Continued on page 14.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s first published opinion in three decades on
the character and fitness test for admission, we commence our new Behind the
Scenes series with a look at the character and fitness process.
By Sara Niegowski
Examining the Character
and Fitness Review Process
Behind the Scenes: LEGAL REGULATION IN ACTION
The Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) administers the regulation of the practice of law under the delegated
authority of the Washington Supreme Court, which means the majority of WSBA’s day-to-day operations are governed by court rule.
Behind the Scenes is an ongoing series to explain and demystify the regulatory processes that individually apply to every member’s
license to practice law and collectively ensure the integrity of the legal profession. In coming issues, look for coverage of the Client
Protection Fund, discipline process, Mandatory Continuing Legal Education, and more.
Have a suggestion for a Behind the Scenes topic? Contact email@example.com.
The question in front of the Court was, would this
version of Tarra, the responsible citizen Tarra, last?
Or would that Tarra be undone by the other Tarra, the
one who had demonstrated a clear pattern of criminal
behavior? Criminal-behavior Tarra did have a long
history of undermining responsible-citizen Tarra. So
which would appear in the future, and could you tell by
looking at the patterns in her past?
NPR’s broadcast of its Invisibilia podcast,
“The Pattern Problem,” March 30, 2018.
Simmons has proved by clear and convincing evidence
that she is currently of good moral character and fit to
practice law. We affirm this court's long history of recognizing that one’s past does not dictate one’s future. We
therefore unanimously grant her application to sit for the
In re Simmons,
190 Wn.2d 374, 401, 414 P.3d 1111 (2018).
Tarra Simmons applied to sit for the Washington bar exam in 2017 with a stellar academic history. The mother of two graduated magna cum laude from Seattle University School of Law, earning
the Dean’s Medal and a prestigious Skadden Fellowship. But
Simmons also came with a troubled past. A victim of abuse
herself, she battled longtime trauma and substance abuse
issues, achieving six years’ sobriety.
1 While her trauma
remained meaningfully untreated, she had accumulated multiple felony convictions, bankruptcies, and enforcement action
against her nursing license by the state’s nursing regulation
board. But she finally received the help she needed in prison
and turned her life around.
Faced with the required character and fitness evaluation,
Simmons’ application to sit for the bar exam was initially
denied by the Character and Fitness Board (C&F Board). On
appeal, the extreme and competing factors—as well as the
question of what standard of review to apply to C&F decisions— ultimately led the Washington Supreme Court in April
to do something it has not done in more than three decades:
issue a written opinion in a character and fitness case, In re
Simmons, 190 Wn.2d 374, 414 P.3d 1111 (2018).
Because Simmons waived her right to confidentiality in