In the Matter of the Bar Admission of Charles A. Nichols:
Board of Bar Examiners, Respondent. Charles A. Nichols, Petitioner,
SUBMITTED ON BRIEFS: February 20, 2017
ADMISSION OF NICHOLS
of Board of Bar Examiners' decision. Decision reversed
the petitioner, there were briefs filed by Tamara B. Packard,
A.J. Grund and Pines Bach LLP, Madison.
the Board of Bar Examiners, there was a brief filed by
Jacquelynn B. Rothstein, Director & Legal Counsel.
This is a review, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule (SCR)
40.08(7), of the final decision of the Board of Bar Examiners
(Board) declining to certify that the petitioner, Charles A.
Nichols, 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. Nichols satisfied the
character and fitness requirements for admission to the
Wisconsin bar was based primarily on Mr. Nichols'
academic misconduct during his third year in law school and
his failure to disclose certain matters on his bar
application. After careful review, we reverse and remand the
matter to the Board for further proceedings.
We appreciate the Board's concern regarding this
applicant. We appreciate the thorough investigation the Board
conducted into Mr. Nichols' background and past conduct.
Mr. Nichols' application raised significant questions
about his fitness to practice law. The duty to examine an
applicant's qualifications 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
553, and In re Bar Admission of Vanderperren, 2003
WI 37, ¶2, 261 Wis.2d 150, 661 N.W.2d 27.
While we understand the Board's decision, we conclude
that the incidents the Board relied upon, while troubling,
are sufficiently offset by positive character evidence to
warrant our conclusion that Mr. Nichols may be admitted to
the practice of law in Wisconsin, albeit with conditions.
Accordingly, we reverse.
Mr. Nichols began law school at the University of Wisconsin
in the fall of 2012. In the summer of 2014, Mr. Nichols
obtained a summer internship with the Office of the
Lieutenant Governor. This internship was unpaid, so Mr.
Nichols also worked nights and weekends at a restaurant, 35
to 40 hours per week. The Lieutenant Governor's office
offered him a paid position at the end of the summer of 2014.
During the fall of 2014, his third year in law school, Mr.
Nichols struggled to manage his work, volunteer service, and
academic coursework. He began to neglect his academic work,
including a Law of Democracy course. The grade for the course
was almost solely based on a thirty-page research paper due
at the end of the semester. The syllabus for the course
stated that plagiarism would result in a failing grade.
Mr. Nichols submitted a final paper. The professor used an
anti-plagiarism software program to check student papers. The
report revealed that Mr. Nichols' final paper contained
extensive language copied verbatim or nearly verbatim from
four published law review articles, without citations. The
repetition and nature of the matches led the professor to
conclude that this could not have been coincidental. Mr.
Nichols did not credit, in any form, the four law review
articles from which he obtained the passages. The professor
concluded that large portions of Mr. Nichols' final paper
On January 15, 2015, the professor convened a meeting with
Mr. Nichols, the director of student affairs, and an
associate dean. When confronted with the apparent plagiarism,
Mr. Nichols "told them immediately how he had developed
the paper [with extensive cutting and pasting], and with
complete candor." Mr. Nichols admitted that his paper
was "a mess" but said that he did not intentionally
The law school determined that Mr. Nichols had engaged in
academic misconduct by submitting a paper that was copied in
substantial part from several existing legal publications
with no attribution in violation of UWS
14.03(1)(a). This conclusion is reflected in a letter
from the professor to Mr. Nichols, dated January 23, 2015:
During our meeting, you confirmed that you drew material from
these sources-in particular, the [law review] article. You
further explained that your research and note-taking process
involved cutting and pasting passages from [the law review
article] and other sources, and you acknowledged that, in
your rush to finish the paper, you may have (perhaps
unintentionally) reproduced some of those passages without
quotation marks, citations, or other attribution.
sanction, Mr. Nichols received a failing grade on the paper
and in the course. The UW-Madison Dean of Students'
Office also reviewed the matter and imposed an additional
sanction, requiring Mr. Nichols to take an on-line course on
academic integrity and research methods. Mr. Nichols did so,
and passed the exam.
In the spring of 2015, his final year, Mr. Nichols failed his
required Professional Responsibility course because he failed
to comply with the attendance policy; a student who received
more than three unexcused absences would fail the course. Mr.
Nichols retook the course and graduated from law school in
On March 23, 2015, Mr. Nichols submitted his bar application
to the Board pursuant to the diploma privilege, SCR 40.03. He
disclosed the academic misconduct. However, during the
ensuing standard character and fitness review, the Board
identified a number of discrepancies and omissions in his bar
• Mr. Nichols had failed to report three underage
drinking citations on his law school application. He did
report them on his bar application. Mr. Nichols later
explained that he did not "intend to purposely
mislead." He subsequently amended his law school
application, and was informed the information would not have
affected his admission.
• Mr. Nichols failed to include on his bar application
information regarding a 2007 eviction case in which he was
named as a party. He had no actual involvement in the case. A
former roommate owed rent and all roommates were listed as
parties to the action. The matter was resolved without Mr.
• Mr. Nichols failed to disclose on his bar application
that in 2008, he sought and obtained a restraining order
against a former girlfriend, for her harassment of him.
• Mr. Nichols failed to include information on his bar
application regarding a citation he received on March 18,
2009 for an alleged absolute sobriety violation. Mr. Nichols
explained that the citation was dismissed because testing
revealed no detectible level of alcohol.
Nichols amended his bar application on January 27, 2016 in
response to the Board's inquiries. He said these
omissions were accidental.
On April 11, 2016, the Board informed Mr. Nichols that his
bar application was at risk of being denied for failing to
establish his good moral character and fitness within the
meaning of SCR 40.06(1) and Bar Admission Rule (BA) 6.01. Mr.
Nichols requested a hearing.
The Board conducted a hearing on June 10, 2016, at which Mr.
Nichols appeared and testified. He also offered character
witnesses including his colleague and former supervisor
Attorney Daniel Suhr, Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel to the
Lieutenant Governor. Attorney Suhr stated he is
"absolutely convinced that [Nichols] has the requisite
integrity, diligence, and judgment to serve his clients and
community well as an attorney in the State of
Wisconsin." Professor Robert Yablon, the professor who
identified Mr. ...