PHOENIX (AP) _ An admitted killer who passed the Arizona bar exam after spending 17 years in prison lost his bid to have his lifetime parole ended so he can practice law.

The 3-2 vote by the state Board of Executive Clemency on Tuesday doesn't bar James Hamm from asking the state Supreme Court for permission to practice law, but it leaves a hurdle he had hoped to clear.

Hamm said he expects his parole status to be raised when a Supreme Court advisory committee reviews his character and his fitness to effectively represent criminal defendants.

If he is still on parole, he said, his clients' files could be subject to inspection by his parole officer, despite the attorney-client privilege of confidentiality.

Corrections spokeswoman Camilla Strongin said the only documents Hamm's parole officer typically checks are tax returns and bank statements to verify his economic self-sufficiency and reports on his required community service. There is no reason for that to change, she said.

Hamm works as a legal assistant at Middle Ground, a Phoenix-based prison reform group run by his wife, Donna. He has said he wants to open a legal clinic there _ if he is allowed to practice law.

Felons have been considered for admission to the Arizona bar, but only five or six have cleared the character and fitness process during the past 15 years, court officials said. None had been convicted of first-degree murder.

Hamm, who was released in 1992, pleaded guilty to shooting a man during a 1974 drug deal. After leaving prison, he graduated from law school at Arizona State University.

The two clemency board members who voted to end Hamm's parole said he represented no threat to society and does not need to stay on parole. The three who voted to deny his request didn't explain their votes. Hamm can reapply in two years.