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Former Inmate and Skadden Fellow Can Sit for Bar Exam

By George Khoury, Esq. on November 21, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Not all lawyers take the same path to getting licensed. Fortunately for those that take the road less travelled, a decision from Supreme Court for the state of Washington might help to provide some clarity as to when the road less travelled becomes the road from which there's no coming back. In short, the court ruled that a former inmate, who is now a law grad and Skadden Fellow recipient, can actually sit for her state's bar exam.

Previously, the moral character and fitness review board had denied the accomplished grad the chance to sit for the bar exam. However, after appealing the decision, where over 100 individuals and organizations joined as amicus in support, the state's highest court reversed the review board's decision.

Details of an Exceptional Case

Tarra Simmons made no effort to hide her past from the review board. Her parents struggled with drugs and alcohol. She did too. She was addicted to drugs and eventually was incarcerated on drug and theft charges.

However, her incarceration led to a 180 degree turn around. She got clean, got rehabilitated, and got to work.Unfortunately, after her release, she could not find work as a nurse, even though her RN license was still valid. This led to her accepting a job at Burger King, which in turn inspired her to make a change. She started law school and quickly became a model student, not only doing well in class, but also excelling outside the classroom. For proof of such excellence, look no further than her receipt of a Skadden Fellowship. However, when she applied to the moral character and fitness review board, her application was rejected due to her past criminal record.

Is Moral Character a Moving Target?

As Simmons' counsel explained, people change. Her counsel, Shon Hopwood, is a convicted bank robber who served much more time behind bars than her 20 months. His own story reflects the fact that convicted criminals can become attorneys, and based on his success in her case, good ones too. 

And if you need more proof of the fact that moral character is a moving target, just take a quick look at FindLaw's Greedy Associates blog archive. For every one story of a criminal becoming a lawyer, there are countless stories of lawyers becoming criminals.

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