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Tulane University law student Emily Maw of Wales wanted to stay in Louisiana after graduation to represent death row inmates and defendants in capital cases. Now she is thinking about practicing in Mississippi instead. In what is believed to be the only such rule in the nation, Louisiana prohibits nonresident foreigners from taking the state bar exam. The rule was issued without explanation by the Louisiana Committee on Bar Admissions in 2000 and upheld without comment by the state supreme court last year, triggering speculation that the justices were simply tired of foreign defense attorneys using clever arguments to get death sentences overturned. “To me, it’s a terrible shame, but I’ll do something else instead,” said Maw, a third-year student set to graduate in the top 10 percent of her class. A number of lawyers and civil rights groups have warned that the rule will hurt death row inmates’ efforts to get competent legal help in strongly pro-capital punishment Louisiana, with 90 inmates on death row. As capital punishment in the United States has become increasingly criticized overseas, growing numbers of young Europeans have moved to the Deep South, passed bar exams and successfully defended death row inmates and defendants facing possible death sentences. Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said foreign-born lawyers who work for nothing or very little money are often the only ones willing to take on death row cases. “It means taking on the establishment,” Cook said, “and that’s not a popular thing to do.” Denise LeBoeuf, director of the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana, said: “Louisiana has benefited mightily from lawyers who got to take the bar before this ridiculous change in the law.” The rule does not affect immigrants with green cards or foreigners who have become U.S. citizens. Law students who want to practice in Louisiana tend to go to law school in Louisiana to learn its civil law, which is based on the Napoleonic Code. It is unclear how many nonresident foreigners are enrolled in Louisiana’s four law schools and would be affected by the rule. But about 70 foreigners attend Tulane Law alone. Louis R. Koerner Jr., who in March filed a federal lawsuit challenging the rule on behalf of three French lawyers who work in his law office but do not handle capital cases, said Louisiana is the only state with such a ban. Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, said she does not know of any other state with such a rule. Michigan allows nonresident foreigners to take the bar exam but prevents them from practicing law in the state. Daniel Webb, chairman of the Louisiana Committee on Bar Admissions, refused to comment on the rule, which was upheld after an Australian-born lawyer challenged it. Exactly why the ban was imposed has puzzled many lawyers. “There have been no ethical complaints against a foreign lawyer, no allegations. The ruling just came out of the blue,” said Stephen Griffin, a Tulane law professor. Koerner, whose lawsuit contends the rule is discriminatory, speculated that death penalty politics were behind the high court’s ruling. He theorized that the justices hate to campaign for re-election while facing criticism for overturning death sentences. With fewer lawyers pointing out legal errors in capital cases, Koerner reasoned, the justices won’t be forced to overturn so many. One of the plaintiffs, Beatrice Boulord of France, theorized instead that Louisiana’s native-born lawyers simply do not want the competition: “It’s just protectionism.” Since Koerner sued, a Canadian lawyer has joined the case, contending the ban violates the North American Free Trade Agreement. A separate lawsuit has also been filed on behalf of two foreigners who came to Louisiana in hopes of representing death penalty defendants, Koerner said. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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