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Republican legislators who want graduates of non-traditional law schools to be able to take Georgia’s bar exam cleared their first hurdle Tuesday. A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee voted 3-2, along party lines, to approve House Bill 115, which would allow graduates of law schools not accredited by the American Bar Association to sit for Georgia’s bar exam. It’s almost identical to legislation introduced in 2005, which passed the state House but not the Senate. The State Bar of Georgia opposes the measure, saying it would lower the quality of attorneys who practice in the state. Columbus attorney Paul Kilpatrick Jr., speaking on behalf of the state Board of Bar Examiners, told the panel that lawyers should be like doctors, who must be graduates of licensed medical schools to obtain a physician’s license. “Georgia would have as low a standard as there is in this country,” said Kilpatrick, a lawyer with Pope McGlamry Kilpatrick Morrison. If approved, the bill would let graduates of Internet-based and correspondence-course law schools take the bar exam. Supporters of the proposal claimed graduates of non-ABA law schools are just as qualified to take the bar exam as graduates of accredited law schools. “[Law school is] not like medical school where you train in surgery,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta. “[In law school], you’re learning to think like a lawyer,” said Franklin, who is an accountant, but not a lawyer. Voting for Franklin’s legislation were Republicans Barry A. Fleming, Mark Hatfield, who co-sponsored the bill, and Roger Lane. Voting against it were Democrats Mary Margaret Oliver and Mike Jacobs. Two Republican members of the subcommittee �#8212; Wendell Willard and Edward Lindsey �#8212; abstained. Willard said he abstained because he is an ex-officio member of the subcommittee. Lindsey is the chairman of the subcommittee, and the the chairman typically votes in case of a tie. Lindsey, an insurance defense lawyer with Goodman McGuffey Lindsey & Johnson, is the lead sponsor of a package of bills that would restrict lawyers’ donating to judges’ election campaigns and bar making those races officially partisan. Only four states, according to the State Bar, allow graduates of non-ABA law schools to take their bar exams, provided they have passed the bar in the state where the law school is located. Franklin submitted the bill in 2005 on the suggestion of Republican state legislative aide Sara Larios, who passed the California state bar exam. Larios wasn’t able to take Georgia’s bar because she graduated from Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy, a correspondence-course law school that is based in Fresno, Calif., and isn’t accredited by the ABA. The mission of Oak Brook College of Law, according to its Web site, is “to provide education and training in law and government policy in the context of a Biblical and historical framework � and to build and establish the Biblical foundations of truth, righteousness, justice, mercy, equity, integrity, and the fear of God in legal education and in the professional arenas of law and government policy.” The bill passed the state House in 2005, but it did not come to a vote in the Senate after it was assigned to the Senate Special Judiciary Committee. As in 2005, members of the House Republican leadership team are co-sponsors of the legislation: Reps. Mark urkhalter, the House Speaker Pro Tem; Jerry Keen, the House majority leader; and Earl Ehrhart, chairman of the House Rules Committee. Franklin, the bill’s sponsor, and the State Bar disagree about how many law students would be affected. The Bar estimated an additional 700 lawyers who are admitted to practice in other states would be admitted in Georgia, if Franklin’s bill becomes law. Franklin said the figure was much lower. “There is not going to be a flood of students who want to take the test, maybe a couple dozen,” Franklin said. Currently, lawyers who attended non-ABA-accredited law schools must obtain a waiver from the Office of Bar Admissions before taking the Georgia exam. The proposal might also be unconstitutional, said Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore partner Jeffrey O. Bramlett, speaking on behalf of the State Bar at Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting. The Georgia Constitution allows only the judicial branch to regulate the practice of law, Bramlett said, citing the cases Wallace v. Wallace, No. 225 Ga. 102 (1969), and Sams v. Olah, No. 225 Ga. 497 (1969). “This bill is an invitation to constitutional mischief,” Bramlett said. But subcommittee member Fleming, a partner at the Augusta law firm Fulcher Hagler, said that’s not true. “The Legislature has great oversight over both the executive and judicial branches, through the power of the purse and through persuasion,” Fleming said. Unlike the bill Franklin introduced in 2005, this year’s legislation would require that these students from non-accredited law schools be a Georgia resident for at least a year, and that they hold a juris doctor degree from their law school. Andy Peters can be reached at [email protected].

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