When considering whether an applicant has the good moral character required for admission to practice law in California, the State Bar evaluates whether the applicant possesses the qualities of honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary responsibility, respect for and obedience to the law, and respect for the rights of others and for the judicial process by reviewing past conduct, including: The severity of the issue, length of time since the incident, and the frequency with which an act occurred are all factors that will be taken into consideration. This is a holistic determination; there is no act of misconduct that, in and of itself, automatically disqualifies an individual from obtaining a positive moral character determination. (See In re Gossage (2000) 23 Cal.4th 1080, 1094, 1098; Bernstein v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1968) 69 Cal.2d 90, 107; see also Moral Character Determination Guidelines.)
Past misconduct, however, requires a showing of rehabilitation that is commensurate with the seriousness of the misconduct. Accordingly, serious acts of misconduct require, “a compelling showing of rehabilitation and truly exemplary conduct over an extended period.” (In re Glass (2014) 58 Cal.4th 500, 522.) Demonstrating exemplary conduct typically includes both refraining from further misconduct and engaging in affirmative rehabilitative acts, such as making appropriate amends to any person or entity harmed by the misconduct, performing community service, or taking relevant continuing legal education (CLE) courses. Behavior such as holding a steady job, abiding by the law, or getting married and starting a family constitutes ordinary conduct rather than the exemplary behavior expected of a person who has committed misconduct and is trying to demonstrate rehabilitation. Similarly, pro bono work is not truly exemplary for attorneys or those seeking to become attorneys, but rather is expected of them. Remorse alone does not demonstrate rehabilitation; however, a candid admission and full acknowledgement of wrongdoing often is a necessary step in the rehabilitative process.
An applicant’s candor and honesty are primary considerations in determining whether an applicant is of good moral character. Issues relating to an applicant’s candor and honesty may arise, for example, from a material omission or misrepresentation in an applicant’s law school application or moral character application, or during the moral character investigation.
Additional issues relevant to a moral character determination include, but are not limited to:
Abuse of the Legal Process – Examples of abuse of the legal process include the filing of frivolous claims or the raising of frivolous defenses for the purpose of delaying proceedings, or bringing actions for the purpose of harassing litigants. Evidence that an applicant has abused the legal process may include the imposition of judicial sanctions or judicial designation as a vexatious litigant.
Academic Honor Code/Student Conduct Violations – A violation of a school’s honor code or student conduct code, particularly one that involves moral turpitude, may reflect negatively on an applicant’s moral character. This is especially true of a law student, who is expected to have a particular commitment to honesty and is presumed to understand that misconduct could jeopardize the student’s ability to practice law.
Community Supervision – The fact that an applicant is under community supervision does not automatically disqualify the applicant from receiving a positive moral character determination. Compliance with conditions of probation, parole, or other community supervision is, however, required by law, and accordingly is not sufficient to demonstrate rehabilitation from the acts that resulted in the term of supervision. Additionally, an intentional or material failure to comply with the conditions is considered an aggravating factor with respect to rehabilitation.
Criminal History – There is no criminal act that disqualifies an applicant from receiving a positive moral character determination, given a sufficient showing of rehabilitation. Where serious misconduct occurs, positive inferences about the applicant’s moral character are more difficult to draw, and negative character inferences are stronger. When there have been serious acts of moral turpitude, the applicant must demonstrate that he or she behaved in an exemplary fashion over a meaningful period of time. Criminal acts not involving moral turpitude, such as some acts of civil disobedience, do not provide a basis for a negative moral character determination absent evidence beyond the act’s criminal nature that shows it demonstrates a lack of good moral character.
Drug/Alcohol Abuse – Use of alcohol or other drugs alone does not provide a basis for a negative moral character determination, but may be relevant when the substance use is related to acts of misconduct. An applicant who has engaged in acts of moral turpitude related to illegal drug use is not required to obtain treatment or admit addiction in order to show rehabilitation; however, voluntary enrollment in some form of substance abuse treatment may serve as an indicium of rehabilitation.
Fraudulent Activity – Acts or allegations of deceit or fraud will be evaluated when determining if an applicant is of good moral character. Issues relating to fraud may include filing false legal claims, making false statements on an employment or school application, making false statements on a credit application, or a conviction of a crime in which an intent to defraud is an element.
Lack of Respect for the Rights of Others – Examples of acts that may suggest a lack of respect for the rights of others include a failure to satisfy an adverse civil judgment or pay restitution to a victim in a criminal matter, or an infringement upon the rights of another person.
Past Due Debt/Financial Responsibility/Bankruptcy – Indebtedness alone is not a basis for a negative moral character determination, nor is the fact that an applicant has discharged debts in bankruptcy. However, moral character issues may arise if indebtedness is handled irresponsibly or if bankruptcy is used to defraud creditors. Additionally, persons convicted of crimes involving a breach of fiduciary duty are presumed not to be of good moral character in the absence of a showing of reform and rehabilitation, which must include, at a minimum, a lengthy period of not only unblemished, but exemplary conduct.
Prior License Denial – An applicant who has reapplied following a negative moral character determination must demonstrate sufficient rehabilitation by showing a substantial period of exemplary conduct following the misconduct that was the basis for the previous negative moral character determination.
Professional Obligations/Discipline – An applicant’s adherence to, or violation or neglect of professional obligations is relevant to a moral character determination.
Unauthorized Practice of Law – The unauthorized practice of law may include, but is not limited to, appearing in court or other tribunal acting as a legal representative for someone else, providing legal advice, preparing legal instruments and contracts, or holding oneself out as practicing or entitled to practice law without the benefit of licensure or another status that confers the ability to practice law in a limited capacity in California, such as Registered In-House Counsel, or in other jurisdictions.
Violation of Court Orders/Respect for the Law – The practice of law requires diligence, respect for the law, and compliance with court orders. Violations of court orders, including failure to appear, failure to satisfy a judgment, failure to adhere to a restraining order, or other conduct evidencing a lack of respect for the law are relevant to a moral character determination.