Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court issued an opinion in In re Application of Griffin [pdf] denying an applicant’s admission to the bar* on the sole basis that he did not have a plan to pay back $170,000 in student loans. (He did, by the way, but more on that later.) The Court’s opinion–delivered “per curium” because no justice signed his or her name to this shameful opinion–is manifestly unjust, unfair, and out of touch. The Ohio Supreme Court should overturn this embarrassing ruling immediately.

The applicant, Griffin, failed the bar exam three times. This application was his fourth. The only way he makes ends meet is a part-time job paying $12 per hour at the public defender’s office. Prior to law school, Griffin worked as a stock broker. Griffin hoped that passing the bar would land him a full time job at the public defender’s office. (See, he did have a plan to pay back his loans.) In the mean time, he fell behind on his student loans. He looked into bankruptcy, but his lawyer informed him that his student loans would not be dischargeable.

In the opinion, after a meaningless recitation that all bar applicants must possess “the requisite character, fitness, and moral qualification for admission to the practice of law,” the Court declared that Griffin was unfit to practice law because he continued to work at the public defender’s office rather than quit and look for other full time employment. Speaking of quitting and looking for other full time employment, here are the Court’s justices:

Ohio Supreme Court Justices: Your $12/hr job isn't good enough for us!

This opinion is outrageous.

  • First, there is no evidence that Griffin’s inability to repay his student loans is a defect in his moral character. How many lawyers have walked away from their homes? How many lawyers have overworked themselves and neglected their children? How many lawyers are out of work with no job, no prospects, and a student loan default in the pipeline? If the Ohio Supreme Court looked, it would find plenty.
  • Second, the Court explicitly stated that it hoped Griffin would quit his job to look for a full time job. Law school graduates who have failed the bar three times aren’t in high demand. In this economy, Griffin is lucky that he has been able to keep the job he has.
  • Third, the Court implies that, if Griffin had discharged his student loans through bankruptcy, he would not have had a problem passing character and fitness. The Court recognized that Griffin could not have discharged his loans in bankruptcy and thereby met his debts. But what’s worse? A lawyer who borrows $170,000 and tries to get a full time job so he can pay it back, or one who runs to a bankruptcy court to have it discharged?

Shame on the Ohio Bar and the Ohio Supreme Court.

*A note about bar admission:

In connection with the bar exam, prospective attorneys must also pass a “character and fitness” screening. This process usually consists of disclosing any criminal convictions or accusations, employers, addresses, debts, references, etc.

Some states take this screening more seriously than others. In New York, for example, applicants must also attend a character and fitness interview, during which a geriatric member of the bar shares his old-world view of the profession for the better part of a minute. Applicants are very rarely denied admission to the bar so long as they properly disclose all information requested.

More coverage:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *