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Law school graduate’s case won’t be heard

November 17, 2017

A federal judge has reaffirmed his decision not to hear a law school graduate’s case against the members of the Indiana Board of Law Examiners, declining to grant a motion for reconsideration based on a finding that the board’s proceedings against him were not in bad faith.

Judge William T. Lawrence of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana  initially dismissed Mark A. Brooks-Albrechtsen’s claim against the BLE in January, finding that precedent from the case of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, prohibited him from hearing ongoing state proceedings regarding whether Brooks-Albrechtsen can sit for the bar. The plaintiff, who moved from Ohio to Indiana and failed the July 2015 bar exam, was called before the BLE after his application for the February 2016 exam listed him as self-employed at Albrechtsen Law, LLC.

According to Lawrence’s Friday order in the case, the board was concerned Brooks-Albrechtsen was improperly working as a certified legal intern. Under Admission and Discipline Rule 2.1 Section 2(b), law school graduates can only work as a legal intern from the date of their graduation until they take and learn the results of the first bar exam they are eligible to sit for.

But according to Brooks-Albrechtsen, the board did not provide him with specific reasons as to why he was called in for a hearing.  But the BLE disagreed and prohibited him from reapplying to the bar until February 2018.

Although Lawrence dismissed Brooks-Albrechtsen’s amended complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction in January, he let stand two claims regarding the constitutionality of the Indiana bar exam and of Rule 2.1 Lawrence also dismissed all defendants other than the state.

Brooks-Albrechtsen responded with a motion to reconsider and voluntarily dismissed his claims relating to the constitutionality of the bar. Lawrence agreed to hold a hearing on the issue of whether the BLE’s proceedings were conducted in bad faith, a question that, if proven, would defeat the required Younger abstentions.

At the Oct. 26 hearing, Brooks-Albrechtsen alleged the BLE was leaving him “in limbo” by failing to issue a final action or failing to provide him notice of that action. Without that notice, he is unable to seek judicial review with the Indiana Supreme Court.

However, the state alleged that after a subsequent June 30 hearing – for which Brooks-Albrechtsen failed to appear – the BLE determined the plaintiff should not be permitted to re-apply for admission to the Indiana bar until February 2021. The state further alleged it had tried on multiple occasions to send notice of that decision to Brooks-Albrechtsen via email and mail, but received failure to send notices for every email. One attempt at mailing the notice was returned to the board, while two other attempts were met without the requested return receipt.

Based on that evidence, Lawrence determined the board did not withhold a final action or a notice of such action and, thus, did not act in bad faith.

“Moreover, the Board attempted to provide this information to the Plaintiff by mail and electronic communication the following day and again by various means four additional times thereafter,” Lawrence wrote. “The Board’s attempt to provide the Plaintiff with notice show that it was not acting in bad faith.”

Further, though Brooks-Albrechtsen should have filed for review of the BLE’s decision within 20 days, he claimed he did not receive the decision until shortly before the hearing, so he did not file that motion until Oct. 30. Because that matter is still pending before the Supreme Court, Lawrence ruled the Younger doctrine still requires him to abstain from hearing the instant case and, thus, denied the motion for reconsideration.

Lawrence also dismissed all other claims included in Brooks-Albrechtsen’s third amended complaint, except for his allegation that section 2(b) of Rule 2.1 is unconstitutional. The judge entered judgment as a matter of law in favor of the state on that claim, finding the requirements for being a certified legal intern are a permissible method of regulating the quality of the state’s legal practice.

The case is Mark A. Brooks-Albrechtsen v. State of Indiana et rel Indiana Supreme Court, et al., 1:16-cv-391.

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