As nervous law students fret over taking the Texas bar exam this month, one man who failed the rigorous test in 2009 claims the state's requirement that would-be attorneys take the exam violates his constitutional rights.
Among other things, Jamar Osborne alleges the bar exam violates his free-speech rights because it requires test-takers to give legal opinions, and the Texas Board of Law Examiners (TBLE) determines if they're "valid."
"Anyone who disagrees with the Board of Law Examiner's interpretation of the law is denied a license to practice law and ultimately denied the right to work," alleges the June 24 complaint Citizens Against The Bar v. State of Texas, et al. "Most bar applicants wouldn't dare disagree with the Board of Law Examiner's legal opinions out of fear for their livelihood."
The petition identifies Osborne as a plaintiffs, and he signed it as "pro se plaintiff."
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, lists among the defendants: the State of Texas, TBLE, Travis County, and Supreme Court of Texas.
Osborne says he thinks the bar exam is not necessary, too expensive, "infringes on fundamental rights" and not "narrowly tailored."
"In my fairy-tale land, I'd like to get the license and the bar exam overturned and held unconstitutional," he says, adding, "At the very least, I hope this lawsuit will bring awareness to an important issue people aren't focusing on, and maybe at least there can be some changes to the licensing requirement, to at least make it narrowly tailored and consider some alternatives, like maybe an apprenticeship."
According to the complaint, this year Osborne allegedly was denied an attorney position with Travis County because he didn't have a law license.
"As someone who has a law degree and isn't licensed, [Osborne] feels that employers treat him worse than a convicted felon," says the complaint, noting that, when potential employers learn he didn't pass the exam, "he is often regarded as incompetent and denied employment."
He alleges that Travis County violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in posting attorney positions requiring a law license, which requires bar passage.
Osborne, who is an African-American, also alleges the exam has "a disparate impact on African-Americans."
"Unless Defendant Travis County can show that the skills tested on the Texas Bar Exam are job related and that there are no less discriminatory alternatives, its license requirement for Attorney positions must be invalidated under Title VII," alleges the complaint.
Osborne further alleges, "The Texas Bar Exam fails to . . . meet the testing industry's standard of content and criterion reliability" because it's not "significantly related" to a person's ability to do the job.
"There is no courtroom in America that has ever required an attorney to answer 200 multiple-choice questions and six essay questions under timed conditions," says the complaint, adding, "The Texas Bar Exam focuses on rote memorization rather than clinical capacity."
State Bar of Texas legal counsel John Sirman, Texas Supreme Court spokesman Osler McCarthy and Tom Kelley, a spokesman with the Texas Office of the Attorney General, all decline comment. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla didn't return a telephone call or email seeking comment.