We appreciate that parents generally want to help out their kids, even adult kids, during challenging times.
That may be why Louisiana Supreme Court Justice John Weimer cast a deciding vote in the court’s 4-3 decision to grant some new law school graduates “diploma privilege” — basically the right to practice without passing the bar exam, which was canceled last month due to logistical difficulties caused by coronavirus pandemic-driven restrictions. Weimer’s daughter, it turns out, is one of the new graduates who will be able to embark on her legal career without jumping through this traditional, notoriously grueling hoop.
Or, it may not be why Weimer joined Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, Justice Scott Crichton and retired judge James Boddie in supporting the decision. It may not be why he declined to join dissenting Justices Will Crain, Jimmy Genovese and Jefferson Hughes III. Among their arguments: that the granting of diploma privilege is an overreaction, one that goes beyond even what the court allowed following Hurricane Katrina, and that it puts citizens at risk of incompetent representation. Last year, one fourth of the Louisiana law graduates who took the exam failed.
The fact that we’re left to wonder is reason enough that Weimer should have recused himself — or at the least, formally disclosed his potential conflict.
The decision doesn’t apply to all recent law school grads, just those who have graduated from ABA-accredited school since December 2019, were registered for the July or October 2020 bar exams, and have never before taken the bar exam in Louisiana or elsewhere. Lawyers granted diploma privilege status must still pass character and fitness and professional responsibility exams, and complete 25 hours of continuing legal education and a “transition to practice” program. But they’ll never need to pass the bar, which is something any former law student who spent months studying and worrying must envy.
Weimer said in a statement that his vote was not affected by personal considerations, and that he “disclosed the fact my daughter is a law school graduate to anyone I spoke to regarding the exam.” The statement did not say with whom he had spoken.
His stance doesn’t make him an outlier; local law deans agree that this was the proper course under the circumstances. It does, however, raise the question of whether he made the decision fully on its merits or whether heartstrings played a role.
Face it, the high court doesn’t exactly have the best record of overseeing the legal profession. Reporting from this paper shows that it almost never disciplines judges, for instance, and that the process for evaluating complaints was long shrouded in secrecy, although that's starting to change.
Weimer’s participation in the decision doesn’t reflect on his daughter, or anyone else in her cohort. As the law deans said, they did what was asked of them. But it does once more cast doubt over the court’s judgment — which, for the reputation of the state’s legal system, is worse.