A few weeks ago, we wrote about the Ohio bar applicant with mega-school debt, and the recommendation of the state character and fitness board that she not be permitted to take the bar exam until 2024 based in part on her “neglect of financial responsibilities.”
Less than six weeks after hearing oral argument, a divided Ohio Supreme Court overturned the board’s recommendation, and ruled that the applicant will be permitted to take this year’s July bar exam. The ABA Journal’s story is here, and you can read the court’s opinion here.
The court acknowledged the 59-year-old applicant’s testimony that the debt might not be paid off during her lifetime, but said that her credit report showed that she was servicing her current debts (with the exception of one disputed debt) and that she was not in arrears. The board had also conceded that the applicant appeared to be timely on her debt obligations — although for the large educational debt, there was no repayment obligation at the time of the hearing, because of the applicant’s percentage-of-income plan.
All things considered, the majority said, the applicant had established by clear and convincing evidence that she has the requisite character, fitness and moral qualifications to practice and that she can sit for the upcoming exam.
Four of the court’s seven justices concurred; two justices concurred in the judgment only. The lone dissenter said that the applicant’s pattern of taking on debt without a plan for how it will be repaid does not justify the trust of clients, adversaries or the courts with respect to her professional duties, and indicates that the applicant is “relying on someone else (most likely, in this case, the taxpayers) to take care of her debts for her.”
Large educational debt is more and more a part of post-law-school life. The court’s willingness to see past the amount — at least when the debt is not in arears — is noteworthy, as is the relative speediness of its decision here.