More About The South Carolina Bar Examination Situation

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As noted previously, circumstances related to the grading of the recent South Carolina Bar are troubling, as reported recently by the ABA Journal. One blog provides a sourced chronology of events here. Self described “ethics watchdogs” have not publicly taken a substantive interest in the issue, as exemplified by the following excerpt from this article:

John Crangle, the lawyer-director of Common Cause of South Carolina, a government watchdog group, said the court’s action “raises questions of favoritism.” But he added, “Knowing the members of the Supreme Court as I do … I don’t think they would show favoritism.”

Wow, that’s reassuring, huh? I’m a little more encouraged by a newspaper story that appeared today, which reported:

The S.C. Bar’s governing body distanced itself Thursday from the state Supreme Court in a growing controversy over how the high court : in a still unexplained process : changed the grades of 20 of last July’s bar exam test-takers to”pass”from”fail.”

The three-sentence statement by the Bar’s 21-member Board of Governors indicated the high court should do more to explain itself.

The statement also makes clear that the Bar : which represents the state’s 10,000-plus lawyers : doesn’t want to be associated with the Supreme Court’s grade-changing action. The statement was published on the Bar’s Web site.

“The S.C. Bar encourages those charged with responsibility for the bar examination to further explain what happened and take steps to avoid a recurrence of these events,”the statement said.

“Those charged with responsibility for the bar examination”is a clear reference to the Supreme Court, which oversees the admission of lawyers to the Bar.

“The S.C. Bar has no role in any aspect of the bar examination process and has no information other than what has been stated by the Supreme Court,”the statement read. …

The article concludes with this observation:

By historical measures, it appeared to be an extraordinary public statement by the normally reserved Bar, which has rarely, if ever, challenged the high court. In South Carolina’s cozy legal world, problems often are worked out in private. Only last week, Bar president Lanny Lambert declined to comment on the grade-changing. Efforts to reach him Thursday night were unsuccessful.

Every lawyer and law student I have discussed this with agrees on one basic point: We need some transparency, and substantive information about what transpired, and why. This editorial nails it.

–Ann Bartow

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