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Massachusetts School of Law graduate Thomas T. Walsh III has plenty of conviction, despite voluntarily dropping his suit against the state Board of Bar Examiners for forcing him — and others — to retake the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam after they had received a passing grade. It’s his legal research that needs work, according to a federal judge’s April 9 decision ordering Walsh to pay secondary defendants named in the suit $2,000 in Rule 11 sanctions. Walsh first took the MPRE in August 2000. At the time, the state required a scaled score of 75 to pass the test. Walsh earned an 83. In January 2000, however, the BBE decided to raise the passing grade from 75 to 85, effective March 2001. The rule change included a grandfather clause for those taking the state bar exam in July 2001. But because Walsh didn’t graduate until last December and couldn’t take the bar until then, he wasn’t allowed in under the clause. The unfairness of it all prompted him to file a 17-count complaint last September seeking an injunction requiring bar officials to let him take the state bar exam with his existing MPRE score. Representing himself pro se, an eager Walsh, however, “made the unfortunate decision to begin his career by bringing a frivolous lawsuit against, among others, the Chief Justice of the highest court in the state in which he intends to practice,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Ponsor in ruling against Walsh last month. But an even bigger mistake, Ponsor proclaimed, was the law grad’s decision to name defendants outside of Massachusetts. Unlike the BBE and Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, those defendants — the National Conference of Bar Examiners and its president, Erica Moeser — filed a motion for sanctions against Walsh. “Even the most cursory examination of the complaint and the filings confirms that the plaintiff failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the factual and legal basis for the claims presented … against either the NCBE or Moeser,” Ponsor ruled. “Minimal research,” the judge added, would have shown that Walsh’s claims against both out-of-state defendants were groundless because neither of them are responsible for setting the MPRE’s passing grade. That decision is left up to individual jurisdictions, the court noted. As a result of Walsh’s “misconduct,” the two defendants racked up in excess of $11,000 in legal bills, wrote Ponsor, relying on affidavits submitted by the defendants’ legal counsel at the firms of Peabody & Arnold and Fulbright & Jaworski. “Under these circumstances, the court,” Ponsor ruled in ordering Walsh to pay $2,000 in sanctions, “may consider what sanction is ‘sufficient to deter repetition of such conduct or comparable conduct by others similarly situated.’ “ Reached last week, Walsh objected to being hit with Rule 11 fines for what he said was a suit brought in good faith. “There’s no Rule 11 violations here. … I didn’t bring the defendants into this case simply to harass them,” he maintained. Rather, Walsh said he named the NCBE and Moeser as defendants because of the national conference’s ties with the BBE. “It’s my position that [the two defendants outside of Massachusetts] are state actors,” he said. Walsh said he would be the first to admit that he has a lot of learn when its comes to drafting complaints. But he took offense with Ponsor’s assessment of his research efforts. Asked if he will appeal the ruling, Walsh said he is keeping his options open. Ponsor noted that Walsh failed to file a proper response to the defendants’ motions to dismiss all 17 counts for either being barred by the Eleventh Amendment or for failing to state a claim. Nevertheless, Walsh “appeared at oral argument ready to present his theories for the first time,” Ponsor wrote. The court gave the defendants additional time to respond. But before defense counsel had time to file their responses, Walsh voluntarily dismissed the suit in its entirety, according to the judge. Walsh said he recently retook the MPRE. He beat his previous score, but only by one point, falling just shy of a passing mark of 85.

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