Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Court Rules Quadriplegic Student May Be Seated for Bar Exam
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday issued an order for the State Bar to permit a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic law school graduate to be seated today for the bar examination.
Sara M. Granda, a recent graduate of the U.C. Davis Law School, requested and obtained special accommodations for the exam, but according to the State Bar, she never submitted the statutorily required application for the test itself.
As Business and Professions Code Sec. 6060.3(b)(3) provides that an application filed “after June 15 for the July examination shall not be accepted,” the State Bar asserted in a release yesterday that it was “powerless to make an exception” pardoning Granda’s alleged non-compliance.
But it said that the Supreme Court could override the statutory deadline through its inherent authority over the admission to practice law in California, and yesterday filed a request for guidance with the high court and said that it would not oppose an order for Granda to take the exam.
Sacramento attorney Stewart Katz, who is representing Granda, said he was “a little contemptuous” of the State Bar’s move, as the organization had “no interest in resolving the matter” previously and “all of a sudden now they need guidance.”
“It’s just unfortunate they can’t get guidance for moral competence,” he complained. “This entire situation was avoidable.”
Katz filed an action for relief on behalf of Granda in federal court last Wednesday, but U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. of the Eastern District of California Friday declined to issue a restraining order to prohibit the State Bar from preventing Granda from taking the test.
He said he had filed a motion for writ relief with the California Supreme Court yesterday as well and that his client was at home in Davis yesterday “doing some last minute bar review” in hopes of being seated today.
Granda was paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 17 in a 1997 car crash. According to court documents from a lawsuit based on the accident, Granda lost control of her 1989 Ford Escort while over-correcting the drifting car and it rolled several times.
She sued Ford Motor Company and the Bergen Tire Company for strict product liability and negligence, then settled her claim against Bergen but lost at trial against Ford. The Third District Court of Appeal upheld the judgment in an unpublished 2004 decision.
Although the accident left her without use of her arms and legs and dependent on a ventilator to breathe, Granda went on to earn her undergraduate and master’s degrees from California State University, Sacramento and her law degree from U.C. Davis.
The state Department of Rehabilitation footed the bill for her education, including $4,700 for bar exam preparation courses. In its filing with the Supreme Court yesterday, the State Bar said that Granda apparently expected the state to pay her $600 exam application fee but that it had no record of receiving payment.
It noted that Granda had elected to file her application online and that online applications must be accompanied by credit-card payments in order to be processed.
However, Katz insisted that the state had already paid her application fee, as Granda does not have a credit card, subsists on Supplemental Security Income payments, and the fee would be more than “all the money she had in the world.”
Katz argued that the application “is about where and when you’re taking the exam” and that the State Bar “already knew that” about Granda, so the paperwork was “repetitive” and “unnecessary.”
Yesterday’s order directed the State Bar to permit Granda to take the exam provisionally, subject to her filing a complete application before Sept. 1 and compliance with all other requirements for admission to practice.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had issued a statement calling on the State Bar to allow Granda to be seated, issued a statement yesterday that he was “pleased to hear that Sara will not be penalized by a simple bureaucratic error that would have postponed years of hard work and created many more months of anticipation,” praising Granda as “an inspiration” for having “overcome much in her life” and wishing her luck on the exam.
The State Bar also issued a statement following yesterday’s ruling that it was “pleased that the Supreme Court has provided the guidance that will permit Ms. Granda to take the bar exam” and promising to seat her and making all previously agreed to disability accomodations available to her.
The case is Granda v. State Bar of California, S174922.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company