By: Peggy Stevenson, Director, Record Clearance Project
“A great experience,” “fascinating,” “inspiring,” and “absolutely awesome” were some of the comments from six Columbia Law School students about their Alternative Spring Break with the SJSU Record Clearance Project (RCP). The law students were paired with RCP advanced undergraduates for an intensive week of work and training, during which they interviewed two clients each and rapidly completed their clients’ petitions. The court hearing for those cases is on April 16, 2013 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. in Department 46 of the Hall of Justice on W. Hedding Street in San José. It is open to the public.
Starting with a welcome from Dean Charles Bullock, the week included talks by four former RCP clients about what led them to need the RCP’s aid. A talk by Judge LaDoris Cordell (Ret.), Independent Police Auditor, encouraged the students to take action to promote justice, describing the path-blazing work of her parents and grandparents in addressing racial inequities. Judge Erica Yew described innovative efforts by courts to enhance low-income people’s access and opportunity to be heard in court, including the Family Wellness Court where she presided, which focused on families struggling with drug addiction. In a panel discussion, the law students told an overflow audience of more than 50 SJSU students about law school. Philosophy Prof. Rita Manning moderated the law student panel; the SJSU Philosophy Department co-sponsored the week’s events.
I was glad to see how much the law students appreciated their SJSU undergraduate case partners’ interviewing skills and legal knowledge. I hope the RCP students recognize that they provided the key assistance that made this week such a success.
RCP students provide statewide help on legal issues involved when clients who owe money to the government seek expungement.
Indeed, the RCP students continue to impress. When RCP advanced students Jesse Medina and Lisseth Castillo-Valencia had an RCP client with an unresolved legal issue, they did legal research to determine the answer, which (to my knowledge) no one else in the state had. Using treatises at the Santa Clara County law library and on-line legal databases, Jesse and Lisseth came up with an outline of the expungement rights of people who owe fees to the government. That original research will now benefit people seeking expungements statewide.
As Project Director, I was gratified to see the results from client evaluations of RCP services and students. After Speed Screening interviews with a team of two RCP students, we ask clients to fill out a quick anonymous evaluation regarding how helpful the clients found the Speed Screening explanation of “next steps” in the expungement process. RCP got high scores, and every client gave every student the highest possible rating on, “The students treated me with respect and courtesy.”
We also ask people listening to our community education presentations to evaluate the presentation, and answer several questions. While the ratings are similarly excellent, one troubling fact stands out: on average, at the outset of the presentation only 15 percent of the audience knows that the law requires the court to expunge many convictions – the person just needs to apply in order to obtain that important result. There remains a great need for information about expungement law out there!
Getting ready for more community education and interviews
During the next three weeks, the RCP expects to reach over 200 community members at three planned community presentations. One on Tuesday, April 9 at Santee Neighborhood Center at 6:30 will be in both Spanish and English. All six students presenting there are bilingual, and we’ve practiced the presentation, as well as handling questions from the audience in both languages.
One of those presentations will be at a location that is new for us – Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View – on April 19 at 3:00. Then we’re returning to Elmwood Jail to make our third presentation at Elmwood this semester. This will be a total of ten community education presentations in three months.
Two Speed Screening sessions in April and May will keep RCP students busy as well. We have the record-setting number of 30 people having reserved an interview spot for the Speed Screening on Thursday, April 11, plus we take walk-ins as well. The Center for Employment Training is hosting that session. We have another Speed Screening at McKinley Neighborhood Center on May 2. A photo of RCP advanced students helping new RCP students prepare for the Speed Screening interviews in role plays is attached.
It’s been a busy semester!
Tags: Columbia Law School students visit, RCP gets good report card from clients, talks planned to 200 people in three weeks about expungement, undergrads do legal research of statewide impact