Cooley students, recent graduates help with Muskegon expungement clinic

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 Left to right, volunteers Andrew Knox, Zaneta Adams, Ayda Rezaian-Nojani, and Christine Witt, with Fred Johnson, Muskegon County Public Defender

LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY DIANA L. COLEMAN

by Diana L. Coleman, Legal News

Volunteers from Thomas M. Cooley Law School assisted Muskegon County Public Defender Fred Johnson in conducting Muskegon County’s second Expungement Clinic on June 28.  

The clinic was a follow-up to one held earlier in the year where over 500 prior offenders showed up to see if their convictions could be expunged. The volunteers were not able to process all of them before the clinic ended, so some of them returned to this second clinic.

If only five percent of those coming to seek help in expunging their criminal charges are successful, Johnson said, he will consider the process successful.

Volunteers assisted those attending through the registration process and, under Johnson’s supervision, determined if each registrant was eligible for expungement. If they found that the charges on the record were eligible, the volunteers walked them through the processes necessary to file their request for expungement with the court.

To be found eligible, the person’s conviction had to have been in Muskegon County and all convictions had to be at least five years old from sentence date or release from incarceration.

If it became apparent that the person was not eligible for expungement, he or she was given the opportunity to be videographed explaining why they felt their record should be expunged. This was done to preserve the information for future use, as there is a House Bill being prepared  that would include other crimes eligible for expungement.

Helping attendees at the clinic work through the process of filing a request for expungement with court were Andrew Knox, a current Cooley student; Zaneta Adams, 2014 Cooley graduate now studying for the bar exam and helping veterans with legal issues; Ayda Rezaian-Nojani, a Cooley graduate now working as a Cooley Law School staff attorney; and Christine Witt, also a current Cooley student. Several Baker College Muskegon students helped with instructions on logistics.

Linda Scutter, the criminal division legal secretary in the Public Defender’s office, also assisted in any way possible. “Linda knows all,” said Johnson. “She keeps us all in check and is the go-to person to ask for information.”

Johnson explained, “This time I think we have had about 60 people show up. Last time, at one point, we had people lined up all the way down the hall in the building, out the door, and clear down the sidewalk.” He surmised that the lower attendance was in part due to a large body of first-clinic attendees finding out they were not eligible.

“It makes an impact on many things in life that we cannot do if there is a criminal conviction in our past,” Johnson said. “At the first clinic we had a sixty-seven-year-old woman come in who wanted to see if she was eligible for expungement as she did not want to go to her grave with a record.” She was indeed eligible.

Filing the expungement application with clinic assistance costs significantly less than hiring an attorney, putting it in reach of indigent or low-income residents.