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Flooding at one Southern California test site and computer problems statewide interrupted or delayed bar exams last week, jeopardizing the final results for possibly thousands of would-be lawyers. Jerome Braun, the State Bar’s senior executive for admissions, said Tuesday that severe flooding at the Pasadena Convention Center forced the cancellation of an afternoon performance test on Thursday, while a software glitch at other sites statewide caused some laptop computers to “freeze up” or operate slowly during a three-hour essay session. “Our first goal is to find out what happened and why,” Braun said. “It would be nice if these things never happen, but they do.” The snafus have panicked many of the test-takers, who fear the problems could sabotage their already angst-ridden efforts to pass the bar. Of the 4,739 examinees statewide, Braun said about 700 were affected by the Pasadena flooding, while an unknown number experienced computer problems in Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego and Pasadena. A total of 1,594 people were registered at the laptop centers. Lisa Duncanson, owner of the Fullerton-based Bar None Review, which helps applicants prepare for the bar exam, said about 20 percent of her students were affected by the computer problem. “I know for my students it’s a big deal because a number of them weren’t able to get through the test,” she said. “They were struggling to type and they weren’t seeing the words on their screen for 30 or 40 seconds at a time. It was a real mess.” A couple of her students, she added, experienced the “double whammy” of being at the flooded Pasadena location and also having computer problems. Deans at two Bay Area law schools hadn’t heard of the problems. Boalt Hall School of Law Acting Dean Robert Berring Jr. said it was news to him, while a spokeswoman for Hastings College of the Law said Dean Mary Kay Kane also hadn’t heard anything. Braun said the Pasadena flooding delayed the beginning of the test and required relocation. That, he said, forced the State Bar to cancel the afternoon performance test — a session in which applicants have three hours to resolve problems as an actual lawyer would — and supplant it with the morning three-question essay session. There would not have been time for applicants to finish both tests, he said, and the facility was reserved for only one day. “We had to be out of there by midnight,” he said. The computer problem, Braun said, affected the laptops’ auto save function, forcing examinees to stop working when the glitch recurred. “This is the first time we’ve had a problem with the auto save,” he said, “and we’ve been using this for five years now.” Laptops are used at selected test sites, but many test-takers still write their answers in longhand. Students who do use laptops are required to sign a waiver that the State Bar won’t be held liable for any foul-ups. The State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners will review both problems on March 19 and try to figure out a way to be fair to test-takers. Braun said the flooding created problems similar to those of an earthquake during a test in Pomona and an incident a few years later in which one applicant suffered a seizure, and others dropped what they were doing and came to his rescue. The State Bar resolved those problems, he said, by calculating an “assumed score” for the missed session, comparing it with an individual’s performance on other days of the same test, and awarding the higher score. “It’s a standard practice,” Braun said, “but it is one that takes specialists to do.” The problems created by the computer glitch will be harder to deal with, he said, because grades cannot be adjusted without knowing the impact on the test-takers. “Obviously, if a person was successful in the exam, nothing will be done,” he said. “If someone thinks they were unsuccessful because of this, [he or she] can petition the committee for re-examination.” Braun said he understands that some examinees are “unhappy,” but vowed that Bar officials will “do everything in our power to ensure they are treated fairly and equitably.” Duncanson, of Bar None Review, said she’s told her students to contact the State Bar. “It’s really important for the Bar to hear these individual stories,” she said, “so they know what happened to some people, so they can take that into account.” Vivian Dempsey, who operates The Writing Edge, a bar review course with offices in Berkeley and Los Angeles, predicted that lawsuits will come out of last week’s woes. “It’s going to be very difficult for the Bar to come up with an equitable solution that satisfies everybody,” she said, “and it’s going to put a cloud over the results of this bar exam no matter what they do.”

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