PHOENIX – A convicted murderer who graduated from law school after getting out of prison was denied admission to the bar Wednesday by the Arizona Supreme Court because of a lack of "good moral character."
James Hamm, who served 17 years for his part in a drug-related robbery that left two men dead, had asked the court to allow him to practice law even though the state bar association had recommended against his application, citing the seriousness of the crime and his failure to own up to his past.
The five-member court unanimously sided with the bar association.
Chief JusticeRuth McGregor said the court has no rule automatically barring someone with Hamm's past from practicing law, but "an applicant with such a background must make an extraordinary showing of rehabilitation and present good moral character."
Among other things, the court said Hamm failed to take full responsibility for the murders. The justices cited Hamm's claim that he intended only to rob the men — a statement the court said was inconsistent with the facts.
Hamm, 57, complained in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press that his efforts to "atone for the lives I took" seemed to have made little impression on the court.
"That seems to have literally made no difference. That is very disappointing to me," said Hamm, who has been working as a paralegal in Phoenix. He said he might take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Matt Silverman, a spokesman for the State Bar of Arizona, said: "This is the right decision. It preserves the integrity of the legal profession."
In 1974, Hamm, then 26, was selling marijuana when he was approached by two young men who wanted to buy 20 pounds of the drug. He and two accomplices decided to rob the men at gunpoint in the desert.
Hamm, initially charged with two counts of murder, pleaded guilty to one and was sentenced to life in prison.
He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Northern Arizona University through a prison program. After his sentence was commuted in 1989, he attended Arizona State University's law school.
He passed the bar exam in 1999 and last year filed his character and fitness application — a requirement to practice law.