AG Hopeful Pat Murphy Never Took Pa. Bar Exam

Murphy was admitted to the Pa. bar based on passing the Minnesota state bar and his time as an Army lawyer

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state attorney general, has acknowledged he never took the Pennsylvania bar examination and has not tried a case in the state's courts.

Murphy told The Associated Press this week he took Minnesota's bar exam after graduating from Widener University Law School in Harrisburg in 1999.

He said he was entering the Army Judge Advocate General Corps and decided to take the Minnesota test because fellow officers told him he would get the results sooner.

The Bucks County resident was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 2004 based on his passing the Minnesota exam and five years as an Army lawyer.

In the Army, he said he has tried cases in federal, military and foreign courts -- in the United States as well as Iraq and Bosnia -- but so far not in Pennsylvania's civilian courts. Since leaving the Army in 2004, he has worked for the Philadelphia law firms of Cozen O'Connor and Fox Rothschild, where he currently is a partner.

"I've been involved in active litigation, but I have not been the one making arguments in court on behalf of clients,'' he said in a telephone interview. ``I miss the courtroom. I did it as an Army captain in the JAG Corps and I was damn good at my job.'' 

Murphy, 38, faces opposition in the April 24 Democratic primary from former Philadelphia prosecutor Dan McCaffery and former Lackawanna County prosecutor Kathleen Kane.

Murphy, who served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before he was defeated by Republican Mike Fitzpatrick in 2010, contends that his unique background makes him well-qualified to serve as Pennsylvania's chief legal officer.

"I went to law school in Pennsylvania and spent three years of legal training in Pennsylvania and got my Pennsylvania law license and practiced at two of the biggest (law) firms'' in the state, he said.

McCaffery campaign spokesman Josh Morrow criticized Murphy for opting out of the only bar exam that tests students' knowledge of Pennsylvania law.

"Not taking the Pennsylvania bar exam automatically disqualifies him for attorney general,'' Morrow said. "It's a fatal flaw.''

Kane's campaign did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

Murphy acknowledged the limits of his professional experience Sunday under questioning from a member of the southwestern Pennsylvania caucus of the Democratic State Committee, who met in Westmoreland County to interview candidates for potential endorsements at this weekend's state committee meeting.

The only professional qualification the Pennsylvania Constitution requires for the attorney general is that he or she be a member of the state bar.

Other states impose more rigorous standards. In 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court disqualified the secretary of the state from running for attorney general because she lacked the required 10 years of litigation experience.

Two lawyers familiar with the bar-exam process said Wednesday it is not uncommon for bar members in states that have reciprocal agreements with Pennsylvania to be admitted to its bar --and vice versa -- if they meet professional requirements.

Asked what difference passing the Pennsylvania bar exam would make to a lawyer practicing in the state, chairwoman Barbara Mather of the state Board of Law Examiners said, "Little to none.''

There are "many, many, many lawyers in Pennsylvania who have been admitted on this basis,'' the Philadelphia lawyer said.

Robert H. Davis Jr., a Harrisburg lawyer who specializes in ethics law and teaches professional responsibility at Widener, said lawyers are required to take continuing education courses throughout their career to keep abreast of legal trends.

"The question is, what's he been doing and how has that prepared him'' for the broad responsibilities of the attorney general, Davis said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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