NWLawyer: Why did you decide to
serve on the C&F Board?
Meserve: Of all the volunteer opportunities I’ve had at WSBA, I think
[serving on the C&F Board] was the
most rewarding. I think that we all want
our profession to be the best that it can
be. The C&F Board provides us with
the opportunity to maintain the high
standards of our profession in Washington, in order to protect the public, and
it allowed me to see when people have
progressed from past mistakes and how
they sometime overcome the obstacles
that caused Bar Counsel to refer their
applications to the C&F Board.
NWLawyer: What kind of people did
you work with on the C&F Board? What
was it like to work with them?
Meserve: My sense is that they were
incredibly sensitive and had great
insight. They asked great questions.
The challenge is that it’s a complicated
process, because each applicant has to
be assessed individually, and there aren’t
hard-and-fast timelines to apply in making a decision—there’s nothing that says
you’ve hit the magic three-year mark or
six-year mark or whatever. And we didn’t
get a lot of guidance from the [Washington Supreme] Court.
I thought it was helpful to have
public representation on the board. I
found these members less judgmental,
less harsh, than the lawyers were. It’s
not what I expected from the public
representatives. I thought they’d be
NWLawyer: What about the applicants
referred to the C&F Board? What were
their situations like?
Meserve: Many were first-time applicants. Some of them had been previously disbarred; some of them came
from other states. During my time, we
saw people who had been disbarred and
wanted to be reinstated. We saw people
who had felony convictions.
We had one young man who had
just graduated from law school and was
applying for a job at a law firm. At his
interview they asked him for his transcripts, so he went back to his house,
got his transcripts and changed his
grades with whiteout or something and
then presented them to the firm. I just
thought, “What were you thinking?”
NWLawyer: What other kinds of previous issues did applicants attempt to
overcome to take the bar?
Meserve: We had applicants who
had been bank robbers, drug dealers,
couriers, just all kinds of people with
all kinds of issues who had turned their
lives around in various ways and to
varying degrees. But I will say that a
very common thread was substance
abuse. And several of the people who
served on the board with me had gone
through recovery themselves, so they
had a much better grasp than I did on
substance abuse, recovery, and relapse.
They brought a great perspective.
Our focus was always what have you
done, what are you like now, and how
can we be assured that there’s not going
to be a problem in the future when
NWLawyer: What did you like most
about your experience with the C&F
Meserve: I liked that it was outside my
comfort zone. I was so impressed with the
people on the Board. I felt like they made
themselves vulnerable, you know, just in
terms of how they would ask questions
and direct the inquiry. Also, I think the
sense of responsibility that you have to
help protect the public from persons lacking the requisite good moral character to
practice law who could cause the public
significant harm. We felt responsible for
making sure the profession maintained a
high standard in protecting the public.
NWLawyer: What was the most challenging part of it?
Meserve: There was a lot of paperwork,
but that wasn’t the most difficult part of
it. I think it was that sense of responsibility, particularly when you’re giving
NWLawyer: As a member of the Board
of Governors, is there anything you
might consider changing about the
C&F Board or the process?
Meserve: If there is a better system,
I don’t know what it is. I wish more
people knew about the C&F Board, just
as I wish people knew about the Client
Protection Fund. It’s astonishing to me
to meet members who’ve never heard of
these things. NWL
Since September 2016, Chris Meserve has served on the WSBA Board of Governors, representing the 10th Congressional District in Olympia. She currently also serves as the Board of Governors liaison to the Character and Fitness (C&F) Board and, as a former member of that Board, uniquely understands its role. She says she is proud to work with the C&F Board
because it’s integral to WSBA’s mission “to serve the public and the members of the Bar, to ensure the integrity of the legal
profession, and to champion justice.”
NWLawyer sat down with Governor Meserve to gain some insight into the role of the C&F Board.
Q & A with Chris Meserve
Finding Character and Fitness: One Volunteer’s Experience on the Board