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NJSBA Comments on Character Review Process: Firmer Timelines, More Robust Review

The New Jersey State Bar Association submitted comments in response to the Supreme Court’s proposed recommendations by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Character Review Process. The association agreed with a number of the proposals in the report, but suggested revisions, including stronger language regarding the imposition of timelines on the review process. It also reiterated its comments from last summer when a previous report was published urging a more robust review.

The NJSBA cautioned the Supreme Court that without firm timelines on the character review process, and with the elimination of the candidate’s ability to appeal a determination and a reduction of the hearing panel to just two attorneys, the character review process could lead to a delay in review and a less robust review process. The comments were submitted in response to the issuance of the report and recommendations of the Supreme Court’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Character Review Process last week.

The association pointed out that it had previously voiced concerns about the review process undertaken in connection with candidates for admission to the bar, the types of conduct that give rise to more intense scrutiny by the committee, and the often inordinate length of time it takes for a candidate to be certified by the committee. “The Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations address some of these concerns, but more review is necessary,” said President Robert B. Hille. He commented that the recent report “will be a good start to improving the system.”

The recently issued report focused on streamlining the process, but the association pointed out that a review of the substance of the process is necessary as well. In the meantime, the NJSBA agreed that the report moved forward to streamlining the process and encouraged the committee to go further. For example, the association agreed with the proposed time frames recommended in the report for the various stages of review, but suggested that more definitive language be used. “The suggested time frames should not just be goals to which committee members should endeavor; they should be firm deadlines that can only be avoided for good reasons,” said Hille.

Two concerns were noted in this last round, specifically the recommendations by the committee to eliminate the candidate’s ability to appeal a determination and the reduction on the reviewing panel for hearings to two attorneys. The NJSBA pointed out that these actions may result in a less robust review process overall.

In addition to urging the Supreme Court to review its recommendations submitted last May, the association also encouraged a review process to be implemented periodically to ensure the changes achieve their goal of addressing applications in a fair, reasonable and timely manner.