Opinion

Grade changes suspicious

We agree with the governing board of the South Carolina Bar -- the state Supreme Court needs to explain the process and the reason for changing the grades from "fail" to "pass" for 20 who took the bar exam in July.

The statement also indicated that the Bar, which represents the state's lawyers, doesn't want to be associated in any way with the Supreme Court's actions in changing the grades.

"The S.C. Bar has no role in any aspect of the bar examination process and has no information other than what has been stated by the Supreme Court," said the three-sentence statement published last week on the Bar's Web site.

Dozens of lawyers, law professors and bar exam applicants have complained about the court's actions in a controversy that continues to grow. Among the 448 new lawyers who passed the exam are 20 whose grades were changed.

Two of those were the daughters of prominent state officials, Circuit Judge Paul Burch and state Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, who also is chairman of the influential House Judiciary Committee. Both men contacted either the Supreme Court or the Board of Law Examiners after learning their daughters had failed the test.

A similar situation occurred in 1987, when then Sen. Ed Saleeby's daughter flunked the bar. After he complained to the Supreme Court, she also was given a passing grade.

In that instance, however, then-Chief Justice "Bubba" Ness, now deceased, publicly explained his reasons for reversing Saleeby's failing grade. Current Chief Justice Jean Toal has refused to discuss why the 20 grades were changed this year, except to say the changes were made because of a "scoring error."

That is neither sufficient nor fair to others who failed the exam but did not get a last-minute reprieve from the court. Further explanation is necessary to ensure that the test was administered equitably for all and that some did not benefit simply from having influential fathers.

Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, has called upon the Supreme Court to consider establishing an appeals process for those who flunk the bar exam. The appeals process would provide a uniform and open means to raise questions about grades or the test itself.

That certainly would be preferable to the mysterious actions of the court in this incident.

IN SUMMARY

State Supreme Court should explain why it changed grades on bar exam.

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