A veteran lawyer seeking to practice in Maryland who failed to disclose a DWI
arrest until after he passed the bar exam was denied admittance by a divided
Court of Appeals.
Gregory John Strzempek spent four days in jail in April 2006 in Fairfax, Va.,
as part of pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated — a fact he did not
disclose during his character committee interview less than two weeks after he
was released. Only after Strzempek learned he passed the bar in November 2006
did he notify Maryland’s Board of Law Examiners.
Strzempek, according to transcripts, said he decided to wait until the test
results were released because his arrest disclosure would be irrelevant if he
did not pass the test. The committee recommended Strzempek be denied admission
while the board recommended he be admitted. Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, writing
for the majority, held Strzempek’s disclosure as required by the bar
application was mandatory, not voluntary.
“It is not the choice of a candidate for admission whether to disclose and
under what conditions,” Battaglia wrote. “His choice not to disclose in
the face of these known obligations…impinges upon his character and fitness
to practice law.”
WHAT THE COURT HELD
In the Matter of the Application of Gregory John Strzempek
for Admission to the Bar of Maryland. Misc. Docket No. 2,
Sept. Term 2008. Reported. Opinion by Battaglia, J. Dissent
by Bell, C.J.
Issue: Should a prospective bar applicant be admitted
if he does not disclose an arrest until after he receives
the results of his bar examination?
Holding: No; arrest disclosure was mandatory, not
voluntary. Applicant did not carry the burden of proof that
he possessed present moral character and fitness for
Counsel: Melvin G. Bergman for Strzempek.
RecordFax: No. 8-1230-20 (21 pages)
Strzempek, who has been licensed to practice law in New York for
more than 25 years, declined to comment when reached at his Virginia
home Tuesday afternoon. Melvin G. Bergman, a Greenbelt solo
practitioner who represented Strzempek before the appellate court,
said he planned to meet with his client soon to discuss their
options but declined further comment on the ruling.
Strzempek filed his application with the board in December 2005. The
application includes a provision requiring applicants to update
responses until formally admitted to the bar; Strzempek answered
“none” when asked about a criminal record, according to the
Two months later, Strzempek was charged with DWI and reckless
driving, among other charges. He pleaded guilty on April 12, 2006,
and in addition to a suspended jail sentence paid $641 in fines and
was placed on one years’ probation, the opinion states.
Strzempek was in jail from April 14 to April 18. Nine days later, at
his committee interview, he did not disclose his arrest, according
to the opinion. Strzempek took the bar exam in July and learned he
passed Nov. 5, 2006. Three days later, he mailed his affirmation
form along with his test results and acknowledged the DWI conviction
but did not mention the jail sentence or the fine.
The board sent Strzempek’s application back to the character
committee for a hearing, held in December 2007. The committee found
he “did not show remorse for his actions” and said a lawyer with
his experience should “understand the importance of candor.”
The board, however, recommended Strzempek’s admission following a
hearing in May, calling his actions “aberrations” he did not
intend to conceal. The board noted Strzempek had included his arrest
on job applications and was denied at least one job because of it,
the opinion said.
Battaglia sided with the committee, calling “absolute candor…a
requisite of admission to the Maryland Bar.”
But Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, in a dissenting opinion, accused the
majority of rendering the board meaningless by not heeding its
ruling on Strzempek’s credibility. Bell said the court has only
rejected the board’s recommendation in nine cases out of 65 the
last 30 years, and none had credibility issues to be resolved.
The court can “determine whether any factual finding is clearly
erroneous, but that does not equate to its being permitted to choose
between conflicting findings,” said Bell, who was joined by Judge
Joseph F. Murphy Jr.