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How many times is too many
when taking the bar exam?

Gloria Padilla - Express-News
Should the number of times a judicial candidate had to take a bar exam before passing make a difference in the assessment of their qualifications?

That question was one posed in a questionnaire sent to the judicial candidates in the November general election who are seeking the endorsement of the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board.

Surprisingly, two of the challengers took the bar exam four times. One passed on her fifth attempt.

Dinorah Diaz, who is running against incumbent Ray Angelini for the 187th District Court bench, and Rosie Gonzalez, who is making a bid for the newly created 436th District Court that Lisa Jarrett was appointed to last year, both readily admitted they were bad test takers and had to take the exam four times.

Pamela Gabriel Craig, who is seeking election to the 437th District Court bench that Lori Valenzuela was appointed to last year, responded that she had taken the Texas State Bar exam several times. In an interview with the Editorial Board, she said she had taken it five times.

Apparently, that is the maximum number of times the Texas Supreme Court will allow someone to take the state bar exam without special permission.

In 2006, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte tried to eliminate the five-time rule, but the legislation never got out of committee.

A short time later, the Texas Supreme Court, which sets the rules for the tests administered by the Texas Board of Law Examiners, amended the rules that had been in place for decades.

The rules now allow someone who has flunked the test five times to petition the high court to be allowed an additional opportunity to test. To qualify for the sixth test, the applicant must show he or she has had additional legal education, work experience or training.

According to Julia Vaughan, executive director of the Texas Board of Law Examiners, 30-plus waivers have been granted thus far and a few have passed on their sixth attempt.

About 3,800 people take the bar exam in Texas each year, and statistics indicate the majority pass on the first attempt. The Texas Board of Law Examiners does not keep records on how many people max out.

In 2006, the Houston Chronicle published an article stating that a review of the board records from 1991 to 2006 indicated that of the 53,134 applicants who took the bar exam, only 287 had been limited-out.

No one brags about how many times they had to take the bar exam before they were licensed to practice law, but there have been some national figures whose failure to pass the bar on the first try have become widely publicized.

Among them are former California Gov. Jerry Brown, who took the test twice; the late John F. Kennedy Jr., who took the test three times; and Hilary Clinton, who failed the D.C. bar but later passed the Arkansas bar.

Passing the bar exam on the first try offers no guarantees that a lawyer is well-versed in the law.

We have heard of judges who passed the bar test on the first try but later recessed court proceeding so they could consult colleagues down the hall before issuing a ruling on a motion.

Lawyers also complain of current sitting judges, who were good exam takers but hesitate to make rulings in open court for fear of offending the parties and instead prefer to defer their decisions so they can fax a copy of their findings later.

They hardly seem like the type of judges we want on the bench.

Unfortunately, electing judges sometimes boils down to nothing more than a name recognition game. Most people just don't have the time to research the candidates before they head to the polls.

To make the research a bit easier this election cycle, the Editorial Board has posted the judicial questionnaires online.

To learn more about the local judicial candidates, go to and choose the keyword “opinion” to view the completed questionnaires.

They offer some interesting reading.