Student-Run Civil Rights Clinic Strikes Again in Mecklenburg County!

September 11, 2014

By Gatlin Groberg

Beginning in the fall of 2013, helping clients file certificates of relief (COR) has evolved from a passionate idea into one of the top projects of the Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic (CRC).  A COR is the product of a relatively new law in North Carolina.  It is a judge-signed document that individuals with criminal records can present to prospective employers proving that they’ve made amends for their past actions.  Many qualified individuals are turned away from jobs due to their criminal record.  A COR helps individuals obtain employment in two ways.  First, a COR encourages employers to hire qualified individuals by barring negligence claims brought against the employer.[1]  What this means is that if an employer is sued over the negligent actions of one of its employees, the employer will not be held civilly liable.

Second, a COR is designed to remove the collateral consequences associated with a criminal conviction.[2]  For example, a COR has the ability to restore professional licenses that were taken away due to conviction of a crime.  For individuals who are trained and skilled in certain areas, but are barred from practicing in those areas due to revocation of their professional license, a COR may be their only chance to work in the area they trained for.  Another collateral consequence that may be restored is qualification for public housing, something many low-income individuals in Mecklenburg County rely upon.

Since its inception, the student-run CRC has strived to help those with criminal convictions obtain the life they want.  The CRC is fresh off its victory in the Ban the Box campaign. The CRC achieved national recognition after convincing the Charlotte City Council to remove the box off of employment applications asking whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime.  While the CRC continues its success with Ban the Box, CORs are now just the next step for the CRC to help qualified individuals obtain employment.

Pictured left to right: Emily Ray, Tierra Ragland, Professor Jason Huber, Daniel Melo, Gatlin Groberg celebrate at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse after their victory in District Court.

This past spring, former CRC student and recent Charlotte School of Law graduate, Emily Ray, created the CRC’s handbook for helping clients apply for CORs.  Emily’s hard work has paid off.  On August 5, 2014, the CRC successfully won its first COR on behalf of one of its clients.  The victory was a huge win for the CRC and also established precedent as the CRC is one of just a handful of advocates in Mecklenburg County to successfully file a COR action.  Under the supervision of Professor Jason Huber, returning CRC student, Tierra Ragland, represented a client before district court Judge Theo Nixon.  With Judge Nixon’s final words, “Your certificate of relief has been granted,” the CRC chalked up its first of many victories to come on behalf of those striving to obtain employment with a criminal background.  Our client can now present the newly granted COR before any prospective employer to greatly improve their chance of being hired.

The CRC expects to file many more COR actions in the upcoming months.  For updates on our work with CORs and helping those convicted of a past crime obtain employment, keep reading the blog and listening to The Legal Dose – we’ll see you next time!

[1] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-173.5 (In a judicial or administrative proceeding alleging negligence, a Certificate of Relief is a bar to any action alleging lack of due care in hiring, retaining, licensing, leasing to, admitting to a school or program, or otherwise transacting business or engaging in activity with the individual to whom the Certificate of Relief was issued).

[2] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A 173.2(d).


Mecklenburg Serves Those Who Serve Themselves

September 4, 2014

By: Tierra Ragland

One of the mission pillars of the Charlotte School of Law is to serve the community.  Part of that mission focuses on access to justice for traditionally underserved populations. This population is, generally, low-income.  The clinical legal education, the student Pro-Bono projects, and the Access to Justice Immigration and Self Help Center courses all provide opportunities for students to gain valuable experience and provide access to justice to the local community.  As a member of the Civil Rights Clinic and a student who has taken both Access to Justice courses, I have valued these experiences. They have helped shape my passion for service to the community and encouraged me to pursue a career in public interest. 

As a part of the Access to Justice: Self Help Center course, students have to complete thirty hours working in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse Self Serve Center and teach a community legal clinic to deliver information to self-represented litigants in preparation for divorce and child custody cases.  As law students, we are not allowed to give legal advice. However, we provide much-needed legal information to individuals who are not represented by attorneys for various reasons; one of the most common reasons being lack of financial resources.  

Access to Justice can include a variety of issues, such as not being able to afford an attorney, lack of access to legal information in your native language, lack of transportation, lack of understanding of legal process, and not being able to afford a certified copy of your criminal record, which costs twenty-five dollars.

Mecklenburg County is the only judicial district in the state that provides a self-serve center. The Mecklenburg County Courthouse, where the Self Serve Center is located, is in North Carolina’s 26th Judicial District.  The District takes a unique approach to Access to Justice by being the only judicial district in the state that houses a self-serve center to provide assistance to pro se individuals in family law cases and a variety of other legal issues.  The Self Serve Center is located on the third floor of the courthouse and is open Monday- Friday from 8:30am-12:00pm. The Self-Serve Center provides packets of legal information/documents, monthly free legal clinics, access to online research tools, educational videos, information on court processes, a list of attorneys who provide unbundled legal services,[i] and an attorney for the day program. [1]  The filing fees for packets provided by the self-serve center range from $0-$225.

There is no state or local funding dedicated to operating the Self Serve Center and as a result there are no guarantees for the stability and continued operation of the center. The Family Court Division supplies resources to operate the Self-Serve Center, and the Self-Serve Center Coordinator manages the Center and is its only full-time staff member.  The Center depends on interns and volunteers to provide the services needed.  In 2013, forty-seven interns and two notaries, all of whom provided their time on a volunteer basis maintained the Self Serve Center.  In 2013, the notaries and interns contributed a total of 3,784 hours, so it is vital that this volunteerism continues.

As a student volunteering with the center, my overall experience has been rewarding. I have been exposed to a diverse group of people, diverse legal issues, court process, and legal documents that I would not have been exposed to during my legal education. 

The majority of the community members I assisted utilized the Self Serve Center due to a lack of financial resources.  Some self-represented individuals are overwhelmed by the process of representing themselves and approach the center volunteers and interns with a wide range of emotions.  Individuals have approached me very angry but also very grateful that the Self Serve Center is there to assist them with their legal needs. As a volunteer I was provided with a “cheat sheet” detailing the center’s most popular packets and important questions to ask to effectively assist those who utilize the center. On my first day a the center I was give a sample divorce and child custody packet and had to go through all the steps an actual self-represented litigants would go through to complete, including notarizing and filing the documents.

The Self Serve Center states that they provide legal information on family law issues and other legal issues—which includes “all” other legal issues. On my first day at the Center, someone asked me for legal information on Rule 60 (a), Motion for Clerical Mistake.[ii] Having taken Civil Procedure, I was familiar with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 60, however, I struggled to convey this information to someone who was not an attorney. This was not on the cheat sheet. This is an example of the wide variety of legal information requested at the Center and how non-attorney volunteers, who cannot provide legal advice, have to convey the information in a way that the average self-represented litigants will understand. 

During my time at the Center I have also encountered solo practitioners who utilize the services of the Self Serve Center. This is an example of the rising cost of litigation and starting a solo practice.  Even attorneys are taking advantage of the free services provided by the 26th Judicial District.

Providing Access to Justice through the Self Serve Center can bridge the gap between effective legal solutions and underserved populations. Having a program like the Self Serve Center also shows the community that the legal profession is invested in serving the underserved and vulnerable populations that have traditionally had barriers affect their access to justice.

By no means does the Self Serve Center solve all the issues surrounding access to justice but it is an effective leap in the right direction.

[1] http://www.meckbar.org/publicprograms/pp_vol_landing.cfm

[i]http://www.americanbar.org/publications/gp_solo/2012/september_october/law_a_la_carte_case_unbundling_legal_services.html

[ii]http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/BySection/Chapter_1A/GS_1A-1,_Rule_60.pdf


Civil Rights Clinic Takes Windy City by Storm

May 17, 2014

By: Brittany Moore

This year, the Association of American Law Schools held their annual Clinical Legal Education Conference in Chicago, IL. The Conference took place from April 27 – April 30 with 703 clinical legal educators from all across the nation representing virtually every law school in attendance. The theme this year was “Becoming a Better Clinician.” On April 30th, the last day of the conference, the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) presented three awards: Outstanding Advocate for Clinical Teachers, Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project, and Outstanding Student Award.

Professor Carol Turowski, Director of Clinical Legal Education at Charlotte Law, and Professor Rocky Cabagnot, Community Economic Development (CED) Clinic Professor, nominated the Clinic for the Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project Award for work done on the Ban The Box (BTB) project.  On April 24, 2014, CLEA announced the recipient, and the award goes to… Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic (Clinic)! Two former Clinic students, Isaac Sturgill and Cleat Walters, along with Professor Jason Huber and current clinic student Brittany Moore flew to Chicago to accept the award.  Also in attendance were Professor Emma Best, Entrepreneurship Clinical Professor, and Fernando Nuñez, Immigration Clinic Professor.

BTB began as a grassroots movement in California to remove the question from job applications asking applicants “have you been convicted of a crime?” BTB first came to Charlotte in the fall of 2009 and after four-and-a-half years of work, nine generations of clinic students, and hundreds of community supporters, the box was banned in Charlotte on March 1, 2014. [1]

Ms. Anju Gupta, co-chair of CLEA awards committee, listed other nominees and we were in awe at the other projects nominated for this award. Some of the other nominees included:

  • University of Arkansas’s Criminal Defense Clinic, for its work on the Juvenile Mandatory Life without Parole Project;
  • Harvard Law School’s Student Predatory Lending Project;
  • Loyola Law Clinic’s Community Justice section, for its litigation and advocacy work surrounding FEMA;
  • Univ. of Maryland, Francis King Carey School of Law’s Immigration Clinic for its work on the Martinez decision in the Fourth Circuit;
  • Pace Law School’s Environmental Litigation Clinic for its work on the Catskills litigation;
  • American University, Washington College of Law’s Immigrant Justice Clinic for its “Taken for a Ride” report
  • Seattle University’s Foreclosure Mediation Outreach Project; and
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for its Immigration Detention Conditions Project.[2]

The Clinic is truly humbled to have been considered among these other nominees, who also are very deserving of this award. The commonality between all of the nominees is the desire, drive, and zealous effort to provide assistance and resources to those in our respective communities who need it the most.

Cleat Walters, Jason Huber, Brittany Moore, and Isaac Sturgill accepted the CLEA award on behalf of the CSL Civil Rights Clinic.

Cleat Walters, Jason Huber, Brittany Moore, and Isaac Sturgill accepted the CLEA award on behalf of the CSL Civil Rights Clinic.

Reflecting over my past year participating in the Clinic, and law school generally, I can honestly say this is the most humbling and rewarding experience. Clinical Educators at the conference sought us out to congratulate the Clinic and the local organizations that were instrumental in the success of BTB in Charlotte. Additionally, people came up to us on the street to applaud BTB. One woman came to me and said, “Congratulations,” but what she said next left me speechless. I told her thank you and how humbled we are to have this honor bestowed upon us, to which she replied, “No, I should be thanking you guys.” As much of an honor as this award is, BTB and the Clinic, generally, are still focused on the success of those in our community who face barriers without advocates to stand beside them. It is the mission of the Clinic to provide resources and zealous advocacy to those in our community who would not otherwise have a voice; this will continue to be our driving force.

I have been counting down the days until graduation since August of last year, but this honor makes graduation very bittersweet. I will truly miss the high caliber professors I have had the privilege of learning from over the past three years and some of the most wonderful colleagues I have had the privilege of working with. To those who will soon experience what a rewarding, humbling, and demanding experience anyone of the well respected clinics Charlotte Law has to offer, just keep in mind the ultimate goal is to fight for others and uplift fellow members of the community; in the end all of your hard work, tears, anxiety, restlessness, fury, and frustration will pay off in the end when your client(s) goals are finally achieved.

In conclusion, the Clinic is very honored to have this distinction bestowed upon us, but we would like to extend and share this award with all of those in the community who were instrumental in the success of BTB. Those who deserve to be recognized for their hard work are: Erik Ortega of the Center for Community Transitions and the Center as a whole, Councilwoman Lawanna Mayfield, All of Us or None, Changed Choices, Pasta Provisions, Democracy NC, Action NC, Charlotte Community Justice Coalition, and the hundreds of Charlotteans who provided continuous support. Finally, City Manager Ron Carlee and the City of Charlotte, thank you for Banning the Box, you have made a difference in this community and have proven we are all in this together.

