In what is believed to be a first, Indiana Legal Services Inc., Indianapolis Legal Aid Society and the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic are hoping to collaborate on a single project that they say will help people overcome hurdles to employment and give communities an economic boost.
The three legal aid agencies have applied for a grant from the Indiana Bar Foundation to expand services to Marion County residents wanting to expunge their criminal records.
The organizations have been helping clients expunge their past arrests and convictions since the law’s enactment in 2013.
“It’s time for us to pool our resources,” said John Floreancig, general counsel for ILAS. “The three of us together can do a whole lot more than the three of us do apart.”
ILS, ILAS, and the clinic are asking for $210,000 for each of the next two years to launch the effort. They are applying to the grant program the bar foundation established to disburse, over several years, the more than $7.5 million it received from the national multibillion-dollar penalty Bank of America paid for fraud committed during the mortgage foreclosure crisis.
According to guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Justice, the BOA funds must be used to support either mortgage foreclosure assistance programs or community redevelopment efforts. The Hoosier legal aid agencies see expungements as a part of community redevelopment since getting a criminal record cleared can help a person get a job, support their family and give back to society.
“We felt this fit the model for economic development in that we are helping people get back into the workforce and off the public assistance rolls,” Floreancig said.
The grant money would be used to capitalize on the strengths of the three agencies, according to Chris Purnell, executive director of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. ILS and ILAS each would funnel the funds to support one full-time attorney dedicated to filing expungement petitions. The clinic would use its portion to expand the hours of its expungement help desk from three to five days a week.
The grant would enable the organizations to work together so they can provide more efficient service. They also would continue their own work on expungements.
“This is just good opportunity for the three agencies to work together on a problem that all three work on separately,” said Jon Laramore, executive director of ILS.
Even if the legal aid organizations do not receive the full amount they requested, Purnell said the project will still move ahead although, likely, in a scaled-back form. He hinted the expungement project also might lead to other collaborations.
“I think we’re seeing the planting of seeds for how we can partner going forward to maximize our strengths,” he said.
Since Indiana’s expungement law was implemented, the nonprofits have seen a steady flow of clients needing help filing the petitions. The three organizations work with individuals almost daily who have run afoul of the law in the past and are having great difficulty finding gainful employment and even a place to live.
“Expungements are very important to making the individual job-ready,” Laramore said.
The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic opened a help desk in the basement of the Marion County City-County Building to assist ex-offenders file pro se expungement petitions. Operating Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, the desk has recorded about 3,000 visits each year and helped with the filing of 800 to 900 petitions annually.
Purnell anticipates expanding services to Mondays and Tuesdays would bring an additional 2,000 visits annually.
As a part of the project, the clinic would send more difficult expungement petitions to the attorneys at ILS and ILAS. The ILAS lawyers bring a deep knowledge of the local docket because they regularly appear in Marion County courts while ILS, with its footprint of eight offices across the state, can file petitions for people who have convictions in multiple counties.
Preparing and filing an expungement petition is often laborious. It can also be tricky, especially if petitions have to be filed in several counties. One misstep can get the petition tossed and the individual banned from refiling. Legal aid attorneys searching for convictions in other counties sometimes have to call the court clerks individually to check the records.
Floreancig estimates with the grant money, the ILAS attorney would be able to handle 50 expungements, and Laramore anticipates getting 40 referrals from the clinic’s help desk.•