A Madison attorney who was denied access to the names and addresses of people who took the Wisconsin bar exam in July is arguing the information should be public record.
Steve Levine on Wednesday petitioned the state Supreme Court to force the Board of Bar Examiners to conform to Wisconsin’s open records law.
“I want to survey all the people who took the exam, something which the BBE has never done,” Levine said, “and ask them about the quality of the exam and the whole admission process.”
But the board keeps that information confidential primarily to prevent embarrassment for those who don’t pass, BBE Chairman Dan Blinka said. He said typically between 10 and 20 percent of those who take the exam fail.
There were 209 people who took the bar exam in July, of which 177, or 85 percent, passed.
“We’re not going to disclose,” Blinka said, when the request violates the privacy and confidentiality of test takers. “Especially if they’ve not been given any notice as to the possibility that this data could be made public.”
Levine said his goal in seeking the information isn’t to expose anyone who failed the exam. Rather, he said, the feedback could lead to developing an advocacy group that promotes ways to improve how the test is administered.
“If someone did respond who failed, I’d want to know why,” Levine said. “Was it because they didn’t have money to take a bar review course or they were working a full-time job while studying?”
According to a brief letter from BBE Executive Director Jacquelynn Rothstein to Levine dated Sept. 30, the BBE board voted Sept. 23 to deny the request because it violates Supreme Court Rule 40.12.
According to the rule, the application files of an applicant and all examination materials are confidential. However, the rule also lets the Supreme Court or the board authorize the release of confidential information to other persons or agencies.
Rothstein said the BBE was advised in 2006 that the organization is not subject to the state’s open meetings requirements.
Blinka said the BBE will review Levine’s petition at its next meeting Jan. 20.
Given the discretionary nature of the process, Levine said, there is no legitimate reason to deny access to the contact information of those who sit for the bar exam.
“It’s ironic that all other professionals regulated by the state have to abide by open records and open meetings law,” he said, “but the board regulating lawyers can’t or won’t abide. To me that kind of says, ‘Lawyers are better than everyone else and don’t have to follow the law.’”