By Jan Pudlow
Delinquent in payments to a dozen creditors, late on student loans, failure to timely file federal income tax returns, and lack of candor — all have mounted against a Florida law grad, and she will not be admitted to The Florida Bar at this time.
In a 4-3 decision, the Florida Supreme Court disapproved the Florida Board of Bar Examiners’ recommendation that the woman, who is a member of the California Bar, be conditionally admitted to The Florida Bar.
“Although applicant attempted to provide explanations for some of her misconduct, the Bar must not become a haven for those who have clearly violated the law repeatedly and, in addition and further aggravation, provided information that is totally false, misleading, and lacking in candor,” Chief Justice Ricky Polson wrote in the October 10 order in Case No. SC13-446, Florida Board of Bar Examiners Re: B.U.U., joined by Justices Fred Lewis and Jorge Larbarga, with Justice Charles Canady concurring in result.
“Applicant’s refusal to repay her financial obligations, willful refusal to comply with state and federal law, and failure to provide full and complete candor in her application for admission call into serious question her judgment and ability to serve as an officer of our courts. Furthermore, we have held on multiple occasions that the failure to timely file or pay income taxes, in particular, merits disbarment or a denial of re-admission to the Bar, and we will not provide an exception here.”
The majority of justices agreed “to permit admission under these circumstances would strike a blow to and undermine our efforts to preserve the necessary standards of character and fitness for admission to the Bar. If applicant wishes to apply again, she will need to show significant rehabilitation in addition to an ability to honor all of her financial obligations.”
She must wait three years to try again.
But that decision is“unduly harsh, unwarranted, and unprecedented,” countered Justice Barbara Pariente in a dissent, in which Justices Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry concurred.
“Instead, I would increase B.U.U.’s period of conditional admission from one to three years, requiring strict monitoring and strict compliance with the terms of the Consent Agreement,” Pariente wrote.
Pariente noted that the applicant received her law degree from Stetson University College of Law in 1998, and became a member of the California Bar. She then completed all parts of the Florida Bar Examination in August 2011, and the process of evaluating her character and fitness has spanned three years.
“The three-year period that the court now sets during which B.U.U. is precluded from reapplying for admission will almost certainly require her to retake the Florida Bar Examination, which has a time limit of five years.”
Noting that “it appeared that her husband, from whom she is now separated, was the major cause of the financial problems,” Pariente said that did not excuse the applicant from her past financial problems.
“[B]ut it is undisputed that she is now current with her past-due federal income taxes and her past-due California taxes and that she has an arrangement to repay her student loans at the rate of $1,450 per month. Therefore, the [Board of Bar Examiners] found the specification related to her finances not to be disqualifying in light of the mitigation presented.”
The major concern of the Bar Examiners, Pariente wrote, was “B.U.U.’s diagnosis of a major depressive disorder and a history of noncompliance with prescribed treatment. However, a mental health professional offered testimony that B.U.U. was ‘stable behaviorally and emotionally,’ that her depressive situation was ‘circumstantial and not a character trait,’ and that she was ‘working hard and diligently to build her sense of self so that she will make better choices to improve herself’ . . . . Accordingly, the [Bar Examiners] did not find B.U.U.’s mental health problems to be disqualifying.”
But the majority of justices stressed: “We have consistently held that lawyers, as guardians of the law, have a very special obligation to not only honor but comply with the law, and this includes applicable tax laws. In this case, we are not considering a single violation of law but a series of willful and flagrant refusals to obey the law together with a lack of candor and truthfulness. The time for accountability is now.”