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Suffolk DA candidate Arroyo could face scrutiny for alleged omissions on bar application

Suffolk district attorney candidate Ricardo Arroyo addressed past accusations of sexual assault at a press conference Wednesday.Erin Clark / Globe Staff

Allegations that Ricardo Arroyo wasn’t forthright on his bar application could present a challenge for the Suffolk district attorney candidate long after his campaign ends, potentially triggering an investigation by a state body that regulates lawyers.

Attorneys found to be dishonest on their bar applications have had their law licenses suspended for five months or more, recent cases show. And legal ethics rules make it clear: Lawyers who lie on their bar application can face discipline.

“When such dishonesty has come to our attention, we haven’t hesitated to prosecute,” said Richard C. Abati, first assistant in the Massachusetts Office of the Bar Counsel, which investigates lawyers for misconduct.

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When Arroyo applied for his law license in 2014, he failed to disclose that as a teenager he was twice investigated — but never charged — for possible sexual assault. Arroyo told the Globe last week that he had “never sexually assaulted anyone” and said repeatedly he was never “made aware of either of these allegations.”

A 2005 police report contradicts Arroyo’s claim that he never knew about either investigation. Arroyo also failed to include at least two other minor legal entanglements that he should have disclosed on his bar application, according to public records and interviews with authorities who regulate lawyers in Massachusetts.

“Honesty is extremely important,” said Kandace J. Kukas, executive director for Board of Bar Examiners, which vets candidates. “It is very often more concerning if you are not honest than if you do have some of these smaller situations.”

In an interview last week, Arroyo stood by the answers on this bar application. He also said he was unaware he had been required to disclose his minor legal issues, which included a 2007 small claims case stemming from a minor car accident and a 2013 misdemeanor case for missing jury duty in Boston when he was attending law school in Chicago. Arroyo was also adamant that he had no knowledge of the sexual assault allegations.

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“I had never been told that I was under investigation,” said Arroyo, a 34-year-old Boston city councilor from Hyde Park. “That was an accurate answer.”

The Office of Bar Counsel investigates reports or complaints of unethical behavior by attorneys. In the most recent case from 2018, a lawyer lost his license for five months because he failed to disclose on his bar application that he had been disciplined as a police officer. The decision noted that dishonesty cases were being treated more seriously and subject to harsher sanctions than the past. The court wanted to reassure the public that “such conduct is completely contrary to the oath of office taken by every lawyer.”

The questions on the bar application help vet a prospective lawyer’s character, according to the Board of Bar Examiners. Candidates are expected to disclose even seemingly inconsequential details about their past, which would include a decade-old small claims cases and a summons for missing jury duty that had been dismissed.

“If it’s a minor thing that somebody forgot about it — that would be taken into account,” said Nancy E. Kaufman, who investigated misconduct allegations against lawyers for 29 years for the Office of Bar Counsel. “If it is major and it turns into a big lie, obviously that’s going to be taken more seriously.”

The Globe reported Tuesday night that Arroyo was investigated for sexual assault when he was 18 and 19 years old. Boston Police and the district attorney’s office investigated both sets of allegations and closed each case after several months without charges, officials said

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At a press conference Wednesday, Arroyo portrayed the controversy as a political smear in which legally protected documents were selectively leaked to the media. A lawyer who said she represented one of the women also read a statement from her client saying that Arroyo never assaulted her. Arroyo pointed the blame, without evidence, at his political rival, Suffolk District Attorney Kevin R. Hayden. (Hayden’s spokesman dismissed the charge as a “Trumpian attempt to deflect attention from serious allegations.”)

The two candidates face off in the Democratic Primary Sept. 6.

In the interview, Arroyo said he did not believe he was required to disclose the 2007 small claims case or the jury duty case, which was dismissed. “I didn’t think this was relevant,” Arroyo said. “I don’t even think about it when I was filling out my application, to be perfectly honest.”

The Office of Bar Counsel investigates misconduct allegations and the accused lawyer will have the opportunity to mount a defense before a panel. Any public sanctions are ultimately handed down by the state Supreme Judicial Court.

Cases alleging dishonesty on the bar application are somewhat rare, but there have been several over the last two decades. A typical allegation involved a lawyer failing to disclose charges that were filed and later dismissed, which is different than Arroyo’s situation. He was never charged with a crime, but the 2005 police report says he was notified of the investigation and spoke by phone to a Sexual Assault Unit detective.

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The Office of Bar Counsel would approach someone who failed to disclose an investigation no differently than a lawyer who omitted criminal charges, Abati said. The focus would be whether they failed to answer bar application questions in an honest way.

Arroyo signed his bar application on May 7, 2014, attesting that each of his answers was “true, complete and candid.” The document asked whether he had “ever been charged with or been the subject of any investigation for a felony or misdemeanor other than a minor traffic charge?”

Arroyo answered “No.”

Professor Arnold Rosenfeld who served as Massachusetts Bar Counsel from 1991 to 2000, was skeptical that there was enough for a misconduct case against Arroyo. Rosenfeld said that his work as a public defender has made him wary of taking police reports at face value. Detectives can omit mitigating details, he said, and incorporate facts that are inaccurate.

Robert Bloom, a Boston College Law professor, also seemed dubious of the possibility that Arroyo could be sanctioned.

“There’s a tiny bit of smoke, but I’m not seeing any fire,” Bloom said. “You know if you’ve been charged or indicted, but do you know all the time if you’ve been investigated?”

Professor Nancy Moore of the Boston University School of Law recently published a legal ethics casebook that included a chapter on bar admission.

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“We certainly tell our students that it’s not uncommon that the information will come out years later,” Moore said.


Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him @globeandrewryan.