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Deerfield, Mass., attorney Donna Jan Marshall had no idea that another lawyer in the state with the same first and last name had stolen her identity until a state official warned her last year to watch for some unexpected mail. “It was funny,” she recalls. “It sounded like some kind of TV show.” But Massachusetts bar regulators aren’t laughing. At a Nov. 17 hearing, the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers argued that Donna Marie Marshall should be disbarred for posing as Donna Jan Marshall in a 1998 application to take the Arizona bar exam. Donna Marie, a 1995 graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover before passing the Massachusetts bar, had been rejected by the Arizona bar in May 1997. Arizona requires bar exam applicants to have attended a law school accredited by the American Bar Association or to have practiced for five years. Donna Marie didn’t meet either criterion. That didn’t stop her from applying again. Her second application, in May 1998, assumed the identity of Donna Jan Marshall of Deerfield, Mass. Donna Marie included a forged letter and counterfeit registrar’s stamp from what she thought was Donna Jan’s alma mater, the New England School of Law. Donna Marie then submitted her own fingerprints, picture, birth date and address. Unknown to her, Donna Jan actually graduated from Western New England Law School in 1991, not New England School of Law, as listed in Martindale-Hubbell. When Arizona officials wrote to Donna Marie on June 30, 1998, that New England School of Law had no record of a graduate named Donna J. Marshall, she asked to withdraw the application. She claimed that it had been “prepared in haste,” according to Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseer files. Arizona officials then forwarded the case to the Massachusetts board in January 1999. An initial hearing committee in February 2000 recommended a two-year suspension, but the full Board of Bar Overseers later ruled that the identity theft merited disbarment. “She stole it as if it was a mask,” Board of Bar Overseers attorney Michael A. Frederickson said at the Nov. 17 hearing before Supreme Judicial Court Justice Roderick L. Ireland. In addition to the initial false bar application, Donna Marie had submitted an updated draft affirming that she had never applied to take the Arizona bar exam, in response to a follow-up inquiry from the Arizona Supreme Court’s Committee on Character and Fitness. She also had forged Donna Jan’s signature, using a middle initial, on a request for a certificate of good standing from the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Labeling Donna Marie’s actions “a persistent and concerted scheme,” Office of Bar Counsel attorney Constance V. Vecchione said at the recent hearing that no Massachusetts attorney had ever attempted a similar fraud of “this degree of seriousness.” Justice Ireland, who has taken the matter under advisement, asked Donna Marie’s lawyer, James B. Dolan Jr. of Boston’s Badger, Dolan, Parker & Dolan, to help him understand his client’s “sad case.” “What possessed her to throw it all away?” asked Justice Ireland. If disbarred, Donna Marie cannot apply for readmission for eight years, Frederickson said. An indefinite suspension would bar readmission for a minimum of five years. Dolan argued that disbarment would be an “outrageously excessive and markedly disproportionate sanction.” Instead, he asked the court to impose the two-year suspension initially recommended by the hearing committee. Donna Marie did not speak during the Nov. 17 hearing and declined to comment afterward. But at a February hearing before the Board of Bar Overseers, she testified that she had “extreme regret” regarding her actions. She said then that she was not trying to get admission to the bar by using another person’s name, but only sought to prove that she was capable of passing the test. “My feeling was that if I sat for the examination and I achieved a high score, I could show the Arizona examiners and the Arizona bar that I was in fact capable and competent to practice law,” she said at the February hearing. As proof, Donna Marie told the committee that she never signed up for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam and hadn’t submitted the required character report. In addition, Donna Marie said she wrote an incorrect middle name, “Jane,” in her amended falsified application in the hope that Arizona officials would notice the error and pull the application. EX-ARMY SERGEANT A native of Natick, Mass., Donna Marie served in the U.S. Army as a sergeant before enrolling in the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Massachusetts School of Law. She moved to Arizona in the spring of 1997 after having difficulty finding full-time work as a lawyer in Massachusetts. When the Arizona bar committee rejected her first application, Donna Marie unsuccessfully appealed for a waiver to the Arizona Supreme Court’s Committee on Character and Fitness. She testified in February that the court’s rejection left her feeling “confused and frustrated and upset.” Donna Jan, who works as a court investigator for child abuse and neglect cases in Franklin and Hampshire counties, says that she’s still surprised Donna Marie snatched her identity. “She had a lot of courage to try that to become somebody else,” says Donna Jan.

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