From jail to Yale: Felon faces scru­tiny to be lawyer

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

HART­FORD, Con­necti­cut — A felon who grad­u­ated from Yale Law School and won ac­claim as a poet is be­ing asked by a com­mit­tee to prove his “good moral char­ac­ter” be­fore he is al­lowed to prac­tice law.

Regi­nald Betts passed the state bar exam in February, but a panel of judges and lawyers that de­cides who joins the state bar flagged his file be­cause of three felony con­vic­tions for a car­jack­ing he com­mit­ted two decades ago as a teenager.

The Con­necti­cut Bar Ex­am­in­ing Com­mit­tee will in­vesti- gate and hold a hear­ing on Betts’ bid for ad­mis­sion to the bar. Like most states, Con­necti­cut does not pro­hibit felons from be­com­ing at­tor­neys, but a felony con­vic­tion cre­ates a pre­sump­tion that the ap­pli­cant lacks “good moral char­ac­ter and/or fit­ness to prac­tice law.” Such ap­pli­cants must prove oth­er­wise by “clear and con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence.”.

A lawyer for Betts, Wil­liam Dow III, said peo­ple from many walks of life who know Betts have in­di­cated they are will­ing to sup­port him and tes- tify on his be­half if nec­es­sary in the Bar Ex­am­in­ing Com­mit­tee pro­ceed­ings.

“It’s an honor to rep­re­sent this young man,” Dow said. “He has a re­sume that is ab­so­lutely breath­tak­ing. He per­son­i­fies what peo­ple talk about when they speak of sec­ond chances.”

Betts, 36, de­clined to com­ment. Bar Ex­am­in­ing Com­mit­tee of­fi­cials also de­clined to com­ment on Betts, say­ing the re­view process is con­fi­den­tial.

Betts grew up in Suit­land, Mary­land, near Wash­ing­ton, and was con­victed of a car- jack­ing at a Vir­ginia mall when he was 16. He served eight years in prison. He went on to grad­u­ate from the Univer­sity of Mary­land, win a Har­vard Univer­sity fel­low­ship and earn a Yale law de­gree.

Along the way, he has writ­ten two books of po­etry that re­ceived good re­views from me­dia crit­ics. A third book, A Ques­tion of Free­dom: A Mem­oir of Learn­ing, Sur­vival, and Com­ing of Age in Prison, won a 2010 NAACP Im­age Award.

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