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Jarrett v. Bd. of Bar Exam'rs (In re Jarrett)

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

May 18, 2016

In the Matter of the Bar Admission of Joshua E. Jarrett; Joshua E. Jarrett, Petitioner,
v.
Board of Bar Examiners, Respondent

         REVIEW of Board of Bar Examiners decision.

          Decision reversed and remanded.

         For the petitioner, there were briefs by Joshua E. Jarrett.

         For the Board of Bar Examiners, there was a brief by Jacquelynn B. Rothstein, Director & Legal Counsel.

         DAVID T. PROSSER, J. (concurring). PATIENCE DRAKE ROGGENSACK, C.J. (dissenting).

          OPINION

Page 117

         [368 Wis.2d 570] PER CURIAM.

          [¶1] This is a review, pursuant to SCR 40.08(7), of the final decision of the Board of Bar Examiners (Board) declining to certify that the petitioner, Joshua E. Jarrett, has satisfied the character and fitness requirements for admission to the Wisconsin bar set forth in SCR 40.06(1). The Board's refusal to certify that Mr. Jarrett satisfied the character and fitness requirements for admission to the Wisconsin bar was based primarily on Mr. Jarrett's conduct following his second year in law school, when he committed academic misconduct by misrepresenting law school grades and information to a prospective employer. After careful review, we reverse and remand the matter to the Board for further proceedings.

          [¶2] We appreciate the Board's concern regarding this candidate, and we appreciate the thorough investigation the Board conducted into Mr. Jarrett's background and past conduct. Mr. Jarrett's academic misconduct raised a significant question about his fitness to practice law. The duty to examine an applicant's qualifications

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for bar admission rests initially on the Board, and this court relies heavily on the Board's investigation and evaluation. In the final analysis, however, this court retains supervisory authority and has the ultimate responsibility for regulating admission to the Wisconsin bar. See In re Bar Admission of Rippl, 2002 WI 15, ¶3, 250 Wis.2d 519, 639 N.W.2d [368 Wis.2d 571] 553, and In re Bar Admission of Vanderperren, 2003 WI 37, ¶2, 261 Wis.2d 150, 661 N.W.2d 27.

          [¶3] While we understand the Board's decision, we conclude that the incidents the Board relied upon, while troubling, are sufficiently offset by evidence of rehabilitation to warrant our conclusion that Mr. Jarrett may be admitted to the practice of law in this state, albeit with conditions. Accordingly, we reverse.

          [¶4] Mr. Jarrett grew up in Georgia. He attended Albany State University, majoring in Criminal Justice and graduating in 2009. He participated in a prestigious summer internship with the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C., and then returned to Georgia to become a police officer. After serving successfully as a police officer for a year, Mr. Jarrett applied and was accepted at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

          [¶5] Mr. Jarrett started law school in the fall of 2011. As a first-year law student, Mr. Jarrett was accepted into the Wisconsin Innocence Project criminal appeals clinic where he performed well.

          [¶6] In 2012, Mr. Jarrett committed the misconduct that eventually gave rise to this proceeding. The Board would later make the following factual findings regarding the incident:

2. In the Summer of 2012 and as part of the summer employment procurement process for law students, Mr. Jarrett submitted a resume and an unofficial transcript to the University of Wisconsin Law School office responsible for on-campus interviews. Through that process, Mr. Jarrett sought employment with the New York City Law Department for the Summer of 2013.
3. The resume and unofficial transcript that Jarrett submitted to the New York City Law Department [368 Wis.2d 572] were both false. The resume contained two falsehoods. It showed Mr. Jarrett's grade point average (GPA) to be 2.75, when it was actually 2.72. It also listed him as a staff member of the Wisconsin Law Review, when, in fact, he was not a member. The unofficial transcript listed three false grades for his coursework. It indicated that he had " B" grades, when, in fact, he had " B-" grades for all three courses.
4. Thereafter, Mr. Jarrett sent an e-mail to the New York City Law Department. In it, he explained that the deadline date for the submission of his employment materials was the same date upon which he had been informed that he had not been chosen for Law Review.
5. Determined to be " completely forthright" with the New York City Law Department, Mr. Jarrett attached an updated resume and unofficial transcript to the e-mail noting that all the other information was current and valid. However, Mr. Jarrett did not correct the other falsehoods, namely the inflated grades and GPA. Instead, this version of his transcript noted his GPA as a 3.0, not the inflated 2.75 or the actual 2.72.
6. In that same e-mail to the New York City Law Department, he continued to report incorrect grades. Two grades were inflated from " B-'s" to " B's." Two others were similarly inflated; one from a B- to a B and the other from a B to a B.
7. A hearing regarding Mr. Jarrett's alleged misconduct was held on September 7, 2012,

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before the Academic Misconduct Hearing Committee of the University of Wisconsin (Committee). On September 17, 2012, the Committee issued a written decision and determined that Mr. Jarrett admitted to having embellished his academic documents on two separate occasions.
8. The Committee further found that although Mr. Jarrett had admitted to violating the University of [368 Wis.2d 573] Wisconsin's academic code of conduct by forging or falsifying academic documents or records, the seriousness of that offense did not seem to immediately resonate with Mr. Jarrett. The Committee also sanctioned Mr. Jarrett by placing him on two semesters of disciplinary probation.[1]
9. In his application for admission to the Wisconsin bar, Mr. Jarrett admitted to inflating his grades and misrepresenting his position on the Wisconsin Law Review.
10. Mr. Jarrett did not disclose the actual truth to the New York City Law Department about being on Law Review, his grades, or his GPA.
11. Mr. Jarrett repeatedly cited feeling enormous pressure as the primary reason for engaging in his wrongful conduct.
12. Mr. Jarrett admitted that at the time of his wrongful conduct he did not believe that he would get caught for providing false information to the New York City Law Department or that anyone would check to see whether he was actually on Law Review.

          [¶7] Meanwhile, Mr. Jarrett's law school studies continued. He continued to perform well working for the Wisconsin Innocence Project, joined the University of Wisconsin Law School Moot Court Board, competed in two moot court competitions, coached a moot court team, participated in a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Clinic, held an unpaid summer law clerk position [368 Wis.2d 574] with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, and worked as an academic advisor at a private student housing facility.

          [¶8] In December 2013, as a third-year law student anticipating graduation, Mr. Jarrett applied for admission to the Wisconsin State Bar under the diploma privilege, SCR 40.03. In his bar application, Mr. Jarrett disclosed having inflated his grades and misrepresenting his position on the Wisconsin Law Review in his bar application. Mr. Jarrett failed to report several traffic citations that he had received between 2009 and 2013.

          [¶9] In January 2014, a Board investigator contacted Mr. Jarrett regarding his failure to disclose the traffic citations. Mr. Jarrett replied in writing that he " legitimately forgot" and filed an addendum regarding the citations.

          [¶10] On August 5, 2014, the Board informed Mr. Jarrett, consistent with SCR 40.08(1), that his bar admission application was " at risk of being denied" on character and fitness grounds. Mr. Jarrett formally contested the Board's preliminary adverse determination and requested a hearing before the Board.

          [¶11] The Board conducted a hearing on December 8, 2014, at which Mr. Jarrett appeared. Following the hearing Mr. Jarrett filed some additional documents in support of his application. On April 10, 2015, the Board issued an adverse decision making the findings set forth above, as well as the following findings:

Page 120

13. During his hearing before the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners, Mr. Jarrett presented inconsistent and sometimes contradictory statements regarding his [368 Wis.2d 575] efforts to obtain summer employment with the New York City Law Department, and about the extent to which he notified the New York City Law Department regarding the falsehoods ...

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