Character and Fitness Issue

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Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Nov 25, 2019 11:51 am

Hello,

I passed the Bar exam and I am now apply for admission in NY. Over 9 years ago, when I was 17 years old, I was caught shoplifting $30 worth of merchandise at a mall in NY (I have had no C&F issues since this event). I went to court, and I was required to complete community service, which I did, and the record was sealed. I am not exactly sure of what I was convicted of, if anything, and I am in the process of getting the formal records from the local court. However, the real issues is that because the record was sealed, I have always answered "no" to the application question "have you been convicted of a criminal offense?" This includes my undergraduate and law school applications. I have gone through multiple background checks, including government checks, and my record always comes up clean, but I understand that I now need to disclose this information for the C&F Section. I have had some serious anxiety the last few weeks worrying that this is going to prevent me from becoming a lawyer. Does anyone have any experience with this or have any advice?

Also, from my memory, I decided to answer "no" on my applications because of this explanation from nycourts.gov, "A youthful offender record is not a criminal record. It is automatically sealed and does not have to be reported on any applications for college or work as a criminal conviction. It does not disqualify the YO from holding public office, or public jobs."

Thank you for your help.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby LSATWiz.com » Mon Nov 25, 2019 2:32 pm

You would obviously have to disclose this to C&F, and you will likely be consenting to a search that allows them to look at sealed records. I would recommend you meet with a C&F attorney to handle the bigger issue, which is not disclosing this on your LS app (it's doubtful they will look at your college app). The issue is not stealing some stuff when you were 17, but that you didn't disclose it on your LS app. They might assume you didn't disclose it because you figured you'd never get caught. I think a C&F lawyer would know how best to approach this. My personal opinion is that it is best to disclose the anomaly before they see it but a C&F lawyer can help you craft how best to disclose it.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby rcharter1978 » Wed Nov 27, 2019 10:12 am

I had a somewhat similar issue with something I didn't disclose on my LS app, but DID disclose on my C&F.

I got a C&F attorney once I was contacted about the discrepancy and I'm SO glad I did.

LSATWhiz is right, the C&F attorney crafted a letter using the right language and after it was sent off I was cleared.

I'm in CA, so maybe there is a difference in NYC, but over here if an applicant just made an honest mistake then they should be admitted. But if an applicant was trying to purposefully cover something up, it's a huge deal.

I think you should really try to find an attorney, because the reasonableness of your interpretation of the statute may come into play since you relied on it to not disclose your arrest.

In terms of cost, I think the whole thing cost me under $500 and it was worth it.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Moabit » Thu Nov 28, 2019 12:26 am

To me, this is not a big issue. (I hope the C&F people think the same way too.) You were not a lawyer when you applied to the law school, supposedly just a college kid who took as gospel what the judicial branch of the NY state government proclaimed. Now, of course, you got your worth of 3-year law school tuition, grew up as a human being, and learned how to properly bow to the almighty state bar. This is not a case of trying to hide something.
By the way, Rcharter1978 and others who have been in a similar situation could probably perform a bit of public service by posting some of the language they (or their lawyers) used to convince the bar examiners to approve their applications.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby rcharter1978 » Thu Nov 28, 2019 1:01 am

Moabit wrote:To me, this is not a big issue. (I hope the C&F people think the same way too.) You were not a lawyer when you applied to the law school, supposedly just a college kid who took as gospel what the judicial branch of the NY state government proclaimed. Now, of course, you got your worth of 3-year law school tuition, grew up as a human being, and learned how to properly bow to the almighty state bar. This is not a case of trying to hide something.
By the way, Rcharter1978 and others who have been in a similar situation could probably perform a bit of public service by posting some of the language they (or their lawyers) used to convince the bar examiners to approve their applications.


I don't even know if I have that letter....and it's pretty California specific. There is some code or some rule or whatever in California that if it's an honest mistake then it's fine, but if it's determined that someone purposefully was trying to hide or conceal something from the bar....it's a big ass deal.

