Here is a link to a story in the New York Times about a former bank robber who became a "jailhouse lawyer" (an inmate who prepares petitions for other inmates) and is now applying to law school. Let's assume he gets accepted, graduates and passes the bar, should he be allowed to practice law? Should he be approved by the "character and fitness" authorities?
This is an interesting question in and of itself, but here in Illinois it is even more interesting given the approach taken by the Supreme Court in the famous (or infamous) Matthew Hale case. As you may remember, in that case, the court refused to hear Hale's appeal after he was denied admission by the C & F committee because of his racist views.
One question raised by the only dissnting judge in the Hale case was whether it was proper for the committee to deny admission when the candidate had not engaged in conduct that would get a practicing lawyer disciplined. Given that the court denied review, the question was never answered.
Now, let's go back to the bank robber's case. It is pretty obvious that a practicing lawyer who is convicted of robbery would be disbarred. (Go here for such a case.) So, based on that alone, you'd think that the bank robber would not pass the C&F review.
But then there is the question of whether we should consider what has happened since the conviction. Should we recognize that it is possible for people to be rehabilitated, to have the necessary good character now even if they didn't at some point in the past?, etc.
The character and fitness review process is based on the notion that we can have a good idea of how people will act in the future by examining what they have done in the past. Many would argue that this is debatable, or that, at the very least, it is something to be decided on a case by case basis.
So, we don't admit racists to practice law; should we admit a convicted (presumably rehabilitated) bank robber?
I saw this story in the Legal Ethics Forum. Go here to read the comments.