Law School Honor Code Violation Is a Basis for Denying Bar Admission

Impermissible collaboration on a take-home exam, and subsequent lying about it, kept one law graduate from admission to the Ohio Bar.


There won't be many proctored, in-class law school exams this semester. Most all exams will be administered online as open-book, take home exams. Some schools and professors already administer these sorts of exams, but others do not. Among the reasons some professors prefer proctored, in-class exams is that this format reduces the risks of cheating as compared with unproctored, take-home exams (particularly if such exams are self-scheduled, as not all students take the exam at the same time).

Students that cheat on exams risk more than their grades. They can also risk their bar admission, at least in the state of Ohio. In October 2018, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in In re Application of Baldwin that impermissible collaboration on a take-home exam, and subsequent efforts to deny such collaboration occurred, was a sufficient basis to deny bar admission. From the Court's unanimous decision:

An applicant to the Ohio bar must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he or she "possesses the requisite character, fitness, and moral qualifications for admission to the practice of law." Gov.Bar R. I(11)(D)(1). The applicant's record must justify "the trust of clients, adversaries, courts, and others with respect to the professional duties owed to them." Gov.Bar R. I(11)(D)(3). "A record manifesting a significant deficiency in the honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, or reliability of an applicant may constitute a basis for disapproval of the applicant." Id.

Here, the board's findings demonstrate that Baldwin not only committed an honor-code violation during her final year of law school, but she also made false and deceptive statements throughout the school's honor-code investigation and her character-and-fitness proceedings. See Gov.Bar R. I(11)(D)(3)(d), (h), and (i). Given the recency of Baldwin's conduct and her disturbing lack of candor in the subsequent investigation and proceedings, we agree with the board that she has failed to carry her burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that she possesses the requisite character, fitness, and moral qualifications for admission to the bar at this time.

The Court disapproved Baldwins' pending application, but said she could reapply for a subsequent bar exam in February 2021 or later. (She had initially applied for the July 2017 and February 2018 exams.)

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  1. When college administrators try to couch campus disciplinary proceedings as merely being “administrative” and “educational” I always like to point out results like this.

    A conviction resulting from a kangaroo court college tribunal can have devastating effects to a student that reverberate for years afterwards. This highlights one of them.

    Other include:
    1. Potential criminal liability as a defense is not protected by the right agains self-incrimination and any evidence presented during disciplinary proceedings can general be used against the person.
    2. Potential civil liability for about the same reasoning.
    3. Harms ability to transfer schools or enter graduate programs (especially with sexual crimes now getting transcript entries, talk about a “scarlet letter” in higher education if there ever was anything like it…)
    4. Loan/debt liability in that the school doesn’t give you a refund check when they kick you out. Also if you fail to graduate some scholarships require repayment. Nothing beats being in debt, with no degree, and no avenue to really get one.
    5. Professional ramifications. Here is a great example. Other include different types of professional licensing. Background checks. And even private employment.
    6. Reputation concerns. Despite discipline being protected by privacy laws always seems like when anything is highly visible there is some sort of “leak” or the “victim” gets to tell their side of the story to a press that not only believes them but publishes it without fact checking (insert multiple examples here including Duke…)

    All of this which can come out of a hearing in front of a college administrator, with scant due process protections, generally decided on a “more likely then not” standard. Yeah that sounds fundamentally fair to me…

    1. Worse is when the student is innocent, the administrator knows it, but the university has decided to punish the kid anyway. Often it is a form of guilt by association.

      Often the school bullies the kid into agreeing to admit to the offense with the promise that it will be expunged from the kids record before graduation, which the administrator has no intention of doing.

      I’ve seen this happen — one student, bound for law school, wound up as a waitress as the result….

      1. The fact that most university disciplinarians are also axe grinding social justice warrior types looking to mete out their form of “justice” on the next unsuspecting victim (whose only crime is usually being the wrong race or gender) in the name of said “justice” makes the system even that much more dangerous.

        1. “most university disciplinarians are also axe grinding social justice warrior types”

          It appears your excoriation spares the ardent censors and disciplinarians who punish students at conservative-controlled schools for offenses ranging from missing chapel and speaking well of Muslims to criticizing administrators and being receptive to the theory of evolution.

          Those nonsense-teaching, right-wing schools don’t get noted much because they tend to be fourth-tier (or unranked) goober factories with undistinguished faculties and lackluster graduates, but there are dozens if not hundreds of them.

          1. If such schools are small in number, just in the margins of the higher education community full of dimwits and unqualified professors then why do you seem to care so much about them?

            1. For the sake of balance? For the sake of looking like the conversation is unbiased?? I can think of several explanations.

              1. We all know Kirkland goes straight to the strawman on these types of discussions. The classic “hey look over here…those aren’t the droids you are looking for” logical fallacy. Even if these so-called right wing schools exist there are what maybe 6 of them compared to the few thousand huge schools run by left wing ideologues.

                1. Not at all convinced that you know what you’re talking about wrt higher education.

          2. but there are dozens if not hundreds of them.

            Can you name 24? (i.e. “dozens”)

            I can’t….

            1. Personally I doubt he can even count to 24.

            2. If you googled it you could probably find dozens; not sure about hundreds. I grew up evangelical Christian. Arthur’s right; those schools are out there, and they’re far from rare.

              1. Name 22 — I’ll give you Baylor & Liberty.

                But don’t think that “Christian” schools are inherently “Christian” as portrayed — a lot have active Muslim and Gay student associations, some even removing the Christian crosses from their chapels so as not to offend others.

                1. Not all Christians are anti-gay and anti-Muslim bigots.

                  I’m on my lunch break so I don’t have time to google it, but off the top of my head, if we exclude “Bible Schools” and limit it to schools that market themselves as liberal arts colleges, there’s Messiah College in Pennsylvania, George Fox in Oregon, Clearwater Christian College and Pensacola Christian College in Florida, and Trinity University in Texas. They’re out there.

                  1. George Fox in Oregon will take anyone whose payment clears if they’ll pinky-swear promise that they’re Christian.

              2. I immediately thought of three near me: Aquinas College and Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, and Hope College in Kalamazoo. I can’t say whether these still hold to their conservative Catholic and fundamentalist Protestant roots, but they were founded as such – and these three are just what I happen to know about, despite my disinterest in religion, in a small part of Michigan. There must be a lot more…

        2. I do not know if she’s guilty or innocent. I do know that I just found her on linked in, and she’s a black female, which makes all the carping about social justice warriors complete nonsense. (And which makes me wonder how many here who have been protesting her innocence are now going to switch sides.)

          1. If you went to LinkedIn you would have seen she states she was sitting for the Texas bar exam. Me thinks I smell a rat.

            1. Wondering, why a rat? If Ohio won’t have her, why not try Texas, or some other state?

              1. You think she’ll lie if asked about her being denied in Ohio? Maybe she’s a Jimmy McGill aka Saul Goodman. 😉

          2. To make the suggestion someone, without evidence, is going to change their tune after finding out the person is black and a woman is pretty damn disgusting.

            1. Anyone who didn’t know she was female is merely obtuse…

            2. No it’s not. When people complain about social justice warriors, almost always they are complaining about what they perceive as privileged treatment for women and minorities. I don’t recall ever hearing complaints about a social justice warrior who did something for white males. The very fact that you use the term “social justice warrior” is prima facie evidence that it’s favorable treatment for women and minorities you object to.

              1. No it is a dastardly unfounded accusation based upon bombast and stereotypes. You should be ashamed of yourself.

                1. Jimmy, cut the crap. “Social justice warrior” is a code term that appeals to both racism and sexism. You know it. I know it. Stop pretending otherwise. If you don’t want to be accused of racism and sexism, don’t use racist code terms. That fact that you’re so thin skinned about it is pretty good evidence that I’m right.

                  1. Krychek_2, the argument would be that she wouldn’t even have been *in* law skool [sic] were she not both Black and female.

                    I’m not making that argument as I neither know the woman nor the facts, but understand that you can play the racism/sexism card either way on this one. One could argue that there is discrimination against her now, or that there was discrimination for her in the past — and neither need be confused by the facts.