To me, if a person has invested years and money in law school and bar study and examination just pay the $500 to get a professional to handle it. Don't fiddle around with some second hand language from a different state.

I know you mean well, and I like saving a buck too......but for me the stakes were too high.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Moabit » Thu Nov 28, 2019 1:20 am

It is not just to save a buck, but to better understand what works and what doesn't. That would alleviate (or opposite, depending on the case) people's anxiety, and provide a better picture. Also, of course I agree that when you are facing a lawsuit, a court hearing, a high-stakes negotiation, or just need to know local case law, you should absolutely hire a lawyer. But when all you get from a lawyer is not a cool cross-examination of a person falsely accusing you of a crime when your blood pressure is skyrocketing, but a page of persuasive writing done in the comfort of your own office, I am sure most lawyers should be capable of doing that.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby beepboopbeep » Thu Nov 28, 2019 1:34 am

I am sure OP would feel great about his heightened understanding and "better picture" of C&F practice after doing it himself and getting denied. Great suggestion. This is just as high of stakes for OP as the stuff you agree he should "absolutely" hire an attorney for.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Halp » Thu Nov 28, 2019 2:23 am

beepboopbeep wrote:I am sure OP would feel great about his heightened understanding and "better picture" of C&F practice after doing it himself and getting denied. Great suggestion. This is just as high of stakes for OP as the stuff you agree he should "absolutely" hire an attorney for.


Yeah this is an incredibly bad suggestion. The upside is potentially saving a few hundredish dollars. The downside is potentially not getting barred if you futz up your DIY job. C’mon now.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Moabit » Thu Nov 28, 2019 3:53 am

Halp wrote:Yeah this is an incredibly bad suggestion. The upside is potentially saving a few hundredish dollars. The downside is potentially not getting barred if you futz up your DIY job. C’mon now.

But wouldn't you be interested to see an example of a letter prepared by a C&F lawyer, if only to admire the great value added in the process?

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby nixy » Thu Nov 28, 2019 7:41 am

I don’t think anyone should feel obligated to share the materials 1) that are specific to their own circumstances and 2) they paid good money for.

Writing letters is a big part of many lawyers’ jobs and just bc it’s not as dramatic as cross-examination doesn’t mean it doesn’t require knowledge, skill, and experience to do well.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Halp » Thu Nov 28, 2019 6:39 pm

Moabit wrote:
Halp wrote:Yeah this is an incredibly bad suggestion. The upside is potentially saving a few hundredish dollars. The downside is potentially not getting barred if you futz up your DIY job. C’mon now.

But wouldn't you be interested to see an example of a letter prepared by a C&F lawyer, if only to admire the great value added in the process?


I dunno, maybe a little bit (even though it will be highly specific to one situation in one jurisdiction). But not *instead* of consulting an attorney.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 29, 2019 10:59 am

OP here, I appreciate the lovely discussion here. My current thoughts are that I am going to wait for my official sealed record to reach me. If the record makes it clear that I was treated as Youthful Offender, then I am going to write my own addendum explaining my situation (I have looked up the NY criminal code on this and it specifically mentions not having to list YO offenses on college applications because they are not “criminal” offenses). If it is not clear whether or not I was treated as YO, then I am going to consult a C&F attorney. I will update the thread on what happens so that this might help future applicants. (I am a little surprises this hasn’t been asked/answered in the past.) As always, any additional advice is welcomed and appreciated.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Moabit » Sat Nov 30, 2019 1:04 am

Best of luck, OP, you should be fine. Of course, anxiety and paranoia run high among our brethren, but yours is not a controversial case. You have not been caught hiding anything. To the contrary, you are proactively disclosing information that you previously, in reasonable reliance on a proper authority, did not disclose (to a completely different entity). I can't see how one would be able to make a case for a "lack of candor" to the bar, if what you described are the only negative facts here.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 30, 2019 3:09 am

Since you keep giving bad advice moabit, here's my story. I'll ask a mod to delete this in a few days, so please don't quote it.

