PHILADELPHIA, April 28, 2015 — To help people find suitable housing, better jobs or continue their education, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams held the first-ever expungement clinic in Delaware County last week.
More than 50 people from across the 8th Senatorial District and beyond attended the event, April 23, at the Darby Recreation Center, which was organized by the senator in partnership with Legal Aid of Southeastern PA and Widener School of Law.
Expungement clinics help people learn the steps they need to seal past summary offenses (traffic tickets, contempt of court) or criminal charges that were never prosecuted. Juvenile records may also be sealed once a person reaches 18 years old.
“For some people, growing up brought problems and scrapes with the law,” Sen. Williams said. “But many of these same people have grown up, learned their lessons, and are ready to move on; but they cannot.
“I presented this expungement clinic to help those who have gotten into trouble in the past and need help clearing their name to get ahead today,” Williams said.
Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow Erica Briant, an attorney with Legal Aid of Southeastern PA, said Pennsylvania law limits the kinds of offenses that can be sealed from the public record.
“Most people with criminal records, unfortunately, don’t qualify for an expungement so they end up saddled with a criminal records for 20, 50 years after they’re far from the person they were when they developed a record,” Briant said.
In cases where criminal offenses cannot be sealed, Briant said people are told about the possibility of pardons, redactions or partial expungements.
Things Widener School of Law student Ethan Singleton taught to the residents who showed up to try and seal their past.
“A lot of people in these communities needed this assistance and most of the clients I helped were supportive and thankful that this event was held,” Singleton said afterwards.
Tanisha Smith, of Darby Borough, was one of the expungement clinic attendees who said the event “was very beneficial.”
“It’s allowing me to get things off my record that I didn’t know were there,” Smith said. “I’ll, hopefully, find gainful employment and, with this being expunged, get a new start on life.”
And just as Sen. Williams’ expungement clinic was helping Smith and others, it was giving law students the chance to learn outside of the classroom. Elizabeth Tarloski, a legal fellow from the Equal Justice, was one such lawyer-in-training.
“This is an amazing opportunity for Widener Law to be involved in the community and to help people in an area that’s very important,” Tarloski said.
Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow Briant said the attendance of more than 50 residents shows how much people need this service.
“It just goes to show how great the need is,” Briant said. “It’s great that people are taking advantage of (Sen. Williams’ clinic) and will take the steps to break the cycle of poverty and incarceration.”
Briant also praised the work and cooperation to bring the expungement clinic to Darby.
“I couldn’t have done it without Widener’s students showing up, being capably trained and organized by the faculty and staff there. And none of us could have done this without the efforts of Sen. Williams’ office to find a space, organize the people, get the word out and organize the technology,” she said.
“We cannot thank Sen. Williams enough for this special clinic and the steps it provided to help the dozens of attendees clear their public record, reclaim their inner sense of peace, and move forward with their lives,” Darby Mayor Helen Thomas said as she welcomed expungement clinic attendees.
Sen. Williams is planning to hold another expungement event in the fall.