                    Likewise, if she *is* becoming a member of the Texas bar, a firm sensitive to issues of racism & sexism might be inclined to hire her upon learning of her struggles with the Ohio bar. My opinion on that depends on the facts — *IF* the Ohio bar was unfair to her, I say more power to her, but if she’s merely playing the race & sex card, I find it despicable.

                    My point is that facts matter — something that many on the Left seem unable to understand.

                    1. Dr. Ed, you’re missing the point.

                      This conversation started with Jimmy the Dane used a racially and sexually charged code term, social justice warrior, that was entirely gratuitous and not necessary to the point he was making.

                      I then pointed out that since she was a black woman, it was highly unlikely that a “social justice warrior” would single her out for mistreatment, and wondered if the fact that she is a black woman would change the minds of any who were claiming she was a victim of SJWs. I did not mention Jimmy by name when I did. He nevertheless took it personally, which is a pretty good indication I’m probably right.

    2. “A conviction resulting from a kangaroo court college tribunal can have devastating effects to a student that reverberate for years afterwards. This highlights one of them.”

      Being guilty has a lot to do with it.

  2. Yes, unproctored take home exams virtually guarantee at least some students will collaborate. In some topics, cheating is nearly impossible to detect. Unlike essays which inevitably have stylistic differences even when the substance of the answers are similar, solutions to physics and engineering problems are often close to identical.

    Advance Placement tests taken by high school students this year will be taken at home, open book and un-proctored (as far as I can determine). There is a tight time window and all will take it at the same time. So those two factors are good.

    I’m curious to see how this works. Does the College Board really know how to prevent and detect cheating? Will the technology work well for all students on all tests? Etc. I think the College Board believes they have a handle on this. If they do and it goes without a hitch, I will be super impressed.

    I think the College Board has said students who are caught cheating will have their cheating reported to every school they send their SAT and PSAT scores. That’s a big penalty for a high school student.

    1. Caught cheating by whom? Their parents (who are helping them)? Their webcam (mine’s disabled internally, it’s the first thing I do with a new laptop, and I’m not the only one who does this….)

      The easy way to catch plagiarism on written essays is to print out a copy on paper, and then take out every fourth word with a black marker. A student who actually wrote it may stumble a bit, may even try to clean up some of the more awkward sentences, but can stumble through it and will get most of the missing words right. A student who didn’t write it — who doesn’t have the writing style and usage patterns of the author — isn’t going to have a clue.

      1. Caught cheating by whom?

        Well… presumably the College Board is the one who would do all of the following (a) monitor, (b) catch and (c) decide who cheated. Then they carry out their punishment. 🙂

        As I wrote, I’m curious to see how this all works. A student who I tutor said he’d find mere curiosity more enjoyable if he wasn’t taking the tests under the huge uncertainty that exists.

        The uncertainty relates to more than just how CB monitors for and diagnoses cheating. The format of the test is different. There are no examples of precisely what the format is. There are certain rules for use of equipment– students don’t have a historic example. And so on. It’s a difficult stressful time for everyone.

      2. “webcam (mine’s disabled internally, it’s the first thing I do with a new laptop, and I’m not the only one who does this….)”

        Why not just put a piece of tape over it? Or even one of those purpose-made, self stick shutters? Think you’ll never, ever want to use the camera?

        1. ThePublius
          I’ve tutored students who put a piece of tape over the web cam and take it off when they want to use the camera. If you want certainty, the tape over the camera gives you that: no need to fear some “hack” that permits operation when you think your software settings block it.

          Dr. Ed
          I suspect your method could work if the student wrote the material recently and/or is submitting something that was written, and polished by editing and rewriting. I’m not sure it would work at all when applied to an essay written hastily in response to a prompt on an Advance Placement test. I’d be very dubious of the claim a student who did not plagiarize wold pass that test if it was applied weeks after the test. Heck, I’m a bit dubious they could pass if the test was applied immediately after the test. My recollection of what did on a test was never very good. Heck, I sometimes couldn’t even remember what the questions were– and I usually got As!

          The college board says they do plan some sort of plagiarism test.

