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Law School Case Brief

Pacheco v. State Bar - 43 Cal. 3d 1041 (1987)


The term "good moral character" has traditionally been defined in California as an absence of proven conduct or acts which have been historically considered as manifestations of "moral turpitude." "Good moral character" has also been defined to include qualities of honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary responsibility, observance of the laws of the state and the nation and respect for the rights of others and for the judicial process. Rules Regulating Admission to Practice Law in California, Rule X, § 101(a). The requirement that applicants to practice law be of good moral character is a prerequisite to practice law in every state of our country.


Petitioner Pacheco graduated from Lincoln Law School in Sacramento in 1978. He passed the bar examination in 1980, but the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California refused to certify him pending an investigation into his moral character. After completing its investigation, the Committee concluded in 1982 that Pacheco did not possess the good moral character required by the Business and Professions Code sections 6060 and 6062 and rule X of the Rules Regulating Admission to Practice Law in California.  In 1984, Pacheco reapplied for admission to practice law. The Committee convened a hearing panel in 1985 to investigate Pacheco's moral character. The panel recommended that Pacheco not be certified. Pacheco challenged the decision of the Committee of Bar Examiners that refused to certify him for admission to the State Bar of California. He argued that the respondent State Bar bar did not sufficiently rebut his evidence of good moral character.


Should applicant Pacheco be admitted to the state bar as qualified to be admitted to practice law?




The Supreme Court of California ordered the Committee of Bar Examiners to certify petitioner applicant as one qualified to be admitted to practice law. The Court held that by furnishing numerous character references and by testifying that he had practiced as a licensed private investigator without a single charge of misconduct, and that he had never been charged with or convicted of any crime, the applicant had presented a prima facie case that he was presently of good moral character. The applicant's letters of reference provided an acceptable estimate of his moral character, notwithstanding that he failed to apprise the letter writers of the Committee's findings forming the basis for the original denial. While the committee did not err in considering those findings, the court held, it placed too great an emphasis on the conduct (most of it more than a decade old) on which that denial had been based. The Court held that the applicant's record as a licensed private investigator, his involvement in community projects, and letters and testimony on his behalf provided a clear and more accurate picture of his present moral character and rehabilitation. The Court held that the sole blemish on his record since graduating from law school (his participation in a technically legal but ethically suspect child custody incident) was insufficient to demonstrate a lack of rehabilitation.

As for the applicable standard of review of a denial of certification to practice law, the Supreme Court of California may consider any acts or conduct occurring at any time, provided they have a legal tendency to prove the applicant's present conduct. The Court, however, recognizes that the passage of time lessens the significance of an applicant's misconduct, particularly when that misconduct occurred long before his or her application to the bar. 

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