In the Matter of Alejandro Lazcano (1/8/10)

This ruling on an application for admission to the bar is one of those when-can-criminals-become-lawyers cases.

Lazcano was charged with burglary and sexual assault while in college in 2002.  He pled no contest to attempted sexual assault and, under a Texas procedure called “deferred adjudication,” was given ten years probation and community service and registered as a sex offender. In 2008 – having while on probation gone to law school, graduated, and passed the Arizona bar exam – Lazcano applied to become a lawyer.

To join our bar a convicted felon must show his rehabilitation by clear and convincing evidence. Rehabilitation means that he accepts responsibility for his crime and has “identified and overcome the weakness” that led to it. So, to prove his rehabilitation to the Character and Fitness Committee Lazcano explained that a terrible mistake one drunken night was that of a foolish youth, for which the mature and remorseful man sought genuinely to atone by committing his life to the law – right? Not quite. Instead, he used the “she wanted it” defense.

And the Committee bought it. It decided – based, it seems, on what Lazcano told it and on his interpretation of a police report – that “the initial report of non-consensual sexual relations may not be reliable.” It recommended that Lazcano be admitted.

So, the court had to tell the Committee that its job was not to re-try criminals. “The Committee should instead accept that the defendant has been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, either by verdict or plea.” 

The court then decided that “individuals currently on Texas deferred adjudication are not eligible for admission to the Arizona State Bar until they have completed their probationary term and can demonstrate complete rehabilitation.” People on probation can’t become lawyers (at least generally, it seems, although the holding here applies only to “Texas deferred adjudication”), people who are already lawyers would be suspended if they copped the plea Lazcano did, and public confidence in lawyers’ “exemplary moral character” might be just a teensy bit compromised by letting in a registered sex offender on probation. As soon as his probation is up, though, he can try again.

We don’t know Mr. Lazcano and we trust that, regardless of his past, he is in fact a fine fellow. In any event, if it were true that only those of “exemplary moral character” could become lawyers then some of the cases cited in this opinion would have had different outcomes. What we can’t explain is how the Character and Fitness Committee – which is supposed to have on it not only lawyers but also sensible people – could decide that a fellow on probation can become a lawyer by denying his crime, and that a plausible denial can be based on half the evidence.