1. Purpose. The primary purpose of the Committee on Character and Fitness is to screen Applicants before admission to the bar for the protection of the public and the system of justice. The public is inadequately protected unless our system evaluates character and fitness as those elements relate to the practice of law. The public interest requires that the public be secure in its expectation that those who are admitted to the bar are worthy of the trust and confidence clients may reasonably place in their lawyers.
2. Organization and Funding. The Committee on Character and Fitness is appointed by and responsible to the Supreme Court of South Carolina. The Committee is charged with the duty and responsibility to administer character and fitness screening. It performs its duties in a manner that assures the protection of the public by recommending for admission only those who qualify. The Supreme Court provides funding and staffing to permit appropriate investigation of all information pertaining to applicants' character and fitness.
3. The Investigative Process. The Committee on Character and Fitness places upon the applicant the burden of producing information. Each investigation is initiated by requiring the applicant to execute under oath a thorough application and to sign an authorization and release form that extends to the Committee and to any persons or institutions supplying information to the Committee. The applicant is informed of the consequences of failing to produce information requested by the application and of making material omissions or misrepresentations. The Committee frames each question on the application in a manner that renders the scope of inquiry clear and unambiguous. The Committee has the power to cause the witnesses and documents or other records to be subpoenaed and to administer oaths or affirmations.
4. Confidentiality and Due Process. The Committee on Character and Fitness respects the confidentiality of records and sources and the need to protect the applicant, the sources and the public. This rule provides for confidentiality of records and sources except for cooperation with another bar examining authority. The Committee respects due process and has specified procedures which include notice to applicants and an opportunity to appear, with right to counsel, before the Committee prior to a final adverse determination.
5. Standard of Character and Fitness. A lawyer should be one whose record of conduct justifies the trust of clients, adversaries, courts and others with respect to the professional duties owed to them. A record manifesting a deficiency in the honesty, trustworthiness, diligence or reliability of an applicant may constitute a basis for denial of admission.
6. Relevant Conduct. The revelation or discovery of any of the following will be treated as cause for further inquiry before the Committee decides whether the applicant possesses the character and fitness to practice law: unlawful conduct; academic misconduct; making of false statements, including omissions; misconduct in employment; acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentations; abuse of legal process; neglect of financial responsibilities; neglect of professional obligations; violation of an order of a court; evidence of mental or emotional instability; evidence of drug or alcohol dependency; denial of admission to the bar in another jurisdiction on character and fitness grounds; disciplinary action by a lawyer disciplinary agency or other professional disciplinary agency of any jurisdiction.
This list is not exclusive but is representative. Circumstances in individual cases may cause inquiry into other areas.
7. Use of Information. The Committee on Character and Fitness determines whether the present character and fitness of an applicant qualifies the applicant for admission. In making this determination through the processes described above, the following factors, among others, will be considered in assigning weight and significance to prior conduct: applicant's age at the time of the conduct; recency of the conduct; reliability of the information concerning the conduct; seriousness of the conduct; factors underlying the conduct; cumulative effect of conduct or information; evidence of rehabilitation; applicant's positive social contributions since the conduct; applicant's candor in the admissions process; materiality of any omissions or misrepresentations.