Monday, January 23, 2023
Applicant Establishes Character And Fitness After Felony Conviction
The Ohio Supreme Court has entered an opinion allowing a 2022 University of Cincinnati Law graduate to sit for the bar examination
In October 2022, a three-member panel of the board conducted a hearing, during which it heard testimony from Davis. Thereafter, the panel issued a report finding that Davis had established his present character, fitness, and moral qualifications by clear and convincing evidence and recommending that he be permitted to sit for the February 2023 Ohio bar exam, provided he complies with all applicable procedures and requirements. In December 2022, the board unanimously adopted the panel’s report and recommendation.
In April 2008, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky accepted Davis’s guilty plea to two charges—possession with the intent to distribute crack cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime—and dismissed the remaining charges. In July 2008, that court sentenced Davis to 52 months in prison followed by four years of supervised release and ordered him to forfeit $8,742, a 9-millimeter Ruger pistol, and a quantity of ammunition.
During his character-and-fitness hearing, Davis testified that he was released from federal prison in October 2011 after serving roughly 50 months of his 52-month sentence. Following his release, he obtained employment at a factory in Lexington, Kentucky. He utilized the factory’s tuition-reimbursement program to obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology. According to Davis, he maintained a 3.5 GPA during his undergraduate studies and earned a 4.0 GPA in the fall of 2018—all while working 12-hour overnight shifts five to six days a week.
Davis testified that as he approached graduation, he contemplated his future and found himself looking back on his work in the prison library, where he had helped inmates with their appeals and tutored those who were studying for the GED. He stated that he had met people who could not read, write, or comprehend even the simplest concepts of the law and had realized that he was able to help them. Davis recalled an encounter with an inmate in his mid-80s who could not understand why his request for release to a halfway house had been denied. After talking with the inmate, Davis determined that the inmate could not read, and Davis was the first person who took the time to explain to the elderly inmate the reason for the denial in terms that he could understand. Davis testified that after he reflected on the personal satisfaction he had felt from helping his fellow inmates, he decided to pursue a career in law and dedicate his life to helping others.
Davis was admitted to the University of Cincinnati College of Law, where he was awarded a scholarship and was preadmitted as a fellow for the Ohio Innocence Project. In his law-school application, Davis disclosed his felony convictions and several other brushes he had had with the law. He also described himself as a first-generation high school graduate. He explained that he had been educated in an urban school system that prepared students for surviving everyday challenges rather than preparing them for college success. Although he first enrolled in a community college in the fall of 1995, he stated that he had struggled academically due in part to his poor study habits and concern about supporting himself and his family.
In his law-school application, Davis also disclosed that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer during his first year of college (i.e., 1995 or 1996) and that he had taken a second job to help his family make ends meet. He stated that after his mother’s death the next year, he dropped out of school to take care of his younger brother and support his own child. The board found that “[i]t was during this protracted absence from school, familial financial obligations, and personal crisis, that Davis found himself drawn to the allure of the drug culture,” which eventually led to his November 2007 arrest.
Davis disclosed his felony convictions and other run-ins with the law in the bar-admissions process. The admissions committee’s attorney investigators thoroughly considered Davis’s convictions and found him to be both candid and remorseful for his past conduct. The panel members and the board also found that Davis was forthright in his testimony during his character-and-fitness hearing. They were particularly impressed with his testimony that his incarceration had introduced him to the concept of “service,” by showing him how rewarding and inspiring it can be to help others.
In support of its determination that Davis is a suitable candidate to sit for the Ohio bar exam, the board cited several character-reference letters in Davis’s National Conference of Bar Examiners report. One of those references, a pastor of, mentor to, and friend of Davis who had known him for more than 30 years stated, “I believe Mr. Davis to be a man of exceptional character: intelligent, focused and with a heart to serve humanity. He will be a tremendous asset to the profession and will serve with honor.” Another reference, who had known Davis for approximately 25 years, stated that he admires Davis’s “commitment to justice, fairness, compassion, and attention to detail” and that he has admired “[Davis’s] resilience in the face of life changes, observed his ability to focus on what is important, and marveled at his tenacity.” Moreover, the Cincinnati Bar Association renewed its support for Davis’s application at the conclusion of his hearing testimony.
Upon consideration of the record and the applicable rules, we agree that Davis has carried his burden of proving that he currently possesses the requisite character, fitness, and moral qualifications for admission to the practice of law.