A community legal clinic launched two years ago with a recreational marijuana tax revenue grant has served more than 6,000 people and has been recognized by the Oregon State Bar.
Portland Community College’s CLEAR (Community Legal & Educational Access & Referral) Clinic offers expungement of records and deportations, a deportation legal defense program, some immigration legal services programs, and name changes and as a gender marker to the public throughout Oregon.
“A big commitment of the CLEAR clinic is that we will never charge anything.
“There’s no way, even a sliding scale, even a consultation fee, nothing,” said Leni Tupper, director of the CLEAR clinic. The Skander.
For his work with the program, Tupper received the Oregon State Bar President’s Technology and Innovation Award “for his significant contributions in Oregon to promoting respect for the rule of law, improving the quality of legal services or improving access to justice through new technologies or other innovations.”
“I’ve always been very interested in using the law as a tool for social justice, and just figuring out how exactly to do it,” Tupper said.
Karla Marquez Gaab, a final-year law student and extern at the Deportation Clinic, was one of four recipients of the bar’s public leadership award. Marquez Gaab assisted with CLEAR’s asylum clinic for undocumented community members last spring and was honored for her work alongside three peers in creating UndocuLawNorthwest, which helps undocumented and undocumented students. citizens to take legal training.
“When I received my DACA work permit, it was because of the clinic,” said Marquez Gaab The Skner. “I just felt like (working in the eviction clinic) was a way of giving back but in a different role, in a different field.”
Navigating legal barriers
While many law firms provide a certain number of hours of pro bono work and many advocacy organizations offer free or low-cost consultation and even representation, CLEAR filled a gap in the legal process.
“A lot of our services are services that the legal community likes to imagine people could navigate on their own,” Tupper said.
“One thing we constantly hear at the clinic is, ‘LegalAid doesn’t do that, the ACLU doesn’t do that.’ It’s not a fancy lawyer, it’s not litigation, it’s a simple and straightforward legal service, which means the court has some self-help legal resources, and they think that people are able to navigate it on their own, but the reality that we’re seeing from thousands of people is that people aren’t really able to navigate the process on their own, so they come to us and we’re able to help them in this process.
This means that paralegal and law students often have the necessary training, which Tupper, who has a background in immigration law and is an instructor in the CCP’s paralegal program, acknowledged just when she was trying to find ways to give more hands to its paralegal students. on experience. She began organizing one-day legal clinics with limited-scope legal services.
“I would host a renewal clinic (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)), where I would ask a group of my colleagues from the immigration law world to volunteer and do the DACA renewals of 50 people in one day,” she said. “I’ve partnered with the Metropolitan Public Defender’s Community Law Division to run disbarment clinics, court fines, fee waivers and that sort of thing.”
But one-time events could only reach a limited number of people. She worked with Rakeem Washington, who was then director of access and reintegration at the CCP. Washington had worked with many formerly incarcerated students and prospective students, and had insight into the urgent need for criminal record erasure clinics. Together, Tupper and Washington secured an award from the Social Equity and Educational Development (SEED) Grant Fund through the city’s Office of Community and Civic Life. two years ago–one of six local organizations to do so.
“We decided to team up and apply for a grant to institutionalize and make these clinics permanent,” Tupper said.
The CLEAR Clinic model is to provide assistance and help clients navigate various legal processes while “using the incredible energy and dedication of CCP paralegals and paralegal students, as well as law students and volunteers who are willing and able to provide somewhat more limited scope services. So that allows us to help a lot more people” and reduce costs, Tupper said.
“We tend to serve a lot of people who have historically been pushed to the margins of our society – we serve a lot of the LGBTQIA+ community, we serve a lot of BIPOC people, we serve a huge amount of immigrants, refugees and undocumented, just because of our immigration legal services.
To date, CLEAR Clinic has performed nearly 5,000 criminal record deletions, 450 DACA renewals and immigration legal checks, and over 250 name and gender marker changes. The clinic also provided legal defense against deportation to 245 people and helped 400 people complete deportation expungements, which, Tupper notes, often means erasing multiple deportations from a person’s record. Additionally, the clinic has served 455 clients with eviction defense services since November 2021.
A criminal record makes it extremely difficult to obtain a job, housing and often an education. Two recent laws have dramatically increased the kind of impact CLEAR can have on this front: Senate Bill 397, which reduces wait times and increases eligibility for felony expungement, and SB 819, which allows those whose crimes are found not to be expunged to request the appropriate district attorney to reconsider the crimes.
“Before that, really the only option was to go to the governor for a pardon,” Tupper said of SB 819.”
Both bills entered into force at the beginning of the year.
“Before 2022, it was probably 25 to 30 percent of people who came to us who were eligible for delisting,” Tupper said.
“And now almost everyone who walks through our door is eligible to have at least something from their records expunged, if not everything.”
The clinic can, for example, provide letters to potential owners putting in context convictions that are too recent to erase.
“We will say ‘This person has entered our erasure clinic, they will be eligible for erasure on this date, we do not anticipate any issues with their erasure, we know they are recovering, please consider this information when you ‘make your rental decisions about this person,'” Tupper explained.
Similarly, when all that stands between a person and expungement are fines and court costs, the clinic sent letters to the court explaining the person’s situation and efforts to make the payments, along with a request for reduction or elimination of these fees.
“The fact that we have a group of paralegals and law students working here gives us the ability to do things like that,” she said.
The advantage works both ways, according to Marquez Gaab.
“It’s a great opportunity to work within a program that intentionally creates a positive work environment that brings together lawyers, paralegals and law students,” she said. “Each of us has different skills that we could bring. In terms of the clinical learning environment, it’s a more holistic approach to learning from other legal professionals.
The CLEAR Clinic is currently funded by the PCC Foundation, the PCC Dreamers Resource Center, a grant from the nonprofit Innovation Law Lab to support DACA and the clinic’s immigration work, a grant from the Portland Housing Bureau to the Clinic’s Eviction Legal Defense Program and a Measure 110 grant to expand the Clinic’s Criminal Record Relief Program to select recovery centers and within the Clinic itself.
For more information: www.pcc.edu/clear-clinic.