Over the transom

This morning, I read the story about the changed Bar exam scores with some interest, because the tale was immediately familiar.

Earlier in the week, I had received this e-mail:

    I’m not sure if you are the appropriate one to handle this, but I figured you would be able to pass it to the right person/people. As you may or may not know, the South Carolina Bar recently issued its list of the most recent admittees into the South Carolina Bar. This list was published October 26 and can be accessed online at www.sccourts.org. The bar passage rate was 77.5%
    Either yesterday or today, the SC Supreme Court issued a statement in which they threw out the results of a section of the bar exam, which allowed 20 more individuals to pass the bar exam. At least one of those who now passed is the daughter of a House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison. I have information … that 12 of judicial law clerks failed the bar exam and are among these 20. I also have information that Rep. Harrison is among those who contacted the bar examiners to complain about his child not passing. It is also my understanding that some of those 20 also may be children of members of our Judiciary.
    As you can see, this is quite the discomforting situation. … I find this entire situation outrageous and would like to see these people called out on it. The swearing-in ceremony is next Tuesday, Nov. 13th. There is typically a program which includes the names of those being sworn in. A comparison of that program with the list now available on the website would give you the names of those admitted after the fact. At that point, it simply becomes a question of finding out who is working for whom. Obviously it will be fairly easy to tell whose children, if any, are among those added to the list.
    I’d be willing to talk to you about this more if you have questions. I do not, however, want to be named at any time if you or someone else decides to investigate further.

And so it is that I leave the name off, and excise a couple of short phrases that might point to this tipster’s identity. (I’ll say only that it was not a regular source of mine; this was a classic "over the transom" tip.)

I forwarded the e-mail to some folks down in our newsroom. Whether they had received other tips, I have no idea. I seldom receive so much as an acknowledgment that my e-mails are received when I send tips to the newsroom, which is fine; I understand. No one on either side wants to seem, even to himself, to engage in collusion. Such is the nature of the separation between news and editorial.

In any case, it seems the tipster was onto something, and had his/her facts straight. As to what to think of it — once again, we’re in that gray area of appearances that I’m never sure what to think about. It might have been innocent; it might have been awful. One thing I do know about such stories of apparent favoritism: I’m glad to see them reported, so that you can decide for yourself if you think wrong was done.

21 thoughts on “Over the transom

  1. Doug Ross

    When in doubt, choose awful over innocent when it comes to government officials. It’ll save you a lot of heartache later on and you might, on very rare occasions, be surprised.

  2. Karen McLeod

    Maybe there’s a good reason for this change, but I haven’t heard anyone lifting his/her voice to explain it. I don’t want to think that the SC Supreme court is corrupt. But it at least sounds like it. I read the paper this AM. Do we know any more about it?

  3. Brad Warthen

    I don’t — but then, this being Friday, I haven’t been looking. I’ve been pursuing a Sunday column (not about this), and trying to push through weekend pages. And I’ll be at it for hours and hours to come…

  4. Doug Ross

    Pretty simple way to investigate:
    Using the scores of the 78% of the people who passed the exam, determine what their results were for the alleged bad questions. If they showed an ability to get the right answers on those questions, it really weakens the case.
    Anyway, do you think John Q. Public would be able to call up the Supreme Court justices to ask for a mulligan for his kid?

  5. Brad Warthen

    FYI to all — Doug asked a while ago how come none of the Senators seeking the presidency voted on the Mukasey nomination.
    I had been wondering the same thing earlier in the day, and had sent out inquiries to the campaigns of the MIAs. They didn’t come in in time for me to get a Sunday column out of it (I had to shift gears and pursue something else), but expect a blog post on the topic…
    All in a day’s madness.

  6. Brad Warthen

    Yep, and if I had no standards, I could have had an “exclusive” Tuesday.
    As you and I know, anybody can have an “exclusive” at any time, if he’s not terribly worried about confirmation.

  7. Gordon Hirsch

    Don’t get defensive, now. Wasn’t commenting on your timing, or Will’s spin-city “exclusive.” My reference to lowering standards was directed at the Supremes. They’re the ones who dropped the bar, bad pun intended.

  8. Gordon Hirsch

    Yow. I sent Foster the picture you posted yesterday. He said it must have been taken after one of your jokes.

  9. Brad Warthen

    Talk about old home week — folks, Gordon and Jim Foster and I worked together 20 years ago. I’m the only one of the three still crazy enough to be working at the paper.

