NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana Supreme Court recently denied an unnamed applicant’s request to take the July 2016 bar exam, arguing that he failed to demonstrate good moral character to practice law based on his criminal history.
Justice Scott J. Crichton agreed with the court’s majority decision.
“I agree with the court’s decision to deny the petitioner permission to sit for the July 2016 bar exam,” he said. “An applicant bears the burden of proving his or her good moral character and fitness to practice law by clear and convincing evidence under La. Sup.Ct. Rule XVII, sec. 5(D).”
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 exam,” Crichton said.
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson dissented with the decision and also assigned reasons.
“I would allow petitioner to take the Louisiana State Bar Examination and apply to this court for the appointment of a commissioner in accordance with Supreme Court Rule XVII, § 9, to take evidence and report to this court as to whether petitioner has the appropriate character and fitness to be admitted to the bar and allowed to practice law in the state of Louisiana should petitioner satisfactorily pass the examination.”
Another dissenting judge, Justice John L. Weimer, explained that despite the applicant’s criminal background, the records did not show whether he was actually convicted. Since the evidence was vague, it would be unfair to reject him.
“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,” he said. “Here, from all that appears, the applicant disclosed a criminal history on his background questionnaire. The applicant’s history, according to the Committee on Bar Admissions, includes several alcohol-related offenses, such as public intoxication, being a minor in possession of alcohol, driving under the influence, and an open container violation. However, the information provided does not indicate whether the applicant has been convicted of the listed offenses.”
Weimer explained that according to the record, it is possible that the applicant was arrested, but could have been ultimately exonerated. On the other hand, he explained that it is entirely possible that the applicant has been found guilty.
“Likewise, we do not know if the applicant has utilized the services of the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program for any alcohol abuse issues,” he said. “Not unlike my learned colleagues, I find the record that the applicant has divulged troubling and some summary explanation could have been beneficial. However, the majority’s denial of permission to take the bar exam essentially presumes the applicant is guilty of crimes that the Committee does not, at this juncture, identify as convictions.”
Weimer argued that the most appropriate time for an explanation is after passage of the bar exam and during a hearing before a commissioner. Thus, he said would allow the applicant to take the bar exam with the provision that, upon successful completion of the bar exam, the applicant apply to the court for the appointment of a commissioner to take character and fitness evidence.