High Court rules convicted sex offender can become WA State lawyer
Nov. 4, 2022 at 9:00 am Updated Nov. 7, 2022 at 4:00 pm
By GENE JOHNSONThe Associated Press
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.