February Bar Results Released Early by Tech Company Error
Action of committees and courts provided help to situation

by Avery Martinez

Earlier this month, takers of the February Colorado Bar Exam received notification of their scores on April 7, before the set date of April 30. Notified by email blast, those who had taken the bar were confronted with a pass or fail notice that did not follow the timeline, and information warning them not to rely on the results. The Law Committee and Supreme Court were able to help deal with the situation.

Jessica Yates, Colorado Supreme Court Attorney Regulation Counsel, said the situation arose from human error on the side of the vendor that is used for communication and submissions by those taking the exam.

The situation began once the National Conference of Bar Examiners returned the test results for the Colorado exam. After the results had been received, the notices for the applicants were prepared and uploaded to CiviCore, the vendor that hosts the application system where applications and materials are uploaded, Yates said. Notices also go out to applicants via the system, and this is the process for communication and notification of missing materials and also provides official notices about their application to applicants.

At the time, the system was going through a beta testing phase to make sure the application notices had been uploaded to the correct files and names, Yates explained. The scores had not been proofed at the time, the results had not gone to the Law Committee to certify the results to the Supreme Court, and the court had not received anything.

“However, the vendor inadvertently moved the draft notices from the testing section of CiviCore to the live section, and they all went without our knowledge or authorization,” Yates said. The mistake happened when the vendor sent the wrong link to the OARC to upload the sample bar result notices, which went through a live site rather than a testing site, Yates said. She added she was not a computer expert, but from the OARC understanding, all of this occurred on the vendor side.

Notices about results were sent out by this incident on April 7. The notices included information such as whether the score was a pass or fail, the written essay score, the multi-state examination score and the total uniform bar examination score. “At the time the notices went out, we had not proofed each set of scores to ensure that applicants would be told the correct scores,” Yates said.

“Further, because the Law Committee had not met to review the scores and the Supreme Court had not met to review the Law Committee’s recommendation, we did not know whether the Court would set the pass score at 276,” she said. For some time, the passing score has been set at 276 in Colorado, however, the Supreme Court has full discretion to set a different score which it has done in the past, she added.

The OARC was first notified of the situation by individuals who had just taken the exam, she said. Several calls came into the office from individuals who were very confused about why they had received notices when they were not expecting to hear about exam results until April 30.

“For individuals who received the notice that they had failed, they were particularly upset and hoping that information was not true,” Yates said. The OARC then sent out notification to February bar applicants not to rely on the notices they had received because the results had not been reviewed for accuracy and it was unknown whether the Law Committee or Supreme Court would approve the results.

The Law Committee was not set to meet about the results until April 29; however, the current coronavirus pandemic was a “silver lining” to this story, Yates said. Usually, many of the members of the committee would be in court, handling depositions or otherwise occupied, but due to the changes caused by COVID-19, many members were able to meet on April 8, with less than 24-hours notice.

Before the committee received the results, Yates said the scores were proofed and checked to make certain the correct scores were the ones referenced and were going to the right applicants. Discussion took place between the liaison justices to see if the Supreme Court would place a review of the Law Committee’s recommendations on their conference agenda for April 9, to which they agreed, Yates added.

The Law Committee verified the results and sent them off to the Supreme Court for their Thursday morning conference. The Court considered the exam results, and the Law Committee’s recommendation to approve them, and the court approved the results using a passing score of 276, Yates said.

The court’s approval of the scores  meant those with a score of 276 or above had indeed passed, Yates said. “That was critical for us to know, because we do not determine who passes or fails.”

“We were very unhappy that the vendor made the mistake it did, but we are very grateful that the Law Committee and the Court were willing — and able — to consider the matter so quickly so that applicants did not have to wait several weeks to find out whether they passed or failed the February bar exam,” she said.

The incident received some national attention. “We disagree with the characterization that a national blog recently posted without seeking comment or information from our Office,” Yates said in an email.

“We are really sorry that this incident occurred and caused stress to some of the applicants. We were also very frustrated that it had occurred, and we already have worked with the vendor to make sure it never happens again,” Yates said.

To read other complete articles featured in the April 27, 2020, print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.