'Clean Slate': City program earned salute from Lakeshore Legal Aid

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Lakeshore Legal Aid (LLA) recognized “Clean Slate,” an initiative led by the city of Detroit Law Department, at its Oct. 26 Pro Bono Appreciation event and fund-raiser at the Michigan Science Center in Detroit.

The “Clean Slate,” program provides legal aid to eligible Detroiters who want to boost their chances of re-entering the work force by expunging their criminal records, said Butch Hollowell, corporation counsel for the city.

“Based on the success of the ticket amnesty program in the 36th District Court we knew people were desperate to get their records clean,” Hollowell said. “After bouncing around ideas with our staff and Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Tim Kenney, we decided to handle expungements for non-violent offenses. We’ve recruited 70 additional lawyers and 100 law students from every law school in the state to handle the expungements.”

Lakeshore Legal Aid CEO Ashley Lowe said the organization’s partnership with “Clean Slate” has been an eye opener for everyone involved in the effort.

“Four times a year, the law department holds expungement fairs throughout the city – and that’s where our lawyers meet with people who want to clear their records. The turnout has been amazing.” Lowe said. “This is the first time we’ve done anything on this large a scale. It’s very impactful work and it’s definitely work we’ve wanted to be part of.”

Besides supporting joint ventures like “Clean Slate,” a $4.6 million grant LLA received from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in 2016, and a $2 million grant from the State Bar of Michigan Foundation in 2017, also have funded a major expansion of services, Lowe said.

“Since we received the LSC grant, we’ve opened seven additional offices and hired 100 people, tripling the size of our staff. Opening one office is big, but opening seven is huge,” Lowe said. “And we’ve gotten another $2 million grant from the State Bar of Michigan Foundation that, besides supporting our legal services, will help us take our Counsel and Advocacy Call Line (CALL) statewide, something that wasn’t on our radar before.”

According to Lowe, LLA is on track to close more than 13,500 client cases in the next 12 months, up from 5,141 client cases in 2015. CALL will close an additional 9,250 client cases for its program partners, Legal Aid of Western Michigan and the Michigan Advocacy Program.

“We’ve extended more fully into eastern Michigan and we’re in all the counties in Western Michigan except for Kent County, but we’ll be adding that in the next few months,” Lowe said, noting that the State Bar grant gives them the tools they need to “track what goes on across the state and what kind of calls are coming in.”

Lowe said LLA’s mission is one that exercises all methods of legal advocacy, training and outreach to empower low-income people, provide access to the legal system and preserve the dignity of clients.

“It’s good work that we do. We make such a difference in people’s lives every day. We are making sure that victims of abuse and domestic violence are safe,” Lowe said. “Our pro bono recognition event is a celebration of what we’ve done and our vision of what community lawyering means. We want to spread the news about our additional funding and the pro bono legal services we provide.”

Going forward, Lowe said they are trying to ensure that their expanded services are adequately meeting the needs of the community.

“Now that we have this additional staff, we’re putting our lawyers on community work forces and tasks groups where they are hearing what peoples’ needs are and starting new projects every day as they come in. Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t say to me, ‘Hey we should do this thing in this place.’ We are in the courthouse in Pontiac giving landlord tenant advice. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the grants,” Lowe said.

“Without free legal services, many low income people would be denied meaningful access to the legal system and would not have the ability to have their voices heard,” Lowe added. “By having as many attorneys as possible available to go to court with our clients we are changing the balance of power in our clients’ lives by evening things out and giving them a choice. And we get to do that every day.”

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