NEW LEXINGTON — The Perry County Courthouse was the setting last week for people to clean their court records through the Clean Slate Clinic program in order to obtain better job and life opportunities. The program was organized by Judge Luann Cooperrider. Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French was also in attendance to support the event.
Volunteers from the Southeastern Ohio Legal Services (SEOLS) helped organize and assisted individuals who requested to have their court records cleaned. SEOLS is an organization that provides legal aid to help people of all backgrounds effectively navigate through the justice system, regardless of economic status. The organization receives funding from the federal and state governments as well as other sources so that they can provide legal assistance to those who need it without charging attorney fees.
The volunteers at the Clean Slate Clinic offered informative handouts that described what records can be sealed for individuals. The handouts also described a step-by-step process of what can be sealed and how it is done. If a person is eligible for record sealing, a court will look at the individual’s criminal convictions in any state or federal court — not just in the State of Ohio.
The handouts described two pathways individuals can utilize in order to seal records. The applicant cannot be convicted of five or more felonies. They cannot have been convicted of first, second or third degree felonies; or any offenses involving violence and sexual-related offenses. The applicant, however, can have any number of misdemeanor offenses.
Other applicants can choose another pathway in order to get their records sealed. An applicant who wants his or her records sealed must only have been convicted of one or two misdemeanors and no felonies, or one misdemeanor and one felony. Some charges such as minor misdemeanors and traffic offenses do not count towards the total number of convictions. The handout provided a list of violent offenses, sex offenses and traffic offenses that are included in reference to the total number of convictions.
In addition, the handouts also provided a list of records that can be sealed as well as records that cannot. Those include convictions with a mandatory prison term, first or second degree felonies, traffic offenses, some violent offenses and some sexual-related offenses.
French stated that she attended the event to see the people who utilized the program and to say thank you to the lawyers and judges who organized the event. She continued stating, the Clean Slate program benefits those who are trying to apply for jobs but cannot do so because of their criminal records.
“A lot of the people who are here today maybe can’t get a job because of their criminal record,” Justice French said. “This is something that is provided for by the law and we want to make sure that everyone is informed about it and takes advantage of it.”
Legal aids around the state also hold similar programs, according to French. The legal aids work together with local courts to hold similar clean slate programs but also programs like drivers license reinstatement clinics and divorce clinics. The program at New Lexington was only for individuals who were qualified to get criminal records sealed.
Justice French praised the work done by Judge Dean Wilson and Judge Cooperrider for not only hosting the program, but also helping those in the community with their work.
“These judges are exceptional,” Justice French stated. “Even with the good record of other courts around Ohio, Judge Wilson and Judge Cooperrider are exceptional. They really bring in these kinds of ideas and go beyond what you might expect of any local judge. I just can’t say enough good things about them.”
The program helped seal records of over 50 people last Tuesday. Among them was Brian Kuhn who is a photographer and is trained in multi-media. Kuhn was at the program in order to seal a record from 2003 that had hindered him from getting an education as well as other media jobs in his life. He stated that his reasoning for being at the program was to get rid of his “ball and chain.”
“When I applied to Ohio University, I had to go through a whole different process because I was a felon to prove to them that I was worthy to get in,” Kuhn told The Perry County Tribune. “I want to be able to not be held by this.”
Kuhn’s record he wanted to seal was an fifth-degree felony charge from 2003 when he tried to pass a bad check over $500. The charge he was given is no longer a felony and is now a misdemeanor in the State of Ohio. It was changed to a misdemeanor before he applied to colleges in 2013.
Kuhn works as a multi-media creator. He does work primarily in photography, video production and photojournalism. He hopes that with this record sealed, he will be able to apply for media contracts and not have to worry about getting denied.
“I don’t have to worry about second guessing whether I am going to get a phone call about anything I am trying to do,” Kuhn said. “There is a lot of presumptions with things like this.”