Judge Sandra A. Simms was born on July 26, 1948 in Chicago, Illinois to Vera and Gerald Nuckolls, Sr. She graduated from Hyde Park High School before attending and graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago with her B.A. degree in political science and sociology. Simms later obtained her J.D. degree from DePaul University College of Law in 1978.
Simms worked as a flight attendant for United Airlines from 1972 until 1977 when she entered DePaul University College of Law. After graduating with her J.D. degree in 1978, Simms and her husband, Hank, moved to Hawaii. In 1980, Simms was hired as a clerk for Yoshimi Hayashi, chief judge of the newly created Hawaii State Intermediate Court of Appeals. She remained here until 1982 when she was made deputy corporation counsel for the city and county of Honolulu. In this capacity, she served as legal counsel to various city agencies and commissions including the police commission, the civil service commission, public works, the fire department, and the family support division. Simms was also hired as a staff attorney for the department of the Attorney General’s Office of Information and Practices. In 1991, Simms became the first African American female judge in Hawaii upon her appointment to the District Court of the First Circuit. Three years later, she was appointed Circuit Court Judge for the First Judicial Circuit by Governor John David Waiheʻe, III. Simms retired as a circuit court judge in 2004. In 2009, she became an adjunct lecturer in the criminal justice program at Chaminade University. She published Tales from the Bench: Essays on Life and Justice in 2012.
Simms is a member of Soroptimist International of Waikiki, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Hawaii State Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the African American Lawyers Association of Hawaii, and Links Incorporated, of which she was president. She also received a number of governmental appointments, including to the State Council on Mental Health and to the board of directors of Mental Health America of Hawaii.
Simms and her husband reside in Hawaii and have three adult children, Sharon, Richard, and Vera.
The Honorable Sandra A. Simms was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 11, 2019.