Defrocked Priest Can Take Bar Exam
The Iowa Supreme Court Will Allow an Alaska Priest Defrocked for Allegations of Sexual Abuse to Take the Iowa Bar Examination.

By Abby Simons
Des Moines Register
September 21, 2007

The Iowa Supreme Court will allow an Alaska priest defrocked for allegations of sexual abuse to take the Iowa Bar Examination.

Michael Patrick Nash, a graduate of Creighton University law school in Omaha who was denied admission to the Iowa Bar Association in 2006 because questionable moral character based on the purported sexual abuse.

Nash formally left the priesthood in 2005 following allegations that he had sexually abused boys in the remote areas of the Juneau archdiocese in the 1980s. He was never prosecuted or found guilty, but admitted to requesting foot and neck massages, administering bare-buttock spankings and making boys do calisthenics in their underwear as punishment for misbehavior.

In denying Nash to the Iowa bar, the Iowa Board of Law Examiners contended that such actions "raise character concerns adequate to deny him permission to practice in Iowa."

In a 6-1 decision, the state's High Court disagreed.

"While we certainly do not condone Nash's disciplinary techniques, we do not believe such non-criminal acts from seventeen (or more) years ago reflect poorly on his present moral character and fitness to practice law." The justices wrote.

Nash enrolled at Creighton in 2003 with permission from the Archdiocese of Juneau, where he was still employed but no longer active in the priesthood. Prior to his graduation from Creighton, Nash was offered a job at a Story City law firm. He was allowed to take the bar exam, but after a four-day hearing, the board requested that Nash undergo a psychiatric evaluation, in which he was found not to suffer from any disorder that would make him a risk for abuse.

The board still denied him admission to the bar in February 2006. because of the character concerns.

The court said that while Nash's methods of discipline would be considered inappropriate today, "when viewed in the social and historical context in which they were applied, they apprea significantly less sinister," adding that Nash has also since apologized to the children he improperly disciplined.

The court ruled that, compared with the evidence of Nash's strong moral character since the 1980s, "The decades-old inappropriate but non-criminal acts admitted by Nash are insufficient to support the board's denial of Nash's application to become a member of the Iowa bar."

Only Justice David Wiggins disagreed with the decision, because the acts Nash admitted to doing could have been classified as sexually abusive, and that no records were available from treatment he received years ago to address his "dealings with young people."

A current psychological evaluation, he said, was insufficient because the psychiatrist did not specialize in sexual abuse issues.


"Under these circumstances, I do not feel Nash met his high burden to prove…that he has the requisite moral character and fitness for admission to the Iowa bar." However, Wiggins added that he would not reject Nash's application to the bar, instead making a final decision following inpatient treatment as requested by the Iowa Board of Law Examiners.


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