National Roundup


State Supreme Court OKs dropping bar exam for alternatives
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court has OK’d a proposal that would give would-be lawyers the option to skip the bar exam and instead become licensed to practice law through experience or supervision. 
The state’s highest court in a unanimous vote “expressed approval in concept” to a pair of alternative pathways designed for law students and postgraduates seeking admittance to the state bar, according to draft minutes from the court’s Tuesday business meeting.

The court disbanded a previous task force and ordered the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners to convene new committees to further develop the proposals, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

“I anticipate these two pathways will be more rigorous than the current bar exam,” said Brian Gallini, dean of the Willamette University College of Law and a backer of the project since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Oregon to allow 2020 graduates from the state’s three law schools to skip the exam.

Gallini said one proposed alternative would allow Oregon law school students to become licensed attorneys after completing a standard curriculum and likely a capstone project.

The other proposed alternative is tailored for out-of-state applicants and would require would-be lawyers to spend 1,000 to 1,500 hours with a licensed Oregon attorney.

Many attorneys-in-training would likely continue to take the arduous bar test, as students who score high enough on the uniform exam can be admitted to practice law anywhere.

But the alternatives, if finalized and implemented, would make Oregon a relative rarity, according to Joanna Perini-Abbott, outgoing chair of the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners.

New Hampshire and Wisconsin are the only states allowing law student apprenticeships in lieu of passing the bar, according to Bloomberg Law. Other states are studying the idea.

“We’re not lowering the bar to become a lawyer,” Perini-Abbott said. “We feel there are other ways that someone can demonstrate that they are competent to practice law.”

Perini-Abbott said the Board of Bar Examiners’ committees will begin drafting proposals for the two programs and will report back to the Oregon Supreme Court in six months at the earliest.

2 plead guilty to submitting fake COVID-19 loan applications
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A former Virginia couple has pleaded guilty to submitting at least 40 fake loan applications totaling more than $5.1 million connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Malik Mitchum, 26, and Jenna Mitchum, 25, worked to obtain Small Business Administration-sponsored Economic Injury Disaster loans and Paycheck Protection Program loans, a news release said on Wednesday.

Prosecutors said the Mitchums falsely claimed that they were owners of at least five small businesses, when Malik Mitchum was actually a junior enlisted member of the U.S. Air Force and Jenna Mitchum was unemployed. Between March 2020 and May 2021, Malik and Jenna Mitchum submitted at least 19 fraudulent applications for pandemic-related loan benefits. They are also linked to more than 20 other fraudulent loan applications by the IP address used to submit the applications or wire transfers, the news release said.

Prosecutors said the Mitchums spent much of the money on luxury purchases, like a Rolex watch worth nearly $39,000.

Malik and Jenna Mitchum pleaded guilty on Wednesday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution. They face up to 30 years in prison when they are sentenced on July 29, the news release said.
Navient settles predatory student loan claims for $1.85B
Navient, a large student loan servicer, has settled allegations of predatory lending practices for $1.85 billion, Pennsylvania’s attorney general announced Thursday.
The settlement includes $1.7 billion in debt cancellation and $95 million in restitution, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a news release.

“Navient repeatedly and deliberately put profits ahead of its borrowers – it engaged in deceptive and abusive practices, targeted students who it knew would struggle to pay loans back, and placed an unfair burden on people trying to improve their lives through education,” Shapiro said in the release.

The settlement involves 39 state attorneys general and resolves claims that Navient led student borrowers into long-term forbearances instead of giving them advice on less costly repayment plans, Shapiro said.

Navient said it did not act illegally, and it did not admit any fault in the settlement, The New York Times reported.

“The company’s decision to resolve these matters, which were based on unfounded claims, allows us to avoid the additional burden, expense, time and distraction to prevail in court,” Mark Heleen, Navient’s chief legal officer said, according to the Times.
Court can consider death row inmate’s juror bias claims
CINCINNATI (AP) — The claims of juror bias by an Ohio death row inmate who killed two girls in a robbery including a 3-year-old can be further explored, a divided federal appeals court ruled.

At issue before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was an appeal by Jeronique Cunningham, sentenced to die for the killing of two girls, ages 3 and 17, during a 2002 drug-related robbery in Lima. His brother also was convicted and sentenced to death.

Attorneys for the 49-year-old Cunningham have long argued that a juror reportedly felt pressured to convict him because the jury forewoman said she knew the victims’ families.

By a 2-1 vote, an appeals court panel said this week that a lower court judge can conduct a hearing to weigh two juror bias claims. The first is that the jury foreperson’s colleagues at the county’s children-services agency improperly relayed external information about Cunningham to her, and the second is that this juror’s relationship with the victims’ families affected the jury’s impartiality.

Judge Raymond Kethledge dissented, saying previous court rulings and legal precedent prohibited a review of those claims.