Clinic wins FIVE Successful COR Petitions!

February 3, 2015

Today, the Clinic made history!  Judge Karen Eady-Williams granted FIVE Certificate of Relief (COR) petitions for our clients today at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse!  Claire Donnelly, Gatlin Groberg, and Tierra Ragland represented the clients under the supervision of our wonderful supervising attorney, Jason Huber.

Gatlin Groberg, Jason Huber, Claire Donnelly, and Tierra Ragland, advocates for our COR petitions today.

Gatlin Groberg, Jason Huber, Claire Donnelly, and Tierra Ragland, advocates for our COR petitions today.

Our faithful followers to this blog are probably well aware of the COR project that the Clinic has been working on over the past few years.  For those not so familiar, a COR petition is a rehabilitative measure created by the legislature in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-173.2 that allows qualified petitioners “relief” from their past criminal conviction.  CORs are particularly helpful in advancing employment and furthering education.  After a judge grants a petition, the successful petitioner can present it to prospective employers as proof that they have made amends for their past actions.  Because these individuals may previously have been turned away from jobs due to their criminal record, a COR provides many exciting opportunities.  Each of our clients today were very deserving and are incredibly grateful for this opportunity.

One of the cases today presented a very complicated issue of law, to which even the Assistant District Attorney remarked that there was “no precedence or guidance for the Court.”  The issue regarded whether a Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC) counted as a disqualifying conviction under the COR statute.  Tierra submitted a brief and made a compelling legal argument on behalf of her client explaining why a PJC should not count as a disqualifying conviction.  Judge Eady-Williams found the argument very convincing and the COR was granted!

Congrats to the Clinic on the FIVE successful petitions, and the effective advocacy on a matter of first impression!

Several new Clinic members came for moral support!

Several new Clinic members came for moral support!

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).

The Legal Dose – Episode 9

October 16, 2012

Today on the Legal Dose we have a Get to Know the Professor segment featuring Professor Victoria Taylor, who has a “first” connection to Charlotte School of Law. Then we have information about the upcoming Access to Justice Symposium and an introduction to the Civil Rights Clinic’s new Certificates of Relief project.

Listen to the episode here!

The Certificate of Relief Act

September 12, 2012

In June 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Certificate of Relief Act (S.L. 2011-265).  This act was added to the Criminal Statutes of North Carolina to allow individuals with a criminal record, including felony and misdemeanor convictions, to escape some of the civil penalties that continue to haunt them after completion of their sentence.

The Certificate is meant to relieve the “Collateral Consequences” of criminal conviction.  Collateral consequences may include a mandatory bar on occupational licensure to discretionary penalties imposed by other decision-makers.  In a civil proceeding, the Certificate may be considered favorably in determining an individual’s receipt or denial of a benefit.  Additionally, the Act provides shelter for employers from negligent hiring lawsuits as a result of their hiring an individual who has received a certificate. 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.” See North Carolina Justice Center, Certificate of Relief From Collateral Consequences (last visited Aug. 28, 2012).

The Statutes have established a method for petitioning the court for a Certificate of Relief; however, the law is still new and it remains to be seen how well the statutory provisions play out in the courts.  Individuals who believe they qualify for these certificates may access the form online, here.  To qualify for consideration by the court, a petitioner must establish by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), that he/she:

  • Was convicted of no more than two felonies (class G, H or I) or misdemeanors in the same session of court
  • Has no other convictions of a felony or misdemeanor (other than a traffic violation)
  • At least 12 months have passed since completion of any period of probation, post-release supervision, or parole and since all active time was served (if any)
  • Has no criminal charges pending
  • Is seeking to engage or is engaged in a lawful occupation or activity
  • Has complied with all terms of sentence and probation
  • Is not in violation of the terms of any criminal sentence (if that is not true, the failure is justified, excused, involuntary, or insubstantial), and
  • That granting the petition would not pose an unreasonable risk to the safety or welfare of the public or any individual.

This fledging avenue for relief, opportunity, and reintegration has captured the curiosity of the Civil Rights Clinic.  In the coming weeks, the Clinic will be developing a way for our members to get involved in the process of petitioning for Certificates on behalf of applicants and participating in the Certificate of Relief hearings.  We will post updates as they are available.

By: Emily Ray

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