Bar Exams, Law Schools, LSAT, Politics, Texas

Top Law School Admitted Dozens Of Unqualified — But Politically Connected — Students

Ever have that feeling that someone got your slot in law school even though they didn’t deserve it? They had worse grades, worse test scores… they may not even be able to pass the bar. It’s ridiculous that schools are allowed to have biased admissions policies that discriminate against qualified students in favor of some politically popular factor.

Like, favoritism.

Because this is a story about candidates who — on the face of it — just don’t appear qualified to attend the school, and who just so happen to have political pedigrees and got in….

The school is the University of Texas, which makes the affirmative action opening so very apt. Perhaps Abigail Fisher’s problem was less that she was a mediocre student who didn’t deserve to be admitted and wasn’t diverse, and more that she was a mediocre student who didn’t deserve to be admitted and wasn’t friends with a state senator.

There’s been a battle brewing down in Austin over UT Regent Wallace Hall. In fact, yesterday a Texas House panel voted to move forward with impeaching Regent Hall. Now, Regent Hall doesn’t sound like a paragon of virtue. He has something of a vendetta against UT President Bill Powers, and many people — including, apparently, a good deal of the Texas House — feel he’s used and abused document requests in an effort to harass President Powers.

But one line of inquiry dug up by Regent Hall relates to legislators abusing their positions when it comes to the school. For student privacy reasons, the correspondence Regent Hall cites has been kept under wraps, but Watchdog.org did some digging of its own and believes that the embattled regent has stumbled upon a pattern of lawmakers and other connected individuals securing admissions to UT Law for students that other objective measures would have sent packing to Florida Coastal. Watchdog started by looking to the February Texas Bar Exam results, which placed the top law school last in the state in passage at 59 percent, and then looked back at those who failed more than once. Finding 90 UT grads failing more than once, Watchdog isolated 24:

We found additional reasons to scrutinize 24 names on that list:

  • At least 15 of the students are politically connected, either through office, personal relationships, or campaign donations to officeholders who have figured in the fight over UT’s leadership.
  • At least 12 of the students have roots in Laredo, home of state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who is known to have pulled strings on behalf of other applicants. As Laredo has just 2 percent of the state’s population, it’s highly over represented in this sample.
  • A half-dozen of the students have connections to state Rep. Joe Straus, his close allies, or a lobby shop that rose to prominence with Straus’s ascendance to speaker in 2009.
  • Two of the students are known to have LSAT scores well below UT standards. James Ryan Pitts, son of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, has now failed the bar exam three times since graduation after scoring a 155 and a 147 on the LSAT, which is scored on a scale of 120 to 180. Those scores rank in the 64th percentile and 33rd percentile nationwide, and are well below the scores in the mid-160s that UT usually requires.
  • Another 2012 graduate with three LSAT scores in the 140s failed the bar exam twice, but because we don’t yet have scores for most of these students, we’re not singling her out and naming her.

A 155 and 147 on the LSAT. I mean. Damn.

Some of those who failed didn’t need any help from legislators — they were legislators themselves:

Two recent UT Law grads already were elected officials when they were admitted.

State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, like [Sen. Judith] Zaffirini a Democrat from Laredo [Watchdog singles out Zaffirini as the connection that comes up most often in its probe], who was first elected in 1992, failed the bar exam in 2007 and 2008, and is not a member of the Texas bar.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, first elected in 2002, failed the bar three times between 2010 and 2012, and is not a member of the bar, either. One of Rodriguez’s senior staffers, also a UT Law grad, failed the bar three times between 2009 and 2010.

Looking at UT Law graduates who failed three or more times turns up Senator Zaffarini’s son and the daughter of an executive with the Texas Bankers Association, among others.

Nothing is concrete, but it’s powerfully circumstantial that the low LSAT scores and bar failures seem to correspond with the politically connected students. Law schools have a vested interest in keeping the powerful happy. They bring prestige, donations, and possible jobs for grads. But does any other school have a roster of students like this?

Dozens of UT Law’s least qualified students are connected politically [Watchdog.org Texas Bureau]
Texas House panel finds grounds to impeach UT System regent Wallace Hall of Dallas
[Dallas Morning News]

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