Sex offender can become Washington state lawyer, court rules

Nov 3, 2022, 4:06 AM | Updated: 6:54 pm

SEATTLE (AP) — A divided Washington Supreme Court on Thursday approved a registered sex offender’s application to become an attorney in the state — though the man says he’s not sure he’ll wind up practicing law after all.

Zachary Leroy Stevens, 35, has been living in Arizona, where he attended law school and worked for a lawyer who represents American Indian tribes. He grew up in Utah, where he was convicted of voyeurism after sending child pornography to an undercover detective in 2006 at age 19 and where several years later he was arrested for drunken driving while on probation.

In a 5-4 decision, the court noted his relative youth at the time of his offenses, that he wasn’t much older than the people whose images he shared, and said he had since demonstrated the “good moral character” necessary to be allowed to practice law. Stevens was previously refused admission to the Arizona bar but said he would move to Washington state, where his wife had connections, if his application there was approved.

“Like all of us, Stevens is more than the sum of the worst moments of his life,” Justice Mary Yu wrote for the majority. “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.”

The dissenting justices, led by Justice Barbara Madsen, said they were concerned that Stevens had not completed his legal obligations — he must continue to register as a sex offender until 2024 at least; that he had not provided a current mental health evaluation; and that the Arizona bar had rejected his application, a factor that Washington should respect, they said.

“The fact that Stevens must register as a sex offender until he is eligible to petition for remission is particularly concerning, especially because one of this court’s key responsibilities is to guard the public and its confidence in the judicial system,” Madsen wrote.

That said, she suggested her analysis might be different once Stevens submitted a current evaluation and was no longer required to register as a sex offender. Under Utah law, sex offenders can petition to have their registration requirements canceled after 10 years.

Stevens applied to become a lawyer in Washington in 2019, after Arizona rejected his application. A Washington State Bar Association committee reviewed his petition and rejected it 6-5. He appealed to the Supreme Court.

In a phone interview Thursday night, he said he cried when he read the decision.

“I’ve been trying to get admitted to the practice of law for longer than I attended law school,” he said.

Stevens said he is now working for the multinational conglomerate Honeywell, where he works on subcontracting for government projects. His plans to move to Washington state have been disrupted because he and his wife have split up, he said.

As for legal work, he noted that he could stay in Phoenix and represent tribes as an attorney on gaming and water rights issues, because he wouldn’t need to be a member of the Arizona bar to do so. Or he could move to Washington state anyway, since his brother recently moved to Portland, Oregon.

“I have a lot of options,” Stevens said. “The decision was extremely compassionately written, and it affords a lot of people opportunities that just weren’t available to them. Even if I don’t pursue the practice of law, I’m satisfied this court found merit in my case. More so than any other state, Washington has established parameters on what it takes to be admitted to the practice of law when you have a checkered background.”

The Washington Supreme Court has previously allowed people convicted of crimes to become lawyers. In 2014, the court ruled that Shon Hopwood, a convicted bank robber who became a “jailhouse lawyer” could take the state bar exam. Hopwood passed, was admitted to the bar and now teaches at Georgetown University Law Center and has been admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court bar.

He also represented Tarra Simmons, who successfully petitioned the court to take the bar despite convictions for assault and drug and theft charges. In 2020, she became the first formerly incarcerated person elected to the Washington state Legislature, and she now works with the National Justice Impact Bar Association, which helps people with criminal backgrounds become lawyers.

Simmons said Thursday the organization is aware of about 100 attorneys around the country who have been admitted to practice law despite past convictions — but no others who have ongoing legal obligations such as probation or sex offender registration. She was thrilled for Stevens, but to the extent that criminal history has long been used as a proxy for race, the ruling is about more that just his admission to the bar, she said.

“This is about furthering justice and advancing policies against systemic racism,” Simmons said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

concede...
Associated Press

GOP’s Joe Kent contests results of Washington state race

Republican Joe Kent's campaign said Friday it intends to request a machine ballot recount of the counties within southwest Washington state's 3rd Congressional District.
9 hours ago
Gavel...
Associated Press

Case against man arrested in 1994 death of woman dismissed

Criminal charges against a man suspected in the 1994 murder of a Vancouver, Washington, woman have been dismissed.
9 hours ago
FILE - A Maasai man walks with his livestock in search of grassland for them to graze, at Ilangerua...
Associated Press

UN summit: Don’t repeat mistakes on nature, scientists warn

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — Scientists around the world are warning governments who will be gathering in Montreal this week for the United Nations biodiversity summit to not repeat past mistakes and are urging officials to “avoid trade-offs” between people and conservation needs in a report Monday. The study published in the One Earth Journal found […]
1 day ago
FILE - Insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump riot outside the Capitol in Washington, on Jan...
Associated Press

Ex-town official gets 15 days for role in Jan. 6 riot

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts ex-town official seen on surveillance video marching through the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was sentenced to 15 days in prison for her role in the riot carried out by supporters of former Republican President Donald Trump to stop the transfer of presidential power to Democrat Joe Biden. Suzanne […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

25,000 tons of Ukraine grain reach east Africa amid drought

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The first shipment of grain as part of Ukraine’s own initiative to supply countries in need arrived in Djibouti Monday for delivery to neighboring Ethiopia amid the region’s worst drought in decades. Ukraine’s embassy in Ethiopia confirmed that the “Grain from Ukraine” shipment of 25,000 tons is separate from a United […]
1 day ago
This is a locator map of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. (AP Photo)...
Associated Press

Lockheed teams with Israel’s Rafael on laser defense

JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. weapons maker Lockheed Martin Corp. and Israeli defense contractor Rafael on Monday said they will team up to develop a high-energy laser system to defend against aerial attacks. The system will be based on ” Iron Beam,” a laser missile-defense system that Rafael has been developing with Israel’s Defense Ministry. The […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Sex offender can become Washington state lawyer, court rules