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Ruling sends admissions data question back to trial court

It’s now up to a San Francisco County Superior Court judge to decide whether to make public data on every person who applied to take the bar exam from 1972 to 2007, including their race, academic record and bar exam scores.

The California Supreme Court ruled last month that the State Bar’s admissions database is subject to being released under the common law right of public access. But the court stopped short of ordering the immediate release, finding that the trial court must decide “if the information can be provided in a form that protects the privacy of applicants and no countervailing interest outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure.” Sander v. State Bar of California, S194951.

“The State Bar will go back to the trial court to resolve the issues as identified in the opinion.” State Bar President Luis J. Rodriguez said.

The case stems from a request for the data by Richard Sander, a UCLA law professor. Sander wants to use the data to test his theory that affirmative action undermines the ability of minority students to succeed at elite schools, leading to lower bar exam passage rates among black and Latino bar applicants.

The State Bar declined to release the data in 2007, citing privacy concerns, and Sander filed suit.

San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow previously concluded that the records were not subject to disclosure under the common law right of access. But the First District Court of Appeal reversed, finding there was a legal basis for disclosure and ordering the lower court to reconsider the request. A unanimous Supreme Court agreed and remanded the case.