A University of California Hastings College of the Law graduate should no longer be allowed to practice law in California because she lied about having a disability in order to get more time to take the 2009 bar exam, the State Bar of California said Wednesday.
The lawyer, Leah Harmuth, received time and a half to take the July 2009 bar exam in a semi-private room after claiming in a March 2009 application that she suffered a disability and had received similar accommodations as an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, according to the California bar. Citing the confidentiality of admissions records, the agency did not specify the nature of Harmuth’s alleged disability.
California bar officials only learned of Harmuth’s falsehood in August 2011 after being notified by the New York State Board of Law Examiners that she had requested the same treatment from them under penalty of perjury in her application to take the February 2011 bar exam in New York. After determining that she received no university-approved special treatment as an undergraduate, the New York board disqualified Harmuth from taking the exam and barred her from applying for admission to be a lawyer in the state for two years. (A representative for the New York board did not return a call for comment Wednesday.)
Harmuth informed California bar officials about the New York findings herself in September 2011. A yearlong investigation and negotiations between her and her lawyer followed, according to a bar spokeswoman. (The investigation revealed that one professor at Penn gave her “unofficial testing accommodations,” and letters vouching for Harmuth’s good character were submitted from 11 references, including some in the legal community.) The agency recommended Wednesday that Harmuth’s license be canceled, and, according to a five-page stipulation released by California’s State Bar Court, she has agreed to accept that penalty. California’s highest court must still approve the recommendation. In the meantime, she is prohibited from practicing law.
Harmuth, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, worked as a summer associate in Morrison & Foerster’s Palo Alto, Calif., office in 2008, according to her profile on LinkedIn and a personal website. While there, according to the LinkedIn profile, she did corporate and pro bono work and, as chair of the firm’s summer associate charitable giving foundation, helped raise more than $10,000. (A Morrison & Foerster spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment.)
Since then, Harmuth appears to have focused her career on the fashion and art industries. From 2009 to 2010, according to LinkedIn, she worked as a business analyst at high-end sportswear maker Bogner of America and is currently studying to earn a master’s degree in art business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art. Last summer, the profile says she worked at the Guggenheim Museum under a grant program that awards $1,000 for a nine-week internship in honor of the Guggenheim’s first director, Baroness Hilla von Rebay. LinkedIn lists an undergraduate degree from Penn in political science and Spanish, summa cum laude.
On her personal website, Harmuth describes herself as a consultant who advises gallery owners, art collectors and artists “on matters pertaining to acquisitions, representation, consignment, provenance, and collection management,” along with analyzing the investment value of fine art. “As an ardent advocate for contemporary art, Leah believes in transparent transactions and in the virtue of demystifying the often opaque art world,” Harmuth’s site states.
In recommending that Harmuth’s license be canceled — a punishment that differs from disbarment in that it relates to how she was admitted to the bar rather than her actions as a lawyer — the California bar found that she committed acts of moral turpitude and dishonesty in violation of the business and professions code. Within roughly a month of a final order confirming her license cancellation, Harmuth must notify all clients and opposing counsel of her change in status, refund any unearned fees, and return all papers and property to clients.
Harmuth’s attorney Carol Langford, a professional responsibility lawyer and adjunct professor at UC Hastings and other San Francisco Bay Area law schools, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sara Randazzo is a reporter for The American Lawyer, a Legal affiliate based in New York. This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily at www.americanlawyer.com. •