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Antion v. Board of Law Examiners

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 7, 2017

ROBERT J. ANTION, Petitioner
v.
BOARD OF LAW EXAMINERS, Respondent

         Original Proceeding

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         This matter is before the Court on exceptions filed by petitioner, Robert J. Antion, to the Board of Law Examiners' (hereinafter "the Board" or "the Board's") October 4, 2016, decision to deny his application to take the West Virginia bar examination because petitioner failed to meet the educational requirements specifically set forth in Rules 2.0[1] and 3.0[2] of the West Virginia Rules for Admission to the Practice of Law (hereinafter also referred to as "the Rules"). Robert J. Antion is representing himself. The Board is represented by John M. Hedges, Esq., and filed a response in support of the Board's decision.

         The Court has carefully reviewed and considered the pleadings, together with the appendix record before the Court.[3] This case does not involve a substantial question of law, and the Court does not disagree with the decision of the Board as to the question of law. Therefore a memorandum decision is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure. We agree with the finding of the Board that petitioner is not eligible for admission to the practice of law by examination and his application to take the West Virginia bar examination is denied.

         Facts and Procedural Background

         Petitioner is a graduate of Concord Law School of Kaplan University, which is not accredited by the American Bar Association and is comprised entirely of an online curriculum. In 2015, petitioner took the California bar examination but did not achieve a passing score. Petitioner applied for admission to practice law through examination in West Virginia on January 28, 2016. His application was returned, without review at that time because applications are not accepted before March 1 for the July bar examination. Petitioner later submitted his application timely.

         Upon review of petitioner's application and accompanying records, by letter dated March 2, 2016, the Board denied his application based upon his failure to meet the educational requirements of Rules 2.0 and 3.0 of the Rules.[4] Rule 3.0(b) concerns the policy on equivalency and does not permit graduates of law schools providing more than 50% of classes as Internet-based classes to take the West Virginia Bar Examination. See supra note 2. Specifically, the Board found that as a graduate of a law school providing more than 50% of classes as Internet-based classes, he is not eligible to take the West Virginia Bar Examination.

         Following the denial, petitioner timely requested an administrative hearing pursuant to Rule 6.0. An administrative hearing was held on May 25, 2016. Petitioner testified regarding his education and experience. He attended classes remotely through a curriculum comprised entirely online.

         The hearing examiner issued his findings and conclusions in a report dated September 27, 2016. The hearing examiner concluded that the Board's decision that petitioner does not meet the educational requirements of the West Virginia Rules for Admission to the Practice of Law must be affirmed and recommended that petitioner's application be denied.

         On October 4, 2016, the Board reviewed the hearing examiner's report, together with the transcript of the hearing and the documentation that petitioner submitted in support of his application. The Board voted to deny petitioner's application based on his failure to meet the educational requirements in Rules 2.0 and 3.0. In accord with Rule 3.0, the Board does not have discretion to waive or modify this requirement, regardless of an applicant's other credentials.

         Standard of Review

         This Court is vested with the authority under article VIII, section one of the West Virginia Constitution "to define, regulate and control the practice of law in West Virginia." Syl. Pt. 1, Lane v. W.Va. State Bd. of Law Examiners, 170 W.Va. 583, 295 S.E.2d 670 (1982). Pursuant to this authority, this Court has promulgated the West Virginia Rules for Admission to the Practice of Law.

         Pursuant to Rule 6(e) of the Rules for Admission, the petitioner filed exceptions with this Court to the Board's decision. We consider this matter under the following standard:

This Court reviews de novo the adjudicatory record made before the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners with regard to questions of law, questions of application of the law to the facts, and questions of whether an applicant should or should not be admitted to the practice of law. Although this Court gives respectful consideration to the Board of Law Examiners' recommendations, it ultimately exercises its own independent judgment. On the other hand, this Court gives substantial deference to the Board of Law ...

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