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At the state’s highest court March 12, the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee battled to retain its central purpose as the arbiter of bar applicants’ character: who is — and who isn’t — morally fit to practice law. At the opposing counsel’s table, the stakes were no less crucial for Gregory P. Massad, a 1996 Quinnipiac College School of Law graduate and former New London mayor. The BEC has two good reasons, it claims, for rejecting Massad’s 1997 application to join the bar. First, Quinnipiac suspended him for an entire academic year in 1994 for plagiarism. Second, the committee determined that Massad, as a law clerk at a New London, Conn., firm, lied to his boss over his role in a bitter dispute between Massad and one of the firm’s former secretaries. Massad further hurt his admission chances by being less than forthright with the BEC in explaining the two incidents, the committee ruled. USURPING ITS POWER? In its decision, the BEC noted that the plagiarism charge alone might not support a finding that Massad presently lacked the moral character to practice law. But taken together, the two incidents were more than enough reason to block him from becoming a lawyer, it found. Judge Trial Referee D. Michael Hurley disagreed, reversing the decision because the BEC did not give enough weight to Massad’s record of public service and other admirable character traits — and remanding the case to a new hearing before the BEC. In its appeal to the state supreme court, the committee contended Hurley usurped the BEC’s role as the fact finder in such matters. Telling a bar applicant who spent tens of thousands of dollars on a legal education that they can’t practice law is “a hard thing to do. But that is the responsibility you have vested in this committee,” attorney James F. Stapleton told the five-justice panel in arguing the BEC’s appeal. Under the standard of review set forth in the state supreme court’s 1992 decision in Scott v. State Bar Examining Committee, a superior court judge’s role is to determine whether the BEC acted “fairly and reasonably” — and without “prejudice and ill will” — in denying an applicant’s admittance, said Stapleton, a partner in Day, Berry & Howard’s Stamford, Conn., office. “Here the Superior Court did not find that the BEC’s decision was unsupported by the evidence or that the procedures employed by the BEC suffered from any defect,” the committee maintained in its June 29, 2001 reply brief. “The Superior Court simply weighed the evidence without the benefit of having seen the witnesses live to properly judge their credibility.” SOURCE NOT CITED However, Massad’s attorney, William F. Gallagher, contradicted the BEC’s assessment of Hurley’s review. To reject applicants, the committee’s reasoning has to be based on a rational view of the evidence before it, said Gallagher, of New Haven, Conn.’s Gallagher & Calistro. Hurley, Gallagher contended in his 47-page brief to the supreme court, applied the correct standard of review in concluding that the evidence on the record did not support the BEC’s findings regarding a conversation between Massad and Basilica & Stewart partner Russell Stewart. Massad, according to briefs in the case, worked as a law clerk at the New London firm up until 1996. Animosity between him and a former Basilica & Stewart bookkeeper and secretary escalated after he suspected her of reporting him to the Statewide Grievance Committee for the unauthorized practice of law, witnesses testified before the BEC. Though the SGC ruled the charges were unfounded, and Massad’s co-worker, in testifying before the bar examining committee, denied she was the one who lodged the complaint, the feud didn’t end when the woman left to work for another law firm. At a May 28, 1998, BEC hearing, that law firm’s office administrator confirmed that Massad had phoned officials there to notify them that the woman allegedly embezzled money from Basilica & Stewart, according to the agency’s legal briefs. Later confronted by Stewart about being the source of the information, Massad stated he had “absolutely nothing to do with it,” the BEC maintained. Massad, however, claimed he believed a police official who had contacted the woman’s new firm was the original source of the information. In regards to the plagiarism incident, Massad’s testimony also lacked “candor and clarity,” according to the BEC. Initially testifying on the subject, Massad conceded that he asked his fianc�e to type his 60-page law school paper, but then it “snowballed” from there, the committee asserted. He also stated that the paper included “portions copied from a law review article,” it claimed. His testimony, however, “inexplicably changed” at a subsequent hearing, where he contended that his fianc�e only helped him type the paper and that it included just a chart from a law review article that was inadvertently cited to the original source, according to the bar examining committee. Massad, however, claimed in his brief that he was juggling law school, a full-time job and planning his wedding, and that he had his wife compile the paper’s bibliography and endnotes as well. Though the paper contained material from a law review article without proper citation, the slip-up was inadvertent, he maintained. Though applied correctly in this instance, Gallagher told the supreme court that the standard of review in BEC appeals “leaves a lot to be desired.” “An applicant who has invested several years of his life and a considerable amount of money to gain the privilege to practice law deserves an independent review of a negative determination on his moral character,” a footnote in Massad’s brief proclaimed.

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