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At expungement clinic, lawyers help clear criminal records

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At an expungement clinic at Baltimore’s Helping Up Mission, Robert Gray stands with Cara Schaefer, development manager for the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. (The Daily Record/Louis Krauss)

With dreams of one day leaving Baltimore to work as a welder, Robert Gray knows that having criminal convictions expunged from his record would go a long way toward helping him land a job.

On Tuesday, Gray attended the fourth annual expungement clinic at Baltimore’s Helping Up Mission, where lawyers from the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and Venable LLP provided free consultations to more than 40 people and helped them fill out expungement forms.

The lawyers aim to help people clear their records so potential employers and landlords won’t reject them for consideration.

Gray, 32, seeks to expunge convictions he received for selling drugs when he was a young man, convictions that led to more than a year behind bars.

“I want to have a cleaner background when people look into me,” Gray said. “With welding, it can take me to all sorts of places. Maybe the military. … Expungements would help me do that.”

Gray grew up in west Baltimore, where, he said, it was common for people of his generation to sell drugs to support themselves. After his convictions, the only jobs he could get were low-paying positions at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King, he said. He added that he applied for several warehouse jobs but never got call-backs.

Gray has been a client of the Helping Up Mission since May, when he admitted himself to kick alcohol. Set to graduate in a few weeks, Gray said he’s been offered a couple of jobs as a welder in Maryland and looks forward to separating himself from his past.

“Some of us in the environment I grew up in, it’s all we know until we get older,” Gray said. “Then it’s too late because you have charges, and (others are) categorizing you as a menace to society when you really didn’t know any better or have a reason to care about life. It’s awesome to know there is help.”

Chris Sweeney, the MVLS staff attorney who runs the clinic, said he enjoys being able to help people.

Gino Toskes, left, a resident at the Helping Up Mission, discusses his chances for expungement with Venable LLP Attorney Matt Schofield at a clinic on Tuesday. (THE DAILY RECORD/LOUIS KRAUSS)

Gino Toskes, left, a resident at the Helping Up Mission, discusses his chances for expungement with Venable LLP attorney Matt Schofield at a clinic on Tuesday. (The Daily Record/Louis Krauss)

“The vast majority who attend these clinics have just a couple convictions on their record that aren’t major but are holding up their lives for jobs or housing, and so I enjoy being the person who can finally give some closure about these other options available,” Sweeney said.

The clinic lawyers use MDExpungement.com, a website that allows them to check clients’ cases to determine if they are candidates for expungement.

In Baltimore, 91% of the 7,165 expungements requested in circuit court between October 2017 and June 2019 were granted, according to data from the Maryland Judiciary. But not all Maryland jurisdictions report such a high rate. Judiciary data showed that, for the same period, 69% of expungements were granted in district court in Prince George’s County.

 

 

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