The Legal Profession Appears To Have A Serious Character Standards Problem…

I refer you, for context, to the recent post about Shon Hopwood, Georgetown Law Center’s former bank-robber, former federal prisoner professor, who was welcomed into membership in the D.C. bar…like me.

Now comes word that Tarra Simmons, a third-year law student, convicted felon and former drug addict, who in December won a Skadden Fellowship to help people recently released from prison, was told by the Washington State Bar Association that she did not possess the character to make her a trustworthy lawyer.

Tarra was a magna cum laude law school graduate, and co-chairs Washington’s Statewide Re-Entry Council.  She recently received a gubernatorial appointment to the state’s Public Defense Advisory Committee, and was selected by the dean of Seattle University School of Law to receive the school’s dean’s medal this year.

Nevertheless, the character and fitness board’s vote against Simmons was not even close, at 6-3.

A registered nurse for 11 years, Simmons became addicted to prescription drugs and methamphetamine after her father died, as she self-medicated for depression. In 2011, she was charged with felony theft, drug possession and gun possession, pleaded guilty, served 20 months in state prison. She says she  wants to assist former justice-involved individuals, as  a lawyer who has lived their experience, so they “can overcome barriers and rejoin society.”

But Tarra cannot cannot take the Washington Bar examination without getting a positive  character and fitness recommendation, and that looks unlikely. She’s appealing to the Washington Supreme Court, but traditionally that forum is tougher in assessing the  character and fitness of  potential admittees.

I think her course now is obvious: move to the District of Columbia. The bar there will surely see no reason to doubt her character.

After all, it’s not like she robbed a bank.

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Pointer: ABA Journal