Ohio State Reports


(12-20-2006) 2006-Ohio-6579 IN RE APPLICATION OF STEWART.
No. 2006-1621. Supreme Court of Ohio. Submitted November
15, 2006. Decided December 20, 2006.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This case is unpublished as indicated by the
issuing court.] ON REPORT by the Board of Commissioners on
Character and Fitness of the Supreme Court, No. 293.


{¶ 1} Applicant, William Howard Stewart III of
Dayton, Ohio, graduated from Salmon P. Chase College of Law
in May 2004. He applied to register as a candidate for
admission to the Ohio bar on December 10, 2003. See Gov.Bar
R. I(1). On March 25, 2004, he applied to take the July 2004
bar examination, updating his candidacy application as
required by Gov.Bar R. I(3).

{¶ 2} In early July 2004, two members of the Dayton
Bar Association’s Admissions Committee, after interviewing
the applicant, cited the applicant’s indebtedness, history
of litigiousness, and overly combative nature. The
interviewers deferred a decision to the full 20 members of
the admissions committee, in effect referring the cause for
further review. After much debate, the full committee
approved of the applicant’s character and fitness.

{¶ 3} Pursuant to Gov.Bar R. I(10)(B)(2)(e), which
allows sua sponte investigation of an applicant’s character
and fitness at any time prior to his admission to the bar,
the Board of Commissioners on Character and Fitness
appointed a panel to review the applicant’s qualifications.
The panel heard the cause on January 14, 2005, and
unanimously recommended against the applicant’s immediate
approval, recommending instead that he be permitted to
reapply to take the bar examination at such time as he is
better able to demonstrate his character and fitness. The
board adopted the panel’s report and recommendation and
also made additional factual findings of its own.

The Applicant’s Considerable Indebtedness

{¶ 4} The applicant, who was 47 years old at the
time of the panel hearing, has a history of financial
irresponsibility. The board was deeply troubled by this and
his lack of candor about the extent of his indebtedness.
The applicant confirmed during the hearing that he had
outstanding debts ranging from $160,000 to $170,000, with
all but $30,000 of the indebtedness being attributable to
student loans. The applicant testified that he had applied
for another six-month deferment for repaying the student
loans but had not yet received notice of that

{¶ 5} The remaining $30,000 of debt, the applicant
explained, was attributable to four credit cards. The
applicant reported that he had recently tried to arrange
payment plans with two of these creditors and had done so
successfully with one, but had not gotten around to making
similar arrangements with the two other credit card
companies. When the panel inquired as to whether any of his
credit card bills were 90 days past due when he filed his
bar exam application in March 2004, the applicant replied
“no,” just as he had done in response to this question on
his application. What he meant by this statement and his
answer, however, was that he had never allowed three months
to pass without making some sort of payment on each card,
not that he had consistently kept up his payments even in
the minimum amounts. In a marked understatement, the
applicant acknowledged that he was a “slow pay” on his
revolving credit accounts.

{¶ 6} The applicant, who is now a self-employed
painter, explained that he simply does not have the money
to pay his obligations. He withdrew his contributions from
the Public Employee Retirement System to use during law
school and while studying for the bar exam, but that money
ran out in August 2004. He promised the panel, however, to
do better paying for his credit card debts with the $600
per week he was earning as a painter.

{¶ 7} The panel asked the applicant to produce the
credit card statements that he had received after he had
filed his bar-candidacy application in December 2003. The
applicant agreed to present the 13 months’ worth of
statements for all four cards promptly in order to
accommodate review before the board meeting to be held on
February 3, 2005. The applicant later contacted the panel
chairperson and confessed that some of his credit card
payments were, in fact, more than 90 days overdue. At that
time, the panel chairperson again asked the applicant to
forward the requested records, and the chairperson reminded
the applicant immediately before the board meeting to send
these reports. The applicant supplemented his application
materials on February 13 and March 12, 2005, too late for
the board’s consideration.

{¶ 8} In addition to his credit card and other debt,
the applicant was delinquent during the years 1970 to 1990
in paying his federal, state, and local taxes. The
applicant explained his tax liability as being in part the
result of his ex-wife’s failure to withhold payroll taxes
for her family’s accounting business. Tax consequences also
resulted when the applicant failed to withhold payroll
taxes for his own business as a contractor. The applicant
eventually negotiated a settlement of his federal and state
tax liability. He claimed that he had resolved all his tax
problems except for a deficiency of $1,500 in state taxes
and $350 in federal taxes for 2004.

The Applicant’s History of Litigiousness

{¶ 9} The applicant’s bar application materials
further confirmed that since 1976, he has been involved in
62 court cases concerning all manner of disputes. In at
least three cases, the applicant claimed unfair labor
practices. In at least nine cases, authorities attempted to
collect the applicant’s delinquent federal, state, or local
taxes. Still other actions included 13 traffic citations
and several disorderly conduct convictions, as well as a
2003 conviction of menacing, which was later reversed.

