What happens if an applicant is denied a certification recommending admission to the bar based upon character and fitness?

Denial by the Executive Director

Under Pa.B.A.R. 213(a), the Board, through the Executive Director, may find that the applicant does not appear to possess the fitness and general qualifications requisite to become a member of the bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. If the applicant gets notice of an initial denial, the applicant has a right to request a hearing before the Board to present evidence supporting his/her admission, unless the denial was for scholastic reasons.

Hearing after an Initial Denial

Within 30 days of the date of the initial denial letter, the applicant must notify the Board both telephonically and in writing that he/she would like a hearing. Board staff will then schedule a fact-finding hearing before a member of the Board. There will be no prosecutor.

The applicant bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she possesses the character and fitness required of members of the bar. The Board reviews the applicant’s file de novo.

The applicant must be present at the hearing and may be represented by counsel. The applicant may call and examine witnesses and cross-examine adverse witnesses. The Board is not bound by the formal rules of evidence, and such relevant evidence may be introduced at the hearing as may be necessary for the Board to make a final determination on the applicant’s admission to the bar.

Hearings are memorialized stenographically or digitally. The Board may issue subpoenas for the attendance of witnesses and for the production of documentary evidence at the hearing, and the decision to issue a subpoena is made by the Board member who is conducting the hearing. The entire record is made available to the full Board, and its members deliberate and render a decision that the Executive Director communicates to the applicant.

Supplemental Applications after Initial Denials

An applicant may choose not to request a hearing after an initial denial by the Executive Director. In this case, the applicant does not dispute the facts as presented by the Executive Director. The applicant should take some time to demonstrate rehabilitation, and then seek a hearing before the Board. When the applicant has significant new evidence to present regarding the issue(s) that formed the basis for the Executive Director’s initial denial, he or she may file a supplemental application for character and fitness determination.

After the applicant files a supplemental application, Board staff will conduct a character and fitness investigation to update the file. The Board strongly recommends that an applicant file a supplemental application at least six months before the date of the expiration of bar results (three years after results release). Otherwise, the Board may not be able to complete the character and fitness investigation, schedule a hearing, and convene the board for a decision before the expiration of bar results, which would result in the candidate’s having to take the bar exam again.

Supplemental Applications after Board Denials

Applicants may also file a supplemental application after a hearing and subsequent denial by the Board. The same process occurs as when an applicant files a supplemental application after an initial denial by the Executive Director. There is no limit on the number of supplemental applications an applicant may file. However, the Board cannot extend the three-year limitation on the filing of a motion for admission under Pa.B.A.R. 231.

Appeals to the Supreme Court

If the Board denies an application, the applicant may seek de novo review from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Pa.B.A.R. 222 provides for judicial review of board determinations. An applicant must file written notification of his or her intention to seek judicial review within 30 days of the date of service of the letter from the Board with notice of the denial. When an applicant files a written notification, the Board will prepare and enter a formal adjudication and designation of the record and serve a copy on the applicant. The applicant must then file a petition for review with the prothonotary of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court within the time and in the manner provided by the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure.