Sara Granda doesn’t take no for an answer.
The 29-year-old quadriplegic passed the California State Bar exam last week after a legal battle that garnered nationwide attention.
Her troubles with the bar exam began last July when the online registration service did not recognize Granda as registered to take the exam. She tried to register for the test with a payment from the Department of Rehabilitation, but the service, which accepts credit card payment, did not recognize her application. In March, the Department of Rehabilitation had already paid her $648 registration fee, and the bar directed Granda to its online page to sign up for the test in April.
“The bar had approved my accommodation,” Granda said. “I called one day, on July 15, just to check if everything was okay, and they said I had never registered, and that it was too late.”
Left ineligible for the November test, Granda would have to wait until February 2010 to take the test.
With the help of civil rights attorneys Stewart Katz and Guy Manilowitz, who represented her with no compensation, Granda brought her case to court.
The Supreme Court unanimously ordered that Granda be allowed to take the exam if she signed up by Sept 1. Her story drew attention everywhere from The New York Times to Governor Schwarzenegger to an AOL poll, which asked, “Should Sara Granda be allowed to take the California bar exam?” Of 16,000 votes, 96 percent voted in Granda’s favor.
A car accident in 1997 left Granda paralyzed from the neck down and reliant on a ventilator to help her breathe. Since her accident, Granda spent three years in care facilities and her family struggled through battles of their own when they fought the insurance company to provide Granda with out-of-hospital care. Granda has earned bachelor and master degrees in social work from Sacramento State, and a law degree from UC Davis.
“Sara has overcome much in her life and is an inspiration to us all,” said Governor Schwarzenegger in a press release.
Assistants make life outside of the hospital possible by helping Granda eat, bathe and perform other daily tasks. In the courtroom, an assistant will handle her files as she operates the wheelchair with her tongue.
Despite her own trials, Granda worries about minorities’ success in law school.
“A lot of law schools invite minorities, but they can’t pass the bar. It’s a big problem that isn’t addressed,” Granda said. As a member of the La Raza Law Student Association, she received the Lorenzo Patino Community Service Award and worked in a clinic that dealt with immigration problems.
Granda’s parents said her injury only meant that she would have to try harder, and that she would have to keep on getting up, no matter how many times she fell on her face, Granda said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee.
Though she was involved in minority and immigration issues, Granda hopes to focus on health policy. For now, she plans to travel and to take an ethics exam in March.
“I have always been impressed by Granda’s reasonableness, commitment and decency,” said Law School Dean Johnson in an email interview. “I have little doubt that she would be a formidable adversary as a lawyer.”
GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.