A lawyer with a "lengthy criminal history" (preceding his admission to the New York Bar) was denied a photo identification card--a "Secure Pass"--which would have allowed him to bypass security checkpoints at various New York State courthouses. Apparently, this particular attorney had a record of 17 arrests for "robbery, assault, coercion, forgery (of the signature of two judges on court orders), criminal trespass and theft of services." Since this record suggested a "security risk," the Office of Court Administration (OCA) denied the lawyer a Secure Pass. In response to the denial, the attorney argued that his prior conduct had been triggered by "an untreated mental illness" from which the applicant had "recovered and remain[s] in remission."
When OCA adhered to the initial denial (and did not respond to subsequent submissions), the lawyer commenced suit in the New York County Supreme Court alleging OCA's refusal to issue the pass violated the New York State Human Rights Law and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although a Supreme Court Justice agreed with the lawyer's arguments, after an appeal, the Appellate Division, First Department, reversed.
In an interestingly worded decision, the appellate court examined OCA's "Secure Pass" eligibility requirements and procedures which include searches of public records for an applicant's criminal history (including vehicle and traffic violations). If an individual's history reflects "a propensity for violence or dishonesty," the application is denied. (Of course, this outcome does not preclude the individual from entering a courthouse. It only prevents one from bypassing security checkpoints.)
Notwithstanding the applicant's explanation for his criminal history and prior conduct, the Appellate Division determined that OCA was "not required to compromise its essential eligibility criteria for the Secure Pass program." Rather than end there, the court concluded with a series of statements that some have characterized as "insensitive" and "insulting." First, the court noted as follows:
Nor, in any event, contrary to Supreme Court's determination, can petitioner show that he "will not in the future" pose a threat to courthouse security. While his paranoid schizophrenia is in remission, with an excellent long-term prognosis as long as he remains compliant with his medication and therapy regimen, he still has the condition--undisputedly a chronic one--and there is always a possibility that his symptoms will recur...The psychiatric opinions relied upon by petitioner and, in turn, Supreme Court are based on the assumption that petitioner will stay on his medication and continue his treatment. Since petitioner is not under constant care and confinement, the risk that he will not continue taking his medication or continue in his treatment is, in the context of courthouse security, unacceptable and unreasonable.Amazingly, although the attorney was found to have had the requisite "character and fitness" to practice law (based on the identical history that preceded his application for the "Secure Pass"), the Appellate Division believed that the applicant posed an ongoing "security risk" to the courts.
Of course, this outcome begs the obvious question: Why is someone who poses a "security risk" to judges and court personnel suitable for admission to the bar? In view of the "possibility" of relapse, shouldn't we be extending comparable protections to the public-at-large, and disallowing admission to those with "a criminal history of violence and dishonesty?"
We are unable to comprehend the court's logic in this particular instance and are at a loss to justify the conclusions reached. Can you?
For a copy of the Appellate Division's decision in Matter of Munsiff v. Office of Court Administration, please click on the following link: