On May 7, 2021, in partnership with Fulton County District Attorney’s Office and Georgia Justice Project, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (“ABA YLD") facilitated a Record Restriction/Expungement Clinic as part of YLD’s annual public service project. This year, that project, as led by the YLD Public Service Team, is entitled Operation Second Chance and has two components: (1) a detailed, state-by-state toolkit with laws, resources and guides on expungement processes nationwide; and (2) in-person activation events just like this one. YLD Chair Choi Portis (and our very own longtime SBM YLS Executive Council Member) selected this project understanding the value of second chances and to not condemn folks forever based on their pasts. With my background in expungement work for years and current work in the cannabis industry, it was a natural fit for me to serve as the YLD Public Service Director.
Ultimately, the event was a resounding success! Over 100 citizens of the Atlanta area filed into the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church seeking a second chance. Not only were many of them helped on the spot, but a Superior Court Judge was also in attendance to sign corresponding orders that would be entered on the record the following week, thereby instantly restricting/expunging their criminal records. Approximately 20 – 25 YLD leaders and members showed up to volunteer alongside the DA’s Office and GJP.
For this initiative, not only was expungement on the menu, but in Georgia, the process covers "record restriction" as well, meaning arrest records are made confidential and unsearchable to most. Plus, a variety of low level misdemeanors and some felonies were addressed during the program. To that end, having attended the event, I can personally attest to the impact this made on the clients. Some attendees were in tears even at the opportunity for change, just knowing they were in good hands. Years ago, I had the honor of handling a very close friend's expungement in my home state, so I know precisely how much this means.
As for next steps on the public service project, the plan is to launch the Operation Second Chance Toolkit to serve as a resource to ABA members for years to come and look to do local activations on an ad hoc basis. The YLD Public Service Team is also leaning on national partners to evaluate potential meaningful policy that could be presented to move the needle on criminal justice reform issues.
Collaboration among the notd key partners was essential to making a huge impact in the lives of so many. Indeed, how many states can say they have a district attorney’s office leading the charge on helping residents get a new lease on life? Thankfully, even right here in local Michigan counties, “prosecutorial integrity units” and the like are springing up with the mission to review prior cases and, where possible, help right the wrongs of the past to ensure that these citizens do in fact receive a second chance.
This event is just another in a long line of necessary such activations that the ABA YLD intends to execute over time. Of note, following a connection with our friends at the Georgia Justice Project, the YLD Public Service Team is in contact with Cabrini Green Legal Aid and the nationally renowned Clean Slate Initiative to execute powerful event during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago. Projects like this are vital because it teaches young lawyers the value of compassion and grace. And it displays just how much change we can make given our understanding of the law and the ability to wield it to create new life for those we serve. Remember, everyone deserves a second chance!