I had a similar arrest at a similar age as OP. Similar story: it was a juvenile offense and had long since been expunged. On the first day of law school, our dean stood up in front of orientation to say, "if you were arrested or had any academic discipline issues you didn't tell us about when you applied, it's fine, you're already here and our admissions application questions may not have covered your situation, but tell us now because every year we are seeing one or two people get denied C&F or have their application held up because of the exact problem of having a past disciplinary issue but not having disclosed it in their law school admissions." I emailed her about mine the next day, her answer was, "it's fine, this shouldn't be serious, but save this email for when you apply for the bar." I did.

When I took the bar several years ago, I applied for C&F on time, and included my arrest records and the email to the dean in the packet. I still got a letter ~9 months later -- several months after finding out that I passed the actual test -- asking me to explain it, to include every record I had, and write a little letter. It was a real live issue. My firm knew I'd passed because I was on the public list, but people were starting to wonder why I hadn't been sworn in yet (as you may know, you can't hold yourself out as being an attorney until you're sworn in, so at big firms that usually means having something in your signature line about "bar admission pending" or whatever). It took another 4-5 months past that point -- like, past the next bar sitting -- until I found out I'd been admitted.

Ultimately it was fine. I did not hire a C&F attorney. That was objectively dumb. But I had the advantage of having disclosed it as soon as I found out it could be an issue -- literally the first day of law school -- and I still had my bar admission held for well over half a year past everyone else in my class while, presumably, they evaluated whether to admit me. I can't imagine a reason why the dean would've told us to give notice if they weren't actually seeing people get dinged or held up because of having failed to disclose prior arrests in law school applications. I have no way of knowing whether having done so, even belatedly, was my saving grace. It wasn't a serious offense, and I still had that long of a delay.

Op may be right about NY law on youthful offenders. I don't know. It probably helps that you're applying in NY; this probably comes up pretty frequently and they may be familiar with the statutes. I risked it, but I probably wouldn't now. Up to you man.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby nixy » Sat Nov 30, 2019 10:09 am

Anonymous User wrote:OP here, I appreciate the lovely discussion here. My current thoughts are that I am going to wait for my official sealed record to reach me. If the record makes it clear that I was treated as Youthful Offender, then I am going to write my own addendum explaining my situation (I have looked up the NY criminal code on this and it specifically mentions not having to list YO offenses on college applications because they are not “criminal” offenses). If it is not clear whether or not I was treated as YO, then I am going to consult a C&F attorney. I will update the thread on what happens so that this might help future applicants. (I am a little surprises this hasn’t been asked/answered in the past.) As always, any additional advice is welcomed and appreciated.

The only thing I want to caution you about here is assuming that college applications and law school applications are treated the same. They’re not the same thing and law schools (like state bar associations) can and do ask for information as part of the application process that an undergraduate school wouldn’t (or wouldn’t be able to).

I agree with Moabit to the extent that you should be fine at the end of it all because the discrepancy was an honest mistake, but I agree with everyone else that consulting a C&F attorney would be the best way to make that clear as part of your C&F process.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby rcharter1978 » Sat Nov 30, 2019 9:50 pm

OP - why don't you just call a C&F attorney in your jurisdiction and ask?

Please do not rely on people who are guessing that it's not a big deal based on their opinion. If something happens, they won't be in the pickle, you will be.

Let me be clear that I don't think any of us are C&F attorneys in your jurisdiction so no one ...not even me.....knows for sure if your situation will trigger further inquiry.

But two people who have been in kind of similar situations have faced further inquiry and one person is guessing that it's probably not that big a deal.

I would be surprised if an experienced c&f attorney charged you anything for just asking them about your situation. Yes, every attorneys time is valuable, but for an experienced c&f attorney in your jurisdiction, this probably isn't the first time they have heard this issue, so answering your question shouldn't require any research.

You might be able to ask your alumni association if they have someone who practices in your jurisdiction. I've asked past alumni far more detailed questions about an area of law and they are more than happy to give information based on their existing knowledge.

An experienced C&F attorney in your jurisdiction should know if your situation is likely to trigger further inquiry.

