Court releases opinion in Tarra Simmons’ case

April 5, 2018

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Bar association cannot automatically deny opportunity to take bar exam because of criminal history, Washington Supreme Court writes

The Washington Supreme Court today published its opinion in the case of a Seattle University School of Law graduate who was denied the opportunity to sit for Washington state's bar examination due to her criminal history.

Last November, the court ruled unanimously that Tarra Simmons possesses the moral character and fitness to practice law and should be allowed to sit for the bar exam. This overturned a decision by the Washington State Bar Association's Character and Fitness Board to block Simmons from this necessary step to becoming an attorney. With that hurdle cleared, Simmons took the exam earlier this year and will learn her results later this month.

Tarra Simmons

The 33-page opinion released today, which was written by Justice Mary I. Yu and explains the court's decision, methodically refutes each argument used by the Washington State Bar Association. "Simmons has proved by clear and convincing evidence that she is currently of good moral character and fit to practice law," the decision states. "We affirm this court's long history of recognizing that one's past does not dictate one's future."

Simmons, who graduated magna cum laude from Seattle University School of Law in May of 2017, has had a difficult past. She spent almost two years in prison, and struggled with drug addiction for many years. Yet she has steered her life in more positive directions and achieved notable success. In addition to staying sober for more than six years, she graduated magna cum laude from Seattle University School of Law in May of 2017, won a prestigious Skadden Fellowship in public interest law, and was a dean's medal recipient.

"We offered Tarra Simmons admission to Seattle University School of Law four years ago with full knowledge of her past mistakes, and she has proven over and over again that we made the right decision in giving her a second chance.

"The opinion released by the Washington Supreme Court today thoughtfully articulates the reasons why she should be allowed the opportunity to take the bar exam and become a practicing attorney. It is precisely Tarra's lived experiences and the way in which she has made restitution and rebuilt her life that make her such a powerful and passionate advocate for justice-involved individuals who are seeking to re-enter society. I look forward to the proud day when Tarra can take her place within the Washington State Bar," Dean Annette Clark said.

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