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

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).

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

  1. Lindsey Engels says:

    What an awesome victory! So proud of y’all!!!

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