          1. Plagiarism is detected by applying Bayesian filters and comparing to known samples, using a bunch of computing power

    2. My own initial thought is that the rules for the exam should be modified to reflect the reality of the situation. If the current situation lends itself to a greater likelihood that students will collaborate, and thus violate the rules, then an alternative approach would be to restructure the assignment or exam so that it lends itself to collaborative work. I would think most attorneys are collaborating with others in their daily work, and therefore collaboration is not in itself a “bad” thing. By openly permitting collaboration you eliminate is a an act that constitutes cheating. Maybe you have students sign something attesting to the fact they contributed, which allows you to hold them responsible if it is later discovered they didn’t actually contribute anything.

      In other words, you use the context to create a learning experience, which, I’d done correctly, might provide added benefits.

  3. At worst, she helped another student and — at worst — is an accessory to cheating as it was the other student who used her work, not her using that of another. That’s a big point in issues of academic integrity.

    Second, she’s being punished for denying her guilt — which raises questions of if she actually *was* guilty. I’m wondering if she was browbeaten into admitting to something which she hadn’t done (the academic version of a nolo plea) with that then serving as proof that her prior (legitimate) denials constituted lying.

    Third, much of this turns on the confession of the other student to offenses beyond those with which she was initially charged (i.e. helping her after her computer died). Alan Dershowitz has an expression about a prosecutor not merely getting a witness to “sing” but to “compose” as well.

    The other girl was in more trouble (no mention is made of what her final disposition was) and hence the court ought to have considered the possibility that she may have been saying what the dean wanted her to say, even if it might not have been true.

    1. Yeah, the opinion isn’t clear about the extent of the evidence, but it sounds a little shaky. Similar answers derived from similar materials, on an open book test? I would be surprised if that didn’t happen.

  4. All the prior posters (so far) have bent over backwards to defend this woman. And there are countless examples of universities not providing sufficient due process to students accused of bad deeds…from the mundane to extremely serious ones.
    So, I have no problem with people wondering, “Was this student given those due process rights?” But no one seems to be mentioning that the state bar also did its own investigation. Is there some reason to suspect that this separate investigation just accepted the school’s representations? That is not my experience (although I have had zero professional contact with Ohio, so I’m just assuming that Ohio does its investigations as fairly as happens in California).
    Lawyers can have–depending on areas of practice–HUGE avenues for dishonest behavior. Cheating on law school exams could be persuasive evidence that someone is unfit to be admitted to that state’s bar. Dishonest after the fact, and obstruction of an investigation, are much bigger red flags for me, and (again, for me) certainly indicate that she should not be a lawyer. Of course, obstruction and dishonest won’t be a barrier to becoming president. [rimshot]

    1. It appears that the Ohio Bar *did* investigate her — a two-member panel twice approved her. (See below.)

      Hence the question I have is why the discrepancy between the Columbus Bar Assn (which presumably appointed responsible people to interview her) and the state bar? Yes, the state may have sua sponte authority, but if their findings were to the contrary of the CBA, you’d think they’d be obligated to explain WHY found that way. Why they think the CBA’s findings were wrong.

      At the very least, they owe it to the CBA….

      “Baldwin was interviewed by a two-member panel of the Columbus Bar Association (“CBA”) admissions committee—first in June 2016 and again in May 2017 after the Board of Commissioners on Character and Fitness learned that she had been sanctioned for a violation of her law school’s honor code. Each time, the committee recommended that her character and fitness be approved. The board, however, exercised its authority to investigate her application sua sponte. “

  5. A strong precautionary approach is probably a good thing, but I think too often student missteps are punished unfairly compared to attorneys who actually abuse their trust. Bad conduct before someone is admitted to the bar is often treated more severely than conduct that occurs after someone is admitted. A three year bar on reapplication is a severe sanction, considering that in Ohio, an attorney can often commit dishonest or incompetent acts with real world consequences for clients and get smaller suspensions stayed.

  6. I am always amused by these one-offs by state bars where they prevent some person with a record of dishonesty from getting a license. (Stephen Glass is another example.)

