Friday, August 14, 2015
MAKING AN HONEST APPLICATION FOR LAW SCHOOL
In a blog this March 4, I noted that I was a graduate of St. John's Law School in Queens, NY and that The Nassau County Bar Association Lawyer Assistance Program was sponsoring Wellness Seminars at the law school that day (I was one of the speakers.)
Matter of Powers v St. John's Univ. Sch. of Law 2015 NY Slip Op 02799 Decided on April 2, 2015 Court of Appeals - summary from Justia
"After David Powers had completed three semesters as a part-time law school student at St. John’s University School of Law, the law school discovered that Powers had made material misrepresentations and omissions in his law school application regarding his criminal history. St. John’s subsequently rescinded Powers’s admission based on the application’s material omissions and misrepresentations. Powers subsequently brought this N.Y. C.P.L.R. 28 proceeding against the law school. The Appellate Division concluded that St. John’s determination to rescind Petitioner’s admission was not arbitrary and capricious and did not warrant judicial intervention. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the law school’s penalty of rescission for Powers’s failure to truthfully and fully disclose his record was not excessive."
The facts of the case from the opinion:
"In November 2005, Powers submitted an application to St. John's University School of Law to become a part-time law student. The application included the following question:
"Have you ever been charged with, pleaded guilty to, or been found guilty of any crime, offense, or violation (other than a minor traffic violation), or is any such action pending or expected to be brought against you?
f yes, please explain in a supplementary statement or electronic attachment the relevant facts, including the nature of the offense, the dates and courts involved, and the penalty imposed, if any. Note: Although a conviction may have been sealed or expunged from the record by an order of the court, it nevertheless should be disclosed in answer to this question."
Powers answered the question "Yes" and submitted a three-page "Background Disclosure" in which he stated, among other things, that he was "not proud to admit that [he had] used drugs," that in July of 1999 "[he] remembered being pulled over by the police shortly after a drug deal," and that "[a]fter about a year, the case proceeded and [he] accepted a plea bargain to attend an inpatient rehabilitation program and complete probation." He stated that he was convicted of "third degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance." Powers did not, as required by the application, explain all of the relevant facts or the "nature of the offenses" for which he was charged. He had in fact been charged in the State of New Jersey with distribution of LSD, second degree; possession of LSD with intent to distribute, second degree; possession of drug paraphernalia; possession of MDMA (colloquially known as Ecstasy), third degree; possession of MDMA with intent to distribute; possession of LSD, third degree, and possession of a controlled dangerous substance in a motor vehicle.
Further, Powers did not accurately represent his convictions. He stated that he had been convicted of third degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance, while in fact, he had pleaded guilty to second degree distribution of LSD, and second degree possession of LSD with intent to distribute. The plea included an agreement that if defendant entered and successfully completed an inpatient program of at least nine months including any aftercare treatment, the State would consent to the defendant withdrawing his plea and entering a guilty plea to possession with intent to distribute in the third degree, as amended, where the recommended sentence would be probation and credit for time served in the inpatient program. The record shows that defendant did in fact withdraw his plea and enter a guilty plea to possession with intent to distribute in the third degree. That is not a guilty plea to third degree possession of a [*3]controlled substance, as Powers had reported in his application.[FN1]
The omissions and misrepresentations first came to the attention of the law school after Powers had completed three semesters as a part-time student, and while he was on a leave of absence and working in Hong Kong. In September 2008, he wrote to the Senior Assistant Dean for Students, Kathleen Sullivan, stating that he intended to petition the Committee on Character and Fitness for an advance ruling with respect to his past conduct and his fitness to be admitted to the New York bar, and he requested a letter of support from the law school. Powers subsequently sent Dean Sullivan a draft of his letter to the Committee on Character and Fitness, which stated, among other things, that he had used drugs habitually from age 16 to 21, that he "sometimes would sell drugs to others" and that in July 2001, he had been arrested for "distribution of LSD to an undercover officer and possession of Ecstasy." The Dean responded to Powers that the information he had provided to the Committee on Character and Fitness was not included in his application to the law school, and that accordingly, the law school would not be providing him with a letter of support.
In November 2009, Powers applied for an extension of his leave of absence to Spring 2011, which was granted. In July 2010, Powers requested from the law school a letter of good standing so that he could apply for a semester abroad in Tokyo. At that point, Dean Sullivan sought guidance from other senior administrators, including then Assistant Dean for Students-Designate Larry Cunningham. It was decided that the law school would not provide the letter, and that, because it was apparent that Powers intended to pursue his legal career, the law school would start the process that it uses with respect to misrepresentations and omissions on applications.
The school advised Powers that in order to continue at the school, he must seek to amend his application, including a full accounting of the criminal activity at issue and an explanation of why he had not disclosed it in his initial application. Powers was informed that upon receipt of the materials, the law school would determine whether the non-disclosure and underlying criminal activity warranted disciplinary action, which could include rescission of his admission to the school.
Powers responded in June 2010 by providing, among other things, a copy of his presentence report which showed the charges against him and his convictions pursuant to his plea. He had not included that report with his original application. He stated that he had consulted counsel about what he should disclose on his law school application, and that he did [*4]not see any need to amend the application because he considered the statement in his application to be adequate. He wrote that he would be in New York in July and available for a meeting.
In July 2010, Powers met with Dean Sullivan, Associate Academic Dean and Professor of Law Valentine Turano, Vice Dean Emeritus Andrew Simons and Dean Cunningham. He was given an opportunity to explain his actions and was told he could submit a written request to amend his law school application. Powers wrote to Dean Cunningham and stated, among other things, that he had looked over the statement that accompanied his application "and would like to reaffirm that there is nothing in the statement which is factually incorrect or needs to be amended. The statement addresses relevant facts, the nature of the offense, dates and the penalty imposed." He also wrote that the presentence report clearly showed the original charges as well as the final charges and the charges that the State consented to upon his completion of a rehabilitation program. He noted that he had completed the program as required and that the State had consented to a new guilty plea of possession with intent to distribute in the third degree. He explained that although he was arrested for distribution, that was not something he did with regularity.
In September 2010, the law school notified Powers that his application contained material omissions and misrepresentations involving criminal charges brought against him, that he had subsequently advised the school that he had been charged with distribution of LSD and Ecstasy, and that the law school was rescinding his admission."