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How solicitor, Newtown Florist Club are working to prevent people’s pasts from harming their futures
03122021EXPUNGEMENT
A flier advertising the expungement information sessions coming up, which are being sponsored by Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard and the Newtown Florist Club Provided by Rose Johnson

Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard wants to double the number of expungements and records restrictions she has approved in her tenure, a tool that blocks potential employers and financial institutions from seeing certain parts of a person’s criminal history.

“I’ve done 700 so far,” she said. “I’d love to do 700 more.”

Woodard and the Gainesville’s civil rights group Newtown Florist Club are partnering for a series of events to help certain people with non-violent misdemeanors on their record.

Those potentially eligible would have a case in Hall County in which they were not convicted or finished with a pre-trial diversion program. Those who have completed a sentence under the First Offender Act or a conditional discharge may also be eligible.

“During my tenure on the criminal justice reform (commission), which Gov. (Nathan) Deal had appointed me to, it opened my eyes to how many people might not know how to ask,” Woodard said.

The Rev. Rose Johnson, executive director of the club, said Woodard mentioned the possibility of an expungement event during the summer’s open-air conversations on criminal justice reform. The club has held a series of meetings in the past two months — including with Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish and Oakwood Police Chief Tim Hatch — on the progress of these reforms.

Expungement information events

What: Two informational meetings about expunging nonviolent misdemeanor cases

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 16 and March 23

To register for the Zoom and/or submit questions, call Newtown Florist Club at 770-718-1343 or email newtown193@gmail.com. Meeting will also be on the club’s Facebook Live

Two informational virtual meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. March 16 and March 23 before a tentative in-person application event in April.

Through records restriction, the aim is to “not have mistakes that they made years ago prevent them from getting a house that they want or a job that they want,” Woodard said.

Johnson said “so many people in the community need to have this kind of relief.”

“Before this, we would have people who would call and want to know how to get it done, and we didn’t necessarily have the answers for them at that time,” Johnson said. “So now, we have a job of getting the information out.”

1212stephanie woodard
Stephanie Woodard

Woodard said some people hire lawyers to handle the expungement/records restriction process for them, but anyone can apply at the arresting agency.

“People use the word expungement, but that’s not the legally accurate term anymore, and it’s a little bit confusing,” she said. “So folks think that expungement takes it off your criminal history. What expungement does is actually restrict it from view.”

There are various codes that different institutions use to pull a criminal history record.

“Law enforcement and the individual code always allow you to see everything, so that means a police officer or the court system will see everything that was ever put on your criminal history,” Woodard said. “… But all those other codes — employer, finance, housing — they have different levels of access and those are the parties that should be prevented from seeing something that is restricted.”

A portion of the education is intended to draw attention to how these groups can get around this restriction, like if one of these potentially blocked institutions asks for permission to run the criminal history as if they were the individual, Woodard said.

Some misdemeanors are ineligible for restriction, including most domestic violence charges, which is why Woodard said they have marketed the event as being for nonviolent misdemeanors.

Regional events