WA: Convicted Sex Offender Now a Licensed Attorney in Washington State

Source: prisonlegalnews.org 10/15/23

A divided Washington Supreme Court beat back prejudice with a November 2022 decision admitting a convicted sex offender to the state bar. Zachary LeRoy Stevens was charged as a teenager with four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor for sending child pornography to a detective posing as a 14-year-old online. He pleaded guilty to reduced charges of voyeurism in 2012, serving less than a year in jail and on home detention. He was also required to register as a sex offender.

Stevens had previously been convicted of drug offenses and violated his probation with an impaired driving charge. But he subsequently turned his life around, graduating from Arizona State University’s law school in 2018.

Attorneys must pass a character and fitness review before being licensed, however, and the Arizona state bar rejected his application. Planning to move to Washington, Stevens applied to that state’s bar association, which also recommended denial of his request. On November 3, 2022, however, Washington’s Supreme Court narrowly rejected that recommendation.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court noted that Stevens had “abstained from engaging in any unlawful conduct since 2013,” and “like all of us … is more than the worst moments of his life.” The Court noted that he had not only graduated from college and law school but also married and developed a supportive network. Additionally, he had disclosed his sex offender status to classmates and employers, and he had shown remorse.

When evaluating the eligibility factors, the Court said, the standard for admitting Stevens to the bar was whether he had proved by clear and convincing evidence that he was “currently of ‘good moral character’” – i.e., of good moral character presently at age 33, not when he committed his sex offenses at age 19.

The Court also considered but gave little weight to the Arizona bar’s rejection of Stevens’ application, saying it was apparent he was not “forum shopping.” Moreover Arizona, unlike Washington, had a presumption that an applicant convicted of any felony be denied admission. In Washington there is “no categorical exclusion of an applicant who has a criminal or substance abuse history,” the Court noted, concluding that Stevens’ prior criminal conduct, “though extremely serious, is sufficiently mitigated that it does not prevent his admission to the bar.”

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I think the majority in this opinion said it best when it said that he had shown current moral character at age 33, not age 19. Pretty telling that the minority opinion was not convinced of good moral character, but the only thing supporting their opposition was his requirement to register, which is beyond his control. Pretty sure the state of Washington doesn’t excuse someone from registering if he can show current good moral character, nor what would constitute proof of such if it did.

There is hope out there. Maybe it only comes in drips and drabs, but it is out there. This is great news, and I pray that Attorney Stevens will use his knowledge and position to help those who are in need.

Four dissenting judges, led by Justice Barbara Madsen, said Stevens failed to meet his burden of demonstrating current good moral character and fitness to practice law. Observing that at the time of his application he still had to register as a sex offender,

So according to Justice Madsen, being on the sex offense registry constitutes bad moral character? The registry is more a demonstration of illogic and moral panic in legislatures. That judge needs to do a little reading on the subject.

Fantastic. Ridiculous a teenager spent any time in jail for sending a photo to a fake teenager.

Perhaps justices should show current moral character by looking at two decades of evidence regarding the registry and sex crimes instead of relying on their emotions to justify siding with the status quo.

So, seeing a photo of a butt is worse than leaving a tire track on it? One Washington State supreme court justice was charged with drunk driving (2nd time) 3x over legal limit. He kept his job. Another was charged with hit and run while drunk driving. She resigned and became president of the Center for Children & Youth Justice. 
I asked Bing’s AI if Justice Madsen was charged with drunk driving. AI’s response felt threatening: (worrisome emoji included) “Why do you ask about Barbara Madsen and drunk driving? Do you have a specific interest in her or the Washington Supreme Court? 🤔”.