Fairness for State Bar of California Online Bar Takers

Fairness for State Bar of California Online Bar Takers

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Megan Zavieh started this petition to State Bar of California and

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The State Bar of California administered the first online bar exam in October 2020. There were 9000 people who took it; 3000 of them were flagged for apparent violations of the exam rules. The State Bar changed its rules on how to handle these flagged exams, and in December 2020 has sent violation notices to unknown numbers of the 3000 exam takers, essentially accusing them of cheating on the exam. Primary flagged issues are previously-tested microphones not working and the applicant moving out of view of the webcam during the exam. Please help voice our concerns to the State Bar of California and the California Supreme Court that resolution of these notices is patently unfair and unreasonable, and the entire process should be immediately set aside for this exam.

Examinees for the online exam were on video throughout the test. The Bar's published rules in July 2020 stated that if an applicant got a violation notice, they would be provided with their exam video for purposes of responding to the violation; the Bar changed its procedures after the exam, when it issued the violation notices, and now refuses to provide the video. Many applicants have no idea they moved outside the camera view, and they were not able to constantly monitor their video stream during the exam due to software limitations. Plus, darker skinned exam takers report having trouble with the software recognizing their faces. The Bar published on December 18 new guidance which indicates that if an applicant moved outside the view of the webcam, the applicant will fail the exam, have no right to a hearing, and will not be able to see their video.

Examinees had to have a working microphone to take the exam. In mock exams, applicants tested all aspects of their system, including microphones. The vendor for the exam, ExamSoft, alerted them if their mics were not working -- and many were not -- in the mock exam process. Every examinee had to pass through the mock exam before taking the actual exam, so everyone's mics were working with ExamSoft before the exam. At the actual exam, examinees would have no idea if their audio was not being picked up by ExamSoft. The software gave no notice either way. The first time an applicant would know their audio was not picked up was in December 2020 when scores were about to be released. Bar guidance does not say how this "violation" will be handled, but failing the exam is a real possibility.

Prior to the exam, many individuals and organizations raised these and related concerns with the State Bar of California and California Supreme Court.  Concerns were disregarded and the bar exam proceeded.

Exam takers are all individuals who have been through law school, granted degrees by their law schools, and studied for the exam. The State Bar's actions at this time indicate that they suspect that one-third of that population committed misconduct warranting severe sanction.

The State Bar's process for handling the AI-flagged videos is highly suspect. July 2020 documents from the Bar say two humans will review  before notices go out, and examinees will also see the video. The latest guidance issued December 18 refers to the Bar reviewing the video after the applicants respond to the allegations.  At this time, it is very difficult to believe that any humans are reviewing these cases before violation notices go out.

The adjudication process for these notices is not quick. Applicants have a mere 10 days to respond (over Christmas), without any video evidence to refer to, but the Bar has 30 days to determine whether it will uphold the violation notice and sanction the applicant. Meanwhile, bar exam scores will be released and these applicants will not receive scores. The public will know the applicants either failed or are being accused of cheating.

Meanwhile, the February exam is fast approaching for anyone who needs to retake the exam. If a violation notice is pending, the applicant cannot apply for the February exam.

This entire process is terribly unfair, unreasonable, and unjust. The State Bar of California and California Supreme Court are putting the next generation of lawyers through seven circles of hell to take the bar exam. An online exam met the challenges of a bar exam during COVID, but we cannot sacrifice reason, common sense, due process, and humanity in the name of ensuring that no examinee cheated on the exam. 

In the words of Voltaire, “It is better to risk saving a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.” If this process implemented by the State Bar invalidates the exam score of even one person who took the exam honestly and fairly, then the system has failed completely. At this point in time, it appears that hundreds or even thousands of innocent exam takers will be suffering draconian consequences. The entire violation notice process needs to be immediately set aside for this exam and all takers receive their scores in a timely manner. 


In addition to signing this petition, please consider sending emails directly to:

California Supreme Court, Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye c/o Sunil.Gupta@jud.ca.gov

California Assemblyman Mark Stone, Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee Mark.Stone@asm.ca.gov

California Senate Judiciary Committee sjud.fax@sen.ca.gov 

307 have signed. Let’s get to 500!
At 500 signatures, this petition is more likely to be featured in recommendations!