As a strong believer in the virtue of integrity within the legal profession, the refusal of the Connecticut bar’s character and fitness committee to approve of Dwayne Betts’ admission to the bar is an outrage. Admit him.
In 1996, when Reginald Dwayne Betts was being sentenced to nine years in prison for a carjacking, the judge handing down the ruling told the 16 year old: “I don’t have any illusions that the penitentiary is going to help you, but you can get something out of it if you want to.”
The judge probably had, at best, a high school equivalency diploma in mind for Mr. Betts. Mr. Betts had bigger ambitions.
I have no clue what he had in mind, but I know what he’s done with his life since.
After his release in 2005, he wrote two books of critically acclaimed poetry and a memoir. He got a B.A. and an M.F.A., and became a Radcliffe fellow at Harvard. Last May, he graduated from Yale Law School. Oh, and along the way, he became a husband and a father to two boys; tellingly, this is the first accomplishment he lists on his website’s biography page.
Commit a crime and do your time. But once done, you’ve paid your debt to society. Unfortunately, this is one of the basic concepts that’s been bastardized, as reflected in sex offender registries. When the dude who suffers is on the list of favored folk, then it’s remembered. When not, then it’s rationalized away. For some of us, it has always been a core belief. Without it, there is no legitimate justification for the prosecution of crime or the imposition of sentence. If conviction means life in every instance, then the system is a farce. That may be fine with you, but not with me.
Last week, Mr. Betts got a letter saying as much, referring him to Article VI of the Bar Examining Committee’s regulations, which states that “a record manifesting a significant deficiency in the honesty, trustworthiness, diligence or reliability of an applicant may constitute a basis for denial of admission.” A committee composed of judges and lawyers is now reviewing whether Mr. Betts is of “good moral character.” Because he is a former felon, there isn’t a presumption of fitness to practice law. He has to prove it with “clear and convincing evidence.”
It’s not unfair that a former felon is held to stricter standards. What is unfair is that he’s held to impossible standards. If Dwayne Betts hasn’t proven, in spades, that he’s not only of “good moral character,” but far better moral character than many of the scumbags populating the bar, then there is no hope for the “honesty, trustworthiness, diligence or reliability” of applicants.
Before the advent of social media, I believed that most lawyers possessed integrity. Some were smarter than others. Some had better skills (often far better). A few were dangerously inept, and there was a small group that was plain old dishonest. I was wrong. I see a great many liars these days, some in furtherance of their good intentions, some just scammers out for a buck. The legal profession is not the bastion of integrity I believed. It can be lazy, self-serving and full of shit. I expect it to get worse, as circle jerks validate the lies they tell themselves to justify their feelz.
But Dwayne Betts isn’t deemed worthy of joining this cabal of intellectual midgets and integrity-challenged scoundrels? If anybody has suffered through the dark side of life to come out shining, it’s Dwayne Betts. Like Shon Hopwood. Like David Powers.
Not only have these individuals earned their place in the bar, not only will the profession be far better with them, but the much harder question is what the legal profession has done to deserve people like this, who have actually experienced the dark side, fought their way out of it, and returned to make the profession better. The mopes who got a pass because nobody caught them and wrap themselves up in pompous self-righteousness are lawyers. Yet the people who fought to overcome adversity get treated like unworthy pariahs. It’s nuts.
Connecticut Bar, admit Dwayne Betts. You don’t deserve him, but he has graced you with his willingness to join. You should kiss his ass for doing so, as he’s better than you deserve.