A law school graduate who is neither licensed to practice law nor working with the law in any capacity cannot identify himself as a “lawyer” in nomination papers for public office, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in In re Beyer, __ A.3d __ (No. 35 MAP 2014, filed April 28, 2015). Michael Beyer circulated nomination petitions for the Office of Representative in the General Assembly listing his occupation as “lawyer.” Beyer was a law school graduate but was neither licensed nor working in a law-related job. In denying a petition to set aside the nomination petition, Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer held that Beyer’s statement of occupation was not a defect since the term “lawyer” includes an individual “learned in the law” even if he is not licensed to practice. Judge Cohn Jubelirer further held that, assuming Beyer’s statement was a misrepresentation, it was not a material defect because he testified credibly that he never intended to deceive the electorate.
On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed and struck Beyer’s name from the ballot. Writing for the majority, Justice Stevens first held that Beyer’s statement of occupation was a defect. Citing the Rules of Professional Conduct and commonly accepted definitions of “lawyer” and “profession,” the Court held that the occupation or profession of lawyer for purposes of a nomination petition comprises not only law school training “but also acquisition of a formal qualification to practice law, which, in this Commonwealth, entails receiving a license to practice.” The Court also held that the defect manifested a material and knowing misrepresentation, thereby precluding amendment and requiring Beyer’s petition to be set aside. In so holding, the Court was particularly troubled by Beyer’s own testimony that when electors asked about his occupation, he would respond that he had not yet passed the bar. In the majority’s view, this indicated that Beyer knew his statement of occupation was possibly misleading.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Baer agreed with the majority’s ruling that a candidate may only designate his occupation or profession as “lawyer” on nomination papers after he or she has graduated from law school, passed the bar exam, and is in good standing as an active member of the Pennsylvania Bar. Justice Baer opined that because no Pennsylvania appellate court had expressed such a rule when Beyer filed his nomination papers, the ruling should have only prospective effect.