Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Judge Denies Richard Sander Access To California Bar Admissions Data To Study Racial Implications Of Bar Passage Rates

California State Bar (2014)Following up on my previous post, UCLA Law Prof's Long Legal Fight Over Access To California Bar Admissions Data Headed To Trial: Wall Street Journal, California Judge Denies Release of Lawyer-Race Data:

A years-long fight over the release of lawyer admissions data in California could finally be over, after a state court judge ruled Monday that publicizing the information on race and exam scores runs too high a risk of violating privacy rights [Sander v. State Bar of California, No. 08-508880 (Nov. 7, 2016))].

UCLA School of Law Professor Richard H. Sander asked the state bar back in 2006 to disclose the bar exam score, grade point average, LSAT score, race, gender and law school alma mater of everyone who applied for bar admission since 1972. He asked for the data to be given to him without names attached, related to his research into “the large and persistent gap in bar passage rates among racial and ethnic groups.”

After the state bar refused, Mr. Sander and the California First Amendment Coalition took the fight to court.

Monday’s ruling stems from a July trial over whether the release of the data would violate privacy rights. The court says it would, based on several California statutes that prohibit the release of data that could identify individuals.

Judge Mary Wiss in San Francisco explained in a 24-page ruling that releasing the data could “generate unhealthy comparisons among lawyers, law students and other professionals,” and that the public has a “strong interest” in avoiding such comparison or the “stigmatization of individuals or groups of individuals.” ...

Mr. Sander and the First Amendment Coalition said in a statement that they’re “dismayed” by the court’s decision and “believe that the evidence shows that the privacy of applicants could be and would be protected, and that the burden on the State Bar would be minimal.” An appeal is possible, they say.

The State Bar, meanwhile, called it a “significant win for individual privacy.” According to the bar, no other state bar has released this kind of data. “The State Bar has maintained that the data in question cannot be released in a manner that would protect individual privacy without substantially altering the data,” its statement said.

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