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Law School Case Brief

Martin B. v. Comm. of Bar Exam'rs - 33 Cal. 3d 717, 190 Cal. Rptr. 610, 661 P.2d 160 (1983)

Rule:

Under normal circumstances, when the State Bar Committee's findings rest primarily upon testimonial evidence, the court gives great weight to those findings. When there has been a previous civil trial, however, deference is instead given to the findings of the trial court, which is in a better position than the subcommittee or this court to determine the factual issues. Similarly, when there has been a previous criminal trial which resulted in a favorable termination to an applicant to the bar, this court discounts its normal degree of reliance on the Committee's findings, and gives very serious consideration to the favorable termination.

Facts:

The Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar refused to certify an applicant for admission to the California bar. Approximately 10 years earlier, while serving in the Marine Corps, the applicant had been charged with two rapes. At a criminal trial, the applicant was acquitted on one charge and the trial judge dismissed the other charge after the jury deadlocked eleven to one in favor of acquittal. After the trial, the applicant grew despondent and bitter that the military had not assisted him during his trial and he developed a drinking problem. Shortly thereafter, he was charged with filing a false claim against the United States Government, and pled guilty to the charge before a special court martial. He continued to serve in the Marine Corps, however, and received an honorable discharge. Since that time, the applicant had an unblemished record. Although no trial transcript had been prepared of the rape trial, nor had the reporter's notes or the evidence introduced at trial been preserved, the State Bar Court pursued the matter and, in effect, conducted a "retrial" of the criminal charges. The State Bar Court concluded that the applicant had committed the acts charged and had lied in his testimony to the State Bar Court in maintaining his innocence. The State Bar Court also found the false claim conviction to be indicative of bad moral character, despite the applicant's free admission of guilt and expression of remorse. The committee, after reviewing the findings, refused to certify the applicant for admission to the bar. The applicant sought review of the Committee’s judgment.

Issue:

Did the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar err in conducting a “retrial” of the 1972 rape charges against applicant, and in refusing to certify the applicant for admission to the bar on the basis of his supposed guilt on the aforementioned rape charges?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court held that the State Bar Court and the committee erred in conducting a "retrial" of the 1972 rape charges because the lack of vital records, the passage of time and the unavailability of certain witnesses caused the proceedings to be fundamentally unfair to the applicant in asserting a defense to the charges. In order to properly administer justice in these hearings, the Court held that testimony and evidence of the charges should be disregarded. Thus, the findings that the applicant was guilty of the crimes and that he was lying during the proceedings were invalidated. The Court also held that the passage of time with an unblemished record rendered the filing of a false claim, by itself, insufficient to justify nonadmittance. The case was therefore remanded to the committee for further proceedings.

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