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A law school graduate who claims he was unfairly denied membership in the Michigan Bar because he offended a judge years ago has scored an early-round win in appeals court. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Sept. 3 that Detroit College of Law graduate Dennis Dubuc could sue the heads of the State Bar of Michigan and the Michigan Board of Law Examiners over his denied membership. Dubuc had sued both groups for denying him admission into the Bar after finding him morally unfit to practice law for allegedly falsely accusing a judge of criminal actions in 1995. Dubuc v. Michigan Board of Law Examiners, No. 02-1897 (6th Cir.). “They didn’t like the fact that he had made harsh remarks about a judge,” said Robert Horvath, Dubuc’s lawyer. “They wanted him to say ‘Gee, I made a mistake.’ But in his view he thought he was justified.” Dubuc, 55, had initially sued both the Bar and licensing board, as well as the heads of the groups, in federal district court claiming his First Amendment rights were violated. The case was dismissed on immunity grounds, but the appellate court ruled that Dubuc could still sue the chief officials of the organizations, but not the groups themselves. Horvath, a solo practitioner in Troy, Mich., called this is a classic First Amendment case. “Should he have restrained his tongue more? Yeah. It wasn’t the prudent thing to do. He basically dynamited himself,” Horvath said. “When you attack a judge and you don’t win on that allegation, you’re stuck.” ‘TOTALLY OUTRAGEOUS’ BEHAVIOR Margaret Nelson, an assistant attorney general with the Michigan attorney general’s office, a lawyer for the state, said Horvath is oversimplifying the case. Nelson said Dubuc’s behavior was “totally outrageous,” and that he accused not just a judge, but a local prosecutor and other local officials in engaging in criminal conspiracy activities against him. “This guy was engaging in extremely outrageous behavior,” Nelson said. “He was not remorseful. He did not accept any responsibility for it.” Nelson will seek to dismiss the case once it goes back to district court. Dubuc’s troubles stem from a 1992 lawsuit in Livingston County Circuit Court involving a property dispute with Green Oak Township, Mich. Dubuc v. Green Oak Township, No. 191293. According to court documents, Dubuc moved to disqualify the presiding judge in the case, Judge Daniel Burress, whom Dubuc accused of engaging in a “conspiracy to destroy him, obstruction of justice, abuse of process, bribery and attempted bribery.” Burress ordered Dubuc to pay more than $180,000 in sanctions for violating several court orders, and later dismissed Dubuc’s lawsuit as frivolous. Court documents also show that the Michigan Supreme Court found that Dubuc, who had been involved in 38 lawsuits prior to applying to the Bar, had engaged in abusive and frivolous tactics, such as “naming the trial judge as a witness … accusing the judge of criminal conduct and of conspiring with defense counsel; and threatening to file a complaint with the Judicial Tenure Commission against the judge.” Dubuc is a landlord. He said many of the suits involved tenants. Horvath maintains his client did nothing illegal. He said that Dubuc meant only to accuse Burress of knowing that crimes like bribery were occurring and doing nothing to stop it. Furthermore, Horvath contends that Dubuc had every right to seek a review from the Judicial Tenure Commission. “He certainly had a right to request the powers to be to look at it,” Horvath said. “If a citizen cannot approach a governmental, regulatory body and say, ‘Look into this,’ nobody is going to come forward.” Nelson asserted that Dubuc’s lawsuit is now moot. She said one of Dubuc’s key requests was that he be allowed to reapply for the Bar immediately. Initially he was told he had to wait five years. But in July, the Michigan Supreme Court changed that rule, now allowing law school graduates to reapply for the Bar two years after their rejection. “This case is now moot because the rule has been changed and he can reapply,” Nelson said. But Dubuc’s legal fight is not over, Horvath said. He wants to make sure that on his second application, the licensing authorities are prohibited from considering First Amendment activity when considering applications for admission to the Bar, according to Horvath. Dubuc said he is now hoping for an injunction against Michigan’s licensing authorities, preventing them from using his past against him. “Without an injunction, the state bar can still deny me a license if they feel that some of my First Amendment activities are improper,” he said. Horvath said that since taking on this case, he has received calls from about 10 other law school graduates in Michigan who are having similar problems with gaining admission into the Bar. “When the state licenses someone … they have broad discretion in deciding whether someone is suitable,” Horvath said. “The law says that there are some things that they cannot consider. … They can’t give meaning to good moral character by focusing on First Amendment activities, and that’s what they’re doing.”

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