Brooklyn federal court should consider revamping the requirement that attorneys who seek to practice in New York’s federal courts get a veteran lawyer to vouch for them after at least one year’s acquaintance, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York has said in a new opinion.
Weinstein made that recommendation in dicta, but it did not have an impact on his decision to dismiss a suit challenging on broad constitutional grounds the admission requirements to the bar in the district.
Attorney Robert Doyle filed suit against the Eastern District clerk’s office in August 2018. The Vanderbilt University Law School alumnus has been admitted to practice in New York since 2006, according to a search of state attorney registration records. He is currently listed as an attorney with the law office of Todd Bank, who was the attorney of record for Doyle.
The suit alleged numerous constitutional violations by the practice of requiring a current member of the Eastern District federal bar vouch for an applicant’s character and experience.
Doyle claimed the process violates his due process, equal protection rights, and freedom of association rights because they force him to make disclosures and undertake activities that face the immoral risk of a sponsor possibly claiming to know his character when the person does, in fact, not. This belief, he claims, is fundamental to his self-identity.
As part of his decision, Weinstein surveyed the federal court system’s local rules to see where the Eastern District stood by comparison. According to his findings, fully half of the nation’s 94 district courts have adopted sponsorship requirements. Eight circuit courts have done the same, as has the U.S. Supreme Court.
Doyle claimed any court doing so represents an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority to the federal court system. Pointing to federal law established by the Judiciary Act of 1789, Weinstein found the delegation of authority was rightfully delegated, and provided the courts with the “express authority to enact desirable local rules to conduct the business before them” before dismissing Doyle’s claim.
Weinstein likewise dispatched Doyle’s constitutional claims. There wasn’t “the slightest hint” that the sponsorship rule was employed in any discretionary way. No deprivation of liberty or property rights supported a due process claim, nor had any suspect class impairments been established, Weinstein found. Likewise, the rules don’t target anyone’s speech or viewpoint, and whatever minuscule impact on freedom of expression it could have “does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.”
“It is necessary for the court to rely upon the good moral character and the intellectual capability of the attorneys before it, partly to protect the clients and partly to protect the court and the public,” the judge wrote.
While the rules don’t represent the kinds of violations Doyle claimed, Weinstein did see good reason for both Eastern District and the Southern District to reconsider their mirrored requirements that a sponsor know an applicant for a year.
The judge noted that only five other district courts impose a similar requirement, one he said “appears unnecessary.”
“A sponsoring lawyer should not need to know an applicant for a year to fairly assess his or her character and experience,” Weinstein said. “It creates avoidable problems for first-time applicants, as well for those attorneys new to the New York area, who may not have access to the same networks as many of their peers.”
The judge went further, arguing that the requirement could actually “needlessly exclude” good attorneys who lack “the requisite professional and social connections.”
“In our unequal society, we should be encouraging those on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, with less acquaintanceships with lawyers, to enter the legal profession as a means to move up in status and to support themselves and their families—as well as to help others,” he said.
Bank, Doyle’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.