For The Daily Gazette
In New York, before any individual may be licensed as a lawyer, that individual is subjected to a “character and fitness” review.
The applicant must show that he or she is of “good character.”
As a part of that process, the applicant must submit detailed background information, including the applicant’s job history, criminal history, traffic violations, and school disciplinary records.
At the end of that process, the applicant is interviewed by a member of the Committee on Character and Fitness.
Most applicants breeze through the process.
For them, the interview is perfunctory.
Some applicants, though, have something in their past that requires greater scrutiny.
Those applicants are referred to a subcommittee for a more in-depth interview.
The reasons vary.
There could be an atypical school disciplinary record. There may have been an arrest, or a conviction. There may have been a history of alcohol abuse.
There is something out of the ordinary.
When applicants come before the subcommittee, they are expected to be forthright, truthful, respectful and aware of how the event or events in their past could impact their admission to the bar.
Most individuals successfully move through the subcommittee process. Sometimes, the gravity of the prior event prevents admission.
Every so often, the applicant’s conduct before the committee blocks the way; maybe the applicant has been confrontational, disrespectful, evasive, misleading or just not truthful.
New York is not alone in this process.
Most, if not all, states require bar applicants to demonstrate good character.
In fact, good character is a condition for licensure in most professions.
I have thought about this process repeatedly since Brett Kavanaugh’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
He was the opposite of everything an applicant is expected to be.
Rather than recognizing that a serious allegation had to be addressed, he was angry, even irrational.
He was repeatedly evasive, repeatedly reciting the mantra that he worked hard in high school and college.
He told obvious lies, giving ridiculous explanations for things like “Beach Week Ralph Club” and “Renate Aluminius.”
He mischaracterized the statements of others. He was disrespectful and even downright insulting.
The most shocking point in a shocking performance may have been when Judge Kavanaugh, in the face of overwhelming evidence of his heavy drinking as a student, responded to Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar by asking, not once, but twice, if she had ever blacked out.
If any individual behaved before the Committee on Character and Fitness in that manner, that individual’s admission to the Bar would be highly unlikely.
If that behavior would render an applicant unfit for admission to the Bar, it certainly renders Judge Kavanaugh as unfit for elevation to the Supreme Court of the land.
Hermes Fernandez is a member of the Character and Fitness Committee for the Third Judicial District. He is a partner in the Albany office of Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC, and a past vice president of the New York State Bar Association.