Raise the Bar

by The West Virginia Record |
Sep. 14, 2007, 8:58am

It may be hard to believe as much from the antics you read about regularly on these pages, but everybody doesn't have what it takes to be a lawyer in West Virginia.

The Bar has standards, and for good reason.

Shameless self-promotion aside, lawyers aren't really special people. But they do have special powers. In the wrong hands, those ever in the crosshairs can attest, they can be devastating.

That's reason enough for the Supreme Court to reject wannabe lawyer Michael Mounts from practicing in the Mountain State.

Mounts, as reported last week by our Steve Korris, has a "checkered past" that includes a charge for civil assault and another order for being in contempt of a Maryland court. He also lost his job -- twice -- for lying, once while providing sworn testimony at a murder trial.

But none of this stopped Mounts from getting his law degree. In 2004, he graduated from Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., about 70 miles west of Bluefield. Ever since, he's been fighting to start a law practice here, to no avail.

The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, which "evaluates educational background, credentials, character and fitness and competence of each applicant for admission to the practice of law in West Virginia," examined Mounts in 2005 but rejected him.

The Board found Mounts displayed "a pattern of dishonesty, misconduct and lack of candor."

Mounts, for his part, refuses to acknowledge much of the bad, arguing alternately that these transgressions never happened and/or they were a misunderstanding.

"Mr. Mounts does not claim to be lovable," he asserted.

And lawyers don't have to be. But in this period of endless jokes and so much general disdain for the law's practitioners, it would help for all of our sake that they at least were credible.

When entrusting a man with subpoena power, or the formidable ability to file suit on another's behalf, it isn't advanced education that works to protect the public from harassing frivolity and abuse. It's morality.

This state doesn't need more lawyers. It needs more ethical ones.

Mr. Mounts surely has a right to redeem himself for past mistakes. But West Virginia isn't obligated to let him do so as an officer of its judicial system.

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