This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, March 2016 (Vol. 85, No. 1), pp 67–71.
By Kellie R. Early and Jessica GladBar Examination
Foreign-educated applicants; eligibility; distance learning; “in residence”
Chong v. Tennessee Board of Law Examiners, 2015 WL 8380856 (TN 2015)
Daniel Sungkook Chong received his law degree from Handong International Law School (Handong) in South Korea in December 2013 and applied in March 2014 to sit for the Tennessee Bar Examination. The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners denied Chong’s application on the ground that he had not complied with Supreme Court Rule 7, section 7.01, which requires that he complete an additional 24 semester hours or more in residence at a law school approved by the American Bar Association. Chong appealed, and the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Board of Law Examiners.
Chong presented evidence that he had completed 30 semester hours through Regent University School of Law (Regent), an ABA-approved law school in Virginia. Chong earned the semester hours by taking courses taught by Regent visiting professors teaching at Handong in South Korea or by taking online courses offered by Regent. Chong was never physically present at Regent. Additionally,
26 of the 30 hours he earned from Regent were credited toward his law degree from Handong.
Rule 7, section 7.01 provides:
Notwithstanding the provisions of § 2.01 and § 2.02, an applicant who has completed a course of study in and graduated from a law school in a foreign country, which law school was then recognized and approved by the competent accrediting agency of such country, may qualify, in the discretion of the Board, to take the bar examination, provided that the applicant shall satisfy the Board that his or her undergraduate education and legal education were substantially equivalent to the requirements of this rule. In addition, the applicant shall also demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Board that he or she has successfully completed at least 24 semester hours in residence at a law school approved by the American Bar Association or has successfully earned one-third of the credits necessary to graduate from a law school approved by the Board under § 2.03. An applicant who graduated from a law school in a foreign country shall also comply with the other pertinent provisions of this rule and shall be required to pass the bar examination.
The Board concluded that Chong had failed to satisfy section 7.01 for the following reasons: (1) 26 of the hours he earned from Regent were credited toward his law degree from Handong, and (2) he was not physically in residence at Regent while the hours were earned. Chong argued that section 7.01 does not require that the hours be earned over and above the hours required for the student’s J.D.-equivalent degree. He further argued that the “in residence” requirement of section 7.01 should be interpreted consistent with the “in residence” requirement of Standard 304 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools (ABA Standards). The 2013–14 ABA Standards in effect at the time Chong applied to take the Tennessee Bar Examination provided in pertinent part:
(b) A law school shall require, as a condition for graduation, successful completion of a course of study in residence of not fewer than 58,000 minutes of instruction time, except as otherwise provided. At least 45,000 of these minutes shall be by attendance in regularly scheduled class sessions at the law school.
The Tennessee Supreme Court set out the following four components of section 7.01: (1) the applicant must have completed a course of study in and graduated from a law school in a foreign country that was then recognized and approved by the appropriate accrediting agency of that country; (2) the applicant must satisfy the Board that his or her undergraduate and legal education were substantially equivalent to the requirements of Rule 7; (3) the applicant must demonstrate that he or she has successfully completed at least 24 semester hours in residence at an ABA-approved law school; and (4) the applicant must comply with other pertinent provisions of Rule 7 and pass the bar examination.
Interpreting Rule 7, section 7.01, the Tennessee Supreme Court found that the words “[i]n addition,” especially when read in the context of the preceding two components, mean that the required semester hours at an ABA-approved school must be earned in addition to the applicant’s foreign law degree. The Court found that the Board did not err in denying Chong’s application on this ground.
After noting that its resolution of the first issue rendered moot the second issue, the Court proceeded to address the meaning of “in residence” in section 7.01 to provide guidance to the Board and future applicants. The Court cited the written Order it issued on June 12, 2009, adopting the “in residence” requirement of section 7.01, explaining that it intended the words “in residence” to mean physically in residence at an ABA-approved law school. The Court stated that it did not consider the ABA Standards when adopting section 7.01, nor did it intend the “in residence” provision of Standard 304 to apply to section 7.01. The fact that Regent’s distance-learning program might fulfill ABA requirements for accreditation purposes does not mean that it meets the requirements of section 7.01.
The Court affirmed the Board’s decision denying Chong’s application and taxed the costs of the appeal to Chong and his surety.
Character and Fitness
Abuse of legal process; lack of candor
In re Chalupowski, 473 Mass. 1008, 41 N.E.3d 51 (MA 2015)
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts denied bar admission to an applicant with a history of filing frivolous claims against attorneys and court personnel in response to adverse judgments.
On May 16, 2008, Malgorzata Chalupowski filed a petition for admission to the Massachusetts bar. She took and passed the written bar examination in July of 2008.
After conducting an investigation and formal hearing, the Board of Bar Examiners determined that Chalupowski lacked the character and fitness necessary to practice law in Massachusetts. A single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the determination, and the full Supreme Judicial Court affirmed.
“Like the board, we have significant doubts about Chalupowski’s character and fitness to practice law,” the decision states.
Chalupowski disclosed in her application her involvement in prolonged family litigation as well as information about several actions she and her husband had filed against lawyers, judges, and court-appointed individuals in connection with the family litigation. The lawsuits were deemed frivolous and resulted in sanctions, including an order from the Probate and Family Court enjoining Chalupowski and her husband from initiating certain litigation.
However, the board’s investigation revealed that Chalupowski failed to disclose her involvement in additional legal actions, including restraining orders obtained against her by her sister-in-law, lawsuits involving her condominium association, and several other landlord-tenant disputes. The board’s investigation also revealed that she made certain misrepresentations regarding her employment history.
