Ban the Box
Charlotte Coalition to Ban the Box is a grassroots campaign to end employment discrimination based on past criminal offenses. The primary goal of the coalition is to encourage employers to remove questions of past criminal records from their initial application process to ensure that conviction histories are not being used as an automatic bar to employment. The ability to gain steady employment can be the second chance people need to remain a positive force in the community and avoid re-offending. Action North Carolina, All of Us or None, Charlotte Community Justice Coalition, Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, Homeless Helping Homeless, and many other community businesses and organizations have pledged their support for Ban the Box and will be presenting a Resolution and Ordinance to City Council to remove the question concerning criminal history from the initial application questionnaire for all City employment positions. The hope is other municipalities will follow the City’s lead and join many hundreds of government agencies and businesses around the country that have already pledged to ban the box and give people with criminal records a second chance at life.
Citizens Review Board
The Citizens Review Board (CRB) was created in Charlotte in 1997 after a series of police shootings. The CRB was designed to have appellate jurisdiction over complaints of police misconduct should a complainant be unsatisfied with the findings of the internal police investigation into the alleged misconduct.
Since 1997, 63 complaints have been appealed to the CRB. The Board has never ruled in favor of a complainant. In addition to its questionable record, much of the CRB’s deliberative process is hidden from public scrutiny. This is unacceptable considering the CRB was created in part to foster trust and transparency with the public.
The Civil Rights Clinic is in the process of reviewing information about the CRB obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request with the goal of developing, advocating, and implementing reforms to the CRB’s procedures.
Certificates of Relief
The Certificate of Relief Act was passed in 2011 and added to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 15A-173.1-173.6 (2012). This act allows individuals with a criminal record, including both felony and misdemeanor convictions, to escape some of the civil penalties that continue to haunt them long-after completion of their criminal sentence.
The certificate is meant to relieve the “Collateral Consequences” of criminal conviction. Collateral consequences are civil penalties that attach at the time of criminal conviction and may include mandatory disqualifications or discretionary bars. An individual granted a certificate is relieved of most mandatory consequences and the certificate serves as favorable evidence for discretionary disqualifications. Perhaps most importantly, the Certificate of Relief serves as evidence that the individual is not considered to “pose an unreasonable risk to the safety or welfare of the public or any individual.” (§ 15A-173.2 (b)(6)). Although the statute established a method for petitioning the court for a certificate, the law is still new and it remains to be seen how the statutory provisions will play out in Mecklenburg County.
Throughout the Fall 2012 semester, the Clinic worked to understand the process of successfully petitioning for a certificate and identified numerous opportunities for advocacy in the petition process. Beginning in the Spring 2013 semester, Clinic members will work with community organizations to provide education and information to potentially eligible populations. In addition to community outreach, Students will serve as individual advocates for persons seeking a certificate. To accomplish this, Clinic members will: identify potential candidates; determine individual eligibility; compile petitions and supporting evidence; and appear as advocates for clients at petition hearings.
The goal of the Certificate of Relief project is to provide another avenue for Charlotte School of Law students to gain experiential legal knowledge and to expand the School’s presence in the community. Through this project, the Clinic will promote and protect the exercise of this newly established right and enact change in the broader Charlotte community. With each successful petition, the Clinic will have broken down another barrier to successful reintegration for individuals who continue to suffer following a criminal conviction.
CSL Radio – The Legal Dose
The Legal Dose is a weekly legal podcast that will serve the Charlotte Community offering news and perspective from the legal community. The show will examine legal issues and will give its listeners a voice for the voiceless in the field of legal news and will include reports from all the members of the clinic. Segments included in the show will include summaries of all the Clinic projects, a feature legal news story, news from the United States Supreme Court, biographies of Charlotte School of Law Educators, as well as news from events in the Charlotte Community, and a legal question of the week.
Occupy Charlotte Cases
Through the Civil Rights Clinic and the use of the North Carolina Student Practice Certificate, Rachel Davis, a 3L, was able to represent a client in a criminal misdemeanor. Students are eligible for a practice certificate if they have completed 45 credit hours, are in good academic standing, and are supervised by a licensed attorney. With a practice certificate, a student can take on the role as lawyer–-doing everything from offering legal advice to trying a court case.
With a practice certificate and as part of the Civil Rights Clinic, Ms. Davis was able to work with a defendant on a criminal misdemeanor stemming from charges arising during the Occupy Charlotte movement. Under the supervision of Prof. Jason Huber and a local criminal defense attorney, Ms. Davis met with the client, worked on case strategy, met with the District Attorney, and actually represented our client in court – handling everything from pre-trial plea negotiations, cross-examining witnesses, giving a closing argument, and negotiating sentencing.
