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


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.


Civil Rights Clinic First and Lasting Impressions

January 24, 2014

By:  Thom Prince

As with any challenge, there will be several defining moments during your career as a student, attorney, or other professional.  It is my sincere hope that your moment involves acing an exam, excelling in court, or an exceptional contribution to the community, rather than something less dignifying such as getting stuck in an elevator, spilling coffee all over your boss, or being grilled for 45 minutes by a professor on a case you haven’t read.  One of my defining moments was my decision to apply for the Civil Rights Clinic.

By way of introduction, I am not what I would consider a Type A personality.  While many students in law school are highly organized multi-taskers, I typically pick and choose my activities and contributions very carefully.  I was hesitant to even apply for the Civil Rights Clinic because I wasn’t sure how my laid back style would mesh with my fellow Clinic members.  That being said, one of my greatest motivators is testing myself by leaving my comfort zone.  Mission accomplished.

Our first meeting of the semester involved a rundown of the current Clinic projects.  While I had taken the time to read up on the material, the flurry of updates as we went around the table told me I would have my work cut out for me.  In a matter of minutes, my calendar went from mostly empty to woefully inadequate.  I made a mental note to search for a calendar that featured ten-day weeks.

The range of topics included the Clinic’s work on the Citizens Review Board, Certificates of Relief, letters to the North Carolina Attorney General, a misdemeanor jury trial, and the blog and Legal Dose forums for sharing our progress with the outside world.  As a former real estate professional, I found no purchase agreements, settlement statements, or title policies that, although composed of cold paper, were always a warm blanket that made me feel like I was on the path to becoming a lawyer.  Instead, I found myself volunteering for and immediately preparing for a jury trial in Superior Court.  Comfort-zone exit achieved.

As I worked on my various projects, I kept track of my hours.  They added up quickly.  I attended meetings and provided updates.  At one point, I tallied 14 hours in a single day.  Yet, it didn’t feel like work.  My new comfort zone became the time I spent doing research, interacting with my fellow Clinic members, and working toward the end goal of completing a project.  I looked forward to every meeting and even began to relish the idea of testing my mettle in the courtroom.  I felt invincible like some comic book superhero from my childhood—okay, so maybe I read a comic book last week, but you get the picture.

You can imagine it came as quite a shock when I realized I was incapable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound.  The jury trial to which I had dedicated so much time and effort did not happen because the court postponed it.  All I could do was use the extra time to continue preparing with my trial partners to provide the best possible defense for our client.

I met participants of the Charlotte Housing Authority voucher program who were in danger of losing their homes, based in part on my decision as a panelist during their hearings.  That’s a lot of responsibility for a third-year student, but the kind attorneys shoulder on a daily basis.

And finally, I listened as people reacted to an article telling us our law degrees would hold little value.  These were all humbling experiences that kept me grounded and focused.  There are some things out of my control.  I cannot make the court hold a trial on a specific date.  I cannot make people follow the rules of their housing voucher program.  All I can do is prepare as much as possible for court and exercise my best judgment as a trained hearing panelist.  As for the value of our law degrees, that is within our power to change.

We, as students and graduates, hold the key to adding value to our degrees by earning a reputation as good attorneys and handling the challenges before us with professionalism and competence.  There’s an old saying:  “Never tell a short man he can’t reach the top shelf.  He’ll kick you in the shin and steal your ladder.”  Maybe it’s not really an old saying, but I’m old and I’m saying it.

I have gone from being wary of participating in Clinic to becoming an ambassador for it, and by extension, the Charlotte School of Law.  The more my fellow clinic members and I can impact the community in a positive way, the more the reputation of the Clinic and school will grow.  Every hand you shake with a smile, every good impression you leave, every community relationship you cultivate, and every bit of professionalism you convey adds value to the education for which you are currently paying.  I encourage each of you to help yourselves by challenging your comfort zone boundaries, advocating with enthusiasm, and seeking out opportunities to grow your own brand.  Grab a ladder and reach for that top shelf.


Year in Review

January 4, 2014

By: Hailey Hawkins

Clinical education is founded on teaching through experience, and allows students to grow by working in their community.  The members of the Civil Rights Clinic past and present put in a great deal of work and passion on a daily basis.  Occasionally, when people put so much passion and energy into the daily work, including the struggles and pitfalls, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture.  Also, when looking at the milestones at any given time it is important to consider everyone who laid the groundwork to make these accomplishments possible, as many of these projects were the result of three to four years of hard work.   As such, this list is meant to celebrate the accomplishments of those individuals in the clinic for 2013 and years past, and serve as inspiration for all future clinic members.

