Judge Simms was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1970. She spent several years as a flight attendant for United Airlines before entering DePaul University School of Law. She received law degree from DePaul and shortly thereafter she and her family moved to Honolulu. She served ten years as a Deputy Corporation Counsel for the City and County of Honolulu and a brief term with the Attorney General’s Office.
In November, 1991, Sandra A. Simms made history by becoming the first African American female judge in the State of Hawai`i. She was appointed by Chief Justice Herman Lum to the District Court of the First Circuit situated in Honolulu. A few years later, in 1994, Governor John Waihe`e, (the first governor of Native Hawaiian ancestry since statehood) appointed her to the position of Circuit Court Judge for the First Judicial Circuit, State of Hawai`i. As a trial court judge, Judge Simms presided over matters of domestic violence, some civil proceedings and restraining orders. The majority of her time on the bench was spent presiding over felony jury trials in Honolulu, a substantial number of which were extensively covered by the media. Judge Simms retired from the bench in 2004.
Judge Simms has remained active in Honolulu community and legal circles. She has been a member of the Board of Bar Examiners since 1986, is an officer with the Afro American Lawyers Association and past director for Hawaii Women Lawyers. Recently, she was appointed by Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald to the Supreme Court Committee on Equality and Access to the Courts, and by Governor Neil Abercrombie to a term on the State Advisory Council on Mental Health.
She serves on the Board of Directors for Mental Health America of Hawai`i, and is an Adjunct Lecturer in Criminal Justice for Chaminade University in Honolulu. Her civic activities include years of active service with the Hawai`i Chapter of The Links, Inc. and Soroptimist International of Waikiki Foundation, Inc. In both of these organizations she has held both local and regional leadership positions.
She is a volunteer docent for the Honolulu Museum of Art and a member of Sewjourner Truth Quilting Circle.