Friday, April 27, 2007

Living A Lie

The revelation that the  Dean of Admissions at MIT falsified her academic credentials and was discovered 28 years after her hiring brings to mind our recent discussions about bar admission. It shows that a misrepresentation of credentials is a ticking time bomb to a professional career notwithstanding years of apparently high quality job performance.

There are a number of very interesting cases of lawyer impersonation. Perhaps the most famous D.C. case involved a "lawyer" whose real name was Daniel Jackson Oliver Wendell Holmes Morgan, an escaped convict who had an active practice under the name of  L.A. Harris. He was outed after he was involved in a traffic accident with a real lawyer, who asked about his credentials in discovery, leading to him taking it on the lam. He was eventually arrested and convicted. The fascinating story is told in No Time For Dying, co-written by a client that Morgan had represented who was on death row when it was discovered that his trial lawyer was an impostor.

Then there was a case I prosecuted involving one Regis Toomey (I am not making these names up). He was admitted to the D.C. Bar but omitted mention of the fact that he had been barred and disbarred in Texas. The court revoked his license rather than disbar him, meaning that he could never seek reinstatement.

There was another fellow who slithered his way into the D.C. Bar when the D.C. Court of Appeals took over the jurisdiction of the bar from the District Court in 1972--he was discovered as a result of client complaints. (MIke Frisch)

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I admit to being surprised at how many people (according to comments at several blogs) think that '[many] years of apparently high quality job performance' is sufficient reason to excuse or forgive the falsification. Someone who didn't practice deceit lost out to someone who did, and that's wrong, and anything the Dean did later in no way erases the wrong: in fact, it undermines the truth of her advice to young people about honesty, integrity, and so forth. I think it was right to fire her because it's not just about her but about the example she would set were she to receive a reprimand, a slap on the wrist, what have you: it's ok to lie, cheat, be deceitful, especially if you can get away with it.... Truth caught up with her, and now she has to face the consequences.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Apr 27, 2007 9:20:43 PM

Patrick, then you really won't like the analysis on the Chicago Law profs' blog, I think by Saul Levmore, and some of the comments, found at

Posted by: Alan Childress | Apr 28, 2007 8:45:25 PM

You're right Alan, in fact, it was Levmore's piece and most of the comments that followed I had foremost in mind when I wrote the above. Nothing that occurred after 'she admitted fabricating her own educational credentials...[and] feigned one or more undergraduate and graduate degrees in order to get a low-level professional position...and, then, kept up the false front with a few other misstatements' can justify the deceit. It matters not a whit that she became 'MIT's much admired Admissions Dean,' or that she 'rose to the top of the admissions world.' The ends here in no way justify the means.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Apr 28, 2007 9:50:24 PM

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