Law Student Preston Mitchum, 25, did not quite have the graduation that he anticipated at N.C. Central University Law School. It should have been his crowning glory as the class speaker at the graduation but has now turned into a nightmare after he was accused of plagiarizing his speech from a Binghamton University student in New York.
Mitchum of Youngstown, Ohio, admits that he found the speech of Anthony Corvino on YouTube. He insisted that in his nervousness he forgot to credit Corvino and now says that he fears “a horrific backlash.” He may be right. A faculty disciplinary committee is investigating.
Dean Raymond Pierce has said “I’m disgusted. I spared no words in expressing to Mr. Mitchum how disgusted I am with this, and shocked.”
It could well prove costly for Mitchum if the faculty finds that his very final act as a law student violated the honor code. There is an interesting question, however, as to the jurisdiction of the school. Some schools actually award the degrees before the law school ceremonies — making the commencement only a diploma ceremony. If Mitchum already graduated, the question is the jurisdiction over him by the faculty committee. However, it could be a moot point. The faculty could report the matter to the bar, assuming bar officials have not already learned of the controversy.
Mitchum deserves to be heard on the allegations. If true, there remains the question of whether such a lapse of judgment should bar him from practice. I am unaware of a case of plagiarism being used as the basis to suspend a lawyer. However, Mitchum still has to pass the moral/fitness part of the bar application. This may have been a momentary lapse of judgment under the pressure of this speech. It does not excuse the act, if it was intentional, but it is hard to see a student barred from practice for such an act. NCCU students often have to overcome significant financial struggles to achieve their dreams of being lawyers. A permanent bar would appear pretty harsh.
One strong piece of evidence in Mitchum’s defense is the fact that Corvino has come forward to say that he vouches for Mitchum and says that Mitchum ran the speech by him before the graduation. In my view, that would create some reasonable doubt on the question of scienter or intent.
I would be interested in the views of our regulars on what the proper punishment should be if Mitchum is found guilty.
Ironically, Corvino was embracing a student life structured on principles of minimized work and effort: “We, the average, who have continued to prove that procrastination and apathy are not just big words, but also a way of life.”
Now Corvino can take credit for giving two commencement speeches.
Here is the original speech: