Legal Law

After Criticizing Bar Examiners, Bar Applicant’s Character & Health Evaluate Mysteriously Ramped Up

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners told Brian Heckmann that he had a clean, qualifying record in 2018. In the intervening months, Heckmann has joined thousands of other law grads around the country in criticizing his local bar examiners for fumbling with his future: attempting to hold in-person exams… then canceling in-person exams; setting up online exams, failing to have tests of the exam platform… and then canceling online exams; and now trying to have the bar exam again with a different provider. But Heckmann had gone further than many and become a visible critic — appearing on local TV and publishing op-eds.

Now — TOTALLY COINCIDENTALLY — the Florida Board of Bar Examiners have a lot of issues with Heckmann’s application, asking for a bunch of additional material about his prior work. HMMMMMMM!

From the Daily Business Review:

“The reason why people are speaking out anonymously is because of a general perception—which I think is valid—that the Board of Bar Examiners is just vindictive,” Heckmann said.  “We’re making them look bad, and they know they can’t publicly get back against us but they’re still trying to extract a pound of flesh (through the character and review process.)”

Karen Sloan managed to get a comment from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners:

Michele Givagni, the executive director of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, said Tuesday that court rules prohibit her from commenting on any character and fitness reviews except with the applicant.

That’s not quite how confidentiality works in this setting. See, the proper response would be that she cannot comment on any C&F review except with the applicant… “BUT I CAN ASSURE YOU UNIVERSALLY THAT WE DO NOT ENGAGE IN RETALIATORY CHARACTER & FITNESS REVIEWS AND NO ONE IS RECEIVING ADDITIONAL VETTING BASED ON THEIR CRITICISM OF THE PROCESS.” That statement doesn’t violate any court rules and would be remarkably easy to add.

But it’s probably not something she could add because it’s probably not true. Putting aside the specifics of the Heckmann case, we already know that the “mood” of bar examiners around the country was to try and use the character and fitness process to get back at applicants whose complaints made the examiners look bad. NCBE President Judith Gunderson told an audience in August that applicants petitioning for diploma privilege should keep their mouths shut lest they get dinged on character and fitness. Technically she said that it wasn’t her, but rather some unnamed collection of bar examiners she’d spoken with (“a lot of people are saying,” as the President of the United States might put it) and not that all critics would be targeted but the ones with a “lack of civility,” a notoriously eye-of-the-beholder standard designed to chill speech by making every critic feel potentially ensnared in someone else’s subjective sense of decorum.

Maybe Heckmann’s case isn’t related but if there’s one rule that the American public needs to embrace it’s that when people tell you who they are, believe them. And bar examiners pretty clearly told us through Gunderson’s statement that they view the character and fitness process as fair game to get back at anyone pointing out that the emperor wears shockingly little clothing.

Law Grad Says He’s Being Retaliated Against For Bar Exam Criticism (Daily Business Review)

Earlier: NCBE Prez Issues Threat To Tie Up Licenses Of Bar Exam Critics
NCBE President Gives Trainwreck Of An Interview

Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.

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