Florida's top educator, who hopes to be its top legal officer, says failing taught him "never give up.''
By STEPHEN HEGARTY
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 1, 2001
Seeking to avoid a potentially embarrassing revelation in his campaign for attorney general, Florida Education Commissioner Charlie Crist volunteered Friday that he had twice flunked the Florida Bar examination.
Crist, who holds a commanding fundraising lead in the race to be the state's top legal officer, said he thought it likely that the subject eventually would come up during the campaign.
"Yes, I failed the bar exam twice; the third time I passed it," Crist said during an interview on education topics Friday. "It's not something I'm particularly proud of, but I think the lesson is to never give up."
Crist, who grew up in St. Petersburg, received a law degree from Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Ala., in 1981. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in May 1983, so he passed the exam before that. Currently, about 21 percent fail the Florida Bar exam on their first try. Prospective lawyers can take the exam multiple times.
The education commissioner and former state senator characterized the years when he graduated from law school and took the bar exam as "a traumatic time." Crist was married briefly in 1979 while attending law school.
"I had come through a difficult divorce; it was a difficult time," Crist said. "I'm glad I got a second chance."
Crist faces Sen. Locke Burt of Ormond Beach in the Republican primary next year. The only Democrat in the race thus far is Sen. Buddy Dyer of Orlando.
When asked whether his bar exam experience should have any bearing on the attorney general's race, Crist said, "I personally don't. I did pass the Bar. If anything, the fact that I had to take it three times gives me greater compassion. "
Crist's rivals in the race said Friday they had heard about Crist's bar exam experience, but said they had no immediate plans to raise the issue in the campaign. Nonetheless, they couldn't resist commenting.
"People who are Republicans and who like Charlie and have supported him have expressed to me some concerns about whether he is able to handle the complexities of the attorney general's job," Burt said. "This new revelation won't do anything to allay those fears."
Dyer said he learned of Crist's bar exam experiences from some of Crist's former law school classmates. But he said he had no plans to raise the subject.
"Right now I'm running for the Democratic nomination," Dyer said. "Eventually, though, I hope the voters have a choice between someone who got the highest score on the exam when he took it and someone who had to take it three times."
The Florida Board of Bar Examiners does not verify how many times a person takes the Florida Bar exam, so Crist's admission could be the only way to answer the question definitively. The board does, however, disclose when a lawyer first was admitted to the Florida Bar.
Both Burt and Dyer said they passed the Florida Bar on their first try. Burt got his law degree from Loyola University in 1974 and was admitted to the Florida Bar in May 1975. Dyer got his law degree from the University of Florida in 1987 and was admitted to the Florida Bar in October 1987.
Bob Poe, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, said Friday that he was unaware that Crist failed the bar, and that his party had no plans to embarrass Crist by revealing the information. But after learning of it Friday, Poe couldn't resist commenting.
"He obviously isn't qualified to be education commissioner; otherwise the governor wouldn't have appointed another one," Poe said. "And now he probably isn't qualified to be the state's attorney general. Are we going to have the governor appointing a second attorney general to work with Charlie?"