Honor Court Violations Found in May 2011 Law Review Write-On Competition

By: James Baumann, Chief Justice of the Honor Court

On Friday, September 23, 2011, the University of San Diego School of Law Honor Court heard its first case of the 2011-2012 academic year (case no. 201112-1).  The case involved alleged cheating and collaboration on the Bluebook exercise for the 2011 Law Review Write-On Competition.  The Law Review Write-On Competition occurs every year after the last final exam of the spring semester.  Competitors are required to submit a ten-page closed memorandum and correct a series of scrambled Bluebook exercises.  The goal of the competition is membership in one of three law journals: the San Diego Law Review, the San Diego International Law Journal, and the San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law

The Honor Court is comprised of three faculty justices and three student justices.  The justices are charged with enforcing the provisions of the Honor Code.  The Honor Code spells out conduct relating to academic matters that is forbidden at the University of San Diego School of Law.  The Honor Code also prescribes recommended punishments for conduct that is deemed a violation of the Honor Code. 

The defendants, who will remain anonymous, were accused of violating Honor Code sections 3.01(b) (submitting as one’s own work the work of another), 3.01(c) (failing to comply with academic rules relating to honesty and integrity, as applied to examinations, research or assignments), and 3.02 (engaging in any fraudulent or dishonest conduct which tends to gain for that person or another person an unfair advantage in any academic matter).  The defendants pled guilty to violating sections 3.01(c) and 3.02, but pled not guilty to violating 3.01(b).

During the hearing, the Honor Court Counsel, Christina Wong, presented evidence detailing how the defendants in the case collaborated on at least 13 of the Bluebook exercises.  The Editor-In-Chief of the San Diego Law Review was called as a witness and testified as to how he uncovered the alleged cheating between the two defendants.  The defendants submitted statements expressing remorse and regret for their actions.  The Honor Court Counsel made arguments and presented a PowerPoint slideshow concerning the alleged violation of 3.01(b).  The Editor-in-Chief of the San Diego Law Review also testified as to how he uncovered the defendants’ suspected collaboration on the Bluebook portion of the write-on.  Based upon the evidence presented, the Honor Court Counsel argued that under section 3.01(b), the defendants collaborated together and shared answers, which is submitting as one’s own work, the work of another.  The Honor Court Counsel also made a punishment recommendation of either a suspension of one semester, or censure and academic probation combined with community service.    

At the close of the hearing, the defendants and Honor Court Counsel were dismissed and deliberations among the Honor Court justices began.  The Honor Court unanimously found the defendants guilty of violating Honor Code sections 3.01(c) and 3.02, but found the defendants not guilty of violating 3.01(b).  In a seven-page opinion, the Court laid out its findings of fact and recommended punishments.  The Court considered 3.01(b) to apply to situations where a person takes the work of another and submits it without changing it.  Since the defendants collaborated, it was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that both defendants submitted the work of another.

The Court set out a series of punishments based upon the defendants’ conduct and their perceived and genuine remorse.  Additionally, the Court considered aggravating factors such as the fact that the defendants did not withdraw their applications from the write-on and that the defendants only apologized after being caught.  However, the Court also considered mitigating factors such as the defendants’ involvement in the law school, the remorse of the defendants, and the recommendation from a professor that the defendants be shown leniency. 

The Court recommended an official censure of the defendants.  A censure is a written reprimand for violation of a specified regulation or provision of the Honor Code, including the possibility of more severe disciplinary sanction in the event of conviction for the violation of any university regulation or any provision of this code within a period of time stated in the letter of reprimand.  The Court further prohibited the defendants from participating on any law journals, including but not limited to: the San Diego Law Review, the San Diego International Law Journal, and the San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law while attending the University of San Diego School of Law.  The defendants will also be required to give a speech about their Honor Code violations to each section of the Introduction to the Study of Law course taking place this semester and to the 2012 Law Review Write-On Competition taking place next semester. 

 The Court prohibited the defendants from holding any leadership or board position in any non-academic extracurricular activity affiliated with the University of San Diego while attending the University of San Diego School of Law.  Furthermore, the defendants will be required to attend monthly progress meetings with the Assistant Dean for JD Student Affairs.  Finally, the defendants were removed from any leadership and board positions they held prior to their conviction.

The judgment of the Court came after careful consideration of the aggravating and mitigating factors in this case.  Moreover, the Court would like to remind students that for the sake of the academic integrity of the law school, it is important to promptly report any and all Honor Code violations to the Office for JD Student Affairs.  The Court hopes that the judgment against the defendants will serve as a reminder to all students that academic dishonesty is not tolerated at this law school.  Lastly, the opinion of the Court in this matter is available on Reserve in the Pardee Legal Research Center.

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