Yes, ah say yes, it is.
Sorry about the bad Foghorn Leghorn impersonation. I had to do a bad Foghorn Leghorn impersonation, because I can’t do a good Foghorn Leghorn impersonation. And, I had to say, “Yes,” twice, as there were two major legal mistakes in those first five minutes.
In those first five minutes, a flashback introduced us to Aaron Wallace, a black nightclub owner in New York City who was framed for drug possession. He was convicted of a crime that neither he nor a one-armed man committed and sentenced to prison.
The show then jumped nine years to the present. Aaron was now an attorney arguing a motion for a new trial in his first case. And arguing it against Assistant District Attorney Dez O’Reilly, the same ADA who prosecuted Aaron and who didn’t know his opposing counsel was Aaron Wallace until he saw Aaron in the courtroom.
Then the show quantum leaped back into another flashback that revealed Aaron hasn’t been released from prison. He is appearing as a lawyer even though he’s still serving a life sentence.
Then the show, which was jumping around more than a five-year-old in a bouncy castle, came back to the present for a conversation between O’Reilly and his boss District Attorney Glen Maskins to explain how Aaron became a licensed attorney.
Aaron worked for the prison’s paralegal association helping other inmates with their internal prison legal matters. This got him unlimited access to the prison law library and computers, which he used to attend then graduate from first an online college and then an online law school. Aaron took the Vermont bar, because it was the only state that allowed someone with a degree from an unaccredited law school to take it’s bar. Then Aaron successfully applied to have his Vermont law license accepted reciprocally in New York.
Which brings us up to the five minute and two seconds mark of the show. Okay, I lied, it was five minutes and two seconds. So sue me, maybe you can get Aaron to take the case.
What’s wrong with that picture? Let’s start with ADA O’Reilly having no idea who his opposing counsel was until he saw Aaron in the courtroom.
Legal pleadings have a service clause, a paragraph in which the attorney who filed the pleading swears a copy of the pleading was served upon opposing counsel. It also includes the attorney’s address so opposing counsel can serve their responsive pleading. Aaron’s name and address, Bellmore prison, was clearly on display for O’Reilly to see. Unless O’Reilly didn’t read the motion before appearing in court to argue it, he should have seen Aaron’s name and address.
The show tried to explain why he didn’t see Aaron’s name. The ADA originally assigned to the new trial motion hearing went to the hospital when his wife had gone into labor, so the motion was only given to O’Reilly thirty minutes earlier. But that excuse, like a napkin in a deli, won’t cut the mustard.
If Dez O’Reilly was going to go argue against a motion he only received thirty minutes earlier, the first thing he’d do is read the motion. After all, he would need to see what arguments the motion made so he’d know what counter arguments to make. And when he read the motion, he would have seen Aaron’s name and address. Reading the motion is the first thing I would have done. But what do I know? I was merely a practicing attorney for 28 years, I didn’t play one on TV.
But that mistake, like a side of tots, is small potatoes. We’ve got bigger spuds to fry: The fact that Aaron is a licensed attorney in New York.
Ex-cons can become licensed attorneys and practice law. Isaac Wright, Jr., the real-life person whose story inspired For Life, did. While he was serving his sentence, Mr. Wright, with the help of a licensed attorney, got all the charges against him dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct. After he was released, Wright graduated college, then law school, and became an attorney. It took him more than a decade, but he did it.
Aaron took a shortcut. He managed to become a licensed attorney without first getting the charges against him dismissed. And while he was still in prison.
Which makes it unlikely that he would been admitted to the Vermont bar. Like all state bars, Vermont’s bar requires an applicant meet its character and fitness requirements. I’m sure those requirements would put a big old biggest frowny emoji on an application from a convicted drug offender who was serving a life sentence in another state and denied it. Most states don’t want people becoming criminals until after they’ve been admitted to the bar and have learned how to cover their tracks. It’s much less embarrassing that way.
The show told us a former state senator in New York vouched for Aaron to get him past the character and fitness requirements in New York. Maybe that former senator did grease the wheels in New York. But how much pull would he have had with the Vermont bar? About as much as a teddy bear in a taffy factory.
And what about travel expenses? Vermont would have had to pay to transport Aaron from a prison in New York to some Vermont courtroom every time he had a case to argue. That also should have caused Vermont to deny the application, as the other way would be to practicality and fiscal responsibility what balsa wood is to fighter jets.
But even if Aaron was admitted to the Vermont bar, he still wouldn’t have been able to get New York to grant him reciprocal admittance its bar. When states have a reciprocity agreement, members in good standing of the bar in one state can be admitted to the bar of another state without having to take the new state’s bar exam. New York and Vermont do have a reciprocity agreement, so Aaron could have had New York accept his Vermont license reciprocally. Provided he met the requirements of Rule 520.10 of New York’s rules for admission to the bar.
By now you should know me well enough that I shouldn’t have to spell out those requirements for you to know Aaron didn’t meet them. But like a jock strap that’s on backward, I’ll be anal retentive and tell you. Under Rule 520.10 New York will grant reciprocity to an applicant who has been practicing law in a reciprocating state, “for five of the preceding seven years.”
There is simply no way that Aaron could have been practicing law in Vermont for five years. He’d only been in prison for nine years, and, considering he was a full-time prisoner taking on-line courses in his spare time, it probably took him most of those nine years to complete his studies. Even if he was able to take a heavy caseload to accelerate his studies, he probably needed three years to complete the four-year college program then another two years to finish the three-year law curriculum. That’s five years. If he was working at optimum speed. Which means he could only have been practicing in Vermont for four years, not enough years for him to qualify for reciprocity in New York. So, no, Aaron probably wasn’t an attorney in Vermont and definitely wasn’t one in New York.
That’s what was wrong with For Life in just the first five minutes. Did the show get better from there? Well, I can honestly tell you that there were no more legal problems with the episode that I can write about.
In this column.
Next column… Well next column, I hope I can at least get us past the first commercial break.