Foreign lawyers can be banned from exam

The Associated Press

July 4, 2003

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme Court has the right to make the state bar exam off limits to foreign lawyers temporarily living in the United States, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey rejected a March lawsuit filed by four foreign-trained lawyers working as paralegals in New Orleans. They had sought a ruling saying the Supreme Court rule that keeps them from taking the attorney admissions test violates the U.S. Constitution.

The judge also rejected an argument from a Canadian lawyer that Louisiana’s ban is in violation of the 1992 North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Canada.

French citizens Karen Leclerc, Guillaume Jarry and Beatrice Boulord, along with Canadian Maureen Affleck, all graduates of law schools in their home countries, brought the case in hopes of being able to take the bar examination this month.

In his ruling Wednesday, Zainey sided with the Supreme Court on the question of limiting eligibility for the test to U.S. citizens or resident aliens, and foreign-trained lawyers who are permanent U.S. residents.

Zainey noted that during a hearing on the case, lawyers representing the state Supreme Court’s members “pointed out the near impossibility of tracking down client files, evidence, etc., should a non-resident alien be forced to leave the United States on unfavorable and sudden terms.”

The judge also wrote that the Supreme Court “would lack any type of disciplinary recourse against an alien lawyer once deported outside of any state bar’s jurisdiction.”

Affleck had argued that she should be considered a special category of nonresident alien and allowed to take the bar because, as a Canadian, she falls under the United States’ NAFTA terms with Canada. NAFTA allows for relaxed passage of professionals between the two countries.

Zainey found her argument “wholly uncompelling,” partly because her visa was issued in connection with her husband’s visa, which he received as a worker with specialized knowledge transferred to work in the United States.

Louis Koerner, who represented the plaintiffs, has said Louisiana is the only state with a ban on nonresident aliens taking the bar. Nonresident aliens can take the Michigan state bar, but may not practice law.

Koerner was traveling Thursday and unavailable to comment on Zainey’s ruling.

The lawsuit also had questioned whether the state Supreme Court’s revisions of its rules was related to the success of foreign-born lawyers who now practice in Louisiana, such as Clive Stafford-Smith, who is active in death penalty cases. The ruling does not directly affect Stafford-Smith, a native of Britain, because he is now a U.S. citizen.

But he called Zainey’s ruling “a tragedy for indigent people in Louisiana” who need legal help.

“It’s hard to understand why, given the lack of resources we have for poor people, why we would look a gift horse in the mouth when other people are willing to help us,” Stafford-Smith said.