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High court proposing appeals process for bar-exam accommodations

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is proposing a rule change meant to improve the structure of the process that bar applicants with disabilities go through to request special accommodations when they take the state’s bar exam.

The court recently filed a rules-change petition that would expand upon its current policies and rules. Among other things, the court’s rules require the Board of Bar Examiners, the 11-member body that administers the bar exam, to accept requests for special accommodations until Dec. 1 in any given year for the February exam and until May 1 for the July exam. The BBE may also reject requests made after those deadlines or requests not made in writing. Sometimes, the BBE may pay a medical expert to review a request.

However, the current rules do not spell out a process applicants may use to appeal the BBE’s decisions on their requests.

Therefore, the justices are proposing setting up an appeals process for applicants whose requests are either denied or substantially modified by the BBE. The new process would, among other things, mean that applicants would have to file requests sooner: by Oct. 1 for the February exam and March 1 for the July exam.

The justices’ proposal would give applicants seven business days to appeal an adverse decision or modification. A hearing before the BBE’s chair or a board member would have to be scheduled seven business days after that appeal is received. Should an applicant be unhappy with the resulting decision, he can choose to petition the Wisconsin Supreme Court for an expedited appeal.

Should the appeals process not be complete before the BBE gives the bar exam, an applicant would have an option to either defer testing without penalty to the next bar exam or sit for the bar exam under the terms allowed by the BBE and reserve the right to seek a review of a decision until after the bar exam has been taken. If an applicant were to sit for the bar exam, fail, appeal and be awarded the accommodations the applicant had originally sought, he would get a refund of the bar-exam fee.

In a memorandum accompanying the petition, the justices noted that other states, such as New York and Minnesota, all have similar appeals processes.

The justices have not yet scheduled a public hearing on the petition.

About Erika Strebel, [email protected]

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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