Will “Erased” Arrest History Affect Legal Career if Disclosed?

QUESTION:

If I was arrested in what were later found to be false grounds, and the record was erased, not expunged, if there is a semantic or substantial difference? It was “erased” in a state other than MA in New England which doesn’t have expungement in its law. (1) Will I have to disclose this incident to MA law schools and bar examiners in my fitness and character section? Under state law of the state where the incident occurred, I am legally permitted to swear under oath that the incident never occurred. The case was erased from the city police dept, the state police and the FBI. The fingerprint card was returned to me.

Since it was just a misunderstanding, and I do disclose, I am afraid it will put me at a serious disadvantage applying for federal judicial clerkships.  Do I have grounds to sue the police department of the city where the incident occurred for some character defamation? How do I otherwise explain what happened? It seems the whole point of the erasure is moot if I will continually disclose this incident to work in federal or state government jobs. Do I just have to put these aspirations aside and go private sector all the way?

ANSWER:

We seem to be receiving a series of questions recently about whether various facts should be reported to law schools or in the process of seeking admission to the bar, including the one just before this one (see below).  More than once we have turned to the Board of Bar Examiners to get feedback in our effort to be responsive, and most often the feedback has been in the direction of disclosure rather than guardedness.  But in addressing these questions, particularly this one, we find ourselves in the realm of giving legal advice, which is not something we do.  Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers provides assistance in the realm behavioral health, stress, and related issues such as career dissatisfaction through the efforts of its clinical staff.  Our sibling program, LOMAP, though staffed by lawyers, provides assistance in how best to manage a practice, and questions of the sort you pose are outside its scope as well.

If you would like some help in brainstorming the personal/psychological aspects of the decisions you face, please arrange to talk with a member of our clinical staff.  We can certainly understand your sense that it would be unfair to be disadvantaged by an illegitimate arrest, and we would hope that it would not have that effect even if disclosed.  You can also call the Board of Bar Examiners.  (Offhand we do not know whether that call could be anonymous, but you could find out.)  For legal advice, however, you will have to consult a lawyer experienced in such matters.

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