NY and CA are two entirely different bar associations who may have different rules and even a different interpretation of similar rules based on previous cases.

What may persuade a California investigator may be totally different than what will sway a NY investigator and that may have to do with guidance from the different bar associations and prior cases adjudicated in the different states.

Any assumption that what convinces an investigator in one state is probative on what convinces a different investigator in a different state is.....not really logical.

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that it isn't a good idea.

This is a long ass post, but I'll end by telling you a long ass tale about another guy who used to (maybe still) posts here named InterAlia. I'm surprised he hasn't weighed in here.

Anyways, that poor guy had C&F issues, but no matter what, he never wanted to get an attorney. When the bar asked follow up questions, he didn't want to get an attorney because he felt like he understood the situation and his responses were logical and therefore would be enough.

They were not.

He ended up having to go to one of those conferences. He still didn't want to get an attorney because he felt like he understood the issues and he had logical explanations and it wasn't a hostile hearing they just wanted to know if he was a good guy.

He was denied admittance to the bar after the conference.

After THAT, he finally decided to start working with an attorney. But I think he has to wait like two years before re-applying.

His story was different than yours for sure. He was in a different jurisdiction and his issues were different and likely more involved and worrisome.

BUT, I think his is a cautionary tale because he kept thinking that he understood the process and the issues well enough to advocate for himself and so he felt the risk was worth the reward.

Either way, I hope moabit is right and no one thinks it's a big deal and you breeze through, but for me, the risk is not worth the reward.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Moabit » Sat Nov 30, 2019 11:00 pm

InterAlia... :( It is probably not a nice thing to say about a fellow traveler, but his case makes me think that CalBar does not always act in an arbitrary manner when it denies someone. I followed some of his posts and exchanges with other people and could not resist but think that his issues were not confined to his past.

One of InterAlia's exchanges was with someone who got a simple request for information from CalBar. InterAlia predicted doom and gloom and kept insinuating that the person was hiding something, up until that person walked away from this board. (S)he was approved shortly thereafter (coming only to report this). My prediction back then was that there was nothing to worry about. But it is true that I am not a C&F attorney and that other than some (hopefully) common sense, my own two trouble-free admissions, and, perhaps, a lower than average anxiety, as well as a general skepticism towards bar admission assistance (including the need for C&F attorneys and bar preparation services), I have no other track record of guiding people to C&F success.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Halp » Sun Dec 01, 2019 2:14 am

But why does it make sense to risk it? Since the consensus is that a c&f attorney probably won’t break the bank in the grand scheme of things, why would you *not* take an ultra conservative approach to the final hurdle to entering the profession (for which OP has probably already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition, books, living expenses, and opportunity costs). It’s like buying rental insurance when you rent a car. Are you going to get in an accident driving a rental car? I mean, maybe and maybe not. Likely not. But it’s so stupid not to pay the very small surcharge to be sure you’re covered. And before you tell me the risk of nonadmittance is so small it’s not worth it...you can’t know that. Which is the entire point here.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Moabit » Sun Dec 01, 2019 4:06 am

Perhaps you are right. But consider that $500 that you pay now to a C&F attorney, after accruing hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt (which you are probably going to repay over a couple of decades), is about $1500 in terms of the actual economic cost (compared to a situation where you apply $500 towards that debt immediately). Perhaps this is still not much. But what I am not sure about is how much value C&F lawyer adds at this point. OK, (s)he drafts a letter that you then sign and send to the bar. Will that letter have any jurisdiction-specific caselaw cited and an argument made that despite your malfeasance the state law of Oceania entitles you to bar admittance? I bet it won't. It will be a letter in which you admit responsibility for everything you did and humbly beg to be admitted. The C&F lawyer will draft such a letter in about half an hour left after (s)he subtracts time spent interviewing you from that $500 divided by the billing rate. Will that letter have some magic silver bullets that you would fail to include had you composed the letter yourself, to the point where it would tip the scale in your favor with the investigator (given the same facts)? Perhaps, but I doubt it. I would like to at least see an example of such persuasion.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby nixy » Sun Dec 01, 2019 9:20 am

What makes you think that? Seeing as you haven’t consulted a C&F attorney. Rcharter has already talked about the jurisdiction-specific value in her own experience.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Moabit » Sun Dec 01, 2019 11:51 am

Rcharter talked about the letter using "the right language" and separately suggested that the help provided by C&F attorneys is jurisdiction-specific. That's why I am wondering if these letters cite any caselaw or just use jurisdiction-specific mean culpa language, and if it is the latter, how would that be different in any two states?

