Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and …
What you need to do to ensure full disclosure on your bar application.
By MELISSA M. PETRUCELLI
As director of Character and Fitness, I’m often asked, "whether or not I need to disclose XYZ in my bar application?" My typical response is, "If you're asking, you probably should disclose it."
Because of the high ethical standards to which lawyers are held, the failure to disclose an event is often more significant, and leads to more serious consequences, than the event itself. Failure to provide truthful and complete answers, or failure to inform the Office of Attorney Admissions of any changes to your application answers after submission, may result in an unfavorable character and fitness determination and may impact or preclude your admission to the Colorado bar or any other state in which you seek admission.
So what can you do to ensure that you are making full disclosure on your bar application? I suggest two courses of action:
1. Look at the application questionnaire early.
You should do this months before the filing deadline, which for the July 2015 examination is April 1st, 2015. The questionnaire is a long and detailed document requiring a lot of information from a wide variety of sources. Implicit in this suggestion is that you will read each question and associated form thoroughly to ensure complete understanding of what is being requested.
2. Do your own background investigation of yourself.
As part of our character and fitness process, we will review the history of your traffic violations, your credit history, your criminal history from both state and federal authorities, and your law school application.
I urge applicants to request all three of their credit reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Each of the agencies report different information, and what may be included on one report may not be on another. Know your credit history, address any matters that you were unaware of, and report it on your bar application. It is important for an attorney to show they are financially responsible. Understanding your credit history is imperative to demonstrating that trait.
The required fingerprint cards are sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for processing in the state and FBI databases. The results are sent directly to the Office of Attorney Admissions. If your fingerprints are illegible you will be required to obtain a new card for resubmission. You will not be cleared for admission or allowed to take the oath until the report is returned, reviewed, and approved. Further, any subsequent arrests are reported to the Office of Attorney Admissions, often times within a few weeks. You can request a copy of your criminal history from CBI and FBI for a nominal fee.
Typically your law school application is sent directly to the Office of Attorney Admissions as part of your law school certification. You should contact your law school and make the request as well. Disclosures made in your law school application are compared to those made in your Colorado bar application. Your criminal record report is also compared to your law school application. If there are discrepancies between the documents, you must explain why there is a difference. You may also contact your law school and amend your original application if you failed make the necessary disclosures. The questions on law school applications vary widely and may not be as comprehensive as those contained in the bar application. However, the expectation is that you answer each question accurately and thoroughly.
We frequently see an applicant fail to disclose criminal conduct on their bar application or law school application. The most frequent omissions involve underage drinking offenses (MIP), other juvenile offenses, offenses that supposedly had been expunged, and warrants for failure to appear in connection with traffic offenses. Besides the ubiquitous "I just forgot about it/them," the most frequent rationales we hear for failing to report are:
· "I didn't know that I had to report juvenile offenses."
· "I couldn't find any records." or "There weren't any records."
· "I thought the records were sealed."
· "I was told [usually by a lawyer, and for some unspecified reason] that I didn't have to disclose that matter."
· "I was told by the judge that I'd never have to talk about that matter."
· "I was told that the matter would be expunged."
Relatively minor issues from the past become bigger issues if not properly disclosed. The focus becomes the applicant's lack of candor. An applicant’s lack of candor may delay their admission and could result in a recommendation that they appear for an Inquiry Panel interview.
The Office of Attorney Admissions does not believe that there are "inadvertent" failures to disclose negative information to straightforward questions. We expect you to carefully read and understand documents which you swear or affirm are true and correct. If you are unsure whether or not the question requires disclosure, my suggestion is to disclose.
The purpose of a character and fitness investigation is to protect the public and safeguard our system of justice. Do not compromise your integrity, or gamble with your pending admission. A lie of omission is still a lie - and often far more damaging than what you are trying to conceal. The character and fitness rules provide guideposts on the Supreme Court’s expectations and eligibility requirements. See C.R.C.P. 208.1. If the rules do not answer your questions, or you remain unsure about what to disclose in your bar application, you may want to seek the advice of independent counsel.
Melissa M. Petrucelli is the Director of Character & Fitness within the Office of Attorney Admissions.