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In re A.S.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

December 13, 2017

In re A.S.

         Committee on Character & Fitness

          For Applicant: Lauren E. Jones, Esq. William K. Wray, Jr., Esq

          For Committee on Character & Fitness: Julie P. Hamil, Esq. General Counsel

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.


          PER CURIAM.

         The applicant, A.S. (A.S. or applicant), [1] is before the Supreme Court of this state on a petition seeking admission to the Rhode Island Bar (the bar). This Court's Committee on Character and Fitness (committee) recommended that A.S. be denied admission to the Rhode Island Bar based on the committee's conclusion that the applicant failed to demonstrate that he was of good moral character and fitness to practice law. Before this Court, the applicant argued that: (1) the committee's findings were erroneous; (2) the committee erred in concluding that he had failed to satisfy his burden of establishing good moral character and fitness to practice law; and (3) the committee abused its discretion in declining to reconsider its recommendation that applicant be denied admission to the Rhode Island Bar. Oral argument before the Supreme Court was held on June 7, 2017, pursuant to an order directing the applicant to appear and show cause why the recommendation of the committee should not be adopted. For the reasons set forth herein, we adopt the recommendation of the committee.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The applicant graduated from Roger Williams University School of Law in 2015. On April 28, 2015, applicant filed an application with this Court for admission to the Rhode Island Bar (the application). The application consists of a comprehensive document with relevant attachments that is carefully reviewed by the committee during its consideration of the character and fitness of each person seeking admission to the bar; an applicant is required to answer the questions in a candid and forthright manner consistent with the expected character traits of an officer of the court.

         In due course and consistent with routine practice, a member of the committee reviewed applicant's responses to the questions set forth in the application and concluded that several of his answers warranted further explanation. In particular, applicant's responses to questions regarding academic discipline, identification of court-related matters and litigation, and a reported arrest were of concern to the committee member. At the time applicant made substantive responses to the questionnaire, applicant refused to provide court documents pertaining to two Family Court child custody and support matters in which he was a named party, as well as documents from an arrest that occurred in 2009. The committee member notified applicant that he was required to supplement the application with detailed explanations regarding the Family Court proceedings and the 2009 arrest in addition to submitting the court documents relative to these matters.

         With respect to the 2009 arrest, applicant submitted an amendment in which he disclaimed any specific recollections of the events surrounding the arrest. Specifically, applicant stated:

"This occurred while attempting to pass through security at T.F. Green Airport. * * * Unbeknownst to me at the time, [my] backpack had an area within it on the bottom * * * where items could get stuck, and unfortunately for me, several knives had become lodged there without my knowledge. * * * The police decided to arrest me * * * and (I believe) charged me with possession of a concealed weapon. The case was ultimately dismissed, (I believe) * * *."

         The applicant failed to provide any documents relating to the travel or disposition of the criminal case and made no effort to secure copies of his attorney's file that apparently was in the possession of his father's law firm.

         Turning to the Family Court litigation, applicant initially refused to produce any documentation, and stated in his application:

"I am extremely uncomfortable with the concept of providing the complaint and disposition * * * of my son's custody matter given the fact that it contains information regarding him and his mother. I am also frustrated that this [sic] asked of me at all, as it has no bearing whatsoever on my character or potential ability (or lack thereof) as an attorney."

         As part of the application process, applicant was scheduled to attend a personal interview with the above-referred committee member on July 2, 2015. During the course of that interview, the applicant produced some documents pertaining to the Family Court litigation.[2] The applicant was informed that he was required to provide all documents, including those from the arrest, in order to complete the application. The applicant was issued three separate status sheets indicating which documents he was expected to submit.[3]

         The applicant was referred to the full committee for further investigation in the event he successfully passed the July 2015 Bar Examination. The applicant sat for the July 2015 Bar Examination. On October 2, 2015, three months after his interview, applicant was notified that the required documents delineated in the status sheets had still not been provided. On October 14, 2015-nearly six months after he submitted his application-applicant provided the committee with the documentation necessary to complete the application. The applicant failed the July 2015 Bar Examination.

         On November 30, 2015, applicant applied to retake the Bar Examination in February 2016. A.S. passed the exam and was issued a notice to appear before the committee as part of the committee's investigation. On June 7, 2016, a preliminary hearing was held, during which applicant appeared with counsel.[4] At the outset, applicant was informed that it was his burden to establish by clear and convincing evidence that he possessed the requisite character and fitness to practice law in the state of Rhode Island. The committee expressed concern with respect to applicant's reluctance to produce the court records associated with the Family Court proceedings, his lack of candor, and his failure to explain adequately the circumstances and procedural history of his arrest and subsequent criminal charge. The applicant provided the committee with an explanation of the facts surrounding his arrest at T.F. Green Airport for possession of throwing knives. However, applicant insisted that he could not recall whether he had in his possession one knife or multiple knives, notwithstanding that in his original answer, applicant stated that he was found to be in possession of several knives.

         On July 5, 2016, applicant appeared before the committee for a second hearing. During this hearing, applicant was asked to explain his responses to questions on the application regarding academic discipline.[5]

         On September 14, 2016, the committee invited applicant to attend the committee's upcoming meeting on October 3, 2016. The applicant elected not to attend. Thereafter, the committee ...

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