Del. bar exam trips many, including Beau Biden
By CRIS BARRISH, The News Journal
Posted Monday, October 2, 2006
Beau Biden passed in 2001 after failing three times between 1994 and 1996.
Ferris Wharton passed the exam on his first try in 1978.
The Delaware Bar Examination -- which one must pass to practice law in the state -- has a reputation of being one of the toughest in America.
Statistics support that notion. Last year only 57 percent passed the Delaware exam, a lower figure than all but two states, California and New Hampshire.
The test proved to be a hurdle for Democratic Attorney General candidate Beau Biden, who failed three times between 1994 and 1996 before passing in 2001. Biden had passed the Maryland exam on his first try in 1996.
His opponent, Republican Ferris Wharton, passed Delaware's exam on his first attempt in 1978.
In today's Internet-fueled political environment, Biden's travails have become fodder for the rumor mill and blogosphere.
Experts and supporters of both candidates said Biden's old exam results have no bearing on his ability to run the Delaware Department of Justice.
His performance on the exam came to The News Journal's attention in recent days, when a poster on www.delawareonline.com's Story Chat made references to the failures. "Beau Biden couldn't even pass the bar exam without multiple tries -- I certainly don't want to depend on HIS leadership when my family or I need justice," wrote the poster with the code name "CitizenD."
The newspaper could not learn the poster's identity.
The News Journal has since found that a blogger named ''Delaware Dem" also mentioned Biden's exam woes nearly a year ago in The Daily Kos, a liberal, Democratic site. But that poster, Jason Melrath, who also failed Delaware's test three times and now practices law in Pennsylvania, said he supports Biden's candidacy.
Under Delaware law, the attorney general doesn't even have to be a lawyer.
Experts say that while multiple failures might raise questions about someone's aptitude, bar exams are high-pressure tests that can confound someone with a sharp legal mind. Delaware is one of 30 states that has no limit on how many times someone can take the exam.
"I've seen many good prosecutors who have failed the bar on a couple of occasions," said Wilmington lawyer Jeffrey K. Martin, a Republican supporter of Wharton. "I really don't think it's a reflection of one's legal abilities. ... Much of it is pure cramming and rote memory."
Former Attorney General Charles M. Oberly III, a Democratic backer of Biden, agreed, saying the candidate's ultimate success is a testament to his perseverance. "No one could tell you with a straight face [the failures] are any reflection" on Biden's competence, Oberly said. "It's a nonissue."
Goodbye Delaware Dem. We hardly knew thee. Or maybe not. There have been many good ideas in the comments. I may continue as DD. I may auction off the name and donate the proceeds to charity. I will decide soon.