ABA brief supports procedural rights of lawyer denied military spouse waiver for bar admission

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The Georgia Board of Bar Examiners may have violated the procedural due process rights of a lawyer licensed in Louisiana when it offered no explanation for its denial of her application for bar admission under a waiver program for military spouses, the ABA says in an amicus brief.

Harriet O’Neal received a pro forma denial letter that is “devoid of any explanation,” the ABA says in an amicus brief filed Wednesday with the Georgia Supreme Court. As a result, it is impossible to review whether the waiver policy was properly applied, the ABA says.

In 2012, the ABA adopted the policy that urges state bars to accommodate lawyers in good standing who move frequently because they are married to service members, according to an ABA press release.

Georgia is among 30 jurisdictions that have adopted regulations consistent with the ABA policy, the amicus brief says.

A lawyer seeking admission under the Georgia program must show that he or she is licensed in another jurisdiction, and dependent spouse of an active-duty service member stationed in Georgia. The Board of Bar Examiners also considers how long the military spouse has been practicing law, prior employment and career goals.

O’Neal “is undeniably a military spouse eligible for admission” under the waiver program’s objective criteria, the ABA brief says. O’Neal also asserts she has presented clear and convincing evidence supporting her admission under the discretionary criteria.

O’Neal has been practicing law for more than three years. Before relocating to Georgia, she had a diverse public interest practice representing indigent children in welfare matters and resolving labor disputes, the brief says. She has also served as a judicial law clerk and has provided pro bono legal services to service members.

Though Georgia typically requires practice for five of the last seven years when out-of-state lawyers seek bar admission, that requirement was overridden by the waiver policy for military spouses, the ABA says. The association doesn’t take a position, however, on the adequacy of O’Neal’s evidence or the merits of her application.

Rather, the ABA says it is concerned that the failure to explain the denial “risks the improper implementation of the waiver policy, undermining its utility, interfering with this court’s judicial review function and potentially violating petitioner’s procedural due process rights.”

The brief says the state supreme court should reverse the board’s decision or at least remand for an explanation of the decision.

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