Imagine, if you will, how it must feel to be judged by a board of nine people you’ve never met, meeting in secret to pour through examples of your worst legal problems, your most personal relationship issues, your most embarrassing financial decisions.
Imagine your entire life, summarized as a series of embarrassing documents, passed around a table amongst strangers, as if the sum total of your life is nothing more than two-dimensional fodder for gossip…Imagine the strangers using this material to define your moral character and to pass judgement on whether you are a good enough person to deserve to earn a living in your chosen profession.
Skin-crawling, isn’t it? That’s what happened to Tarra Simmons.
In May, the Washington State Bar Association Moral Character Board barred Tarra Simmons from access to the State Bar Exam – the test necessary to achieve professional certification as an attorney – as a result of “moral character concerns” relating to Simmons’ criminal record. The decision was reached by a 6-3 vote, after a private board review of relevant court history, addiction records and financial documents.
Given her background, Simmons said that she was not surprised that her application was flagged. Simmons says she was prepared for an in-person moral character interview and felt her story would carry the day. She was caught off guard, however, when her application was turned down before she could directly state her case. Simmons was crestfallen, telling TVW that the board’s decision sent the wrong message.
She was caught off guard, however, when her application was turned down before she could directly state her case.
“It’s very hard, personally for myself and for my children,” Simmons said.
“This ruling sends a strong message that second chances are really, really hard to get.”
When reached for comment, the WSBA declined to comment on any individual applications, but said that a moral character evaluation may view the volume, seriousness and recency of events on an applicant’s record as cumulative in nature.
In other words, it might not have been any one thing about Simmons’ record – it might have been everything.
Ironically, as a more thorough inspection of Simmons’ “moral character” might’ve revealed, the applicant in question was not ready to give up so easily.