Monday, March 25, 2019

A Journey of Thirty Years May Not Be Close To An End

The web page of the Ohio Supreme Court has a summary of an oral argument scheduled tomorrow

In re Application of Gillian Holzhauser-Graber, Case no. 2018-1425
Board of Commissioners on Character & Fitness

The Board of Commissioners on Character & Fitness recommends that the Ohio Supreme Court reject Gillian Holzhauser-Graber’s 2016 application to be admitted to practice law in the state. Holzhauser-Graber, who graduated from law school in 1988, has applied for admission four times. Based on omissions in her most recent application and her testimony at a character and fitness hearing, the board determined that Holzhauser-Graber didn’t sufficiently demonstrate that she has the required character and fitness to practice law.

Noting that Holzhauser-Graber took the bar exam a second time in 1991 and those results were sealed because she hadn’t met the profession’s character and fitness requirements, the board also suggests that the Supreme Court now release her 1991 bar exam results.

Woman’s First Application to Practice Law Rejected
Candidates who want to practice law in Ohio must submit a registration application, which requires complete disclosure of many aspects of the candidate’s past. In addition, local bar associations conduct character and fitness interviews of candidates, and the board holds hearings in certain circumstances.

Holzhauser-Graber’s journey to join the Ohio bar began in 1988. That year, the Ohio Northern University College of Law graduate gave false testimony at a hearing before a panel of the character and fitness board. The board disapproved her application and recommended that she not be permitted to sit for the bar exam until at least February 1991. However, because Holzhauser-Graber has a vision impairment, the Supreme Court gave her special permission to take the bar exam in February 1989. The Court ordered that the results remain sealed until the same time all the early 1991 bar exam results were released if she met the required character, fitness, and moral qualifications. 

In January 1991, the Findlay/Hancock County Bar Association found that Holzhauser-Graber demonstrated the necessary character and fitness, and the board agreed. However, she didn’t pass the bar exam.

Applicant Takes Bar Exam for Second Time
She retook the test in July 1991. Before those results were released, the bar association’s acting president informed the board about a personal-injury lawsuit Holzhauser-Graber filed against Blanchard Valley Hospital. Holzhauser-Graber acknowledged that she lied in her testimony in that suit. The board recommended that the Supreme Court deny her application and permanently prohibit her from reapplying to practice law. Based on testimony from Holzhauser-Graber’s psychologist, the Court in 1993 decided, however, to allow her to reapply in two years if she continued counseling and underwent another fitness and character evaluation after the waiting period. The Court ordered the sealing of her July 1991 bar exam results, which remain sealed.

In 1995, the board recommended Holzhauser-Graber’s admission, but the Court, without explanation, declined to adopt the recommendation. The Court’s February 1996 order stated that she couldn’t reapply for another two years.

Woman Reapplies for Admission to Ohio Bar Twice More
Holzhauser-Graber reapplied in 1998, but the bar association raised concerns about her suspected role in hiding her father’s assets to make him eligible for financial assistance from a church pension board. The bar association denied her application in 2000, and she didn’t appeal. She reapplied again in 2013, but the bar association noted that she didn’t disclose the Blanchard Valley Hospital case in her application, and she then mischaracterized the litigation when questioned. She appealed the bar association’s disapproval but then withdrew her appeal.

Candidate Encounters Issues with 2016 Application
She filed her most recent application in 2016. While she disclosed most of her earlier applications for admission, she didn’t note her 2013 application and its denial. In addition, she didn’t disclose her involvement in two 1984 Hancock County probate court matters, which she had never disclosed on any application. She supplemented her application with additional details, but didn’t offer an explanation why she hadn’t noted them in her application.

Although she had personal references and treating psychologists testify on her behalf, the board’s panel stated that this support for her didn’t outweigh its concern about her ability to be honest and forthright as an attorney. The board determined that Holzhauser-Graber didn’t show by clear and convincing evidence that she has the current character and fitness to practice law, and the board disapproved her admission to the Ohio bar.

Holzhauser-Graber is entitled to an automatic review of this decision on the record before the Supreme Court.

Applicant Argues She Is Rehabilitated
In her objections, Holzhauser-Graber points to the testimony from four psychological experts, who indicated she has faced her earlier issues making untruthful statements and who believe she presents the character and fitness to practice law. She also describes the support various personal references, including church officials and an attorney, made in support of her admission.

She notes that the lawsuits at issue were resolved many years before her 2016 application, and she maintains that their omission from her application doesn’t reveal a lack of candor with the board. She states that she subsequently submitted the entire case files from those cases to the board. She argues that she has rehabilitated herself with extensive therapy and is fit to practice law in Ohio.

She asks the Court to admit her to the bar if she passed the bar exam, and offered to submit to monitoring for the first few years. Alternatively, she asks that she not be forever barred from being admitted to practice law and that her bar exam results be released.

Bar Association Sees Pattern of Deceit and Omission
The bar association filed a written answer to Holzhauser-Graber’s objections, but has waived its opportunity to participate in oral argument. In its response, the bar association states that the 30-year procedural history in this case shows a “pervasive pattern of lies and omissions.” Noting that Holzhauser-Graber was 32 years old when she first lied to the board’s panel in 1988, the bar association argues that her lack of candor isn’t youthful indiscretion.

Also, Holzhauser-Graber doesn’t address in her objections any reasons for her failure to disclose past court cases in her most recent application or why she was less than candid in hearings, the bar association notes. Nor does the positive testimony of the psychologists and personal references invalidate her conduct in the admissions process, the organization maintains.

The bar association argues Holzhauser-Graber hasn’t shown candor or evidence of rehabilitation. It asks the Court not to approve her application, and concludes that, after 30 years, Holzhauser-Graber should be prohibited from reapplying again for admission to practice law in Ohio.

- Kathleen Maloney

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Gillian Holzhauser-Graber: F. Stephen Chamberlain, 419.235.5125

Representing Findlay/Hancock County Bar Association: Christian Pedersen, 419.422.5688.

The recommendation of the Board of Commissioners on Character & Fitness is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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