Bar applicant with extreme school debt can sit for the bar, Ohio Supreme Court says
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Cynthia Marie Rodgers, the Capital University School of Law graduate who got dinged on her Ohio character and fitness application for having almost $900,000 in school debt—and seemingly no clear plan to ever repay it—can sit for the bar exam, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled March 5.
The court based its finding on Rodgers being candid about her financial situation and complying with the terms of her student loan repayment plan.
Rodgers’ current student loan payment is zero because her income is so low, according to the Ohio Supreme Court’s board of character and fitness report. She became disabled after a 2001 tree-trimming accident, and she can’t work a 40-hour week, the report stated. Rodgers’ school debt is consolidated with her husband’s, and he also is not making loan payments because he’s semi-retired and seeking disability, according to the report.
At a Jan. 28 Ohio Supreme Court hearing, Rodgers, who represented herself, told the court she’s enrolled in a 25-year, income-based repayment plan that comes to term in six years, at which point any remaining debt would be discharged. She also told the court about some old, unpaid debt that no longer shows up on her credit report.
Considering both those things, the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed with the board’s assertion that Rodgers had neglected her financial responsibilities.
“On the contrary, it appears that she is currently meeting all of her financial obligations with the exception of the one disputed consumer debt mentioned above and that she has taken full advantage of the opportunities that the federal-student-loan program has made available to further her educational goals,” the court wrote.
The board also was troubled by multiple lawsuits Rodgers filed, in areas including wrongful death, personal injury, medical malpractice, automobile sales and landlord-tenant actions, including eviction.
The 2019 law school graduate told the Ohio Supreme Court that the board’s estimate of her filing 60 civil cases is not accurate, and that some of the filings were actually administrative matters.
Some of the actions involved her father’s estate, and Rodgers told the court she might have unknowingly engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The Ohio Supreme Court noted that most of Rodgers’ lawsuits occurred before she went to law school.
“At her character and fitness hearing, Rodgers admitted that she was too emotionally involved in those cases and that although she did not know what she was doing when she filed them, she felt ‘something needed to be done’ to correct an injustice. She filed many of the cases herself because she could not afford to hire an attorney,” the court wrote.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Patrick F. Fischer wrote a dissent.
“Rodgers’ lack of diligence in keeping track of her student-loan obligations and her acknowledgment that she will never be able to repay those loans indicates that she believes that those debts are not her problem and that she is relying on someone else (most likely, in this case, the taxpayers) to take care of her debts for her. If this is how she handles her own financial responsibilities, how will she handle her clients’ financial issues?” he wrote.
The majority finding allows Rodgers to sit for the July 2020 bar exam. She did not respond to an ABA Journal interview request. According to her character and fitness report, Rodgers intends to work part-time for legal aid if she becomes a lawyer.
Besides a JD, Rodgers has an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University, and she started but didn’t finish a master’s program at the school, according to her character and fitness report.