Bar Associations

Would-be lawyers shouldn’t have to disclose arrests without conviction, NYSBA says

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The application for admission to the New York bar violates state law by asking for information about arrests in cases that are no longer pending and didn’t result in a conviction, according to the New York State Bar Association.

The New York State Bar Association’s House of Delegates recommended Saturday that such questions be removed from admission applications, along with questions about sealed convictions, juvenile delinquency proceedings, youthful offender adjudications and dismissed cases.

A Jan. 22 press release from the NYSBA is here, and the report approved by the House of Delegates is here.

At issue is Question 26, which currently reads: “Have you ever, either as an adult or a juvenile, been cited, ticketed, arrested, taken into custody, charged with, indicted, convicted or tried for or pleaded guilty to the commission of any felony or misdemeanor or the violation of any law or been the subject of any juvenile delinquency or youthful offender proceeding?”

The House of Delegates report said the question violates the New York State Human Rights Law, which bans discrimination in employment and licensing, and the Family Court Act, which generally bars compelled disclosure about juvenile arrests. Both laws reflect the premise that juveniles should not be forever tainted by their youthful mistakes, according to commentary in the report.

The question also has a disparate impact on lawyers of color, who were disproportionately frisked and are disproportionately involved in the criminal legal system, the report said.

T. Andrew Brown, president of the NYSBA, commented on the question’s impact in the press release.

“The question has had a chilling effect on potential lawyers—especially people of color—which flies in the face of much-needed efforts to improve diversity at all levels of the legal system,” Brown said. “We have heard from deans and directors of law school admissions that people of color who want to become lawyers are reluctant to invest the considerable time and money to attend law school because they worry that they could be rejected for admission to the bar due to a police interaction.”

The recommendation goes to Chief Judge Janet DiFiore of the New York State Court of Appeals and other top state judges for a final decision, Bloomberg Law reports. The deciding body is the New York Administrative Board of the Courts, according to Reuters.

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