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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Law Student Who Refused to Provide Information Blocked from Bar Exam

A law school graduate who failed to disclose the details of several traffic violations and claimed he was not obligated to provide the information in order to take the Ohio bar exam, had his application to take the test denied by the Ohio Supreme Court today.

In a 5-2 per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court found that while the traffic infractions themselves would have had modest impact on the consideration of Shamir L. Coll’s application to take the February 2016 bar exam, his interpretation of the application process reflected “a degree of arrogance and disdainfulness for the Court that brings into serious question” his judgment and ability to represent clients. The Court agreed that if the University of Toledo College of Law graduate meets certain requirements he will be permitted to apply to take the July 2018 bar exam.

Coll Refuses to Complete Required Forms
Coll was a 24-year-old, third-year law student when he submitted his bar exam application in August 2015. Two members of the Toledo Bar Association interviewed him in November 2015 and recommended to the Board of Commissioners on Character and Fitness that he be approved to sit for the exam. In February 2016, just before the exam was to be administered, the board sought to further examine Coll’s character and fitness to practice law.

The board conducted a hearing that focused on Coll’s failure to meet the requirement that he detail each moving traffic violation he had received in the past 10 years. The board found he failed to provide complete information and made “provocative statements,” which included accusing police officers of racism as the reason for being ticketed. The board’s panel recommended his application be disapproved and that he be permitted to reapply for the July 2019 exam. The board adopted the finding and recommended it to the Court.

The board characterized the vehicular incidents Coll disclosed as “relatively benign” but raised concerns about his unwillingness to provide details of his violations, and a subsequent statement that he had provided all the information the board required, including descriptions of the incidents, the final disposition, and the charges he faced. Instead, Coll reported only that he had violations in “Many Cities, Many Counties, OH.” When asked by a bar admissions specialist to provide the full information — with a caution that failure to comply could impact his ability to sit for the bar exam — Coll provided only his name, Social Security number, driver’s license number, and an abstract from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles reflecting no moving violations in the past three years.

After a second request, Coll provided some of the information about four incidents, but not all. And while the board was investigating his application, Coll failed to comply with the rule requiring him to report any changes or additions, which included two fourth-degree misdemeanors for undersize fishing and fishing in a closed zone. He later reported his convictions for those charges, which resulted in a fully suspended 10-day jail sentence, and two years of probation.

Coll Argued He Adequately Informed Board
Coll argued that his registration was complete when he provided his name, Social Security number, and driver’s license number, and that it was the duty of the Court to investigate his past conduct. He asserted that in exchange for his nonrefundable application fee, the board was supposed to conduct an investigation. He also maintained that his driving record had no consequence on his overall character.

The board responded that the rules governing bar applications state that applicants have a duty to cooperate and provide accurate and complete answers.

The Court’s opinion stated that Coll read the instructions and clearly knew he was required to provide details. The Court noted that contrary to Coll’s belief, it is within the discretion of the Court to determine what information is required, and it includes a National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) character examination. The process requires honesty and candor from the applicants, the opinion stated, and disclosure of past incidents helps narrow the focus of the investigation or otherwise, the Court would have to inquire into every jurisdiction in the nation, and beyond, to adequately investigate applicants.

“Coll’s failures to disclose the requested information also raise significant questions about his cognitive capacity to learn, to recall what has been learned, to reason and to analyze, and to exercise good judgment and act in accordance with the law and the rules governing the practice of law—not only in his own professional affairs but also in the affairs that clients will one day entrust to him,” the opinion stated.

Coll asserted that the board’s position that he not be able to take the test until July 2019 was overly harsh compared with sanctions imposed on other applicants who committed more serious infractions, such as failure to disclosure alcohol-related accidents and offenses.

The Court responded that in the cases Coll cited, the applicants were allowed to reapply within three years, and concluded that requiring Coll to wait two years to reapply would provide a “period of maturation” that would help him develop the qualities needed to be admitted to practice law.

The Court required that Coll must submit a new application, and undergo a complete character and fitness investigation, that includes an investigation and report by the NCBE demonstrating he has the moral qualifications to practice law.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, William M. O’Neill, Patrick F. Fischer, and R. Patrick DeWine joined the majority opinion.

Dissenting Justices Would Permanently Block Coll
Justice Terrence O’Donnell concurred in part and dissented in part, writing that he disagrees with the majority’s finding that if Coll had properly disclosed his traffic violations they would not have raised significant concerns about his character and fitness, and led to the conclusion that his offenses were not as severe as others who were permitted to reapply.

“The problem with this analysis is that Coll has not yet provided complete information about all of his offenses, and therefore it is not possible to compare his conduct to any other case or to decide that his pattern of conduct does not disqualify him from admission to the practice of law,” Justice O’Donnell wrote.

He stated that he is not convinced that Coll will benefit from the brief “period of maturation” that the Court provides him, and that he should not be permitted to take the Oho bar exam.

“Coll has demonstrated an attitude that shows he lacks the ability to take that oath and does not have the professional judgment demanded of all lawyers. His lack of candor and his disrespect for the Court in frustrating our obligation to thoroughly investigate those seeking admission to the bar in Ohio suggest that he will not ever have the character and fitness to take the oath to become a lawyer in Ohio,” he wrote.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joined Justice O’Donnell’s opinion.

2016-1243. In re Application of Coll, Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-4023.

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