice law.
Justice Scott J. Crichton agreed with the court’s majority
“I agree with the court’s decision to deny the petitioner
permission to sit for the July 2016 bar examination,” he said. “Pursuant to Rule
XVII, sec. 5(D), an applicant bears the burden of proving his or her good moral
character and fitness to practice law by clear and convincing evidence.”
Crichton also offered his direct interpretation of the
character of the applicant.
“In my view, in light of the applicant’s criminal history,
he has failed to provide any showing whatsoever that he should be allowed to
take the bar examination,” Crichton said.
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson dissented with the decision
and also assigned reasons.
“I disagree with the majority decision in denying this
applicant the opportunity to sit for the July 2016 bar examination,” she said. “I
find it troubling that the Committee has now raised its concerns regarding the
applicant’s character, when he has already been permitted to sit for the last
two bar examinations in July 2015 and February 2016.”
Johnson also stressed the out-of-the-ordinary decision to
waive another Supreme Court rule that usually allows applicants to take the bar
up to five times.
“In over 20 years, I cannot recall an occasion when this
court has refused an applicant to sit for the bar examination, when he has been
allowed to sit on two previous occasions,” Johnson said. “Our usual practice is
to allow an applicant to sit for the bar examination and if he successfully
passes the examination, he may apply to this court for the appointment of a
commissioner in accordance with Supreme Court Rule XVII, § 9 to address
whatever concerns we have about character and fitness.”
Another dissenting judge, Justice John L. Weimer, explained
that despite his concerns with the applicant’s past, there is already protocol
in place to determine the fitness of the applicant after the bar exam has been
taken and passed.
“Although I share disappointment and concern about the
applicant’s record with my learned colleagues, I respectfully dissent,” he
said. “When an applicant has a record of criminal offenses, this court
typically will allow the applicant to take the bar exam and, if the applicant
passes the exam, the applicant may request the appointment of a commissioner to
evaluate the applicant’s character and fitness (allowing the applicant to take
the bar exam, notwithstanding the fact he had a criminal record that he had
failed to disclose on his law school application).”
Weimer also offered a caveat to the process of admitting on
to the bar.
“Of course, permission to sit for the bar exam is no
guarantee of admission to the bar, even if an applicant passes the exam,” he
said. “When, as here, the Committee on Bar Admissions has declined to certify
an applicant for admission prior to taking the bar exam, the applicant still
bears the burden of proving good character and fitness to practice law,
invoking the procedures described in La. Sup. Ct. Rule XVII, Sect. 9(D).”
Weimer offered his own advice on what he thought would have
been appropriate with regards to this applicant.
“I would allow the applicant to take the bar exam and, if
the applicant passes the exam, the applicant could request the appointment of a
commissioner to evaluate the applicant’s character and fitness,” he said. “See
La. Sup. Ct., indicating that the most ‘appropriate time’ for the court to
evaluate the character and fitness of an applicant whose background includes
alleged criminal offenses is in separate proceedings involving ‘a hearing
before a commissioner,’ not in a request to take the bar exam.”