116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Linn County supervisors are looking to bring back a popular clinic that helps people navigate the court process of erasing certain criminal cases from their records, voting to provide the Advocates for Social Justice up to $8,000 to organize it in early 2022.
The clinic, which helps individuals have qualifying court records expunged so would-be employers and landlords won’t see the history, typically has been organized by Legal Aid and the Serekberhan Fellows, a county internship program.
However, since the pandemic began, the county has not had the fellowship program. During last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors voted 2-1 to have the Advocates for Social Justice take the fellows’ role in organizing it with Iowa Legal Aid.
Under the agenda item brought forward by Supervisor Stacey Walker, the board agreed to provide the advocates group an amount not to exceed $8,000 to plan, promote, secure and provide the necessary services, training and material to put on the clinic. This is an amount typical of what the county in the past has budgeted for the clinics.
The group’s co-founder and president — Tamara Marcus — is a county employee, its first-ever sustainability program manager. She also is running for a seat on the Cedar Rapids City Council. The organization’s vice president, Amara Andrews, is running for Cedar Rapids mayor. Walker, who has publicly supported their campaigns, said awarding a government contract to the group they lead does not violate any ethics.
Walker said he came up with the idea to have the group take over the roles the fellowship program typically provides. A former Serekberhan fellow, Angelina Ramirez, is a member of the group and has experience in previously organizing the clinic.
“We’re not breaking any laws here and there's really nothing unethical, but people will ask questions. ” Walker said. “Angelina is a prominent, supersmart activist in the community and she will be signing the agreement instead of Tamara and Amara. Their organization calls for criminal legal reform and this is right in Angelina’s wheelhouse, so I asked and their board said ‘yes’ and I got it on our agenda … and quite honestly, even without ASJ being brought on to help, they would’ve been part of this. There is no question in my mind about that.”
Walker noted that like the fellows in the past, the advocated group isn’t “running” the clinic, as lawyers do the expungement work and assist clients. In the past, fellows have helped gather nonprofits, design flyers and canvass neighborhoods.
During last week’s meeting, Supervisor Louie Zumbach said he had concerns with the advocates group working with law enforcement. He voted against the contract but said he hopes the clinic is a success.
Ramirez, a senior at Coe College, said she’s excited to return to the clinic and be involved outside of her previous fellowship role. “There’s a need for an expungement clinic in Linn County and I’ve been wanting to come back and work on this, but because of COVID, there’s been a hiatus on it,” she said.
Under Iowa law, convictions may be expunged for most misdemeanor cases after eight years if there are no outstanding court debts or new cases pending, unless offenses include domestic abuse or sex crimes.
Alex Kornya, litigation director and general counsel at Iowa Legal Aid, said the two biggest single-day clinics Iowa Legal Aid has held in the past were both in held in Cedar Rapids with Linn County. “The second Cedar Rapids clinic was 150 people, which is probably the most we will ever do in one day,” Kornya said. “Typically we see around 40-50 at a clinic like that.”
During a planning meeting Thursday, Walker, Ramirez, Kornya and Iowa Legal Aid staff attorney Arianna Eddy discussed other potential partners to have at the upcoming clinic, including the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, which has helped with past clinics.
Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner told The Gazette that though he wasn’t yet aware of any dates or invitation to participate, he assumes the department would.
Walker said he also thinks he can get a judge and county attorney to help.
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