Thursday, November 3, 2022

More Than A Sum Of The Worst Moments

Rejecting a 6-5 unfavorable recommendation of its Character and Fitness Board, the Washington State Supreme Court admitted an applicant with a past criminal history

Stevens has been convicted of multiple serious crimes, he violated his probation in 2013, he is subject to sex offender registration requirements, and he was denied admission to the Arizona State Bar Association based on character and fitness concerns. These facts are all relevant to our inquiry. However, like all of us, Stevens is more than the sum of the worst moments of his life. In order to provide the individualized inquiry that our precedent requires, we must consider Stevens’ wrongful conduct in context.

Stevens’ most serious offenses occurred when he was a teenager. As an adult, he has abstained from engaging in any unlawful conduct since 2013. In that time, he has graduated from college and law school, he has been steadily employed, and he has developed a supportive network of friends and family. It is apparent from the record that Stevens has taken responsibility for his prior misconduct and shows remorse. We therefore hold that despite his past wrongdoing, Stevens has met his burden of showing that he is currently a person “of good moral character” who “possesses the requisite fitness to practice law.” APR 24.1(c). As a result, we grant his application for admission to the WSBA.

Arizona has a presumption against admission of applicants with felony convictions

We hold that Stevens’ bar denial in Arizona is relevant, but we give less weight to this factor than we would give to a bar denial in a jurisdiction with admissions standards more similar to our own or in a case where it appears that the applicant is engaged in forum shopping.

Four justices dissented in an opinion of Justice Madsen

The majority says that it recognizes the serious nature of Stevens’ convictions but contextualizes that behavior in a way that sanitizes and minimizes the ongoing consequences of that behavior. Specifically, at the time of his most serious offenses he was 19 years old and was involved in the sexual exploitation of children. Additionally, he was required to register as a sex offender. The majority overlooks that Stevens’ most serious violations occurred when he was an adult, at the ages of 19 and 26. Moreover, the offenses involved victimized youth who were significantly younger than Stevens. I disagree, and I would therefore deny Stevens’ application for admission at this time.

..given the totality of these factors, I would hold that Stevens has failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that he has good moral character and possesses the moral fitness to be admitted to the Washington bar at this time. That is not to say that Stevens is forever precluded from applying to the Washington bar or that his past actions are an indelible mark clouding his future. While we must judge an applicant based on their past, the past does not control the future. Prior applicants have shown a path forward. E.g., Simmons, 190 Wn.2d at 386-99. Undoubtedly, other paths can be forged. It is my hope that if and when Stevens addresses the concerns discussed above (satisfying his continuing legal obligations among them), he would reapply for admission.

Justice Yu authored the opinion. (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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