Political Ad Takes Shot At Lawyer's Past Addiction, Criminal History

By Keri Blakinger 07/19/18

"To be pulled in to a heated political race based on my own story of redemption is really painful," said Tarra Simmons.

Image: 
Tarra Simmons being sworn in as a lawyer.
Tarra Simmons being sworn in as a lawyer. Photo via YouTube

Tarra Simmons never wanted to be the stuff of campaign fodder. 

But months after winning her year-long battle to become a lawyer, the former prisoner was surprised to see her name dragged into a state senate race—as a political smear.

The mailers supporting Republican Marty McClendon, which started showing up on Washington doorsteps this month, according to KING-TV, denounced his Democratic opponent for supporting the “drug-addicted ex-con” in her hard-fought efforts to gain admission to the state bar. 

"Emily Randall has consistently failed to back our law enforcement,” the flyers reportedly said, “yet Randall has supported Tarra Simmons, a drug-addicted ex-con who was denied admission to the Washington State Bar Association due to multiple felony convictions."

Simmons, who served time for gun, drug and theft charges, made national headlines last year after the Washington State Bar refused to let her sit for the bar exam, the test needed to become a lawyer. She’d already won a prestigious law fellowship, was a dean’s medal recipient at her law school, launched a non-profit and racked up years of sober time under her belt. But still, the bar said, that wasn’t enough.

“Her acquired fame has nurtured not integrity and honesty, but a sense of entitlement to privileges and recognition beyond the reach of others,” the Character and Fitness board wrote in 2017. 

But the Bremerton mom took her case to court, and won, scoring accolades and compliments from the state’s jurists.

“Simmons has proved by clear and convincing evidence that she is currently of good moral character and fit to practice law,” the Washington Supreme Court wrote in its 33-page opinion. “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 bar exam.”

But despite the state court’s support, it seems, some political groups still aren’t on board with Simmons’ impressive turnaround—and Simmons took them to task for it in a neatly-worded Facebook post. 

“Hey 26th District Republicans You left out the part about how the Washington State Supreme Court UNANIMOUSLY put the bar in its place,” she wrote. “I thought the right wingers believed in things like 'redemption'. You know what? Part of me is happy over this nonsense. Because people only talk about leaders. I'll take it as a compliment that you thought about me, and I'll keep leading with truth while y'all sit up here and throw stones at people who've done their time and have fought through pain that would make you crumble. I'm proud of Emily Randall because she gets it.”

The ad in question wasn’t actually paid for by Randall’s opponent. Instead, an outside group, the Washington Forward, the Leadership Council, reportedly funded the flyer.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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