Release Dismissal Agreements– Over a year ago the Civil Rights Clinic began an inquiry into the use of release-dismissal agreements by state prosecutors.   On January 29, 2013 the North Carolina State Bar’s Ethics Committee proposed a Formal Ethics Opinion, yet the language did not make it equally applicable. In response to the proposed Formal Ethics Opinion, the Civil Rights Clinic, North Carolina Advocates for Justice, North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence, and the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic submitted letters to the Committee with proposed changes to the language of the Opinion.  On October 15, 2013 the North Carolina State Bar issued a Formal Ethics Opinion, including the language suggested by the Clinic.  To see the opinion:  http://www.ncbar.com/ethics/ethics.asp?page=2&from=10/2013&to=12/2013 

Civilian Review Board– The Civilian Review Board began as a research project for the Civil Rights Clinic nearly three-years ago.  However, in February 2013 the media became involved, and the issue came to the forefront for Mayor Foxx and City Council.  On April 1st the City Council heard Clinic members advocate for reform of the Citizen Review Board based on their research, focusing primarily on the standard of review and the need for transparency.  The City Council voted to send the Citizens Review Board to committee for further review and scrutiny based on the Clinic’s suggestions and research.  On November 25th, the City Council voted unanimously to reform the Civilian Review Board.  For more information on this topic, please see https://cslcivilrights.com/2013/12/01/crb-reform-one-step-closer/

Public Records Request– The Public Records Project has implemented a research plan focusing on the North Carolina statute and the approaches of other states to address public records requests and responses.  Currently, the Clinic has researched all 50 states’, and the District of Columbia’s public records statutes, classifying states as those with similar or comparable statutes, those with less stringent requirements than North Carolina, and those with more stringent requirements than North Carolina. This data was compiled into a letter that was sent to North Carolina Attorney General for consideration.

Ban the Box– In an effort to promote and assist with the communal reintegration of those with a criminal history, the Ban The Box movement sought to remove the requirement that applicants disclose all past convictions on a preliminary application for public employment with the City of Charlotte.  On February 25th, 2013, the Ban the Box movement presented a proposed ordinance to City Council with over 100 community supporters in the audience.  The City Council voted to send the Ban the Box initiative to committee for further review.  For more information on this topic, please see https://cslcivilrights.com/2013/03/06/charlotte-city-council-kicks-the-box-to-committee-for-further-study-2/

A.S. v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Board of Education– We are happy to report that, in a joint effort with Council for Children’s Rights and Professor Keith Howard,  Civil Rights Clinic members successfully represented a 7th grade student in a Superior Court Appeal of the Mecklenburg County School Board’s disciplinary, 180 day alternative reassignment to Turning Point Academy resulting from an alleged altercation between the student and teacher. Superior Court Judge Ruben Young conducted a hearing on September 3, 2013 in Mecklenburg County Superior Court. And on November 11th, he entered an order (1) finding that the Board’s disciplinary action was arbitrary and capricious and (2) remanding the matter back to the Board for reconsideration.  While we did not win on all of our claims, all involved were very satisfied with the result.

Media– In addition to the numerous Charlotte Loafing and Charlotte Observer articles about the Civilian Review Board and Ban the Box, the Clinic received multiple opportunities with the media.  Claudine Chalfant of News 14 Carolina paid a visit to the Civil Rights Clinic and reported on the work that the Clinic has done to help the community.  On December 10, 2013 the Clinic was invited to make an appearance on Charlotte Talks to discuss its work with the Civilian Review Board.

These notable milestones do not encompass the other projects that have grown this year.  The Certificates of Relief project has been taking in clients and developed a system that will continue to help individuals for years to come.  This past semester a clinic member connected with the LGBTQ Center to assist individuals with changing their names and address many of the issues arising in the LGBTQ community.  Clinic members continue to serve as hearing officers for the Charlotte Housing Authority.

Overall, 2013 serves as a great reminder of what can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance, and sets the stage for how much more can be done in 2014.


Mayor Maile Wilson

December 15, 2013

By: Thom Prince

It’s not uncommon to find Charlotte School of Law students and graduates striving to make an impact in the local community.  Now, we have an alum making her presence felt all the way out in Iron County, Utah.  In May 2013, Maile Wilson graduated from CSL.  In November 2013, the citizens of Cedar City, Utah elected her as their first female mayor.  At age 27, she has positioned herself to be a great influence in her community.  Mayor-elect Wilson took some time out of her busy schedule preparing for her upcoming duties to chat with the Civil Rights Clinic.

Q:  What drove you to take on the task of an election and the responsibilities of being a mayor?

A:  I love my community and always knew that I would be very involved in serving the citizens.  Further I have always enjoyed local government and the direct impact that the decisions made have on the residents of the community.  I am fortunate to have a great City staff to work with and the support of the majority of the citizens of Cedar City and realize that together we can do great things over the next four years.

Q:  For those of us who are unfamiliar, please describe the demographics and social or political challenges faced by the population of Cedar City?

A:  Cedar City is located on the I-15 corridor, a major highway system connecting Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and California with access to other major Highway systems including I-40, I-70 and I-80.  Over 8 million travelers pass through Iron County on the I-15 corridor each year.

Iron County is accessible to 48 million people or 86.5% of the western metropolitan population within one-day’s trucking.