 

[1] For more information about BTB, please visit http://cslcivilrights.com/page/2/

[2] Past Recipients can be found at http://www.cleaweb.org/PIA


L.A. Clippers Owner Tips Off Public to Prevalent Racial Issues

April 30, 2014

By Professor Christie Matthews

Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling’s, recent racist comments have ignited public outcry– and rightly so.  The private conversation, recorded by his black and Latina girlfriend, revealed a man with bigotry so deep yet so conflicted that he seemingly demands that his girlfriend “whitewash” her ethnic heritage and disassociate herself publicly from blacks and other minorities.  Sterling allegedly says his girlfriend can meet with blacks and sleep with blacks but not take pictures with them or bring them to Clippers games. When she protests, he allegedly calls his girlfriend naïve and “stupid” as to the ways of the world when it comes to race, even as she responds that she can’t help it if she cannot be racist in her heart.

Now most fair-minded and good-hearted people can see Sterling’s viewpoints for what they are—offensive, ugly, detestable—particularly so because he is an owner in a league comprised of over 80% minorities, minorities who help fatten his bank accounts.

But do we recognize the exchange between Sterling and his girlfriend for what it really represents? Is this conversation not simply a microcosm of the much more mammoth issue of race relations in America? On the one hand, there are those with good intentions that eschew bigotry and hatred, and as such are more reluctant to recognize that racism is alive and kicking in 2014.  On the other hand, there are still those, many in positions of power, who embody a Plessy v. Ferguson mentality—the 1896 case in which the Supreme Court ruled “separate but equal” was Constitutional and in doing so confirmed that there is a property right to whiteness.  Is it that Sterling’s comments are reflective of this ugly truth– being white has value still today—better job opportunity, higher pay, less police intrusion, greater perceived intelligence and competency?

Most of us prefer to view Sterling’s viewpoints as atypical, aberrant, the juice from a bad apple. Yet studies show that nearly everyone has racial bias, even if subconsciously, and that racial bias plays out in many spaces—on the job, in the courtroom, and in the political arena, to name a few.  Is it that Sterling is simply tapping into what most of us would see if we dared lift the veil of post-racial propaganda and eschewed the color-blind approach evidenced in such court decisions like Shelby County v. Holder, which eliminated pre-clearance requirements for election law changes?  Is it that Sterling is simply reflecting the harsh reality—race, and racial associations, do still matter, and that those in power are not blind to its effects on their reputations and, in turn, their pockets?

Of course, I am not saying that there is any excuse whatsoever for Sterling’s comments.  He has rightly been subject to swift and harsh discipline by the league—a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine. But I am saying that the real injustice will be for us to write him off as pathological and allow ourselves to be lulled into believing that these types of racists comments don’t continue to take place across America.  Racist views are prevalent, deep-seated and complex.  Perhaps the Sterling controversy can best be used as a catalyst for examining our own internal biases in order to realize racial progress.


Reflections with CSL Graduate Josh Goodman

April 28, 2014

Josh Goodman, an attorney with Fisher Law Group PLLC, reflects on his time at Charlotte School of law. Hear his thoughts on applying to law school and taking the bar exam in Part 1 of Gatlin Groberg’s interview on The Legal Dose.

http://cslcivilrights.podomatic.com/entry/2014-04-28T16_55_24-07_00

To learn more about Josh and Fisher Law Group, click the link below.

http://www.fisherlawgrouppllc.com/joshua-w-goodman/


Civil Rights Clinic Veterans Bring Home Awards

April 23, 2014

We would like to acknowledge the following former members (if there is such a thing) of the Civil Rights Clinic for their outstanding achievements at the 2013-2014 CSL Awards Ceremony:

Isabel Carson

Practice Ready Clinical Award

Steven A. Bimbo Leadership Award

Hailey Hawkins

National Order of Scribes

Dean’s Leadership Award

Emily Ray

National Order of Scribes

CharlotteLaw Scholar/Author Award

You made us all proud and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for each of you as scholars, leaders, and advocates!


Charlotte Law Gives Students $10,000? Sign Me Up!

