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S.C. giving 1st bar exam since test ruled flawed

•  Exams     updated  2008/03/05 19:18


Warren Westbrook "Brook" Wills was in Paris on an international law internship in October when he saw the disappointing news on the S.C. Judicial Department's Web site.

He hadn't passed the July bar exam, which meant he couldn't practice law in South Carolina.

But a week later, he learned the Supreme Court had announced that 20 others, including Wills, had passed after the court threw out one essay section.

"So now I've gone from the depths of despair to the height of joy in a week," recalled Wills, 39, now a lawyer in Atlanta.

As a new group of law students sits for the bar exam today, two of the 20 people whose grades were changed talked publicly for the first time to The State newspaper about the exam and how the court handled the matter.

The group includes eight Charleston School of Law graduates and two USC School of Law graduates.

Another group of law school graduates is scheduled to take the seven-section bar exam over three days starting today. As of Friday, 245 people had signed up to take the test, said Dan Shearouse, clerk of the Supreme Court.

More than 380 people who passed the July exam were sworn in to the S.C. Bar in November.

They included the daughters of Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; and longtime Circuit Judge Paul Burch of Pageland. Catherine Harrison and Kendall Burch were among the 20 who passed the July test after the Supreme Court's intervention.

Jim Harrison and Paul Burch earlier told The State they had contacted court officials after learning their daughters had failed the exam. Harrison, an attorney, stressed that he was inquiring about the unusually high number of examinees who had flunked the wills, trusts and estates essay section.

Chief Justice Jean Toal -- and the Supreme Court in prepared statements on their Web site -- have said justices didn't know the identities of the 20 before they threw out the wills, trusts and estates section on Nov. 2.

"I don't think what those fathers of those two girls did was wrong," one of the 20 said. "There have been other dads in the past who have done this."

Still, he didn't believe that Harrison's and Burch's contact with court officials -- which might have violated court rules -- influenced the high court's decision, noting, "I have faith that the system wasn't going to lay down for these two dads."


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