News Home
Quick Bites
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
On AirNewsClassical
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Don Drumm Studios


Akron General

For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )

Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Courts and Crime

How can you wipe a criminal record clean?
Akron clinic attorneys and law students help people file paperwork to expunge their records and open the way to jobs

Kabir Bhatia
Joann Sahl (left) and Russel Nichols are part of the team running the Akron expungement clinics, the first Saturday of every month at the Akron Urban League
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:
One in six Ohioans has a criminal record, and state legislators have made changes in the law recently to help those people get jobs after they’re released. In Summit County, a group of law students has been working one Saturday a month since last summer to help ex-cons clear the legal hurdles to employment. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia visited one of the clinics and found out what it takes to overcome the past.
How can you wipe a criminal record clean?

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (4:28)

Eric Williams from Canton looks like an insurance agent.

“I’ve changed. I’ve paid my debt to society. And now I need assistance with guaranteeing a safe and a good future.”

He wears a crisp white shirt with a black tie. Shined shoes. Neatly trimmed moustache. He’s pushing 50, and you’d never guess he was a fantastic drummer in high school who won the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award and then studied percussion at the University of Akron. You’d also never guess he’d have a record that needed to be expunged.

“When I was 20 years old, [I] got involved with a young lady. She was involved with another gentleman, unbeknownst to me. He was a felon. This gentleman became jealous of that. We had restraint orders. We ended up getting into an altercation. There was gunplay. And two people lost their lives that day. One person, physically. And the other person lost the life he was trying to earn and pursue.”

He was convicted of murder, served time and has been out for more than a decade. And his past is preventing him from being licensed to sell insurance in the state of Ohio.

Legal eagles
That brought him to the expungement clinic at the Akron Urban League building last month. It’s staffed by about 40 attorneys and law students from the University of Akron. They’re working to help people like Eric Williams take advantage of changes in the law over the last year and a half. Attorney Russel Nichols explains.

“Previously, only first-time offenders were eligible for an expungement. They changed that so you can have up to two offenses, as long as both of them aren’t felonies. Even that small increase led to a lot more people being eligible than they were before.”

Nichols says about 150 people come to the monthly clinics, which are funded by grants from Summit County and the City of Akron. Getting through the process can be a legal maze, but it does not guarantee potential employers won’t know about the past.

“Law enforcement can still see it. The courts are still able to see it. But most importantly, anywhere that you are likely to work with children or the elderly is still going to be able to see it.”

Another option
To deal with that, another law created the Certificate of Qualified Employment, or “CQE,” says Akron Law Professor Joann Sahl.

“The record still remains. All it is, is a certificate from the court that ... the client is being rehabilitated and they’re a good candidate for the job they’re seeking.”

That’s important in cases where expungement is not an option.

“So many people who come to us for help have more than two convictions. And they want to have a second chance. They want to have a chance at a job. So the CQE provides them with that opportunity. To become taxpaying citizens. To get a job and help their families and their community.”

Sahl points out that the main reason for prison recidivism is lack of employment.

An expensive process
Last year, 374 CQE applications were started in Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark, Portage, Lorain, Lake and Mahoning counties. Of those, nine were approved, two were denied, and all the rest were under review, or never actually submitted. The reason for that, Sahl says, is the $250 filing fee. But that went down to $100 this year, and the expungement clinic now has community partners stepping in to help people who don’t have the money. Kevin Warner may soon be one of those people. Like Eric Williams, he had youthful indiscretions while a college student at the University of Akron.

“I've got three or four misdemeanors: Petty theft, drug charges. Things like that.”

The goateed, hoodie-wearing and perpetually smiling 30-year-old was studying Abnormal Psychology back then.

“I almost have more interest now because the abnormal psychology would have dealt with criminal aspects. And now that I’ve actually become a criminal, I somewhat have an insight now. So it’s almost more interesting at this point.”

So what kind of work is he looking for?

“Anything that'll hire me. Anything. I've done retail, construction, you name it. Not looking for anything specific.”

Warner says he’s kept his nose clean since 2007, when he got a $600 fine for drug possession. That didn’t get paid off till last summer, so he has to wait until this summer before he can even apply to the clinic. Meanwhile, Eric Williams is almost halfway into the three-to-four month purgatory before his day in court, which could lead to his record being cleared. He also plans to petition Gov. Kasich for clemency. The next University of Akron expungement clinic is on Saturday, May 3.
Listener Comments:

Great article! NO CLINIC in May 2014, however, because it's graduation month for students

For the next dates of the FREE Legal Clinic to help with Expungment, Clemency and the Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE) - go to the University of Akron's website and put CQE in the search box!

Posted by: Terry Tribe Johnson (Akron, OH) on April 8, 2014 11:04AM
This is such an uplifting and highly necessary act of kindness and initiative. It means a lot that some people are treating rehabilitation realistically.

Posted by: Jasmine Kimbrough on April 8, 2014 9:04AM
Add Your Comment


E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook

Stories with Recent Comments

Kasich campaign evokes dark images of a Trump presidency

Backers of legalizing marijuana in Ohio promise to be back in 2016
We should be aloud to grow more than 4 plants and not have to register with the state considering it will be a free market.

Akron says it's had no second thoughts about welcoming refugees
What business does Councilman Neal own on North Hill? I'd love to support him. I am so glad to have the refugees in our neighborhood. I have lived here for 25 ...

Scarborough says the University of Akron is trying to rebuild relationships
In order for the University of Akron to grow and become a desirable place for students across Ohio and elsewhere, it must address the crime problem in the Akron...

Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite wants to end pay-to-play sports fees at Ohio's schools
You can bet Hite and Husted will also rush to the rescue of the Academic Challenge team, the speech-and-debate squad, the Science Olympians and the chess club. ...

Ohio lawmakers consider new gun bills
States that have gun restrictions/cities have reduced gun violence is false. CHICAGO has some of the toughest gun laaws/restrictions but yet fun violence is off...

Cleveland's public transit system considers fare increase for 2016
I work with individuals with disabilities. Yes some of my folks need more help than the average person. As a whole, the group I work with however can manuver ju...

Community group sues to re-open part of Wadsworth hospital
My father was part of the founding group of citizens which started the "new" Wadsworth/Rittman Hospital. For some reason the leadership for the future of the ho...

The Cleveland Museum of Art presents painters who loved their gardens
brilliant masterpiece, Greetings from

Copyright © 2015 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University