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On My Honor

Posted Apr 1, 2009 11:57 AM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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Also see "Catch Me If You Can."

How did Howard Kieffer pull off his alleged legal impersonation act?

Many say he may have taken advantage of well-known loophole in federal court admissions: Few federal courts verify information out-of-state counsel provides in pro hac vice motions or circuit bar applications.

Each circuit and district court also has its own policy, adding to the loose administration.

After allegations about Kieffer surfaced this summer, the Administrative Office of US Courts released a memo stating that federal court clerks’ offices should review admissions carefully, and “make sure safeguards [are] in place," says U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim, who sits in Minneapolis. Tunheim chairs the United States Judicial Conference committee on court administration and case management, which recently recommended that federal courts develop a standardized admissions policy which would include a standardized application form and a formalized process to verify the information submitted.

Law license information, Tunheim says, is easily verified through online attorney registration sites, which most states provide. See the ABA's Directory of Lawyer Disciplinary Agencies here (PDF).

Lawyers should play a role too. “If you’re verifying someone is a member in good standing with his or her state bar, one would normally think the person should check,” Tunheim says.

1st US Circuit Court of Appeals
Boston, Mass.
Applicants submit information regarding other bar admission. Verification is discretionary.

2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals
New York, NY
The clerk’s office reviews applicant’s materials. .

3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals
Philadelphia, Pa.
A certificate of good standing from applicant’s state of licensure is required.

4th US Circuit Court of Appeals
Richmond, Va.
Admission to the 4th Circuit Bar is required. The clerk verifies the applicant’s information.

5th Circuit US Court of Appeals
New Orleans, La.
Admission to the 5th Circuit Bar is required. A certificate of good standing from applicant’s state of licensure is required.

6th US Circuit Court of Appeals
Cincinnati, Ohio
Admission to the 6th Circuit bar is required. A certificate of good standing from applicant’s state of licensure is required.

7th US Circuit Court of Appeals
Chicago, Ill.
Motion for pro hac vice admission filed with the court. The circuit relies on applicant’s honesty. No independent verification is made.

8th US Circuit Court of Appeals
St. Louis, Mo.
Admission to the 8th Circuit bar is required. Applicants must be sponsored by another member of the bar. The sponsor’s qualifications are checked; the applicant’s are not.

9th US Circuit Court of Appeals
San Francisco, Calif.
Qualifications of attorneys who seek admittance are verified when applicant is scheduled to participate in oral arguments.

10th US Circuit Court of Appeals
Denver, Colo.
Applicants must have a sponsor and a certificate of good standing from the state where they are licensed.

11th US Circuit Court of Appeals
Atlanta, Ga.
Applicants provide a certificate of good standing from state of licensure.

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