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.
The Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, with the help of Action North Carolina, All of Us or None, Charlotte Community Justice Coalition, Homeless Helping Homeless, and many other community businesses and organizations, presented a Resolution and Ordinance to City Council to remove the question concerning criminal history from the initial application questionnaire for all City employment positions. On March 1, 2014, the City of Charlotte removed the box from the City’s job application, thereby removing one initial barrier in obtaining employment and encouraging those with criminal histories to actively seek employment and not recidivate. Currently, Clinical students are working to encourage other municipalities and private businesses to follow Charlotte’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.
Clinic students are responsible for serving as an individual advocate in all phases of representation for a Certificate of Relief petition, including: identifying potential candidates; determining individual eligibility; compiling petitions and supporting evidence; and appearing as advocates for clients at petition hearings. Since beginning this project in Fall 2012, Clinic students have served as advocates for six successful Certificate of Relief petitions in Mecklenburg County. Some of the petitions have included novel issues of law, to which the students have been able to address matters of first impression in court. In addition to representation, Clinic members will work with community organizations to provide education and information to potentially eligible populations. With each successful petition, the Clinic has 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.
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.
- Occupy Charlotte Cases
- Ballot Access for Independent Candidates
- Queen City Record
- Public Housing Hearings with the Charlotte Housing Authority