Wednesday, August 24, 2016
The Maryland Court of Appeals has denied admission to an applicant who had passed the February 2013 bar examination
We consider whether to grant the application for admission to the Bar of Maryland of Deirdre Paulette Brown (“Ms. Brown”), who failed to disclose a prior felony theft charge on her application for admission and provided no credible explanation for her omission; intentionally misrepresented her grade point average (“GPA”) on her law school resume in order to enhance her qualifications with a prospective employer; and demonstrated a pattern of financial irresponsibility with credit account debt.
The Character Committee for the Seventh Appellate Circuit (“Committee”) recommended Ms. Brown’s admission to the Bar of Maryland by a vote of three to two. The State Board of Law Examiners (“Board”) voted four to three to adopt the recommendation of the Committee. Upon consideration of the recommendations of the Committee and the Board, and based upon our independent review of the record, we hold that Ms. Brown has not met the burden of establishing that she currently possesses the requisite moral character and fitness for admission to the Bar.
The court found that the debt issues were not an impediment to admission.
The problems lay elsewhere
In 1992, Ms. Brown was charged with making a false statement to a police officer and felony theft. She only disclosed the charge of making a false statement on her Bar application. The charges arose from an alleged robbery that occurred on or about October 10, 1992, while Ms. Brown was a manager in a retail clothing store in Prince George’s County.
The committee found that her testimony about the criminal matter was candid.
She had falsified her GPA
The Committee found Ms. Brown’s “admitted intentional misrepresentation of her [GPA] during the final semester of law school[,]” most egregious. Ms. Brown provided an April 24, 2012 reprimand letter from her law school’s Academic Standards Committee, which reported that she submitted a resume to the school’s Director of Career and Professional Development that falsely reported her GPA to be 3.71, when her GPA was only 2.71. The letter also noted that Ms. Brown failed to correct the misrepresentation when the Assistant Director of the career development office congratulated her on the false GPA.
In deciding to issue a reprimand, the Academic Standards Committee considered the following: 1) Ms. Brown’s “estimable record of accomplishments;” 2) her “civic engagement and respect by her classmates;” 3) “the isolated nature of the incident;” and 4) the “sincerity of Ms. Brown’s regret regarding her conduct.” During the hearings, Ms. Brown admitted she placed false information on her resume in order to secure an on campus interview with a prospective employer, who required a minimum GPA of 3.0. Ms. Brown also testified that she withdrew her application with the prospective employer after the interview, reasoning that her conduct was “dishonest,” “unethical,” and “stupid.”
Although Ms. Brown acknowledged that her misrepresentation would have been exposed when the employer obtained her law school transcript, she admitted that she would not have reported it had she not been caught by the career development staff. The Committee accepted mitigation evidence relative to the resume incident. The Committee observed that three years had elapsed since the event leading to her academic reprimand, and that during that time, Ms. Brown held a real estate license, has been a notary public, and has worked for at least two title companies. The Committee also observed that within that period, no complaints had been lodged against her, and the accuracy and integrity of her work had not been questioned.
Ms. Brown admitted that she had been financially irresponsible, failed to disclose the felony theft charge on her Bar application, and falsified material information on her resume during law school. Nonetheless, Ms. Brown avers that these incidents were not indicative of her present moral character and fitness for admission to the Bar of Maryland.
With the exception of Ms. Brown’s patterns of financial irresponsibility, which, in our view, she has since rehabilitated based on the record before us, we disagree.
Relative to the failure to disclose information, Ms. Brown alleges that she was not aware of the felony theft charge, and therefore, did not disclose it on her Bar application. However, the record reveals the contrary. Specifically, during Ms. Brown’s testimony at the February 2015 hearing, she stated, in relevant part: “I was very clear with [Mr. Herschfeld] . . . that I never said I committed theft of anything of that nature[,]” and that “[a]t first [the police officer] charged me with making a false statement. Then at some point he did do the theft, I do remember that, but I remember the theft either—I don’t know if it got tied into the stet or if it went away.” (emphasis added). Contrary to these assertions, Ms. Brown thereafter, affirmatively denied having recalled the felony theft charge, by stating, “I don’t remember that particular charge [(i.e., the felony theft charge)][,]” and “I don’t ever remember being charged with [felony] theft.”
...our cases demonstrate that an applicant’s lack of candor, truthfulness, or full disclosure, as reflected by an applicant’s inconsistent or contradictory testimony, or other evidence, also supports the denial of admission to the Bar.
...Ms. Brown’s explanations of her of failure to disclose, as reflected in the record and her representations during oral argument before this Court, are inconsistent, and tend to minimize the extent of her responsibility. We further observe that Ms. Brown failed to disclose a known criminal charge, despite signing an affirmation attesting to the accuracy of the information provided on her Bar application.
The coup de grace
Even more troubling, is Ms. Brown’s falsification of information on her resume during the last semester of law school. Ms. Brown alleges that this conduct displayed a “lapse in judgment” that was not indicative of her character, suggesting that the candid confession of her culpability and requisite remorse, should be viewed favorably towards her admission to the Bar. We disagree. Ms. Brown deliberately altered her GPA on her resume to advance employment prospects which she would not have qualified for, had her true GPA had been disclosed. Ms. Brown was cognizant that her actions were misleading. Ms. Brown also candidly admitted that the motivation behind her actions were calculated and purely designed for her own personal gain.
Ms. Brown further testified that had her law school not confronted her regarding the falsified GPA, she would not have taken the initiative to correct the misinformation. Specifically, Ms. Brown admitted that she did not correct the misrepresentation, even when the Assistant Director of the law school’s career development office congratulated her for achieving an “outstanding GPA,” and did not do so during an on-campus interview with the prospective employer. In furtherance of this act of deception, Ms. Brown testified that she only withdrew her resume from consideration because of her fear of being caught, and the fact that her actual GPA would have ultimately been revealed when compared against her law school transcript...
Although we accord great weight to the Board’s determination, our independent review of the record, which includes argument before this Court, where Ms. Brown appeared and responded to questions, and the proceedings before the Committee and the Board, leads us to conclude that Ms. Brown has failed to unequivocally meet the burden of establishing that she presently possesses the good moral character and fitness required for admission to the Bar of Maryland. In 2012, which was approximately four years ago, Ms. Brown revealed to the Committee and the Board that she deliberately falsified her GPA to enhance her qualifications with a prospective employer, and was less than candid regarding a previous felony theft charge.
Justice Hotten authored the court's opinion. (Mike Frisch)