Bar Application Blues

In my Insurance Law class at the University of Baltimore last week, somehow the topic of the bar application came up. One student complained about how detailed and arduous the application process is to complete. I mused that I didn’t know why they make you jump through these hoops when they let just about every non-felon in, anyway.

I was dead wrong. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last week in a 23 page opinion that a bar applicant, never accused of any crime, was unfit to practice law for two reasons: (1) bad credit history that the applicant lied about, and (2) an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old girl.

You can guess as to the bad credit history problem. He had bad credit, tried to fix it right before he made the bar application, and then lied about it. The situation with the girl sounds like something out of a TV movie. The girl—now a 22-year-old woman – apparently went to the Character Committee—via a letter from her mother – and told them about the relationship. When she testified, the woman recanted much of what she told the investigators. It was also revealed that she had committed acts of vandalism and violence against the bar applicant and apparently had threatened suicide when he threatened to break up with her.

So you might think those allegations wouldn’t hold up, but enough stuck to make it meaningful to the Maryland Court of Appeals. The bar applicant claimed he was a father figure to the girl, but admits that he (1) lied about his age when he met her, (2) found her very attractive and (3) had a sexual relationship with her (there was debate whether the relationship started when she was 15 or 16).

The Character Committee found he showed poor judgment in having a relationship with someone who was not “emotionally mature.” I don’t necessarily disagree with the result, if only because I find it creepy for a man to say he was a “father figure” to a 15-year-old girl he met and slept with. But I wish the semantics were a little more specific. I’m not sure how many of us were “emotionally mature” when we took the bar exam. The problem, it seems, is not that she was emotionally immature but that that she was only 15 or 16. I don’t see why we can’t say that is a bad thing, and I really don’t know why Maryland law does not reflect that this is a bad thing.

For better or worse – largely for the better—we live in a culture of forgiveness. I think if this applicant gets his act together, he will be admitted to the bar. You can find a copy of the Court of Appeals’ opinion here.