An Applicant for Admission to the District of Columbia Bar.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wagner, Senior Judge
On Report and Recommendation of the Committee on Admissions.
Before WAGNER, F *fn1 ERRENand STEADMAN,*fn2 Senior Judges.
Petitioner, Sukhbir Singh Bedi, applied for admission to the District of Columbia Bar. After a hearing held pursuant to D.C. App. R. 46 (f), the Committee on Admissions (Committee) filed a report recommending to this court that his application be denied because Bedi failed to meet his burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that he possesses good moral character and general fitness to practice law in the District of Columbia. In response to this court's order requiring Bedi to show cause why his application should not be denied, he filed a brief and argued before this court that: (1) the procedures and conduct of the hearing were unfair in that he was required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he did not engage in acts of misconduct as alleged by the Committee; (2) the evidence was insufficient to prove that he cheated on the February 1996 bar examination or that he made false statements to the Committee and/or its representatives concerning the incident; and (3) he established by clear and convincing evidence that he did not knowingly or falsely claim on his applications for admission to the bar that he suffered an impairment requiring special testing accommodations. We conclude that the Committee properly applied the burden of proof and that the procedures used in conducting the hearing were appropriate. Further, we conclude that the Committee's findings are supported by substantial evidence and that Bedi did not meet his burden of demonstrating good moral character and fitness to practice law. Accordingly, we deny his application for admission to the bar.
Sukhbir Bedi passed the written examination for admission to the District of Columbia bar in February 1999 after multiple unsuccessful attempts.*fn3 The Committee notified Bedi that after considering his application, it was not willing to certify his admission and that he had the choice of withdrawing his application or requesting a formal hearing pursuant to D.C. App. R. 46 (f)(1).*fn4 Bedi requested a formal hearing and inquired about the nature of "the adverse matters upon which the Committee relied in denying admission." In response, the Director of Admissions informed Bedi's counsel that the matters relied upon included allegations that he had cheated during the 1996 bar examination and that he had sought special testing accommodations for several examinations based on claims of disability that were not credible. Bedi filed a "motion to specify charges and to clarify the quantum of proof requirements." In response, the Committee set forth the following charges: (1) that Bedi cheated or attempted to cheat on the bar examinations administered in 1990, 1992 and 1996; (2) that he knowingly made "false statements to the Committee and/or its representatives in connection with his behavior during the February 1996 bar examination"; and (3) that between December 1991 and 1996, Bedi knowingly and falsely claimed on his applications for bar admission that he suffered from dyslexia for which he required special testing accommodations. With respect to the procedure to be followed and the burden of proof, the Committee informed Bedi that it considered the written record (for which a copy was available to him) to be sufficient to establish a prima facie case for each of the charges, and therefore, he would have "the burden of going forward and the burden of persuasion, for the negative." Citing D.C. App. R. 46 (e), the Committee also stated that "Bedi bears the ultimate burden of demonstrating, by clear and convincing evidence, that he possess good moral character and general fitness to practice law."
After a formal hearing, the Committee issued written findings of fact and conclusions and recommended to this court that Bedi's application be denied. The Committee determined that Bedi "failed to sustain his burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that he possesses the good moral character and general fitness required to practice law." As reasons for its conclusion, the Committee referred to specific instances of wrongdoing that it had found to be established by substantial evidence. These included that: (1) Bedi had cheated on the February 1996 bar exam; (2) he had made false statements to the Committee and staff about his conduct during the February 1996 bar exam; and (3) he had fraudulently claimed that he had dyslexia in an effort to secure special testing accommodations.*fn5 In light of the Committee's recommendation, this court issued to Bedi an order to show cause why his application should not be denied. In response to the court's order, Bedi filed a brief, the Committee filed a responsive brief, and Bedi filed a reply. The parties have been heard in oral argument, and we consider the Committee's report and recommendation and the parties' arguments with respect thereto.
Bedi argues that the "clear and convincing evidence" standard, as applied to the facts of this case, is inherently unfair and denied him due process in the consideration of his application for admission. While conceding the appropriateness of that standard in the typical bar application process, he contends that, as applied here, the Committee unfairly placed upon him the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that he did not commit the wrongful acts specified by the Committee.*fn6 The Committee responds that it did not require Bedi to refute the allegations of misconduct by clear and convincing evidence. It contends that the "clear and convincing evidence" standard governed only the ultimate determination of whether Bedi possessed the requisite moral character and fitness for admission to the Bar.
A. Applicable Legal Principles
Applicants for admission to the District of Columbia bar have the burden of "demonstrating, by clear and convincing evidence, that the applicant possesse[s] good moral character and general fitness to practice law in the District of Columbia." D.C. App. R. 46 (e); see also Rule 46 (d) (providing that the Committee shall not certify an applicant for admission until he or she demonstrates good moral character and general fitness to practice). This standard of proof "requires evidence that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the facts sought to be established." In re Dortch, 860 A.2d 346, 358 (D.C. 2004) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). This heavy burden is imposed for "the protection of prospective clients, and the assurance of the ethical, orderly and efficient administration of justice."*fn7 Id. at 355 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Under a rule placing upon the applicant the burden of demonstrating good moral character, "an applicant must initially furnish enough evidence of good character to make a prima facie case. The examining Committee then has the opportunity to rebut that showing with evidence of bad character." Konigsberg v. State Bar, 366 U.S. 36, 41 (1961). Once there has been a showing of bad character, the applicant then must produce evidence of good moral character or rebut the Committee's showing of bad character. Florida Bd. of Bar Examiners Re: R.D.I., 581 So. 2d 27, 29 (Fla. 1991); see also Dortch, 860 A.2d at 361. The Committee must then decide whether the applicant has shown clearly and convincingly good moral character. Konigsberg, 366 U.S. at 41-42. In reviewing the Committee's findings and recommendation, we will accept its factual findings if supported by substantial evidence. In re Baker, 579 A.2d 676, 680 (D.C. 1990) (citations omitted). While we accord some deference to the Committee's recommendation, the question of whether the applicant has met the clear and convincing evidence standard of proof for good moral character and fitness is ultimately a question of law for the court to decide. In re Wells, 815 A.2d 771, 772, 773 n.2 (D.C. 2003) (citing In re Manville, 494 A.2d 1289, 1293 (D.C. 1985)); see also Baker, 579 A.2d at 680 (concluding that there is no obligation to defer to the Committee on the interpretation of Rule 46). The ultimate determination of whether an applicant will be admitted to the bar is a question for this court. Baker, 579 A.2d at 680. It is against this general legal framework that we consider Bedi's arguments.
B. Burden of Proof Challenge
Bedi contends that the Committee improperly placed upon him the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that he did not commit the wrongful acts upon which it relied in concluding that he failed to demonstrate good moral character and fitness. In support of his argument, Bedi relies, in part, on the Committee's written response to his "motion" concerning the procedure for the hearing and the burden of proof. Specifically, he refers to the Committee's counsel's statement that it "believes that the written record . . . is sufficient to establish a prima facie case on each of the specifications. Therefore, Sukhbir Singh Bedi shall have both the burden of going forth and the burden of persuasion, for the negative." Bedi argues that this language indicates that the Committee essentially placed upon him the burden of proving, clearly and convincingly, (1) that he did not cheat or attempt to cheat on the bar examination, and (2) that his application for special accommodations was not "fudged." The Committee argues that, contrary to Bedi's contention, its response to his inquiry acknowledged its counsel's obligation to establish a prima facie case on the specified charges of misconduct and did not state any particular quantum of proof imposed upon him for rebutting that prima facie case. The Committee contends that it used the clear and convincing evidence standard only in its ...