Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Application of Knight

Court of Appeals of Maryland

June 24, 2019

In the Matter of the Application of Alonya Renee Knight for Admission to the Bar of Maryland

          Argued: April 9, 2019

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Harrell, Glenn T., Jr., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

          OPINION

          McDONALD, J.

         Alonya Renee Knight has applied for admission to the Maryland Bar. We must decide whether to grant her application in light of the adverse recommendations of the State Board of Law Examiners ("Board") and the Character Committee for the Seventh Appellate Circuit ("Committee"). The Board determined in a 3-2 vote, as did the Committee unanimously, that she has failed to show that she currently has the "good moral character and fitness for the practice of law" required for admission. Upon our independent review of the record, we agree with the Board majority and the Committee, and deny her application for the reasons set forth below.

         I

         Background

         A. Meeting the Character and Fitness Requirement for Admission to the Bar

         1. The Requirement

         Both this Court and the General Assembly, which have reached a "comfortable accommodation" in the regulation of the practice of law in Maryland, [1] require that one who wishes to engage in that practice satisfy a character and fitness requirement as a prerequisite to admission to the Bar. This Court requires that an applicant for admission to the Maryland Bar demonstrate "the applicant's good moral character and fitness for the practice of law." Maryland Rule 19-204(d).[2] Similarly, the Legislature has specified that "[a]n applicant shall be of good character and reputation." Maryland Code, Business Occupations & Professions Article, §10-207(b).[3]

         This Court has identified the character and fitness requirement as a preeminent criterion for admission to the Maryland Bar. "[O]ur obligation [is] to the public and to the legal profession to assure that applicants seeking original admission to the Bar possess the requisite moral character and fitness to conduct the affairs of others both in and out of court. No attribute in a lawyer is more important than good moral character; indeed, it is absolutely essential to the preservation of our legal system and the integrity of the courts." Application of Allan S., 282 Md. 683, 689 (1978).

         Every American jurisdiction imposes a similar requirement for admission to the bar. The lineage of character and fitness standards for attorneys can be traced back to both ancient Rome and medieval England. See Deborah L. Rhode, Moral Character as a Professional Credential, 94 Yale L.J. 491, 493 (1984). In theory, a requirement of "good moral character" should protect the public from lawyers who are likely to engage in unethical conduct. Michael K. McChrystal, A Structural Analysis of the Good Moral Character Requirement for Bar Admission, 60 Notre Dame L. Rev. 67 (1984). Thus, when an applicant is rejected for failing to meet that requirement, one should be able to articulate a rational connection between the basis of that rejection and standards for the practice of law.[4] Id. at 68.

         It is easy to say that "good moral character and fitness to practice law" is essential for admission to the Bar, but it is less easy to say what that standard is. It is a quality elusive of precise definition and often unrelated to credentials, achievement, or past missteps. Although a full definition of character and fitness may be beyond our descriptive powers, candor and forthrightness are clearly its foundation. In re Meyerson, 190 Md. 671, 687 (1948) ("No 'moral character qualification for Bar membership' is more important than truthfulness and candor"). The failure of an applicant to the Bar to demonstrate those character traits in his or her application is a warning sign that the applicant may be unable to conduct a legal practice in accordance with the rules of professional conduct.[5] Thus, the burden is placed on the applicant to demonstrate those traits. A failure to be candid and forthright in the bar admission process itself is particularly likely to result in denial of an application. McChrystal, 60 Notre Dame L. Rev. at 78.

         2. The Process

         To assess whether an applicant to the Bar meets the character and fitness requirement, the Court has established a character committee in each appellate circuit to investigate each application for admission and to provide a recommendation to the Board as to whether the applicant meets that requirement. Maryland Rules 19-103, 19-204(a)(1). The Board in turn reviews the work of the character committee and makes its own recommendation to this Court as to whether the candidate satisfies that requirement. Maryland Rule 19-204(b). The Court then makes an independent final decision as to whether the applicant satisfies the requirement. Maryland Rule 19-204(c).

         At each stage of the process, the applicant is entitled to a hearing if it appears that there are grounds for denying admission to the Bar. Maryland Rule 19-204(a)-(c). The hearings before a character committee and the Board are conducted on the record and may include testimony and other evidence. The Court's evaluation of the applicant is based on the record developed before the committee and the Board; the hearing before the Court may include oral argument on behalf of the applicant. At all times, the applicant bears the burden of proving his or her "good moral character and fitness for the practice of law." Maryland Rule 19-204(d).

         The character inquiry is an assessment made at the time of application rather than at the time of any past misconduct. For example, an applicant who committed a serious crime in the past may satisfy the character and fitness requirement with a showing that the applicant "convincingly rehabilitated" himself or herself. Compare Application of A.T., 286 Md. 507, 516 (1979) (granting application after concluding that rehabilitation shown) with Application of David H., 283 Md. 632, 641 (1978) (denying application after concluding that rehabilitation "not … sufficiently demonstrated"). A determination that an applicant has not borne the burden of demonstrating good moral character and fitness to practice law is not necessarily a death knell as to the applicant's quest to become a lawyer. Otherwise, a disbarred attorney would have no hope of ever obtaining readmission. This Court has allowed for the possibility of readmission of a disbarred attorney upon a showing of good character. See Maryland Rule 19-752(h) (among other things, disbarred attorney must satisfy character and competence requirements as a prerequisite to reinstatement); In re Meyerson, 190 Md. at 675 (character requirements for original admission to the Bar and for reinstatement after disbarment are "expressions of the same principles"). Thus, our focus is on the present and we cannot, and do not, say whether, if ever, an applicant who fails on an initial application may satisfy the character requirement in the future.

         B. The Application and Evaluation of Ms. Knight

         1. Application

         After the dissolution of what she described as a troubled and abusive marriage, Alonya Renee Knight graduated from college and, in October 2016, at age 45, from the David A. Clarke School of Law of the University of the District of Columbia. In December of that year, she submitted her application to take the Maryland bar exam. In that application, she acknowledged her "duty to respond fully and candidly to each question or required disclosure," as well as her duty to update her responses to ensure that they remained accurate up to the time of admission to the Bar. Ms. Knight sat for and passed the February 2017 bar exam.

         2. Character Committee Investigation and Hearing

         The Board referred Ms. Knight's application to the Committee and flagged certain matters, including her answers to questions about delinquent accounts, civil actions, criminal proceedings, and terminations of past employment. The Committee member designated to investigate her application interviewed Ms. Knight on May 19, 2017. A number of discrepancies soon became apparent. After a thorough investigation and some contentious follow-up communications from Ms. Knight during May and June 2017, the Committee investigator forwarded a detailed 20-page report to the full Committee in July 2017. That report detailed among other things:

• Five civil actions against Ms. Knight in Maryland courts and two civil actions against her in the District of Columbia Superior Court during the period from 1997 through 2012 were not disclosed in her application. In an interview with the investigator, Ms. Knight professed to be unaware of these lawsuits and stated that information concerning some of the earlier actions may have been withheld from her by ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.