S3 E8: Record Expungement with Attorney Amy Flowers
Welcome to the Voices of Freedom podcast by Freedom a la Cart. Each week, you’ll hear mind-blowing interviews from survivors and professionals, as well as actual tips that you can implement in your life to become a better advocate for human trafficking survivors. Thanks for spending time with us today.
Now let’s jump into the next episode of Voices of Freedom.
Welcome to another episode of Voices of Freedom. I’m so happy to welcome Carissa as our co-host for this episode. She graciously filled in, super last minute. We appreciate her for that. And I’m excited to introduce you guys to Amy Flowers, who is our special guest for today. She is joining us, to talk about expungement and specifically the importance of expungement for human trafficking survivors.
So on this episode, Amy dives in and talks, more about like the background side of expungement, and like what that looks like within the court systems. Also, I want to preface with, we were having some technical difficulties with the recording equipment and the first half, not the first half, the very beginning of Amy, talking did not record successfully.
So please forgive me for that. I am definitely not a podcast professional, but I do my best. So I’m going to do a quick introduction of Amy for you guys and then we’re going to jump into this episode. Amy is an attorney at Ice Miller, and within her role there, she specifically provides advice that helps employers avoid worker compensation and employment challenges and defends them in related litigation matters.
Prior to being an attorney at Ice Miller, she served as a bailiff to Judge Kimberly at the Franklin County Courts for 11 years. Then, she earned her law degree. And from there she, helped draft decisions and entries for the judge. In her free time, she says that she enjoys participating in Iron Man races.
We are super grateful for Amy and Ice Miller and the staff over there that help us get record expungements for our survivor butterflies and clients. So, anyway, I hope you guys enjoy this episode and I look forward to chatting with you next month and Dorie should be back co hosting as well. Chat then!
Let’s see , so favorite movie, ah, Quentin Tarantino fan, um, anybody, Quentin Tarantino?
It’s like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, um, God. Was he, is he like an older dude? I mean, yeah. Well, now? Yes, Tarantino. So Pulp Fiction I think is probably one of my favorite movies, I don’t know, just one that I really enjoy. I like Almost Famous. Um, have you seen Almost Famous? Yeah, okay. That’s, that is?
No, no. Okay, I was like, that seems very off brain for me. Okay, that’s, but yeah. This is just a movie that she likes. Yes, it was. So, um, I’ve actually seen Dumb and Dumber on Sunday. At, uh, over in Graveyard, their theater, they do like a beer tasting with it. So I’m seeing, I like that one. Yeah, so. Um, what else?
Do you have any pets? So, I don’t, um, soon gonna get another dog. I had a dog for 17 years who passed a year ago. No, no, it’s okay. She was 17. Like, she, we were in some bonus years. Yeah, but still so sad. I know, she was, she was the best dog. But, um, So now, at a point, like, ready to get another dog. Um, but we don’t have a backyard, or like, we’re very close to Schiller Park, um, but we don’t have a backyard, so I’m trying to figure out, like, do we get a big dog, small dog, like, how do we navigate, you know, access to, to park and green space and all that.
Yeah. So, yeah. Well, that’ll be exciting when it comes. Yes, yes. Okay, let’s jump into the thick of it. So, today’s episode is about expungement, like we already shared. Can you share how you began helping survivors of human trafficking? I can’t, although I don’t know how truthful the, the origination is, I, I can just recall that the first time working with, um, survivors of human trafficking was through a referral through the court.
So I think my relationship with a lot of the judges down there and then leaving to go practice, um, you know, enabled these, these types of relationships and, a certain judge who, Um, referred a case, uh, two cases actually to our firm, um, two folks had filed for expungement of their records under the human trafficking, um, statute.
And so the judge, she sent them over and we got to meet the clients, um, and then kind of navigate through the law. And, and honestly, I had no idea that this particular avenue of expungement was even available for folks. So that was really exciting for me to get to learn that and to become familiar with that.
So that was how it started. Um, And that’s where we got our first couple of referrals. And then I think somewhere along the way, just having already been connected with Freedom A La Carte and understanding and knowing the organization, um, got connected with, with them and getting referrals from, from you all.
And then also Emily Dunlap over at Advocating Opportunity, um, connected with her and have been able to get referrals, um, through that process. Referring them over because while it can be in, it’s not as adversarial, right? Expunged process isn’t that adversarial depending and certainly human, um, human trafficking survivors, um, the process is not adversarial, but it’s still nice to obviously have an attorney help you navigate that.
So while, while applicants can certainly do it on their own pro se, it’s really helpful to have an attorney to make sure they are checking those boxes that are required to otherwise be eligible and have their record expunged. So just getting referrals. And, I should say, we’re always taking referrals, so, um, if you ever know of anyone.
Nice plug there. Yeah. I appreciate that. Um, you kind of, when you just said that, it’s obviously very helpful to have, um, an attorney help you with this process. Could you kind of take us through, like, what that expungement process looks like for those Yeah, absolutely. So, it’s, it’s similar to how any other lawsuit, uh, starts.
And I should note, and I, when I speak, I’m speaking mostly about Franklin County because there can be different experiences outside of, uh, outside of Franklin County. The outlying counties that are not as populated, um, with, with folks don’t experience human trafficking. Survivor expungements as often as Franklin County does.
So here, lawsuit starts, you file your application. There’s a filing fee that’s associated with it is, it is a $50 filing fee. Um, and so you’ll file app, file your application. The Franklin County clerk of course, actually has applications online that you can access and kind of just plug in and fill out. Um, in that application, you just attest to a few things that you are a victim of human trafficking.
