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Law School’s Center for Restorative Justice Helps Clear Clients’ Records

expungeEven the simplest things in life can be a lot more difficult with a criminal record, no matter how minor the crime nor how long ago it occurred. That’s why Loyola Law School’s Center for Restorative Justice partnered with LAW Project Los Angeles to host an Expungement Clinic on Friday, Nov. 11 on the downtown L.A. campus of Loyola Law School.

During the clinic, about 20 Loyola students consulted with four clients with criminal records about expunging records that might otherwise hinder them from obtaining jobs, apartments or other necessities. For one client, there was hope for the future.

“I’m trying to get a DUI I have on my record expunged. These guys are doing a great job helping me out with that. Hopefully, we can get that resolved and make my life a lot easier,” said one client, whose name is omitted to protect his identity.

An expungement reopens a criminal case, dismisses and then sets aside the conviction. The case is then re-closed without the conviction. In effect, the client is no longer a convicted person. However, a record of the case itself will remain and the client’s record will reflect the expungement. The net result of this process is that clients can honestly and legally answer questions about those now-expunged prior convictions in the negative.

The clinic also presented Loyola students with an opportunity to interact with real clients. “This is good practical experience because you get to interact with clients, do client intake, sit down with them, listen to their stories and help them get on track with their lives and move forward,” said Taren Fujimoto, a Law School student who helped found the clinic.

Even students with significant criminal law experience found the clinic a valuable way to augment their training. Kasondra Komadina, who has participated in Loyola’s Project for the Innocent, took advantage of the opportunity to add another skill to her criminal-law tool belt. “It’s an important step in protecting your client’s rights and letting them know what they can do to better their lives.”

The clinic, which was the second in an ongoing series, dovetails with the CRJ’s mission of providing healing to victims and rehabilitation to offenders of crimes through education, research, advocacy and community programs. To date, about 10 clients have been helped. And there are plans to hold an Expungement Clinic once a month.

“Each year in California, almost 1 million people are convicted of a crime. About 83 percent of these offenses are for misdemeanors and about 17 percent are for felonies. Millions of people in California are likely to be in need of legal advocacy when they try to enter the workforce with a criminal conviction,” said Seth Weiner ’10, CRJ co-director. “Unfortunately, in the arena of criminal records and work, resources are limited.  There are few places that people can receive free legal assistance from advocates who are trained and knowledgeable in the area of employment and criminal records. Additionally, criminal records can create a barrier for people in search of housing.”

The CRJ is founded on the belief that human harm caused by crime must be healed by a criminal justice system that is more restorative than punitive; that victims and survivors of crime, including offenders who were themselves victimized and others harmed by crime, can never be healed by merely punishing offenders.