CHICAGO (CN) – A lawyer cannot proceed with federal claims he was denied admission to the Indiana bar on the basis of his Roman Catholic religion, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Bryan Brown is licensed to practice law in Kansas and has been admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.
But he says his 2007 application to the Indiana bar was undercut by his adherence to “Natural Law,” which he describes as a Christian obligation to put obedience to God’s laws above human laws.
The Indiana Board of Law Examiners requested a hearing and referred Brown to the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program for further evaluation. Brown was evaluated by two psychologists, each of whom diagnosed a low-level personality disorder, but did not definitively determine that he should be barred from practicing law. During the process, Brown made more than 60 complaints and requested a civil rights investigation.
The Board of Law Examiners denied Brown’s application for admission in February 2009. In its opinion, the board noted that Brown announced in federal court that he would flout a $61,000 judgment because he would not pay abortion providers. Though Brown eventually obtained an order vacating the judgment, he also “indicated that he would not obey certain court orders and judgments that he believed to be unjust.”
According to the 7th Circuit, “the Hearing Panel believes that a member of the Indiana bar must obey Indiana and federal law, even when doing so violates an attorney’s conscience, and that an avowed willingness not to do so is disqualifying.”
Brown appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, which affirmed the board’s decision in November 2009. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Undeterred, Brown filed a 26-count federal complaint a month later, alleging violations of the First and 14th Amendments, state statutes, and common law. But U.S. District Judge Theresa Springmann dismissed the complaint, ruling that it violated the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The rule – which derives from two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co. and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman – precludes relitigation in federal court of state court cases.
Cudahy, a Fort Wayne judge, also said that the defendants were immune from suit.
Finding that Brown’s claims were “inextricably intertwined with the Indiana Supreme Court’s adjudication of Brown’s bar application,” the 7th Circuit affirmed.
“The reason [for the Rooker-Feldman doctrine], quite simply, is that no matter how erroneous or unconstitutional the state court judgment may be, only the Supreme Court of the United States has jurisdiction to review it,” Judge Richard Cudahy wrote for the court.
The three-judge panel cited its own 2001 ruling in Edwards v. Illinois Board of Admissions to Bar, in which a bar applicant claimed that her application process violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The 7th Circuit determined that the relief requested – a remand to determine if the committee violated the Americans with Disabiliites Act – would have the substantive effect of reviewing the order declining certification.
“Brown had an opportunity to raise federal constitutional claims before a state court with power to adjudicate them,” Cudahy wrote.
“That court ‘carefully reviewed’ these contentions and ultimately determined that they did not merit reversal of the BLE’s admission determination,” he added. “Because Brown is attempting to raise similar violations here, his claims are barred.”
“Though appellant insists that he does not request reversal of the Indiana Supreme Court’s admission decision, the casting of a complaint in the form of a civil rights action, however artful, cannot circumvent Rooker-Feldman,” the Feb. 2 opinion states.
Brown took to the Fort-Wayne News-Sentinel to criticize the 7th Circuit’s decision and compare the court to Pontius Pilate.
“The utter hypocrisy of America’s left never ceases to amaze me,” the Feb. 7 article states. “It was this hypocrisy that drove me to file a federal civil rights claim against the government bureaucrats who ran me through one heck of a gauntlet during my bid to be licensed as an Indiana attorney.”
“Unlike a Marxist, I pledge my ultimate allegiance to the power even higher than the state,” he added. “And that simply cannot be tolerated [in Indiana], no matter how well I practiced law on my Kansas license from 1996-2008.”