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Ex-Felon Turned Good Samaritan Seeks Admission to Connecticut Bar

It might be a bit of a far cry from Arlo Guthrie being asked if he'd rehabilitated himself after being a litterbug so that he could be drafted into the Vietnam War, but Reginald Betts, an ex-con like the most famous Guthrie, is being asked to prove his good moral character in order to be admitted to the state bar of Connecticut.

You see, Mr. Betts was convicted of something quite a bit worse than being a litterbug, and rather than being drafted, he is seeking to become a licensed attorney. However, Connecticut, like every other state, imposes that pesky moral character and fitness requirement, and if you have a conviction history, it can often be an insurmountable hurdle.

A Question of Character

When it comes to the question of good moral character, a person's past can often be hard to look past. In fact, in three states, Texas, Mississippi, and Kansas, there is an outright blanket ban on former felonies getting licensed by those state's bar associations.

Fortunately for Mr. Betts, Connecticut does allow former felons to be admitted to the practice of law, however, it requires a moral character and fitness hearing to confirm rehabilitation and good character. As the chairperson of the examining committee explained, "it's not an automatic disqualifier." If a person is rehabilitated, and can prove such to the committee, they will be admitted.

Fairness for Felons

Since the purpose of state bar's moral character requirements are generally to protect the public from individuals that might abuse their professional status, imposing restrictions on convicted felons, particularly those convicted of fraud crimes, seems to make sense. Though the blanket bans are likely excessive, imposing an additional requirement of a moral character hearing provides a reasonable and prudent safeguard.

For Mr. Betts, it seems all but assured that he will be admitted. After all, he has more than just served his time for a crime he committed while only 16 years old, he has proven himself to be a pillar of the community, graduated from Yale, passed the state's bar exam, and was even awarded, in 2010, with an NAACP Image Award for his non-fiction memoir.

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