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Should a 'dramatic lack of judgment' keep a person from taking the bar exam?

If asked to identify the prerequisites for becoming a licensed attorney here in Ohio, most people would identify graduating from law school and earning a passing score on the bar exam.

While this is technically correct, it's important to understand that there is actually much more to the process. For instance, most people might not realize that the Supreme Court of Ohio is actually granted exclusive jurisdiction under the state constitution to regulate admission to the practice of law. 

Indeed, the Office of Bar Admissions of the Supreme Court has established that every applicant must demonstrate that he or she has the necessary "character, fitness and moral qualifications" for admission to the practice of law. Once this accomplished, the applicant can then sit for the Ohio bar examination, which is held every February and July.

The Office of Bar Admissions relies on two primary subdivisions to help carry out its mission, the Board of Commissioners on Character, and Fitness and the Board of Bar Examiners. Interestingly enough, the latter is currently involved in something of a legal battle over its decision to require a recent law school grad to wait three years to take the bar exam owing to "immaturity (or egotism … or both)."

The case in question involves a 2015 graduate of the University of Toledo who is currently working as a victims' rights advocate in his hometown of Lorain, earning praise for his work ethic from local attorneys.  

According to reports, the man provided unresponsive and racially provocative statements on his application for admission when asked to explain past motor vehicle violations, essentially linking the names of various municipalities and institutions with a nefarious organization.

After viewing the totality of his responses, the Board determined that they showed a "dramatic lack of judgment" that would do little to earn the trust of the courts, fellow attorneys and clients. As such, it informed him to reapply in 2019.

The man appealed the decision to the state's high court, arguing that the decision violated his right of free speech under the First Amendment, and that the waiting period was unduly harsh given that only those who had lied on their applications or who had a history of substance abuse had heretofore been punished in this manner.

While it remains to be seen what the court will decide, it's worth noting that it did not appear to be responsive to his First Amendment argument.

"Your statements may be protected by the First Amendment if you want to make them in any other context, except for when you’re asked to be responsive in order to take a test to be licensed for the practice of law," said the chief justice. "It’s not the content. It’s the fact that they were unresponsive.”   

Stay tuned for updates on this fascinating case …

If you are a licensed professional with questions or concerns about license applications, license transfers, or possible disciplinary actions affecting your license, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.

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