By BRIDGET BUSH
Capital News Service
LANSING — Attorneys married to someone on active duty in the military would be admitted to the Michigan Bar without taking the exam, if a pair of bills passes.
Introduced by Reps. Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park, and David Maturen, R-Vicksburg, this two-bill bipartisan package passed the House and was voted through the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously.
It would make it easier on military spouses who already passed the bar in one state when they follow their husband or wife to duty in Michigan.
“Military families move, on average, every two to three years,” said Angela Allen, an attorney at Jenner & Block and military spouse to an Illinois National Guard member, who also serves as the Illinois director for the Military Spouse J.D. Network. To obtain a new bar license with every move is expensive, time-consuming and exhausting, she said.
These bills would make it easier for military families and allow for many military spouse attorneys to continue practicing law.
“These are very special circumstances for a very special group of people,” said Peter Cunningham, assistant executive director for the State Bar of Michigan. He said there is no opposition to the bill because adequate protections have been built in.
It includes stipulations such as the military spouses must not have previously failed the bar in Michigan, are in good standing in another state, and they must have passed both the multi-state examination and the character and fitness test.
“Reciprocity agreements already exist between Michigan and other states where an attorney has practiced in a jurisdiction for at least three out of the last five years,” Cunningham said. But military spouses aren’t usually able to take advantage of this because they live in one location for less than that.
“Attorneys only have two opportunities each year to sit for the Michigan Bar,” said Wittenberg. “While their loved one is busy serving and protecting our country, the very least we can do is make it easier for them to continue their work and help them provide for their families.”
Allen said that service members don’t have the leisure to turn down a transfer or quit their jobs because a reassignment and move might not be best for their family.
“Military spouses do not decide where we live, or how long we live there,” Allen said.“The only certainty of military life is uncertainty.”
Momentum across the nation supports military spouse licensing, with accommodations in 22 states and one U.S. territory. At least 24 military spouse attorneys nationwide have been admitted through these new rules.
The Michigan Supreme Court has the authority to enact rules that would accomplish the same ends achieved by these bills, Justice Brian Zahra saidt in testimony. But “as a matter of comity and respect for equal branches of government, I believe it is wise for the Supreme Court and the Legislature to work together to achieve these ends by legislative means,” Zahra said.
If the Legislature doesn’t choose to help military families with this accommodation, the judiciary will, Zahra said.
“All we ask from our communities is a modest accommodation to make this difficult life slightly less so,” Allen said. “These bills would recognize the tremendous sacrifices of our military families and be an appropriate measure of appreciation considering their support for our nation.”
By BRIDGET BUSH