By Edd Roberts, Roberts Law Office, PA
First posted on: Tenth J.D. Bar Professionalism Newsletter: June 2017
On a cold Saturday morning in November at the Chavis Heights Community Center, an outpouring of help came together to offer assistance to those in need. In a communal effort to help folks clean up old charges and convictions off their records, lawyers from the DA’s office, the Public Defender’s office, N.C. Legal Aid, private practice criminal defense firms, and Justice Served came together to staff a clinic and provide pro bono services. Those receiving services had to be pre-registered and screened to ensure they qualified for eligibility of relief under existing laws. Approximately 160 people arrived looking for help. All the candidates were warmly greeted at the front door and each met with a lawyer at one of the many erected conference tables inside the gymnasium. 92 petitions were filed that day to expunge records and 70 more people were helped to near completion with instructions on the additional information they needed to supplement their petitions in order to successfully file.
I had the opportunity to meet with six individuals, all of whom were grateful for the help they received. Each individual was trying to advance him or herself in life with better employment opportunities and better housing possibilities; however, the common barrier was old charges or convictions. One of the individuals I met with stood out as she was exceptionally grateful for the help she received and the forecasted outcome in her matter. Her reaction to this good news left a lasting impression on me. For purposes of confidentiality, I will not use her real name and therefore will refer to her only as “Hope.” Hope is close to my age and when talking with her I immediately felt a generational connection. As I reviewed her record, it became apparent to me that a lot of her run-ins with the law were when she was a young adult, nearly twenty years ago. She had managed to raise kids and stay out of trouble for over two decades. While filling out the petition on her behalf, I asked her what her goal was in seeking to have her record expunged. Hope stated simply, “I want to help people.” Upon my further inquiry as to how she intended to help people she stated, “I want to open a group home to help people who are struggling in life.” Looking at the contents of Hope’s record it became very obvious that she herself had likely struggled early in life with her own problems and addictions. However, the person she presented to me appeared to be one that had turned a corner a long time ago and by doing so likely had changed the direction of her life. The one charge on her record that was causing her the most heartache and presenting a barrier to achieving her goal was fortunately one she was entitled to remove. The petition she filed that day, once granted, will forever remove the charge from her record and more importantly, the stigma it carries will be wiped from public view. Playing a small part in this second chance at a fresh start was very rewarding. The smile that came across Hope’s face when I shared this news and the sigh of relief that she exhaled upon the realization of what it would likely mean for her future was worth all the time and service that everyone had put forth to host the expunction clinic.
There are moments as a practitioner that you get to see a difference made in someone’s life. As I get older those moments seem to be more fleeting. My time with Hope on that cold Saturday morning in November was one of those moments. Although I cannot adequately articulate the feeling that rushed forth and was displayed on her face during that instant of realized renewal, I think in a word it was best captured by her name.