  10. Karen McLeod

    After checking the paper this morning, I have concluded that our Supreme court is somewhat corrupt (which is similar to being somewhat pregnant). If this was upfront and honest, then it could have been reported completely instead of a ‘this is all I’m gonna say’ type reply. Jean Toal, that wasn’t a ‘cheap shot’; it was much nicer than what could have been said about your reply. If something was really wrong with the test, then it should have been corrected, and the applicants retested on that part. This makes our entire court system stink of corruption.

  11. mark g

    Does this incident really surprise anyone? The legislature in SC is a collection of ill-informed, self centered, good old boys. This is pure corruption. Rep. Harrison should be ashamed, as should Judge Toal.
    The Supreme Court is funded by the General Assembly. The legislature cuts funding on a whim, due to personal grudges or the like. And they do it behind closed doors, so it doesn’t stick to any one legislator. They look out for each other, not the people.
    There are so many examples of corruption and special interests in the SC legislature, you should have a special tipster hotline, just for them.

  12. Mike Cakora

    The last time a scoring error occurred, on the February 2003 exam, it did not reflect the results — pass / fail of any student. I suppose that this means that no offspring of prominent SC families were affected…
    This July, there were 552 folks who took the July exam; 78%, 428, passed under the old way of scoring. Thanks to the Supremes’ order, the twenty added pushed the pass rate to 81%! By eliminating the obviously overrated wills, trusts and estates exam section — who really needs that stuff after all? — our top justices lowered from six of seven to five of seven the number of areas that the bar exam hopefuls had to pass. The passing score is no longer 86% (6/7), but 71% (5/7).
    Jim Rex needs to look into this for the Palmetto State’s Department of Education, no?
    I recommend that you folks read the comments at FITSNews’ followup blog entry. Monk and other reporters won’t be able to get any lawyer to critique the Supremes’ action on record because they know that they’ll get whacked –maybe that’s too strong, perhaps sideswiped — if they do.
    What’s so silly about this whole thing is that the SC bar exam passing rate is higher than New York’s, California’s, and a lot of other states. Just Google this for proof: bar exam passing rate. Is it that the folks who take the SC exam are in general that much smarter, or is it that our test is not as challenging?
    I’m off to take my own bar exam…

  13. Homeboy

    Brad: Say you’re sorry for attacking Will personally and not his story – which has turned out to be absolutely accurate, line by line…. well, maybe not that part about how many lawyers read his blog, but…..

  14. Brad Warthen

    No can do. I’m not sorry, and I didn’t attack him personally. I pointed out something we all know about the difference between the MSM and blogs, from Drudge and Monica to the present day — blogs will often break stories first, because they go with a tip that feels right to them (and often IS right), while the MSM will often be delayed a cycle or two while they touch all the bases.

    Actually, "MSM" is probably a poor word, because some might confuse it with the 24/7 cable "news" channels, and they can be the least responsible of all. With their imperative of filling every second with somebody saying something, they are often the polar opposite of journalistic due diligence.

    I generally don’t break news on my blog; what I do here is provide another forum for the expression of opinion. So when I get tips, I pass them on to others to develop, as in this case.

    But the difference in standards between the blogosphere and the newspaper come into play in other ways. In fact, Will was at the center of such a decision in the early days of this blog. I took some heat here in the building where I work because I allowed him to state his point on view on our op-ed page. I used a column to explain why I made that decision, and I used the blog to publish material from Will that I did not deem worthy of the newspaper. It was an experiment in the kind of thing you might do in a blog that I wouldn’t as an editor. Did I do right? I think so, but it’s hard to be confident about such things, because we are still inventing a new medium, with different standards. That’s just a fact, and what Will does with his blog is probably a better illustration of those different standards than my own.

  15. Paul Adams

    and at that I think Warthern paid Will Folks a Damn Fine compliment!
    Congratulations to both of you…mad proper respect to everyone!!!

  16. Becky Gross

    There is no greater responsibilty than the public trust. Let’s pretend your Grandmother is worth “gillions” and you, her grandchild will inherit the bulk; would you want her last will and testament drawn-up by anyone of the 20 who failed this portion of the exam? I want the names of all 20. Does Jean Toal know the meaning of the word integrity?
    All joking aside, Toal has abused her position, and disregarded her responsibility for the public trust. She should have been impeached after the first incident. If she was a decent civil servant she would have realized it was in the best interest for the Supreme Court to apologize for her behavior and then resign from the Court so that the public could maintain respect for the highest court in South Carolina.


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