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Dec 01, 2019 12:19 pm

OP here, I continue to follow this thread and I genuinely appreciate the advice from everyone. I guess my only issue with getting a C&F attorney is that I am in disbelief (maybe incorrectly) that this could be a real issue. (And I also don't want to pay $500 or more, but I can get over that.) I pulled up my law school application and it specifically asked "Have you ever been committed of a crime" which I answered "no." Consolidated Laws of New York's ("CPL code") 720.35 literally reads "youthful offender adjudication is not a judgment of conviction for a crime or any other offense..." It really isn't an interpretation of the law, it is black law that I did not commit a "crime" in eyes of the state of New York. Also, I plan on including in my addendum how I grew up pretty poor and I was caught stealing clothes to wear for the new high school year, which I have seriously regretted ever since (written in a much nicer way). Everything in my head tells me that it would be impossible for them to deny me for this issue, but as other posts have explained, looking at this as a logical and non-confrontational process is not always the correct path.

I may just be acting hard headed as a new graduate and think that I can easily handle this using my own lawyer skills and that I do not need the consultation of C&F attorney given the apparent simplicity of the facts. I'm definitely weighing my decision heavily and will most likely begrudgingly consulting a C&F attorney. As always, any more posts are welcomed and appreciated.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby rcharter1978 » Sun Dec 01, 2019 3:57 pm

Moabit wrote:Perhaps you are right. But consider that $500 that you pay now to a C&F attorney, after accruing hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt (which you are probably going to repay over a couple of decades), is about $1500 in terms of the actual economic cost (compared to a situation where you apply $500 towards that debt immediately). Perhaps this is still not much. But what I am not sure about is how much value C&F lawyer adds at this point. OK, (s)he drafts a letter that you then sign and send to the bar. Will that letter have any jurisdiction-specific caselaw cited and an argument made that despite your malfeasance the state law of Oceania entitles you to bar admittance? I bet it won't. It will be a letter in which you admit responsibility for everything you did and humbly beg to be admitted. The C&F lawyer will draft such a letter in about half an hour left after (s)he subtracts time spent interviewing you from that $500 divided by the billing rate. Will that letter have some magic silver bullets that you would fail to include had you composed the letter yourself, to the point where it would tip the scale in your favor with the investigator (given the same facts)? Perhaps, but I doubt it. I would like to at least see an example of such persuasion.


My letter had specific case and code citations. They were specific to my jurisdiction.

And no, I'm still not going to search out the letter and share it because I think that's more of a disservice than anything else.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby rcharter1978 » Sun Dec 01, 2019 4:04 pm

Moabit wrote:Rcharter talked about the letter using "the right language" and separately suggested that the help provided by C&F attorneys is jurisdiction-specific. That's why I am wondering if these letters cite any caselaw or just use jurisdiction-specific mean culpa language, and if it is the latter, how would that be different in any two states?


And even if there weren't specific references to cases and codes, the guidance from a bar association may differ between states and therefore the effective arguments may be different.

Especially since the question ultimately involves the interpretation of a NY specific youthful offender statute.

But the person who would know that is an experienced c&f attorney in OPs jurisdiction.

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Re: Character and Fitness Issue

Postby Moabit » Mon Dec 02, 2019 12:29 am

Instances where I would definitely seek a C&F attorney help is where the presumption is that you lack moral character (past criminal history, substance abuse, acts of moral turpitude, and such) and where the burden is on you to present evidence to rebut this presumption. (I believe that InterAlia was in that category.)



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