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New fingerprinting rule trips up attorneys with something to hide

A new rule requiring attorneys in California to resubmit their fingerprinting forms to the State Bar by the end of April of this year has uncovered numerous instances of attorneys who had something to hide -- like crimes they had committed.

As of shortly before the April deadline, only 83% of active California attorneys had submitted their forms. Out of the 158,000 forms, the Department of Justice and the State Bar determined that 2,699 respondents had omitted criminal information from either their initial applications for a license to practice or when applying for a renewal of their existing license.

The breakdown of what has thus far been uncovered looks like this:

  • Attorneys failed to identify their conviction for a misdemeanor in 2,659 instances.
  • In 40 cases, felony convictions were omitted from applications or renewals.
  • In 140 cases, it's still unclear whether the omissions were actually misdemeanors or felonies.
  • In essence, 1.7% of attorneys in the state with an active practice are suspected of lying by omission on their applications for a license or renewal of a license to the Bar.

This is not good news for anyone. The State Bar of California only requires those attorneys to report a misdemeanor when it involves an issue of "moral turpitude" or where a client was a victim, and it's unclear how many of the misdemeanor convictions that went unreported fell under that umbrella, but one thing is for certain: There are a lot of attorneys who may be facing administrative investigations very soon.

So far, the Bar has remained silent about who could be in trouble and hasn't issued any suspensions. However, that shouldn't be taken as a sign that nothing is happening. There's a complex process involved in any administrative action when the Bar is involved.

If you've recently found yourself in trouble because of an item you omitted from your application for a license to practice law or on a renewal request, it may be time to seek legal counsel of your own over the situation -- before the Bar contacts you.

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