“The legal profession has been very kind to me," he said on Tuesday. "I felt that it would be a different type of opportunity for me to give back to the community I’ve lived in and worked in."
Simmons was born and raised in Alton and has five children.
Simmons said he is a “firm believer in Madison County” and has been a resident of Alton his entire life.
He said his father was a 39-year retiree from Laclede Steel Company, now Alton Steele, and he pastored a local church. He said that growing up, he was encouraged by his dad’s passion for giving back to the members of his church and he wanted to do the same for his community.
“When I grew up in Alton, it was a very nurturing community,” he said. “It basically was a village and was fraught with village involvement.
“It made most of us want to reach back and help, want to reach out and help and want to be a benefit to the community and to society in general.
“Alton was a great place to grow up. I still think it’s undervalued and under-appreciated."
Simmons earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia before he returned home to attend St. Louis University School of Law.
Following his graduation, he began practicing law in 1974 at a firm in Alton. He worked there for several years before he formed a partnership with retired Madison County Associate Judge Ralph Mendelsohn.
“It was the first biracial law practice in Madison County, we believe,” Simmons said.
He and Mendelsohn practiced together until he was appointed to the bench in 2000. Mendelsohn served until 2009. Following his retirement, he started his own mediation practice for the Madison County and St. Louis area.
He was recently called back with fellow retired judge Lola Maddox to serve a temporary term until the vacant associate judge positions got filled.
While working full time with his private practice, Simmons & Associates, Simmons also worked part time with the public defender’s office for about 15 years. He then worked part time as an assistant state’s attorney under Bill Haine for about one year before moving on to work part time as a special assistant attorney general for one year.
He returned to the public defender’s office in 2001 to work part time, where he has served since then.
Simmons’ private practice is a general practice, which he called a “jack of all trades.” He does criminal, civil and business law for plaintiffs. He said he primarily works with personal injury litigation but does some contract law, real estate law and criminal law (both felony and misdemeanor). He also has experience with business law for “small, disadvantaged and minority” businesses, he said.
“I’ve been blessed to have a lot of experience both representing a variety of types of clients, individuals and businesswise," he said. "I've really had a broad breadth of experience.
“My career has cut across criminal, civil, business, and I think that really is distinctive.
“I think there is a great value in having practiced general law with some emphasis in certain areas like business, criminal and civil throughout the years."
Last year, Simmons received the 100 Black Men President’s award and has also been a recipient of the NAACP Community Service Award for his volunteer work with students and mentoring in the community.
Simmons said his passion for law came from its ability to touch or impact everyone’s life in some way.
“The legal field cuts across all sectors of our lives and it’s a very non-segmented profession. So you have a lot of opportunities to help a lot of people in a lot of areas.
“You weren’t segmented in helping in any particular aspect of life, but it’s a very broad and all-inclusive way of assisting people in their lives," he said "I really love that about law."
Simmons said he does not have a docket preference.
“I will defer to the chief judge’s wisdom and needs," he said "I will happily serve wherever he feels I may best serve."
Simmons will be sworn in on Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. at the Madison County Circuit Court.