Monday, August 06, 2007

Do Not Pass the Bar - Final Words

As advertised, I took some time over the weekend to review some pleadings in the Stephen Dunne case. Dunne, you'll recall, took the Massachusetts Bar exam and refused to answer a question that touched on gay marriage. As a result, he failed (by a little more than a point) the test and was denied membership in the Bar. He has taken his gripe to federal court.

I went into the weekend with as open a mind as possible - perhaps Dunne had a really creative argument that might validate his position. It's not beyond human experience, after all, for a young lawyer, or even a pro se plaintiff, to change the law. It's also not beyond at least my experience to hear news reports of a case that makes it sound frivolous, only to dig into the actual pleadings and find that it's much more substantive.

Having said that, I don't think this will be one of those cases. Dunne makes no persuasive argument that his Constitutional rights have been violated. He never explains, for example, how answering a question in which gay marriage is involved, but not at issue, forces him to profess "mandatory adherence with a particular belief" with which he disagrees.* I quoted the question in Friday's post - it's a fairly standard family law bar exam question, crammed with lots of potential issues for young legal eyes to spot. Nothing about it requires a discussion of the merits of gay marriage. It certainly doesn't ask for "mandatory adherence" to a pro-gay marriage position. In fact, one suspects that had Dunne answered the question with a preface disagreeing with Goodridge but actually answering the question he would have passed the exam.

The deeper one presses into Dunne's complaint, the more his real agenda becomes clear. Somewhere around the time he deploys the term "secular humanism" - complete with scare quotes - you begin to suspect that he's after something other than just a licence to practice law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In fact, a considerable amount of Dunne's complaint is dedicated to an attack on Goodridge itself. How is that relevant to Dunne's failure to answer a question on the current state of the law in Massachusetts? It isn't, of course. But that's the big prize that lies at the end of Dunne's Quixote-esque quest. I suspect the federal courts will make quick work of Dunne's case.

Dunne appears to be a disciple of Roy Moore, the disgraced former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice who placed loyalty to his version of God's law above the US Constitution. If that's the case, Dunne should question whether this lawsuit will really get him what he allegedly wants. Attorneys are required to swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, not the Ten Commandments or the King James version of the Bible. If he can't do that in good faith, he may not be fit join the profession after all.

* It should be noted that the Bar is seeking dismissal for failure to state a claim, meaning that it (for purposes of that motion only) has to accept Dunne's factual claims as true. Thus, they don't take exception to that characterization of what has occurred.

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