Muskegon County Public Defender's office hosts second Expungement Clinic


By Diana L. Coleman
Legal News

Muskegon County Public Defender Fred Johnson, Public Defender staff members, and volunteers from Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Baker College conducted Muskegon County’s second Expungement Clinic on June 28. 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.

The clinic was held in the south campus training building at 133 E. Apple Avenue.  Those attending were greeted at the door by volunteers and assisted through the registration process.
If it was found that the charges on record against the registrants were eligible for expungement, the volunteers then personally walked them though the processes necessary to file their request for expungement with the court.

The first clinic held by the county had over 500 prior offenders show up to see if their convictions could be expunged. The volunteers were not able to process all of the attendees on that date before the clinic ended. Some of those parties returned on June 28 to complete their applications.

A person is eligible for an expungement of a felony only if he or she has one felony with no more than two misdemeanors (and the misdemeanors occurred before the age of 21). People are eligible for an expungement of a misdemeanor if they have no more than two misdemeanors.

A person is not eligible for expungement if the felony was punishable by life in prison; felonies cannot include criminal sexual conduct in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree — murder, attempted murder, or home invasion 1st degree. (This may not be a comprehensive list of disqualifiers.) A person must not have any traffic misdemeanor or felony offenses. The person must have been convicted in Muskegon County, and all convictions must be a least five years old from sentence date or release from incarceration.

If it became apparent to the personnel assisting that the person was not eligible for expungement, he or she was given the opportunity to go to the basement level of the training building where they could be videoed explaining why they felt their record should be expunged. This was done for purposes of preserving the information for future use, as there is a House Bill being prepared for introduction that would include other crimes that would become eligible for expungement.

Every volunteer was pleasant, courteous, respectful and willing to help all who attended the clinic. Working the registration desk was Bridgetta Carson, a Baker College graduate specializing in paralegal studies; Renné Gavin, a graduate of Grand Valley State University who is helping with case investigation in the Muskegon County Public Defender’s office; and Zaneta Adams who is a Cooley Law School graduate studying for the bar exam and working with veterans on legal issues.

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; Ayda Rezaian-Nojani, another Cooley graduate who is now working as a Cooley Law School staff attorney; and Christine Witt, also a current Cooley student. In addition, there were several Baker College students helping with instructions and telling the applicant how the logistics of the clinic moved from room to room to complete the process.

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

The second clinic’s attendance was lower than the first. “The first clinic, we had about 500 show up,” Johnson said, “and this time I think we have had about 60.”  The lower turnout was in part due to the personnel at the first clinic informing those seeking expungement about whether their crimes were eligible for expungement.

“At one point,” said Johnson, “We had people lined up all the way down the hall in the building, out the door, and clear down the sidewalk. It makes an impact on many things in life that we cannot do if there is a criminal conviction in our past.”

Johnson continued, “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.”  This particular applicant was eligible to apply for expungement and one of the volunteers said the lady was at the county building recently attending her hearing to have her record cleared.

Attending the clinic provides the expungement applicant the assistance they need in filling out forms for the court and making sure that all the information and documentation is correct. Filing the expungement application with the assistance offered in the clinic costs significantly less than hiring an individual attorney, which might be out of reach for many. The Muskegon County Public Defender’s office and Cooley Law School and Baker College clinic volunteers are doing a great service for Muskegon County residents by making it possible for some to expunge their conviction from the court records and gain peace of mind, when they might otherwise never have known to pursue expungement on their own.