Of Character and Fitness: Who Should Be Allowed to Take the Bar Exam?

Cover Of July NWLawyerFor the first time in more than 30 years, the Washington Supreme Court issued an opinion on the character and fitness test for admission under the Admission and Practice Rules (APR). In re Simmons was an appeal from the WSBA Character and Fitness Board’s denial of Tarra Simmons’ application to sit for the bar exam. Simmons, a magna cum laude graduate of Seattle University School of Law, Dean’s Medal recipient, and Skadden Fellow, also had a troubled history of substance abuse and drug-related crimes that led to prison. In its unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Character and Fitness Board and provided some guidance as to the application of the factors for determining good moral character and fitness to practice law set out in the APRs. Simmons sat for the bar exam, passed it, and is now a member of the Washington State Bar Association.

But how did the two adjudicatory bodies looking at the same record reach opposite results? Who is Tarra Simmons? And, after a historic turn of events, what should WSBA members know about the internal workings of the Character and Fitness Board?

The July issue of NWLawyer takes a deep dive into these questions and more with an examination of the character and fitness review process, an analysis of the Supreme Court’s reversal of the Character and Fitness Board’s decision, and a first-hand account from Simmons herself.

Also this month, learn about a new court rule to address implicit bias in jury selection and Washington’s new court protections for immigrants.