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March 28, 2013

Behind the Scenes: WSBA’s Character & Fitness Board

by WSBA
justice
Learn how the WSBA Character and Fitness Board protects the public and the practice of law. Apply to serve by 3/29.

justiceThe role of the WSBA’s Character and Fitness Board, which is seeking new members from Districts 1 and 3, is to protect the public by making sure WSBA applicants are of good moral character and fit to practice law before they are admitted as members, and to afford applicants a fair hearing that takes into account their personal situations.

The Board conducts about 12–20 hearings a year, focusing on people whose applications contained information relating to one of the factors identified by court rule (APR 24.2) as reflecting on good moral character (such as a criminal record) or fitness to practice law. The Board also deals with applicants who didn’t reveal something on their application which the WSBA learned about through its own investigation.

While the essence of “good moral character” might be debatable in everyday conversation, it is defined in Admission to Practice Rule (APR) 21 as “a record of conduct manifesting the qualities of honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary responsibilities, adherence to the law, and a respect for the rights of other persons and the judicial process.” Also defined, in APR 22, “fitness” is “the absence of any current mental impairment or current drug or alcohol dependency or abuse which, if extant, would substantially impair” the individual’s ability to practice law.

During its hearings, Bar Counsel and members of the Board question the applicants and witnesses, who may either support or oppose the applicant’s request for WSBA membership. The burden is on the applicants to demonstrate they are fit to practice law and of good moral character. The Board, which is appointed by the WSBA Board of Governors, includes both WSBA members and non-lawyers. Before conducting the hearings, it reviews documents related to the case, and after the hearings, it writes decisions and recommendations which in most cases are forwarded to the Supreme Court for final action.

The Board also conducts hearings for other types of licensing or application matters, and handles public hearings on petitions for reinstatement by former members who have been disbarred.

Board Chair Bill Davis, who practices tax and business law in Kennewick, finds serving on the Board personally rewarding and considers it a key public service. “It’s important to maintain the highest quality of candidates entering the Bar,” he says, noting that the Board offers a fair peer and public review process that “removes any question that Bar staff are making all the decisions.” He enjoys working with staff and the other volunteer Board members who often vigorously debate and even offer dissenting opinions on the cases that come before them. “Serving on the Board has made me more cognizant of the character and fitness of a good lawyer.” Board members also gain valuable experience in questioning witnesses, evaluating credibility, making decisions and writing opinions.

There are two openings on the Board for 3-year terms starting in October. Applicants must live in either District 1 or 3 (you can check your district on myWSBA, too), and have been WSBA members for at least seven years. The Board seeks diverse members who are dedicated to its work, and are fair, open-minded, patient, empathetic, willing to make decisions, and respectful of both the applicants’ personal situations and stories and the important public protection role the Board plays.

Apply Now — Deadline is Tomorrow!

You can apply to serve on the Character and Fitness Board or any other WSBA committee or board via myWSBA. The deadline is this Friday, March 29. If you have questions, or need to request an extension, email barleaders@wsba.org.

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