Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Maryland Admits Applicant Despite Practice Exam Plagiarism

An applicant was admitted to the Bar of the Maryland Supreme Court with a series of WHERAS descriptions of law school misconduct

WHEREAS, while in his final semester of law school at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law in the spring of 2018, the Applicant took a bar preparation course, which included taking multiple Multistate Performance Test (“MPT”) practice exams,
WHEREAS, prior to taking his fifth and final practice exam, the Applicant obtained a picture of the model answer from a friend who had already taken the exam, intending to achieve the number of points that he needed for a perfect score on the final MPT practice exam, and he in fact achieved such a score,
WHEREAS, the professor who taught the bar preparation course recognized the plagiarized answer, resulting in a hearing before the law school honor board, which issued “an official reprimand to be made part of his student permanent record and to be disclosed to the bar examiners for each state to which he applied,” and also required that he complete an ethics essay assignment prior to graduation,
WHEREAS, prior to graduation, the Applicant was advised by a professor that he needed to disclose the identity of the friend who shared the model answer with him, and after the Applicant complied, he was then given an additional honor code violation for failing to report the honor code violation of his friend,
WHEREAS, the Applicant was permitted to graduate and received his J.D. degree...

A dissent of Justice Hotten joined by Justice Eaves

Mr. Howie incurred honor code violations while attending law school for plagiarism and failing to disclose the honor code violation of another student who facilitated his plagiarism. Although he was previously admitted to the Bars of New Jersey and New York, he failed to disclose the violations to two of his four employers. This record reflects a patterned lack of candor and a failure to appreciate a moral duty to the truth. Only after pressure from three attorneys did Mr. Howie admit his dishonesty to the law school, yet chose to violate the honor code again by withholding the name of the student who facilitated his plagiarism. Before the Character Committee, Mr. Howie stated he did not affirmatively disclose the Maryland honor code violations to his New Jersey employers because they “only practiced in New Jersey.” However, an attorney’s ethical obligation to the truth is not limited by geography. See, e.g., In re License of Thompson, 363 Md. 469, 478–79, 769 A.2d 905, 910–11 (2000) (noting that attorney’s violations of D.C. Disciplinary Rules would reflect the attorney’s lack of the requisite moral character for practice in Maryland); Att’y Grievance Comm’n v. McCoy, 369 Md. 226, 237, 798 A.2d 1132, 1138 (2002) (disbarring an attorney for ethical violations committed in Delaware).

Mr. Howie’s conduct also reflects another concern: his focus on the repercussions of being caught, not the moral failing of dishonesty. After being caught by his school, Mr. Howie asked his professor how “he could make things go away.” Before the Character Committee, Mr. Howie listed some “regrets,” omitting the dishonesty of his plagiarism and limited to the stress of being caught on his family and the damage to his career. These “regrets” do not demonstrate that he understands the moral failing of dishonesty, only the inconvenience of being caught.

When given an opportunity to show that he had rehabilitated himself, Mr. Howie chose not to, again demonstrating he does not understand his moral duty. Instead, he obfuscated his “make things go away” statement as “embarrassing and silly” and stood by his decision to seek advice from attorneys rather than take responsibility for his dishonesty.

Before this Court, Mr. Howie still could not articulate why his dishonesty was problematic, and pointed to his Bar admissions in New Jersey and New York to argue that he has been rehabilitated and presently possesses the requisite moral character. I disagree. Mr. Howie has the burden of proving his moral character and fitness before this Court. Md. Rule 19-204(d). Admission to the Bars of other jurisdictions does not abrogate the responsibility of demonstrating he possesses sufficient moral character to practice law in Maryland. His decision to foist his obligation onto the Bars of other states is not indicative of appreciating his moral duties.

(Mike Frisch)


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