Sherri Jefferson is an advocate, author, and an attorney. Transforming the lives of children is her passion. Transferring knowledge is her profession.

Congress recently passed legislation which is the ‘First Step’ to reform the criminal justice system. The Bill has five critical components, which includes abolishing some mandatory minimum sentencing, gives federal judges discretionary power to sentence people on a case-by-case basis, reduces mandatory life sentences of 3-Strike offenders to 25- years, provides programs and services for offenders with substance abuse and mental illness, and the legislation helps to correct the racial disparities and discriminatory impact that the current system has upon the minority population.

John Marshall Law School graduate and Georgia representative Republican Doug Collins (GA- 9th District) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat of New York, introduced the historic legislation known as the “The First Step Act” – H.R. 5682.

This Bill passed with bi-partisan support during one of the most divisive periods in the history of Congress.

Little credit has been given to Rep. Collins. Further, the JMLS alumnus success was cut short by another big announcement this week – The American Bar Association announced its decision to place Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School on accreditation probation.

Founded in 1933 and named after John Marshall, who served as the fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, JMLS is the only independent law school in the state of Georgia.

JMLS echoes the heart, soul, and beat of Atlanta. Their founding principles  include embracing ‘all’ people by offering both traditional and non-traditional students an opportunity to earn a legal education, to be productive lawyers in  the legal profession and contributors to society.

For decades, JMLS has been met with disdain. The school has been constrained to defend their existence and significance in a profession which claims that it has roots in equality, fundamental fairness, and the core of the Constitution.

Is there collusion between the ABA and the State Bar of Georgia to Engage in Discriminatory Practices Against Lawyers By Race and School of Attendance?

Throughout the last two years, Americans have been inundated with the term ‘collusion’ between Russia and the United States regarding the outcome of the 2016 election, but what does it really mean and how is it applied in everyday business?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘Collusion’ is defined as “a secret agreement between two or more parties to limit open competition by deceiving, misleading, or defrauding others of their legal rights, or to obtain an objective forbidden by law …”

The ABA governs accreditation for law schools, sets standards for Bar examinations and admittance into the practice of law, and establishes ethics for practicing attorneys throughout the United States.

In recent years, many have been critical of the ABA regarding promoting liberal agendas, but failing to address disparity and  Racial discriminatory qualifiers for law school admission, lack of monitoring of state Bar examinations, and abuse of prosecutorial discretion that leads to racial discrimination in attorney discipline.

The ABA claims that JMLS has low state bar examination passage rates. The ABA sets the standards for acceptable rates to maintain accreditation, therefore the ABA insists that the school is failing its students because of their inability to secure an acceptable passage rate.

The State Bar of Georgia is an arm or extension of the Supreme Court of Georgia. The Supreme Court also governs fitness for admission to the practice of law through its Office of Bar Admission. Upon admission, law school graduates may sit for the ‘Bar Exam.’ You must graduate from an ABA accredited school to sit for the exam. Hence, a loss of JMLS accreditation would mean a loss of the most diverse group of attorneys in Georgia.

The State Bar also governs the legal profession and sets the guidelines modeled after the ABA to promote ethical standards. Through their office of general counsel, the bar prosecutes attorneys for ethical violations.

Ironicly, former chief justice John Marshall ruled that the license to practice law is a property interest that must be protected and safeguarded against denial of due process.

Is there overwhelming evidence showing the State Bar of Georgia is guilty of purposeful, intentional, and malicious abuse of process, which appears to target JMLS attorneys and that also disproportionately subjects attorneys to discipline based upon race and law school of attendance?

In viewing over 80 cases assigned to the disciplinary board for prosecution by the Bar’s Office of General Counsel since 2014, over 90 percent of the cases recommended for or subject to disbarment and suspension from the practice of law are black, graduates of JMLS (ATL), and/or out of state law schools.

True, the integrity of the profession must be safeguarded and public confidence in the profession is important. However, public confidence in our judiciary and its arm is important too.

From denial of full access to court due to denials of oral argument to failure to adhere to specific rules governing disciplinary action, to the use of political and socially driven in- house prosecutors, the proof of questionable practices leading to discriminatory outcomes is in the pudding.

From the failure of appointed attorneys to fairly investigate allegations against other attorneys (their competing interest), the mission of the Investigative Panel fails to promote due process.

From overcharging attorneys with frivolous charges designed to force a plea aka voluntary discipline to creating new and unfounded allegations against attorneys after commencing prosecution, these abuses trample upon constitutional rights.

From the questionable selection and forum shopping of special masters appointed by the Clerk of Court and a ‘Coordinator’ to their conflicts of interest including monetary, political and social agendas – due process is denied.

From prosecutors abuse of and use of questionable ‘default’ judgments for alleged failure to respond to notice of investigation, discipline and/or discovery to the failure of the review panel to actually review complaints against lawyers and to engage in neutral fact finding of the special master report, the entire bar disciplinary review process is flawed to the detriment of lawyers who are denied due process.

Moreover, the review board is not diverse and fails to promote confidence in the integrity of the administration of justice.

Notice and an opportunity to be heard is not due process when the notice is flawed or fails to state the charges and fails to articulate the facts and law in support of the charge.

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh said, “Due process requires hearing both sides.”

The opportunity to be heard is not accomplished by someone who is closed minded, prejudicial, bias, conflicted, and has predetermined the case to the detriment of the lawyer.

Further, the unbridled abuse of prosecutorial discretion in bar disciplinary proceedings has an arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory effect.

If you visit the State Bar of Georgia website and review lawyer discipline, there you will find an overwhelming number of JMLS and out of state law school graduates  disciplined. If you use the  law school link under the advance search option, you will also confirm the overwhelming disparities.

You can find hundreds of named attorneys by race, locale, and law school. This information proves disparities and that black lawyers are disciplined harsher than their white counterparts and that JMLS and out of state law school graduate attorneys are disproportionately subject to prosecution and discipline that leads to suspension or disbarment at an alarming rate compared to Emory, UGA, Mercer, and GSU students who commit the same acts.

Out of respect for attorneys, their names have not been include in this article, even though it’s public record.

We applaud representative Doug Collins for his extraordinary work in Congress (115th session) this session, for proving that working together for the common good outweighs any divisive measure, that productivity should not be marred by race, gender, political or social barriers.

Looking to the future, Congress needs to evaluate the role of federal and state agencies who are influenced by the private sector to the detriment of their citizens. Moreover, whether federal or state agencies or branches of government are trying to influence the private sector to the detriment of citizens.

While no lawyer should be permitted to violate the code of professional responsibility, its enforcement must be fairly administered. Therefore, when lawyers suffer from discrimination and disparities in bad faith, they have a cause of legal action for violations of their civil and constitutional rights under the Petition Clause of the First Amendment as well as the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses under the Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Georgia. In addition, immunity is no defense for malice and bad faith acts under the Eleventh Amendment and legal remedies may be available pursuant to U.S.C 42 Sec. 1981 and 1983.

Collusion? You decide!