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Former Bank Robber Sworn in as a Lawyer

Twenty years ago, 19-year-old Robert W. VanSumeren stood nervously in a Michigan courtroom as Judge Michael Smith sentenced him to six years in prison for a string of local robberies. Robert said, “I was terrified. I thought my life was finished. I felt really lost and wondered how I’d ever get through it.”

Then almost two decades to the day, Robert, now 40, returned to that same courtroom and stood again in front of Smith. This time, Robert was asking the judge who had sentenced him as a teenager to swear him in as a new attorney. After finishing his prison sentence, he had attended college, then law school, hoping to give back to the community he had once stolen from. After passing the bar exam in July 2018, Robert underwent a lengthy investigation by the Michigan bar’s character and fitness committee and he got approval to be sworn in.

Robert said, “I didn’t know if the judge would go for it, but I thought it was worth asking.” Judge Smith said he was astonished by the request. But he was also delighted. “I have to take my hat off to him — he has changed his life. It’s really quite remarkable and rare. Very seldom do you see such a successful turnaround.”

When he had finished, Judge Smith shook Robert’s hand, posed with him for pictures and tossed out the usual decorum he requires in his courtroom. He said, “I’d like everyone here to feel free to applaud this man. He should be commended for changing his life.”

Possible Preaching Angle:

Judge; Justice; Mercy; Grace – God can be a terrifying judge who condemns the guilty. But he is also gracious and forgiving to those who repent from their sins and are given a new nature by his Spirit.


Cathy Free, “This former bank robber was just sworn in as a lawyer — by the same judge who once sent him to prison,” Washington Post (12-10-19)

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