The Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California (committee) is responsible for certifying qualified applicants for admission to practice law to the Supreme Court of California. The committee was established in accordance with provisions contained in the Business and Professions Code and acts as an administrative arm of the Supreme Court of California.
To obtain a license to practice law, an applicant must meet the pre-legal and legal education requirements, pass the specified examinations and must possess good moral character mandated by the Business and Professions Code and outlined in the Rules of the State Bar of California, Title 4, Admissions and Educational Standards.
The purpose of this statement is to discuss the "good moral character" requirement. The applicant has the burden of establishing his or her current good moral character. An application separate from the application to take the bar examination must be filed to initiate the moral character screening process.
The committee’s Subcommittee on Moral Character conducts the inquiry into an applicant's background. Each case is considered individually. This process generally takes four to six months to complete. It is recommended that applicants file the moral character application no later than the beginning of their last year of law school so there is no delay in certification upon passage of the necessary examinations.
In making its determination whether an applicant presently possesses the good moral character necessary for admission to practice law in California, the committee considers evidence of candor and honesty, respect for the law and the rights of others, fiscal responsibility, and records of fidelity and trustworthiness in other professions for which he or she is licensed.
Recommendations and comments from present and former employers and references supplied by the applicant are considered. Fingerprints are sent to the California Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for processing. The Department of Motor Vehicles is contacted. Information provided by the applicant, by the law schools, and by other outside sources is verified and studied. If a file cannot be resolved at the staff level, the case is referred to the committee through its Subcommittee on Moral Character for determination.
In the vast majority of cases, an applicant's good moral character is established with ease and the applicant may expect to be admitted to practice promptly after satisfying the other requirements for admission set forth in the Rules.
When serious moral character questions do arise, an informal conference between the subcommittee and the applicant may be scheduled in an attempt to resolve the issues of concern. This voluntary conference is intended to be non-adversarial and non- confrontational.
The applicant may elect to decline the conference. The committee draws no inferences from an applicant's declining to confer and if an applicant does decline that in itself will not enter into the committee's decision whether the applicant possesses the good moral character necessary for certification for admission to practice law. In those instances where the committee determines that an applicant does not possess the requisite good moral character, the applicant will be advised of that determination and the reasons for it. If the committee determines that an applicant has not established the necessary good moral character for certification, the applicant has the right to appeal and may request a hearing before the State Bar Court. The State Bar Court's decision recommending certification or denial of certification for admission to practice law is binding on the committee. The committee does have the right to appeal the State Bar Court's decision to the Supreme Court of California.
It is the policy of The State Bar of California that persons who have been convicted of violent felonies, felonies involving moral turpitude and crimes involving a breach of fiduciary duty are presumed not to be of good moral character in the absence of a pardon or a showing of overwhelming reform and rehabilitation. The committee shall exercise its discretion to determine whether applicants convicted of violent felonies, felonies involving moral turpitude and crimes involving a breach of fiduciary duty have produced overwhelming proof of reform and rehabilitation, including at a minimum, a lengthy period of not only unblemished, but exemplary conduct.
For example, in determining whether past criminal activity is presently disqualifying, the committee will consider the nature of the activity; whether there were aggravating or mitigating circumstances; whether restitution has been made, if appropriate; the age and education of the applicant at the time of the activity; the age and education of the applicant at the present time; whether all terms of the sentence, including parole/probation, have been served; the informed opinions of others as to the applicant's present moral character; and the nature and extent of the voluntary rehabilitative activities, including career, civic, and family activities in which the applicant has been involved since the criminal activity in question.
For a more detailed list of rehabilitative factors, applicants may request the committee's policy statement entitled Factors That May Be Taken into Consideration When Evaluating the Rehabilitation of an Applicant Seeking a Moral Character Determination.
The committee believes that past criminal activity not including violent felonies, felonies involving moral turpitude and crimes involving a breach of a fiduciary duty is not necessarily disqualifying if sufficient time has passed during which the applicant has demonstrated rehabilitation and respect for the law and the rights of others.
The amount of time and the extent of the rehabilitation will be dependent upon the nature and the seriousness of the criminal activity under consideration. Again, applicants are encouraged to request the committee's policy statement on rehabilitation factors.
Drug and alcohol abuse and dependencies are considered major problems in today's society and as such can be seen in the number of lawyer discipline cases that are directly related to these problems. These issues are of particular concern to the Committee.
An applicant's record is reviewed as a whole to see if there appears to be a problem. If so, the applicant may be asked to undergo an evaluation by a qualified professional chosen by the committee. In instances where there is evidence of a present dependency or an applicant has not established a track record of recovery, the committee, in lieu of certification, may offer the applicant the opportunity to place his or her application in abeyance for a specified period of time while agreed to conditions regarding treatment and recovery are initiated and confirmed.
A determination that an applicant has not met the burden of establishing current good moral character will not be based solely on whether the applicant is afflicted with substance dependency. The committee understands that it is a disease and that it is treatable.
However, in cases where an applicant continues to consume mood altering substances in spite of a diagnosis of dependency by a qualified professional or an applicant's refusal to follow a treatment plan prescribed by a qualified professional, the committee may consider such behavior as reflective of current character and conclude that the applicant does not have the current good moral character necessary for certification.
Indebtedness alone is not considered by the committee as relevant to moral character. Similarly, the fact that an applicant has availed himself or herself of rights under the federal bankruptcy laws does not reflect on moral character. However, if indebtedness is being handled irresponsibly or if bankruptcy was resorted to in an effort to defraud creditors, moral character issues may arise.
An applicant's candidness in revealing any moral character related problems when completing the moral character application is extremely important and will serve to expedite the processing of an application. Lack of candor in and of itself as it relates to moral character may be enough to deny certification on moral character grounds.
All moral character considerations and committee procedures are not addressed in this statement. The committee urges individuals who have specific questions regarding moral character to write the Office of Admissions in San Francisco. While guidance may be provided, the committee cannot make a moral character determination until an application for such a determination has been filed and a complete inquiry into the applicant's background has been made.