Thu, Feb. 27

Discrimination is OK, as long as it is against out-of-state lawyers

PHOENIX -- Arizona has a legal right to discriminate against attorneys from other states who do not let lawyers from here automatically practice there, a federal appeals court ruled.

The judges rejected arguments by attorneys from California and Montana that it is unfair to require them to take the Uniform Bar Exam to represent clients in Arizona courts when they already are authorized to practice law in their home states. And the court said the fact that the Arizona Supreme Court does not require a bar exam from attorneys from other states does not make the practice illegal.

The legal fight surrounds the fact that Arizona made it easier for some out-of-state lawyers to practice here when it created a system of reciprocal licensing. If Arizona lawyers can practice in other states, Arizona will let those states' attorneys practice here.

There are some requirements, like a background check and fingerprinting. Attorneys must also have actively practiced for five of the last seven years and take a one-day crash course on Arizona rules and laws.

But attorneys from non-reciprocity states have to take the full-blown, two-day bar examination, which requires extensive preparation and a delay while waiting to find out if there was a passing score.

Appellate Judge Milan Smith Jr., writing for the three-judge appellate panel, acknowledged the different treatment but said it is justified.

He said the rule helps the state regulate its lawyers. And Smith said the U.S. Supreme Court has given states wide latitude in that area.

"Moreover, by honoring reciprocal bar requirements, the state of Arizona helps to ensure that its attorneys are treated equally in other states,' the judge wrote. He said states which have such agreements with Arizona will continue to let lawyers from here practice there "because members of the bar in those states are eligible for reciprocal privileges in Arizona.'

The appellate court rejected claims by the two attorneys that excluding them amounts to illegal discrimination.

Smith it's not like these attorneys and others in similar circumstances are being forbidden from practicing law in Arizona. He said they have an option: Pass the bar exam.

Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.

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