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New York Moves to Ease Police Questions for Would-Be Lawyers (1)

Jan. 21, 2022, 10:30 AMUpdated: Jan. 21, 2022, 6:09 PM

New York is moving to end a requirement that law school graduates report past arrests and police interactions short of convictions in order to become practicing attorneys.

Persistent racial disparities in criminal justice have prompted the need for the change, according to a New York State Bar Association report to be released Saturday. Excessive screening discourages people of color from applying to law school and the bar, the report said.

“There is no reliable evidence that criminal record screening has benefits for the public or the legal profession,” according to the report.

The Bar’s House of Delegates is scheduled to vote Saturday on a proposal to scale back the screening. It would then forward the recommendation to New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and other top judges. The vote comes two years after DiFiore announced that New York State’s court system would remove questions about mental health history from its bar application.

The current application for admission asks would-be lawyers whether they have, as an adult or juvenile, “been cited, ticketed, arrested, taken into custody, charged with, indicted, convicted or tried for, or pleaded guilty to,” a felony or misdemeanor.

The proposal the bar is considering would have admissions and court personnel judge applicants based on adult convictions, not arrests or juvenile incarcerations.

The movement to change the language began last June, when the New York City Bar Association wrote to DiFiore and others. They asked that the law enforcement interaction question be revised to conform with the New York Human Rights Law and the Family Court Act, which limits criminal record requests.

DiFiore before her announcement on mental health in early 2020 determined that questions about that issue or candidates’ treatment histories were “intrusive” and of little value.

The report being released Saturday was sponsored by a Bar working group chaired by David Marshall, a professor with St. John’s University School of Law.

(Adds next step for proposal after vote in the fourth paragraph. Earlier version corrected the second paragraph to remove reference to court.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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