August 5, 2011
Former Priest Fit To Practice Law
A former priest who had been denied admission to practice by the Board of Governors of the Alaska Bar Association sought review by the Alaska Supreme Court.
The court disagreed with their conclusions and found that the applicant had satisfied the character and fitness requirements for admission. The court returned the application to the association for further proceedings consistent with their conclusions.
The issues related to the applicant's interactions with juveniles while in the priesthood:
[The applicant] had inappropriate contact with some of the boys on these trips. [He] asserts that the contact was horseplay and a form of discipline, but agrees that it was inappropriate in retrospect. Four affidavits from boys on the trips describe [his] conduct. It involved tickling the boys, having them do calisthenics in their underwear, spanking them, and receiving foot and neck massages from them. The affidavits are not strictly condemnatory though. The affidavit discussing tickling hedged its assessment: “Father...never touched my genital area, and did not engage in other sexual activity with me. He also never told me not to mention the tickling to others, and he might not have realized that there was something wrong about it.” And six other affidavits or letters from participants indicated that no improper activity was observed on the trips, nor was discomfort felt.
The court majority found that the association had mischaracterized the record:
Notably, although denying [the applicant's] application based on candor, the decision does not identify a single lie [he] told, nor any contradiction in his answers. It instead appears to rely on [his] demeanor in testimony that the Board did not hear. This is inexplicable, particularly because the Board declined to question [him] directly when it had the opportunity.
The applicant had attended law school after leaving the priesthood and was admitted in Iowa after a full exploration of the matters at issue here.
A dissent would remand rather than admit:
Given the posture of this matter, where there were procedural flaws in the Board’s hearing and where its findings of fact were not adequately supported by the record, the proper remedy is not simply to admit [him] — any more than it is to deny him admission. [He] must be allowed the opportunity to meet his burden of proving that he satisfies the requirements set forth in the Bar Rules through a meaningful hearing before the Board. Remand is appropriate in this case because of the seriousness of the hearing master’s adverse]credibility finding and because [the applicant] is entitled to have the Board consider his application in an impartial hearing.
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