“Although [Chalupowski] disclosed some information regarding lawsuits and court proceedings in which she was involved, the disclosure was far from complete,” the Court stated. “Furthermore, in her brief to this court Chalupowski has made no attempt to address or explain this failure. Instead, she continues to focus on perceived wrongdoings in the litigation involving her husband’s family, the substantive merits of which have no bearing on her application or admission to the bar.”
The Court noted that Chalupowski’s attempt to re-litigate these issues rather than addressing her fitness to practice law was an example of her lack of respect for the legal system.
“Chalupowski appears unable to exercise restraint and to accept certain decisions as final, instead continuing to seek recourse by raising frivolous claims against attorneys and court personnel in response to adverse judgments. Engaging in this type of litigation is not an indication of good judgment or professionalism.”
Additionally, at the hearing before the board, Chalupowski chose to call as witnesses four attorneys who had been involved in the family litigation and had been the targets of the ensuing frivolous litigation commenced by Chalupowski and her husband. All four of the witnesses spoke negatively about Chalupowski and recommended against her admission to the bar. In calling these witnesses, Chalupowski appeared to be using the board hearing as yet another opportunity to air her complaints against them. The board noted, and the Court agreed, that “Chalupowski’s choice to call these four attorneys as witnesses underscore[s] a lack of judgment on her part . . . and suggest[s,] at best, a propensity to misunderstand legal process, and at worst, [a propensity] to engage in its misuse.”
Character and Fitness
Abuse of the legal system; lack of candor; lack of civility and professionalism; lack of remorse
Matter of Chandrakant Shridhar Pansé, 38 N.E.3d 298 (MA 2015)
Chandrakant Shridhar Pansé applied for admission to the Massachusetts bar in May 2008. He passed the July 2008 bar examination. The Board of Bar Examiners (Board) initially found him to be qualified but subsequently received information, before Pansé took the oath, from three attorneys in good standing who raised significant concerns about Pansé’s moral character and qualifications for admission. The Board conducted two informal interviews with Pansé; an attorney was appointed as special counsel to conduct an investigation; and the Board held a formal hearing before recommending that Pansé’s application be dismissed. Pansé filed a petition in the county court for a hearing, and a single justice of that court reported the matter to the full Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (the Court).
The Court summarized the detailed findings of fact made by the Board, which included Pansé’s divorce and related proceedings as well as other civil proceedings in which he had been involved. Pansé and his ex-wife divorced in 2008, with the ex-wife being the primary residential parent for two minor children, one of whom (their son M.) is intellectually disabled. In the divorce judgment, a judge in the Probate and Family Court found Pansé to be “controlling, threatening, and emotionally abusive” to the ex-wife and minor children and added that “his narcissism and myopic view of all relationships have resulted in his inability to note or appreciate the harm which he causes.” Pansé filed numerous lawsuits against his ex-wife and others; filed professional complaints against attorneys and judges involved in the divorce; repeatedly accused his ex-wife of abusing and neglecting M., although such claims were never substantiated; and accused the ex-wife, her counsel, and the guardian ad litem appointed for M. of perjury and fraud. The three attorneys who represented the ex-wife during the divorce contacted the Board to object to Pansé’s admission to the bar, describing him as a vengeful, controlling, and intimidating person who misused the legal system. At the formal hearing, they expressed their belief that Pansé would use his law license to harm others.
Pansé’s ex-wife obtained a temporary abuse prevention order against him. During the hearing on the permanent abuse prevention order, Pansé claimed that the temporary order was obtained fraudulently; rather than substantiate that claim, he argued that his ex-wife was a poor mother to M. At a later hearing to extend the order, he again resorted to personal attacks on his ex-wife’s character and honesty.
Pansé filed an action in U.S. district court challenging the validity of the abuse prevention order and alleging violations of his constitutional and civil rights. His complaint contained personal attacks against his ex-wife. The action failed on all counts, and his appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit was found to be frivolous. He was ordered to pay sanctions to his ex-wife and her attorneys. He did not comply with the order until after the Board initiated its investigation into his character.
In addition to the divorce and related proceedings, Pansé had been involved in several other civil actions and did not fully disclose all of them in his application for admission. The Board found that Pansé “repeatedly engaged in ad hominem attacks in those cases.” In a lawsuit against his former employer, the Massachusetts Bay Community College, he accused several defendants of lying and filing fraudulent reports, and he stated that the office of the Attorney General had engaged in “repeated misconduct.” He also accused the college’s counsel of producing witnesses to lie under oath. The Board found that Pansé demonstrated “a repetitive pattern of abusive and litigious behavior” and did not show remorse.
The Court concluded that the record amply supported the Board’s findings and decision, noting the following misconduct: Pansé demonstrated a lack of candor by failing to disclose litigation to which he was a party or by failing to describe it fully; Pansé demonstrated a willingness to abuse the legal system to harass and intimidate people; Pansé demonstrated a lack of civility and professionalism by relying on personal attacks against other parties and lodging professional complaints against members of the bar who challenged his positions; and Pansé failed to show any remorse or insight when made aware of the Board’s concerns. In his brief to the Court, Pansé accused the Board of aiding and abetting the alleged felony endangerment and abuse of his son M.
Pansé also argued that the proceedings were unduly delayed. The Board attributed the delay in part to Pansé’s own actions. The Court found that, regardless of the reason for the delay, Pansé failed to show that it was prejudicial to him in that he did not identify evidence that was lost or witnesses that became unavailable. Further, the Court observed that even if the proceedings were defective, Pansé would still need to establish that he possesses the requisite moral character, which he failed to do. Judgment was entered affirming the Board’s decision and denying Pansé’s application for admission.
Kellie R. Early is Chief Operating Officer for the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
Jessica Glad is Staff Attorney for the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
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