Bar Admissions and Felons

I was dismayed by the April 15 article partially headlined that "Felons need not apply." In the article, the Character and Fitness Commission recommended changes to the present rule 2-13.3, which says that convicted felons cannot apply to The Florida Bar unless they have their civil rights restored.

The commission was "shocked that a felon . . . could be admitted to the Bar." Part of their reasoning is that felons cannot be teachers, masseurs, or on the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, so why should they let convicted felons become lawyers? This attitude is where the problem lies.

Instead of saying let's throw all felons on the garbage heap, why not say that this person has paid his debt to society and give him a second chance? Should we let convicted felons be teachers, masseurs, or police officers? Maybe, maybe not. But why exclude a whole class of people for what in many cases was just a stupid mistake? Society needs protection from inherently bad people. However, to be convicted of a felony now relegates a person to a marginal existence with even less prospects of a meaningful life that often leads back to more crime. Instead of forgiveness, the attitude is let's add lawyers to something else they have no hope of becoming.

Despite past transgressions, people can and do turn their lives around.

Our lawmakers have increasingly criminalized what once had been either misdemeanors or no crime at all. Possession of any controlled substance (except small amounts of marijuana) is a felony. Should a person who once had what many call a disease be barred from life from offering legal services? Three DUIs is a felony. Should a recovering alcoholic be barred from offering legal services? Driving three times on a suspended license is a felony. Writing a bad check over $150 is a felony. These are the types of cases I see every day. Often they are good people who know they did wrong, and hope to turn their lives around.

I'm not necessarily advocating the Legislature change any of these laws. I am, however, advocating for hope and the belief that people can and do better themselves. Adding attorneys to the list of things that felons cannot do does not solve any problems and the blanket statement that "felons need not apply" is so wide and without discretion that it creates the exact problem we are trying to avoid.

Craig Epifanio
St. Petersburg

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