    Not that theses cases are exactly wrong, but anyone who has actually practiced in litigation can assure you that State Bars do not do anything to prevent dishonest lawyers from practicing except in a few edge cases. While there are plenty of honest lawyers, there are also a ton of dishonest ones, including at some major, socially respectable law firms. There are a ton of lawyers who give false discovery responses, bury documents, lie to obtain continuances, file false declarations recounting telephone calls, misstate the holdings of cases, etc.

    When State Bars do something about all of that, then I will be impressed. In the meantime, I don’t think we should worry so much about a few bar candidates with established records of prior dishonesty. Heck, maybe they’ve learned their lesson!

    1. Sometimes its not even about dishonesty. See the infamous: In re Application of Griffin, 128 Ohio St.3d 300, 2011-Ohio-20. The Court decided to make an example of someone with just shy of $200,000 in debt by not permitting them to take the bar exam for a year.

      1. Interesting story to read. Basic argument seemed to be that making his loan payments might be difficult for him if he had a law license, so lets not give him a law license (maybe he could sit for his professional engineer license, or medical license instead?)
        Though in cases like these where administrative action seems strained, one wonders what was the boards real, but unstated, objection.

  7. A true story.

    In addition to having a law degree, I also have two semesters of nursing school. A week into nursing school, after we had just learned to take vital signs, five of us were taken into a room where there was an unconscious patient and told to take his temperature and pulse. We were told there was to be no comparing notes and no collaboration; each of us was on our own and this was a test to see how each of us had mastered taking vitals. We were to simply write down our findings on a piece of paper, hand it to the instructor, and then leave the room.

    Well, I got a temperature of 101 but could not find a pulse. I checked every place on the human body where one can take a pulse — nothing. So, I wrote down a temperature of 101 and that I couldn’t find a pulse, expecting to be told that I was an idiot and had missed something obvious.

    As it turned out, what we were really being tested on was our honesty. The patient had died of a high fever five minutes before we got there, which explains why I found a temperature but no pulse.

    One of the students, who also couldn’t find a pulse, made up a number. She was told that she lacked the character and integrity to be a nurse, given that nurses have to be completely honest, and also given that she had shown a willingness to fabricate medical records. She was expelled from the program.

    Imagine if law school had something like that.

    1. Krychek_2, thanks for the little anecdote, which I find interesting for my own reasons.

      Vital seasons include not just temperature, blood pressure, and pulse, but respiratory rate too. (Pulse and respiratory rate should include note of any irregularity or periodicity as well as the rate per minute.) Normally, the respiratory rate at rest is 12-14. But 16 is the number most frequently recorded in charts, and sometimes you see 20, which is almost certainly not true since it wouldn’t fit with a resting rate. So when I would rates of 16 or >, I could figure the vitals written down couldn’t be relied on. And sometimes for neurologists respiratory rate and periodicity (e.g., Cheyne-Stokes) can be very meaningful.

      When neurologists come upon unresponsive patients, they usually apply a painful stimulus of one sort of another to see how painful before the patient moves. Only the most profoundly comatose (the very most is, of course, dead) doesn’t budge. So if you had suspected something was amiss in the situation, you might have tried to elicit a response, but I wouldn’t have expected that to occur to a student nurse. Your instructors were pretty sharp to put you to the test as they did. I have seen lots of falsifications in charts in med mal cases, which is a frequent think when the medical care is bad.

  8. We didn’t have any pandemics while I was in law school, but one year we had some bad weather (a foot of snow with an inch of freezing rain on top of it.) which was an interesting challenge for the law school on the top of the hill. All exams were delayed and most of the scheduled exams were converted to unscheduled.

  9. At Washington and Lee the honor system means something. At least it did to me in the 1960s. Exams were never proctored and many were take-home closed book exams that we timed ourselves. The concept of honor was inculcated from freshman camp onward and has stayed with me. There or four students would be kicked out every year (that was the only penalty for lying, cheating or stealing). Due process was not very good at the first secret student-run hearing (e.g., no right to confront) but there was a public appeal before a jury of students selected at random with a right to a fellow student as counsel, live witnesses and cross-examination. Between 1935 and 1967 there was only one appeal (an acquittal although that same student-defendant was busted again, confessed and was expelled).

    In law school at a different university without an honor system I was insulted by exam-proctoring.

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