Typically, an Application for Admission to the New York Bar will not result in a reported court decision. Reported decisions occur in the relatively rare occasions where the Committees on Character and Fitness, following a hearing, recommend against admission, and the applicant petitions the Appellate Division for an order granting admission notwithstanding the Committee’s recommendation. In very rare instances, reported decisions occur when the Committees on Character and Fitness, following a hearing, do recommend admission, but the Appellate Division denies admission notwithstanding the Committee’s recommendation of admission.
I have presented here citations to, and brief summaries of, reported New York Bar Admission Decisions. I have also included links to the decisions themselves. While these decisions are informative of the admission process and standards, it is important to understand that the cases have little value as “precedent.” This is because admission applications are decided based upon the facts and circumstances of each application. Even applications that, on their face, may appear to present comparable issues, can be very different in small but important ways and can therefore have different results. Nonetheless, important lessons can be learned from these decisions.
The decisions in which the Appellate Divisions have denied applications for admission, read collectively, reveal that admission has been denied based upon conduct falling into roughly the following six categories: (1) Lack of Candor; (2) Admission denied/ conditional admission/ past discipline in another jurisdiction; (3) Criminal Record; (4) Abuse or disrespect of the court system/ disregard of a court order or obligation; (5) Serious financial irresponsibility; and (6) Misconduct of non-criminal nature, including academic dishonesty or discipline, inappropriate and offensive behavior, termination of employment for cause, multiple traffic violations, etc. I discuss the cases relating to each of these six categories, below, along with providing some insight into these issues based upon my experience as a character and fitness practitioner.
- Lack of Candor. Candor is the single most important factor in any application for admission to the New York Bar. See In re DeMaria, 154 A.D.3d 1161 (3rd 2017)
“As we have repeatedly stated, ‘[c]andor and the voluntary revelation of negative information by an applicant are the cornerstones upon which is built the character and fitness investigation of an applicant for admission to the New York State [b]ar’….”
Reported decisions confirm that a lack of candor in the bar admission process (either in New York or in another jurisdiction), as well as lack of candor with an applicant’s law school or legal employer, is a common reason for an application for admission being denied. Importantly, these decisions often appear to involve a lack of candor concerning misconduct which, in and of itself (and if appropriately disclosed and addressed), would likely not have resulted in denial of the applicant’s bar application. See Matter of Anonymous, 172 AD3d 1522 (3rd Dept. 2019) (Applicant had been accused of honor code violations at two law schools. The applicant subsequently applied for admission in New Jersey, but withdrew his New Jersey application following a character and fitness hearing. At the applicant’s subsequent New York character and fitness hearing, the Committee on Character and Fitness determined that the application had given false testimony at his New Jersey hearing, concerning one of the honor code violations.); Matter of Anonymous, 163 AD3d 1393 (3rd Dept. 2018) (Among other factors leading to denial of admission, Applicant had failed to disclose a criminal matter and employment termination to his law school, and subsequently demonstrated a lack of candor in the Michigan bar admission process in connection with that failure to disclose); Matter of Kantor, 283 A.D.2d 882 (3rd Dept. 2001) (In an employment interview with a prospective New York law firm employer, applicant failed to reveal that he had previously been denied admission to the bar in Ohio based upon character and fitness grounds; the applicant delayed disclosing the Ohio bar admission issues to his employer until the second day of his employment, resulting in his termination a few days later for lack of candor); In re Anonymous, 11 AD3d 877 (3d Dept. 2004) (Applicant denied admission where application raised character and fitness concerns including the applicant’s criminal record, lengthy delay in satisfying a judgment, and lack of candor on the applicant’s law school applications).
Even after admission is granted, subsequent discovery of a misrepresentation or omission on an application for admission to the bar is grounds for an attorney’s bar admission being revoked, and this has frequently occurred in reported decisions. See In re DeMaria, 154 A.D.3d 1161 (3rd Dept. 2017) (Attorney’s admission to the bar revoked upon discovery that attorney’s application for admission to the New York Bar had failed to candidly disclose status of bar admission in another jurisdiction, where the applicant had engaged in bar exam misconduct); In re Williams, 142 A.D.3d 720 (3rd Dept. 2016) (Admission revoked based upon failure to disclose felony conviction in bar application 16 years earlier); In re Olivarius, 94 A.D.3d 1224 (3rd Dept. 2012) (Admission revoked based upon submission of improper employment affidavits in an effort to suppress information; misleading explanations concerning terminations from two employments; and failure to disclose involvement in extensive prior litigation [renewed application for admission approved in In re Olivarius, 106 A.D.3d 1262 (3rd Dept. 2013)]); In re Uchenna, 69 A.D.3d 1220 (3d Dept. 2010) (Attorney’s admission revoked based upon failure to disclose past criminal conviction no bar application); In re Lawrence, 78 A.D.3d 28 (2d Dept. 2010) (Attorney’s Admission revoked based upon failure to disclose prior bar admission and discipline in another jurisdiction); In re Spinner, 19 A.D.3d 803 (3d Dept. 2005) (Attorney’s admission revoked based upon, inter alia, failure to disclose criminal history on application for admission to the bar); In re Canino, 10 A.D.3d 194 (2d Dept. 2004) (Attorney’s admission revoked based upon deliberate failure to disclose employment on bar application, in order to avoid obtaining employment affidavit which would be unfavorable); In