Michael Ray, a federal inmate, could rightfully claim some confusion. A “jailhouse lawyer,” Ray convinced the United States Supreme Court to accept an important prisoner case this term — an achievement unmatched by the vast majority of practicing lawyers. Now, however, the South Carolina State Attorney General is reportedly investigating Ray for possible charges of practicing without a license. What is particularly curious is that this is the same state that recently admitted well-connected applicants for the bar after they flunked the exam. South Carolina appears to have entered some parallel universe where success in the law is failure while failure in the law is success.
Ray’s assistance was enlisted by inmate Keith Lavon Burgess who wanted to appeal his conviction for possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute. Ray argued that the 20-year minimum sentence was wrongly applied because it was a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
Ray is a certified paralegal and a member of the American Bar Association.
He could receive two years additional time for practicing without a license — above the time he is serving for fraud.
State prosecutors apparently take great exception to inmates who succeed in their efforts to seek legal relief. For that matter, success as a lawyer in South Carolina appears to be completely immaterial to one’s advancement. Recently, the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered that the bar allow 20 individuals to be sworn in as lawyers despite the fact that they failed the bar exam and thus could not prove that they were competent to represent clients. To make matters worse, two of those people were the daughters of two powerful bar members: S.C. House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland, and longtime Circuit Judge Paul Burch of Pageland. Both men admit that they contacted court officials after learning that their daughters had flunked. For that story, click here.
Thus, it seems that if Ray simply takes and fails the South Carolina bar examination, he will be welcomed with open arms by the bar. It is his success as an advocate that proved his undoing. Fortunately, the South Carolina Attorney General was quick to spot the problem and will soon correct the intrusion of such competence before it spreads uncontrollably throughout the state.
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