In May of this year, it looked like Ilya Movshovich would have a shot at becoming a prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney's office. Movshovich had risen from volunteer to paid law clerk, and after the February 2007 California bar results were released he put his hat in the ring for a possible promotion to assistant DA. "Everyone was celebrating with him," said District Attorney Kamala Harris. "The folks at Caffe Roma across the street even gave him a free coffee."
Here's the funny thing about the San Francisco DA's office: they actually check the bar exam results for people who want to be prosecutors. They're real sticklers over there. Movshovich was not on the pass list, and so by the end of the week he was not employed, either. (The report did not say whether he went back and paid for the free coffee.)
It was not entirely clear whether Movshovich actually even took the exam, although he implied he did by claiming he hadn't lied because he had been "under the impression" that he had passed it. "After the fact," he said, "I found out I did not." Since the California Bar releases a list of those who passed, and you are either on it or you are not, it is unclear to me how Movshovich could have gotten a misleading "impression" that he passed. Wait -- there is a "Mozdyniewicz" on the list; maybe Movshovich just didn't look too closely, or maybe the words were blurred by tears.
People do fail the California bar exam, of course -- lots of people, actually, since they set the pass rate at about thirty-eight percent -- and many go on to pass it on another attempt and then have a perfectly good legal career. In that category, you may remember, was Kathleen Sullivan, who failed in July 2005 although she was a member of two other state bars, had practiced law for 25 years, had appeared multiple times before the U.S. Supreme Court, and had been the dean of Stanford Law School, for Christ's sake. But California's bar examiners, in their wisdom, found her unworthy. (She passed the next time.) So, not passing the bar is not the end of the world in California. But lying about it is bit of a problem, especially when applying for a job in the DA's office.
And a pesky thing about lies is that they often travel in packs, and that was the case here. A spokeswoman for the DA's office said that not only did Movshovich not pass the bar, it turned out he had lied about being a law student, which was a requirement for his previous promotion from intern to paid law clerk. She said he had apparently forged a document saying he was a student at the University of San Francisco Law School. He isn't. Not only isn't he, but technically it doesn't exist. There is a "San Francisco Law School" and a "University of San Francisco School of Law," but Movshovich didn't go to either one of those. Of course, there are an awful lot of law schools in and around San Francisco, so maybe it was just a simple mistake. This is consistent with Movshovich telling the San Francisco Chronicle that "[t]here is a law school that has a record of me." That might have cleared everything up, had he been willing to say which one.
Oddly enough, in California (and a few other states), not graduating from law school also does not disqualify you from being a lawyer. There is at least one practicing lawyer in California who does not even have a college degree, let alone a law degree. (His website points out that this didn't hold back Abraham Lincoln, either). But he was able to pass the bar exam with the help of years of experience as a law clerk and paralegal. So, again, it wasn't so much the not-graduating that was the problem, it was the lying about it (and also the not-passing-the-bar and then lying about that too).
DA Kamala Harris said no one suspected Movshovich was unqualified. "He had a reputation as a very nice person," she said, "and every time I saw him he had a smile. Unfortunately, it appears he didn't have the credentials to be working here." (Note to self: smiling not sufficient to qualify as assistant DA.)
Too bad, because Movshovich says he had an "amazing experience" defrauding -- I mean working for the DA's office, and he definitely wants to continue in the law. He told the Chronicle that he regretted the "misunderstandings" that led to his dismissal, and that (in the Chronicle's words) "he hoped the situation would not negatively impact his law career." Let's review: a guy who has no law degree and no license to practice law and who was only working as a law clerk because he forged a law-school document he gave to the prosecutor's office, and who was recently fired from that job when the forgery and related lies came to light, hopes that this situation will not negatively impact the law career he doesn't have.
"We wish him well," Harris said. "He can't do this work, though."
Link: San Francisco Chronicle