Bar Exam Data Remains Private in California, Court Rules

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By Daniel R. Stoller

Nov. 8 — California bar exam takers’ interest in the privacy of their scores outweighs public interest in using the data for research, according to recent state court ruling ( Sander v. State Bar of Cal., Cal. Super. Ct., No. CPF-08-508880, order denying petition 11/7/16 ).

The bar exam brings worries to prospective attorneys' who spend months studying for the all-important test. Those worried that their exam scores and identities may become public may now rest easy.

Judge Mary E. Wiss of the California Superior Court for San Francisco County ruled Nov. 7 that the bar exam records should remain private because “individual applicants may be identified from the data,” the disclosure would violate state law and the disclosure would be an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The bar exam takers' private interests served by nondisclosure, such as re-identification concerns, outweighs the public interests served by the disclosure of the records, such as gender and racial discrimination issues, Judge Wiss said.

“The bar is committed to protecting the individual privacy interests of all applicants who take the bar exam,” Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, executive director of the State Bar of California, said in a statement.

Research Request

The case stems from a 2008 request by a UCLA professor and a group of non-profit organizations to examine “individual-level” California bar exam data to find “the effect that attending particular law schools has upon students who have been admitted to those schools with the use of significant preferences,” the court said. The group said it would use “de-identification protocols” to protect the privacy of bar applicants.

The group made their request under the California constitution and California Public Records Act.

The data sought included the number of times a candidate took the bar exam, the date the person graduated from law school, law school aptitude test scores, law school grade point average, race and ethnicity data and names of the test takers.

The non-profits said that they would apply various methods to “protect the privacy of the applicants” and were willing to pay all costs associated with the records request, the court said.

Counsel for the parties couldn't be immediately identified.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel R. Stoller in Washington at dstoller@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com

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Full text of the opinion is available at http://src.bna.com/jXp.

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