A law school graduate who passed the Illinois bar exam more than a decade ago, but has not been admitted to the state bar will not be allowed to proceed with his federal lawsuit claiming that his “fundamental right to practice law" was violated.
U.S. District Court Judge James F. Holderman last week granted requests from defendants Lawrence Hill, president of the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to dismiss the suit that John Joseph Otrompke brought against them late last year.
The case came to Chicago's federal court in November 2013, in what was largely a reprise of a previously dismissed legal battle between Otrompke and the Board of Admissions dating back about a decade.
Otrompke graduated from DePaul University College of Law in 2000, and subsequently passed the bar exam and other necessary tests, including the Multi-state Professional Responsibility Exam.
But, his application for admission to the state bar remained pending until 2003, delayed for proceedings in the Committee on Character and Fitness for the First Judicial District.
In October 2003, Otrompke sued, arguing “the defendants’ failure to approve his admission to the bar and their delay in granting him a hearing” violated several of his constitutional rights.
In two years of arguments that followed, a federal court eventually dismissed all of his complaints, indicating it believed the case should have been brought in state courts, as the Illinois Supreme Court stands as “the final arbiter of attorney admissions in Illinois” and therefore, the defendants were also entitled to “absolute immunity from suits for damages.”
At the time, Otrompke did not appeal because he said he was assisting his fiancée who was battling a terminal illness. Likewise, he said he did not reapply for admission to the bar because “it could cost thousands of dollars even to complete the bar application.”
However, almost 10 years after filing his first lawsuit and eight years after a federal judge dismissed his final counts, Otrompke filed suit against Hill and Madigan, again asking the federal courts to force the board to admit him and let him to practice law.
Otrompke again argued that his constitutional rights were violated, but this time, also alleged that the rules governing attorney admissions in Illinois, both as they exist now and as they existed a decade ago, were unconstitutional.
Specifically, he asserted, among other points, that the rules “imply that the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination [does] not apply to bar admissions proceedings,” and also interfere “with his fundamental right to practice law,” which he said violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
In response, Hill and Madigan moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that Otrompke’s failure to raise the issues in state court a decade ago preclude the case from being heard in federal court now. They also claimed Otrompke failed to raise a legitimate claim for relief.
Holderman agreed in a 17-page, March 20 opinion that dismissed the case.
Holderman's opinion does not explain the reasoning behind the committee's delay or the board's decision not to admit him to the bar, but Otrompke's 2003 suit blames it on his July 4, 2000 arrest.
In his original suit, Otrompke claimed he observed Chicago police searching a vehicle as he was "leaving a meeting space operated and used for the propagation of political dissent" and was arrested after he asked an officer for his badge number and told him he planned to file a complaint with the Office of Professional Standards.
Otrompke stated in his 2003 suit, which was dismissed in 2005, that the charges that led to his arrest were thrown out.
In dismissing the 2013 suit, Holderman explained that the federal court “does not have subject-matter jurisdiction over Otrompke’s claims” over the state bar admission rules.
Holderman found that the board is not constitutionally prohibited by the Fifth Amendment from enacting moral standards for lawyers and would-be lawyers to abide by.
And he further held that Otrompke had simply manufactured his “fundamental right to practice law,” cobbling together an argument using U.S. Supreme Court precedents, including the District of Columbia vs. Heller and McDonald vs. Chicago decisions, the Constitution’s Bill of Attainder provisions, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and even the Magna Carta.
“Otrompke’s assertion that he has a fundamental right to practice law absent a felony conviction or adjudication of insanity has no basis in law,” Holderman wrote.