Ballot Access for Independent Candidates
The original inquiry into ballot access in North Carolina challenged the statutory restriction requiring independent candidates to obtain signatures from 4 % of a district’s registered voters before the candidate can appear on the general election. The case, Greene v. Bartlett, No. 10-2068, 2011 WL 4842634 (4th Cir. Oct 13, 2011), worked its way up to the Supreme Court, but the Court denied writ of certiorari in early Spring 2012.
The Civil Rights Clinic reintroduced the ballot access issue by challenging the filing deadline of May 15th; a date that creates substantial obstacles to independent candidates who must still comply with the other requirements mandated in N.C. Gen.Stat. § 163-96.
Professor Jason Huber, along with students Michael Anytpas, Evan Carney and Lindsey Vawter, worked in conjunction with Robert M. Bastress, Jr. of West Virginia University, and Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, to petition the court for a preliminary injunction postponing the filing deadline in the Western District of North Carolina. The judge denied the preliminary injunction, and went on to deny a subsequent motion requesting discovery before the merits of the case were heard.
The Clinic is pursuing all litigation strategies, and creating avenues that will hopefully persuade the courts to overcome their reluctance to hear ballot access cases, and decide to reexamine this vital issue.
Queen City Record
The Civil Rights Clinic is currently in the process of developing a new website that will serve as a resource for local, state, and national news with a focus on issues affecting the City of Charlotte. The Record will feature original content such as case write-ups, interviews with local officials, op-eds, and discussion of local legal issues. The site will also host easy access to information regarding local government, for example, contact information for City Council members, meeting agendas and voting results, and instructions regarding how and when the public can speak at Council meetings. The Clinic expects that, once launched, the site will have a great deal of room for expansion to provide more and better information regarding important legal developments to the people of Charlotte and of North Carolina.
Public Housing Hearings
Every week, the Charlotte Housing Authority holds Section 8 termination hearings to determine whether a participant’s voucher, and therefore their eligibility to affordable housing, will be terminated. The Civil Rights Clinic has created a program that will train students to be hearing officers at these hearings. A three-student panel will hear evidence and make the determination using federal statutes, Housing Authority guidelines, and compassion whether to uphold the recommendation for termination, whether to overturn that recommendation or whether to overturn it with certain conditions placed on the participant.
In 2010, the Clinic investigated a potential civil rights case on behalf of an individual (“Mr. Doe”) whose conviction and life sentence was discharged on the state’s motion after he signed a release presented by the prosecutor waiving any civil claims he may have had against any person or entity connected with his arrest, prosecution, and ten-year wrongful confinement. Mr. Doe had served 10 years of his prison sentence, when the alleged victim recanted her statement. Faced with the prospect of life in prison versus waiving his civil rights, Mr. Doe signed the release and the prosecutor dismissed the charges.
The inherent conflict of interest attendant to the prosecutorial practice of conditioning dismissal of criminal charges on waiving civil rights troubled the Clinic and motivated two Clinic members, Windy R. Majer and Monifa S. Crawford to take on the task of researching and writing an Inquiry to the North Carolina Ethics Committee requesting that the Committee issue a Formal Ethics Opinion banning the practice. What started as a North Carolina focused project quickly grew into an ongoing nationwide project. As Mses. Majer and Crawford began contacting all 50 state bars, and the District of Columbia, to determine their respective positions on the use of “release-dismissal” agreements they learned that it was a “hot” ethics topic of first impression not just for North Carolina, but for the vast majority of states. Moreover, many state bars want to address the issue. Currently, only thirteen state bars have addressed the issue and of those thirteen, four have banned the practice and two have made the practice of using such releases impermissible for prosecutors. The remaining seven states permit the use of release-dismissal agreements in certain circumstances. Thus far the clinic has filed Inquiries in North Carolina, The District of Columbia and West Virginia, leaving only 35 more states to go.
Public Records Project
The Civil Rights Clinic launched and revamped its Public Records Project, after several attempts to retrieve public information from a local government agency. The documents received, after several requests, contained actual permit requests filed by those that wished to demonstrate at the convention. The information sent was voluminous, but did not contain any of the information about the permitting process itself.
The obvious delay in the information rendered some of our concerns about the permitting process moot. Importantly, neither the city attorney nor the county liaison
, provided a cover letter with the documents describing what they had disclosed, what if anything they had retained as allegedly exempt, and the basis for such assertions. If some of the documents are exempted for security reasons or otherwise, the Clinic would not be privy to this information.
Currently, this project focuses on the North Carolina’s statute and the approaches other states, with similar statutes, use to address public records requests. The goal of the project is to seek an opinion from the North Carolina Attorney General, comparable to that of the Federal Law, which requires a Vaughn Index. A Vaughn Index is a detailed index of withheld documents and the justification of their exemption, provided during litigation. Some states go as far as to require this type of index prior to litigation with the justification being that they want to curtail litigation.