By Omar Delgadillo
On October 26th, D.C. Law Students in Court (LSIC) hosted a Sealing & Expungement Summit at the Department of Employment Services building at their Minnesota Avenue Office in Northeast. This DC Pro Bono Week event connected members of the community with lawyers to help with the expungement and sealing of their criminal records.
The Summit was an informational fair as well as a clinic, embodying LSIC’s client-centered approach to representation. In this effort, LSIC’s Eviction Defense Project, LSIC’s Civil Protection Order Program and LSIC’s Social Work Program were present at the Summit to assist attendees with other legal services.
Community partners provided information to Summit attendees on how to overcome the employment and housing barriers that arrest records can present. LSIC partners at the Summit included the the D.C. Department of Employment Services, the D.C. Office on Human Rights, the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens Affairs, the Project Empowerment Program and Howard University’s Fair Housing Clinic. Each one of these partners provided information on the law surrounding housing and employment discrimination to the Summit attendees. With the coordination of Jen Tschirch, Pro Bono Coordinator at Georgetown University Law Center, several GULC law student volunteers also participated in the Summit.
The D.C. Office of Human Rights provided information about actions individuals can take to protect against unlawful discrimination on the basis of their criminal record. For example, they can file a complaint against an employer or landlord whose applications contain questions about criminal records, or if there is reason to believe that their housing or employment applications were rejected before the offer stage because of their criminal record.
One attendee said he has been rejected nine times in his search for housing and was told directly that one of his applications was rejected because of a prior conviction. If true, this would constitute a violation of D.C.’s Ban the Box law, which prohibits a criminal record from being considered early in the housing application process. Another attendee said he was homeless and believed he was facing trouble getting a job because of his criminal history; he had not received responses to his job applications despite having a high school diploma.
The Expungement Summit involved eighteen attorneys from four major DC law firms (Arnold & Porter, Latham & Watkins, Reed Smith, Steptoe & Johnson). LSIC’s clinic had a big assist from Maya Sheppard at Neighborhood Legal Services Program. Due to the Summit’s success, LSIC has been able to pair more than a dozen Summit attendees with our pro bono partners for full representation in the weeks since the Summit. Washington Council of Lawyers was instrumental in helping LSIC offer this pro bono opportunity to the DC legal community.
The Sealing & Expungement Summit provided dozens of individuals with much-needed information and guidance. It was a great success!
Questions? Want to know more?
Contact: LSIC Expungement Hotline: (202) 607-2721 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Omar Delgadillo is a member of the East of the River Profiles Committee.