Who is more qualified than Reginald Dwayne Betts?

Attorney Josh Tepfer

Ever do something stupid when you were a teenager?

Of course you did.

Want to know why you did that stupid thing?

Well, one reason is your brain wasn’t fully mature. Teenagers do stupid things, in part, because of biology. Their brains don’t let them see long term consequences or too far in the future.

Want to know one of the stupid things I did when I was 16 years’ old? Well, I told the world (okay, 2,343 people so far) in this Tedx talk.  Fast forward to about the 5:05 mark and you can learn my harrowing adventure with a long driveway and an automatic transmission.

I survived doing that stupid thing. And now I’m a lawyer.

It sounds like Reginald Dwayne Betts did a stupid thing when he was 16 years old. He was an honor student growing up in a community surrounded by drugs, some violence, and peers who were going to prison. Then one day, in a spur of a moment decision, he and a friend carjacked a man at gunpoint.

Betts was punished far more than me for my stupid act. He should have been. He did eight years in prison.

But Reginald Dwayne Betts got out in 2005. And since then, he has done some extraordinary things. According to this article, Betts has published two acclaimed books of poetry and a memoir, earned a college degree with a 4.0, earned an MFA, started a family, held a Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard, earned a law degree from Yale, received an NAACP Image Award, given talks at schools, prisons, and conferences around the country, been accepted to a PhD program, worked for the New Haven Public Defender’s Office, and passed the Connecticut Bar Exam.

He previously told the New Yorker he wants to be a public defender.

But last Thursday, the State of Connecticut told him he can’t be. According to them, Betts doesn’t have the “character” and/or “fitness” to be a lawyer because of his stupid spur-of-the-moment decision he made when he was 16 years old. A stupid, spur-of-the-moment decision he paid for by being locked up for eight years.

Allow me to be blunt: Screw you Connecticut Bar.

You know what, that’s not good enough.

There are people behind that decision, not just some faceless entity. And whoever you are: How dare you. How would you like to be judged for the rest of your life by a mistake you made when you were 16 years’ old? Look in the mirror. Tell me you’ve lived a life without errors, without moral failings, without committing felonies for which you were never caught and punished. Tell me that and I’ll tell you that you’re a liar.

Reginald Dwayne Betts committed a criminal act. He got caught, and he was punished. Our system of justice determined that his criminal act required eight years in prison. He probably did some parole time, too.

Reginald Dwayne Betts served his punishment. He paid his debt. Since that time, against the great odds faced by convicted felons, he’s thrived as a human being. And no one should be more aware of those great odds than lawyers.

But these faceless, Connecticut bar examiner administrators say that’s not enough.  They continue to punish him despite the legal system already having determined his punishment. These faceless bureaucrats continue to judge his “character and fitness” based on a mistake he committed two decades ago.

It’s shameful and it’s wrong.