By Nesrein El-Haddad

In 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court refused to allow two law school graduates to take the bar examination, based on failing to disclose their past criminal histories on their law school applications. [1] One of these candidates, Roy W. Yunker Jr., finally joined the State Bar of Georgia in May 2015, seven years after his graduation from law school.[2]

Mr. Yunker’s past criminal history included three misdemeanors from convictions or no-contest pleas to drunk driving, disorderly conduct, damage to property, and domestic battery.[3] On his law school application, Mr. Yunker’s answered “no” to all inquiries into previous charges and convictions, not including minor traffic offenses. [4]

During the three years of law school, all law students are daunted by the fear of being ineligible to practice law or not passing the bar exam. Every state has requirements to qualify as fit to practice law before a candidate can sit for his or her state’s bar. Each also has a policy on prior criminal conduct, especially those pertaining to Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charges and convictions.

Specifically in Georgia, a candidate must file two different applications to sit for the bar exam. The first application, the Application for Certification of Fitness to Practice Law, must be completed and submitted separately from the bar exam application.[5] Upon being deemed fit to practice law in Georgia, the candidate must then submit a bar examination application to take the exam. [6]

In respect to DUI arrests and convictions, Georgia has a very specific policy, requiring “[a]ny applicant who received a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) conviction or the equivalent in any jurisdiction [to be] ineligible for Certification of Fitness to Practice Law for a period of twelve months from the date of conviction, as if the applicant had been sentenced under the mandatory twelve-month sentence required by the Georgia DUI statute (Ga. Code Ann. Section § 40-6-391), whether or not the sentence was probated. The Board will adhere to the court’s original sentence in calculating the eligibility date for Certification of Fitness to Practice Law, regardless of any earlier termination or completion of probation.”[7]

However, for those individuals charged with a DUI, but their charge is eventually reduced, regardless of the probation, they are “ineligible for fitness certification for the period extending from the date of conviction to the completion of the sentence, including any probation, or for a period of twelve months from the conviction, whichever is longer.”[8]

On average, the Georgia Bar Association reviews 1,800 to 2,000 fitness applications per year. Of these applicants, 10% reveal fitness issues or are subsequently discovered through investigation.[9] However, since the establishment of the Georgia Bar Board, over 46,000 applications have come before the Board, and 97% of those have led to certification of fitness to practice law in Georgia.[10]

Ultimately, anyone with a past criminal history has a duty to disclose that information to the board. If an individual has a past criminal history, the board applies a heavy burden on the candidate to produce clear and convincing evidence of full and complete rehabilitation and present good moral character.[11]

Based on Georgia law, the Georgia Office of Admissions considers rehabilitation as “the reestablishment of the reputation of a person by his or her restoration to a useful and constructive place in society. [12]

In the case of Mr. Yunker, since his graduation from law school, he has undergone rehabilitation by working as a law clerk for Paulding County Superior Court judges Tonny S. Beavers and Kenneth G. Vinson and has spent a year and a half volunteering with the Fulton County Veterans Court.[13] Despite the long process to becoming eligible for fitness certification, Mr. Yunker has shown a complete transformation of character to qualify as a fiduciary to the law.

[1]Debra Cassens Weiss, Two Law Grads Who Didn’t Tell Schools of Full Criminal Pasts Are Barred from Bar Exam, Aba J., Sep. 26, 2011.
[2] Suzanne Monyak, Rejected on Fitness in 2011, Man Finally Joins Georgia Bar, Daily Rep., Jun. 2, 2015.
[3] Debra Cassens Weiss, Two Law Grads Who Didn’t Tell Schools of Full Criminal Pasts Are Barred from Bar Exam, Aba J., Sep. 26, 2011.
[4] Id.
[5] Certification of Fitness Application Instructions, GA. Office of Bar Admissions, https://www.gabaradmissions.org/appinfo.action?id=2 (last visited August 10, 2015).
[6] Id.
[7] Policy Statement of the Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants Regarding DUI and Other Alcohol-Related Offenses, GA. Office of Bar Admissions (Mar. 2007, rev. Sep. 2008, May 2011 ).
[8] Id.
[9] Rebecca S. Mick, Making the Mark—Character and Fitness for Admission to the Bar, GA. Office of Bar Admissions, https://www.gabaradmissions.org/making-the-mark, at 2.
[10] Id.
[11] In Re Cason, 249 Ga. 806 at 808 (1982).
[12] Id. at 809.
[13] Suzanne Monyak, Rejected on Fitness in 2011, Man Finally Joins Georgia Bar, Daily Rep., Jun. 2, 2015.

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