{¶ 10} Despite this startling amount of legal
activity, the board found that the applicant had never
pursued a vexatious claim. Moreover, because at least 11 of
the 62 cases were juvenile court proceedings in which the
applicant had participated only by virtue of his parental
status, the board did not question the applicant’s
involvement in those proceedings. The 50 or so other cases
were of considerable concern to the board, however, as was
the applicant’s cavalier attitude toward his litigious

{¶ 11} As of the panel hearing date, all but three
of the approximately 50 court cases had been resolved.
Still pending was a mandamus action to contest the
dismissal of the applicant’s claims against his former
employer, the city of Dayton, after the city allegedly
denied him a day of vacation. A related dispute in which
the applicant had sued Dayton for abuse of process was also
pending. In the third case, the applicant was defending
himself against a mortgage foreclosure action.

{¶ 12} Despite this record, particularly the
misdemeanor charges, the applicant disputed that he had
shown any pattern of disregarding the law, a factor that
weighs against an applicant’s approval under Gov.Bar R.
I(11)(D)(3)(f). The applicant insisted that “all kinds of
people” had a record of minor misdemeanors similar to his
and that he did not “see it as a serious problem.” To enter
the practice of law in Ohio, however, one must be able “to
conduct oneself with respect for and in accordance with the
law.” Supreme Court of Ohio, Definitions of Essential
Eligibility Requirements for the Practice of Law,
Requirement No. 5, /default.asp (“Essential Eligibility

The Applicant’s Combativeness

{¶ 13} Also of concern was the applicant’s inability
to conduct himself without regularly resorting to behavior
that the board referred to as pugnacious. Members of the
bar admissions committee described the applicant as an
“arrogant, pompous, * * * know it all.” The applicant
admitted his characteristic hot temper, but defended it as a
mere verbal manifestation that never resulted in a physical

{¶ 14} “I think I can handle myself, conduct myself
according to a code, a code of honor, and a code of doing
right to other people, and if they don’t do me right, I’m
like John Wayne, you’re going to hear about it, and I’m
going to get up in your face but, like I said, I don’t beat
anybody up.”

{¶ 15} Acknowledging that a pleasant personality is
not a prerequisite to the practice of law in Ohio, the
board nevertheless noted that an applicant must have the
ability to conduct himself professionally and in a manner
that engenders respect for the law and the profession. See
Essential Eligibility Requirements, Requirement No. 10.
Throughout his testimony, however, the applicant was
confrontational without provocation and saw nothing
unprofessional about his remarks. He also rejected the
suggestion that he might benefit from anger management
therapy, tossing off the board’s concern as “paternalistic.”
The applicant confessed that he had almost seen a
psychiatrist in 2004 but had cancelled the appointment
because he considered it an empty gesture. The applicant
was confident that he would be able to practice law in
accordance with professional and ethical standards because
he intended to secure a transactional legal job that did
not require him to interact with clients.

{¶ 16} In conclusion, the board agreed with the
panel and bar admission committee that the applicant’s poor
temperament and litigious history were not by themselves
sufficient to disapprove of his character and fitness.
Based on the combination of these factors, the applicant’s
indebtedness, and his failure to candidly discuss or
document his financial irresponsibility, however, the board
found that he had not proved his character and fitness by
clear and convincing evidence. Because the applicant had
failed to sustain his burden of proof, the board
recommended disapproval of his application to take the Ohio
bar exam and, consistent with the panel’s report, that he
be permitted to reapply to take the bar examination at a
later time. The applicant has not objected to this

{¶ 17} On review, we adopt the findings and
recommendation of the board. Under Gov.Bar R. I(11)(D)(1),
the applicant has the burden to prove by clear and
convincing evidence that he possesses the requisite
character, fitness, and moral qualifications for admission
to the practice of law in Ohio. The applicant did not meet
that burden.

{¶ 18} An applicant’s tendency toward financial
irresponsibility makes him a poor risk to entrust with the
duties owed clients, the courts, adversaries, and others in
the practice of law. In re Application of Ford, 110 Ohio
St.3d 503, 2006-Ohio-4967, 854 N.E.2d 501. The neglect of
financial responsibilities weighs against the approval of an
application for admission and to take the bar exam. Gov.Bar
R. I(11)(D)(3)(k); In re Application of Dickens, 106 Ohio
St.3d 128, 2005-Ohio-4097, 832 N.E.2d 725, ¶ 16.
Thus, “[w]e expect applicants for admission to the Ohio bar
and bar members to scrupulously honor all financial
commitments.” In re Application of Manayan, 102 Ohio St.3d
109, 2004-Ohio-1804, 807 N.E.2d 313, ¶ 14; see,
also, In re Application of Mitchell (1997), 79 Ohio St.3d
153, 679 N.E.2d 1127 (disapproving the application of an
applicant who, along with other problems, had had several
credit cards canceled for nonpayment).

{¶ 19} Financial irresponsibility alone is enough to
disapprove of a bar candidacy or bar exam application, as
is an applicant’s failure to provide requested information.
See Gov.Bar R. I(12)(C)(6). The reservations expressed by
the board about the applicant’s financial condition are
justified. The application to take the Ohio bar examination
is therefore disapproved at this time. The applicant may
reapply at such time as he is able to demonstrate that he
possesses the requisite character, fitness, and moral
qualifications for admission to the practice of law in

Judgment accordingly.


Jenks, Pyper & Oxley Co., L.P.A., and P. Christian
Nordstrom; Bruce Martino, for relator.

William Howard Stewart III, pro se.