Cedar City to:

  • Denver………………596 Miles
  • Las Vegas………….172 Miles
  • Los Angeles………446 Miles
  • Phoenix……………..398 Miles
  • Salt Lake City…….253 Miles
  • San Francisco……556 Miles
U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts (2010 Census)
Cedar City Population (2010) 28,857
Iron County Population (2010) 46,163
Persons under 5 years 9.5%
Persons under 18 years 28.2%
Persons 65 years and over 8.6%
Persons per household 2.75
Median household income 2006-2010 $40,382

 

 

 

 

Q:  What difficulties did you encounter during the election?

A:  One of the most difficult parts of the election came during the primary election when I was attempting to study for the bar exam while campaigning.  Thus, I had to work on time management and being very organized to try to fit everything that was required of me within the day.

Q:  Was there anything you experienced during your time at Charlotte School of Law that prepared you for these difficulties, or for the rigors of campaigning?

A:  Although I hated the Socratic Method during my time at CSL, it was one of the most beneficial aspects of my time at CSL.  Also, I quickly realized that how law school teaches you to “think”, public speaking, and overall being prepared for anything that is presented were very useful.

Q:  What do you wish you had done differently as a student?

A:  I would have participated and taken more skills classes and clinics because both actually teach you about the practice of law.

Q:  As an alum, what improvements would you like to see the school make for current and future students?

A:  I hope that CSL doesn’t get so big that students can’t get the personalized attention and support from the professors that I enjoyed during my time at CSL and instead just turn into a number like they do at some other schools.

For example, one of my Contracts professors knew enough about each of his students that he could explain things in terms that the students related to and were based on the individual student’s interests.  Thus, he explained the contract principals in sports terms to those students that like sports but would also explain the same concept in terms of shopping and shoes to those of us that understood those terms.  This truly brought the concepts to life and made them concrete.

Q:  Do you have any advice for students who are interested in a career in public service?

A:  Develop thick skin!  While that is true—also just love what you do, and if a career in public service is what you are passionate about, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and go after your dreams.

Q:  When should I expect my invitation to the inaugural ball?

A:  I get sworn in on January 6th.  You are welcome to come!!!


Rally to Restore the Fourth (Amendment) to be held July 4th, 9am at Trade and Tryon.

July 1, 2013

Restore the Fourth is a grassroots, non-partisan, non-violent movement that seeks to organize and assemble almost 100 protests nationwide on July 4th, 2013.  Restore the Fourth Charlotte is a coalition of with a broad political background who demand that the government of the United States of America adhere to its constitutionally dictated limits and respect the Fourth Amendment. We seek to raise public awareness of the unconstitutional surveillance methods employed by the U.S. government.

Restore the Fourth maintains that justification of the Fourth Amendment beyond the original text need not be given; the legitimacy of which is self-evident. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights clearly protects all citizens’ assets, both digital and physical, against searches and seizures without warrant.  We aim to assert those rights and insist that the proper channels of government work to ensure that all policy complies with the supreme laws of the United States of America in their entirety.

Restore the Fourth requests that American citizens’ right to privacy is respected and stands with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and StopWatching.us on their open letter to Congress. As informed members of the American electorate, they endorse and echo the letter’s demands:

1. Enact reform this Congress to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court;

2. Create a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying. This committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance;

3. Hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.

This movement intends to bring an end to twelve years of Fourth Amendment abuses and to ensure that all future government surveillance is constitutional, limited, and clearly defined.  On July 4th at 9:00am, Restore the Fourth Charlotte will rally at the corners of Trade and Tryon to demonstrate the need for a return to the principles of the Constitution. We urge you to join us on the most patriotic of days and to help spread awareness of these violations of our Constitution.


Ban the Box in the News

April 21, 2013

Over the past two months public dialogue about Ban the Box has increased, spurred on by the Charlotte City Council’s decision to send the issue to the Economic Development Committee.  Several local media outlets exposed the issue to a wider audience, and helped Charlotteans begin to understand the importance and details of the proposed ordinance.

Creative Loafing highlighted the contributions of Councilwoman Mayfield and the Civil Right Clinic in getting the City Council to consider the needs of the thousands of Charlotteans who have conviction histories and are looking for work.  Councilwoman champions ‘Banning the Box:’ Spearheaded by LaWana Mayfield, job application question regarding prior convictions debated in city committee.

The Charlotte Observer ran an editorial by Civil Rights Clinic member Cleat Walters III, which highlighted the benefits of the ordinance to the City.  Banning ‘the box’ eliminates unfair obstacle to jobs

Unfortunately, not all of the stories in the media were accurate.  While we all have sympathy for the family and fiance of murder victim Danielle Watson, who was killed during a robbery inside the Flying Biscuit, WBTV’s story highlighting his opposition to Ban the Box “Murder victim’s fiance outraged over bill to remove “felon” question from job application” fails to identify the fact that the ordinance does not prohibit criminal background checks for job applicants.

Hopefully, Charlotte will follow cities like Richmond that recently enacted a similar ordinance as reported by The Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Richmond City Council unanimously passes ‘ban the box’ ordinance.

Ban the Box is slated for discussion during the May 2nd meeting of the Charlotte City Council’s Economic Development Committee.  The coalition hopes the  meeting room CH-14 in the Government Center will be packed when they consider this important measure at 12pm that day.


%d bloggers like this: