Approximately 1,400 applicants take the bar examination annually and each first time applicant must complete an Affidavit of Personal History and submit all required background information. After completion of the staff investigation, an applicant is recommended favorably by State Bar staff without referral to the Committee when investigation of all past conduct discloses no significant adverse factual information. In all other instances, applicants are referred to a district committee for a personal interview and the issuance of a written report and recommendation to the Standing Committee. Approximately 130 members volunteer to serve on the nine district committees. Upon receiving the district committee report and recommendation, the Standing Committee may: endorse the recommendation, take the recommendation under advisement pending additional information, remand the recommendation to the district committee with instructions for further proceedings, or reject the recommendation and conduct a hearing de novo. The Standing Committee on Character and fitness is now comprised of 18 regular members and 18 associate members.
The District Character and Fitness Committees conducted interviews for 43 applicants for the July 2002, exam, and conducted interviews for 35 applicants for the February 2003, exam. From May 1, 2002, through April 30, 2003, the Standing Committee held 34 formal hearings before making recommendations to the State Board of Law Examiners. Additionally, 12 hearings are expected to be held during the remainder of the fiscal year.
Committee Expansion Request
The number of applicants requiring Standing Committee hearings has steadily increased, and the number of hearing sessions per applicant has steadily increased as well. However, the size of the Committee had not increased for many years. Therefore, the amount of work required of the volunteers has also increased. In addition to physically attending day-long hearings, there is considerable work outside of the actual hearing that takes time as well, such as participating in prehearing conferences, writing recommendations, motions and orders, in addition to carefully reviewing exhibits prior to hearings. In light of this increased workload, the Standing Committee asked the Supreme Court to revisit a proposed amendment to Rule 15, which had originally been approved by the Board of Commissioners and the Representative Assembly in early 1995. This proposed amendment would increase the number of Standing Committee members from 12 to 18. This increase would help assure that hearings can continue to be conducted timely, and insure that the volunteers selected to serve on this Committee are not forced to leave the Committee due to the extraordinary time commitment away from their employment.
An Order was issued by the Supreme Court on November 1, 2002, increasing the size of the Committee from 12 to 18 regular members and further stating that at a future public hearing the Court would consider whether to retain the amendment. On January 22, 2003, following the public hearing, an Order was issued that retained the earlier amendment to increase the size of the Committee. Nominations were made to State Bar President Reginald M. Turner, who appointed 6 regular members and 6 additional associate members.
The time commitment required to conduct formal hearings, establish policies, address individual applicant requests, and monitor the applicant processing system is enormous. The Committee would be unable to function without the dedication, professionalism, and hard work of members of the District Committees, the members of the Standing Committee and the wonderful work of Diane Van Aken, manager, Character and Fitness, and her staff. It is a tribute to the legal profession that among its members are so many people who give substantially of their time to ensure that persons admitted as lawyers in Michigan are worthy of public trust.