Wilmington Spring Break Pro Bono Trip - Days 2 and 3 by Sam Spalding

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On the second day of the trip, we reconvened at the New Hanover Public Library to review the client data from the previous afternoon. We learned that morning that Erika Jones, a New Hanover Assistant District Attorney (and UNC Law alumna!) would be meeting with each of our interview teams throughout the afternoon. Although Ms. Jones had already done some preliminary research into each client file, our role was to advocate for each of the clients and relate the information in the affidavits and impact statements into a compelling argument in favor of dismissing the clients’ charges.

In addition to preparing to make our arguments, we needed to draft motions to dismiss for each of the failure to appear charges. We were able to use relatively standard forms, but it was important to ensure that all of the necessary information was accurately presented; any errors would be an unwelcomed speed bump in an otherwise smooth procedure.

Attorney speaks to students.

Our discussions with Ms. Jones highlighted the fact that this project was uncommonly smooth. Dismissing charges and waiving fees to advance the process of driver’s license restoration requires a great deal of cooperation from the District Attorney’s Office. The NC Justice Center’s effort in coordinating this project represents one of the few movements to lead driver’s license restoration in North Carolina. The hope is that this project will serve as a model for future projects throughout the rest of North Carolina, to provide additional relief to the thousands of citizens that are unable to obtain driver’s licenses because of their failures to pay or appear. Ultimately, Ms. Jones agreed to support fifteen of the sixteen motions, while not taking a position on the sixteenth motion.

Students work with attorneys and prosecutor Erika Jones

After our meetings with Ms. Jones concluded, we met with a handful of remaining clients to conduct impact interviews. Students that were not engaged in the remaining interviews reviewed records for currently incarcerated clients to determine future eligibility for driver’s license restoration.

Once our work for the day was done, we had the opportunity to dine with a group of UNC Law alumni working in and around Wilmington. The dinner, hosted by Elijah’s Restaurant, was a terrific chance to meet with practicing attorneys and judges, while also enjoying a delicious meal.

 

Students at Wilmington

On the third and final day of the trip, we accompanied our supervising attorneys to the New Hanover County Courthouse to observe the attorneys’ discussion with Judge Melinda H. Crouch. For many of us, it was our first experience inside of a District Court courtroom. Although our role was simply to observe, it was both fascinating and moving to see all of the different people coming and going in the courtroom. Contrary to most of the courtrooms we may have seen on TV, it was definitely a controlled chaos; there were dozens of cases that proceeded in the short time we were there.

Thanks to the assistance and cooperation of Ms. Jones and the DA’s Office, Judge Crouch granted motions and fee waivers for all sixteen of our clients. While many of them needed additional relief in other counties before being able to restore their licenses, a handful were immediately eligible for reinstatement. After the motions had been granted, we retreated to the waiting area to make phone calls to each of our clients, informing them of the good news. All of them were ecstatic to hear that they had received relief; many of them had never received free legal assistance, and were thankful to have had the opportunity.

Students contacting clients

As we concluded the trip and made our way home, we each reflected on the success of the project. It was an invaluable opportunity to provide meaningful assistance to clients in need while also gaining experience in client counseling, interviewing, motion drafting, and oral advocacy. We are all thankful to have participated in the project, and are hopeful that more counties and District Attorneys will follow the example set by New Hanover and District Attorney Ben David.


Posted by Kelly Hebrank on Tue. May 1, 2018 10:59 AM
Categories: Spring Break 2018

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