April 19, 2014

By: Brittany Moore

Many students are aware Florida Coastal and Charlotte Law (“CSL”) are owned by the same parent company—InfiLaw. However, what most students don’t know is that Florida Coastal and Charlotte Law are pioneers of a new program: The Assured Outcomes Partnership (“Program”). Currently, Florida Coastal and Charlotte Law are the only two law schools in the nation with a program like this.

What is the Assured Outcomes Partnership? It is a Program where a student may receive $10,000 if they meet the requirements of the Program and fail the bar exam twice. The Program at CSL applies to students who take either the North or South Carolina Bar Exam.

I will admit, when I first heard of this Program, I was a little mad; actually, very mad. It made me mad because I equated this Program to incentivizing people who fail the bar exam twice, while those who pass the Bar get nothing more than a pat on the back. I also assumed my tuition was going towards paying students who do not pass the Bar. Because I had such an intense initial reaction, I wanted to find out more about the Program, so my opinions would be more informed. To learn more, on February 10, 2014, I met with Assistant Dean Odessa Alm of Student Success, head of the Program.

Prior to joining CSL in 2013, Dean Alm served as the Director of Academic Success at Florida Coastal (her alma mater) for nine years. Dean Alm designed a comprehensive academic success and bar prep program at Florida Coastal during that time. Dean Alm said the purpose of the Program is to help students who utilize all of the resources available to continue to work towards a successful path to passing the bar. Dean Alm stated, “I don’t want anyone to get $10,000.00.” At first this statement shocked me because initially I thought the Program would result in numerous students receiving the money while bar passage rates at CSL declined., However, Dean Alm stated she believed in the effectiveness of the bar passage programs offered by CSL and, because of that belief, the students who follow the Program will have more resources available to help them pass the bar.

In order to qualify for the program, the student must obtain an acknowledgement form from Dean Alm and submit it to her. The student must also meet the following requirements:

  1. Attend 75% of the voluntary Charlotte Law Academic Success (CPAS) workshops offered during the student’s first and second year at CSL;
  2. If placed on academic probation or academic alert status, the student complied with all probationary or alert status counseling requirements;
  3. Score greater than 50% on the Multistate Bar Examination Preview (MBEP) at the end of your first year of law school or score greater than 55% on a subsequent attempt at the MBEP;
  4. If you earn a first year law school G.P.A. of less than 2.31, you must successfully pass course equivalents of Remedies, Real Estate Finance and Family Law;
  5. Complete the 3-day Kaplan Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) course during the bar season immediately prior to your first and second Bar exam attempts;
  6. Attendance rate of 100% at Operation PASS Workshops during the bar seasons immediately before the first and second Bar exam attempts;
  7. Complete 100% of the Operation PASS Essays during the bar season before your first and second attempts, and timely submit the essays for feedback;
  8. Successfully complete the Carolinas Distinctions or MBE Strategies course with a grade of C or better;
  9. Been enrolled in a commercial bar review course/BEAR (CSL Bar Exam Advanced Review) before the first and second attempts at a bar exam; and
  10. Provide CSL with written permission to access the first and second attempted bar exam scores and essays.

That is quite a list. The Program requires student participation beginning in their first year. So, sorry upper-classmen, we can’t participate. However, a student’s failure to comply with all requirements disqualifies them from the Program. Now, I can see why Dean Alm doesn’t think a student will reach the $10,000; because the Program is set up to require interested students to complete requirements the Bar Passage Program at Charlotte Law thinks a student should be doing anyway in order to pass the bar. If the student complies with all of the requirements, passing the bar exam within two attempts is obtainable.

After my interview with Dean Alm, my feelings about the Program did change a little. I no longer feel like the program is a “waste of tuition” or a program that would be subject to abuse by students. However, I am still concerned that some students may seek and find loopholes that will circumvent the purpose of the Program in assisting students pass either the NC or SC Bar Exam. After the interview, my opinion changed; now I agree with Dean Alm. If a student complies with all of the requirements, and puts the time and effort into the Program then it is less likely a student will receive the $10,000. My new outlook is that the Program will actually increase CSL’s bar passage rates, in which case both the school and the students win.


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