Um, that you have a prior, uh, conviction for either soliciting or loitering. And that’s one of the things we can talk about later in terms of, I think, how the, the law has got that a little wrong. Um, and then you also have to demonstrate a nexus, right? How does your human trafficking, victimization connect to the underlying charge that you are attempting to have expunged?
Um, so for instance, let’s just say possession of drugs, it’s a common one that we see. Um, how does, um. One, how are you a victim of human trafficking and how is that victimization related to the specific possession of drugs charge? Those are kind of the the elements that you have to satisfy before the court.
You also, and that’s in the application. So that’s the application and then the state gets an opportunity or the city gets an opportunity to respond and they can say we don’t object or we do object and here’s why. In my experience, Franklin County, I’ll just say they are incredible advocates, uh, even across the aisle in terms of so long as we have satisfied the statutory requirements, they typically do not object.
Um, that sometimes will also depend on the severity of the charge. If we’re talking about a felony five, which is the lowest of the felony possession of drugs versus say a felony. Um, of a second degree, which is obviously a more serious charge, um, say robbery or something of that, that nature, we can sometimes expect this, the state to maybe object or just have paused differently to those types of applications.
If they get an opportunity to respond, depending upon their response, um, then we can also file a reply in support of our application. Then once the matter is fully briefed before the court, the court will set a hearing. Um, there’s a, a few. I guess kind of administrative issues that we have to make sure that we overcome in the application.
There are certain things that you have to cite to in the application before the court, so they don’t just throw it out, um, on a procedural defect. You got to make sure you have your name in there, the charge. Um, I think that you also have to make sure that you have the date in which you, um, It was final disposition of the underlying charges.
There’s a few things that you want to also make sure are in the application, um, so you don’t get tossed out. And then you could have a hearing before the court. And this is kind of, this is the part that becomes for me as an advocate, um, you know, and, and let me back up with, with that application, we typically file.
An affidavit, an affidavit under seal because within that affidavit is really the survivor’s opportunity to like fully disclose the horrific details of that trafficking, right? Sometimes names are used and we don’t want that to be available to the public and we certainly don’t want, you know, their entire story to be available to the public if they don’t want it to be.
And so then that affidavit we hope is enough for the court to say, okay, yes, you’re a victim. Yes, you have a, uh, predicate charge of, of soliciting or loitering, and yes, we certainly see the nexus, and yes, that you have a very viable reason as to why your record should be expunged, right? School, housing, um, employment, and so, that is before the court.
Then you get to have the hearing, and the hearing is an opportunity to really kind of just put color and context to that affidavit. Um, you know, this is, for me, something that I’m very sensitive to, though, in terms of navigating and not wanting to, uh, re traumatize, right, a survivor. And so, but I’ll tell you in my experience, whenever I’m having these conversations with survivors, I’m saying, you know, I’m sorry that we have to go back through all this and dig up all these details and everything, even though it’s necessary.
99 percent of the time you’re like, you know what, it’s okay, I’m okay with it, you know, I’ve, I’ve certainly have, you know, been able to, to get through this process and this is just another step in getting through that, this, this experience that I’ve had, this trauma that I’ve experienced, and so they get an opportunity to tell the court, they get an opportunity to like testify before the court and to say, hey, um, yeah, this was horrific, this happened to me, I was a victim, um, and then to also say, you know, your honor, this is, Having this record expunged is incredibly important to me and here’s why.
Which is probably empowering to them to be able to tell the judge like, hey yes this did happen to me. I think so. I think it’s a release too, right? It’s one thing to put it on paper, right? In this affidavit, which is just a sworn statement that we then file before the court. That’s one thing, um, but to be able to, you know, whether you get to sit at council table next to your attorney or whether you’re actually up in the witness stand, describing all of these horrific details that happened and then ultimately at the end, describing all How impactful it will be to actually have this record expunged.
I do, I kind of, you can almost feel the release, uh, in the room from the client. I’m excited for them in that regard because I do think that that’s therapeutic in some sense. And they get to stand up for themselves and to tell their story, um, you know. And so I think, uh, and, and, you know, to date it’s never been a bad experience, um, for anyone.
I, I can say that there’s never been an application filed under the human trafficking. Um, statute here in Ohio that I filed that hasn’t been granted. Um, once we’ve like gone to hearing and gone through the whole process, it hasn’t been granted. I mean, I think that, I think that courts and I think that folks, um, really understand what that statute is designed to do.
And it’s designed to ensure that people are not continuously, um, victimized by their circumstances that they certainly had no control over. So I think that leads us really well into the question of why is this so crucial for human trafficking survivors to get their record expunged? Yeah, and so I think three major categories, categories, um, housing, um, employment and education, right?
So, I mean, we all know anyone who’s ever filled out an application or, you know, applied to go to school or certainly housing. One of the, you know, top things that you have to disclose is if you have any criminal convictions, if you have any kind of criminal record. And, and that can preclude you from advancing, whether it is getting housing, adequate housing, or whether it’s, you know, to advance in your education or to get, you know, that, that, that advanced job.
Um, and so, you know, for them. They, they constantly are like, I just want to go to nursing school, or I just want, I want to be able to buy this house, or I want to be able to, um, you know, have this position within, I’m already working within this organization, but I need to be able to resolve this criminal conviction to be able to advance and to get a better paying job.
Um, and so it’s, it’s incredibly important, uh, for them. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s very similar, um, to, right, that like, that like clean slate. I know that you all just recently had your, um, gosh, what is it? The Eat Up Convest. Yes. The fundraiser. Yes. And so, right, and everyone’s wearing white. Because the whole idea is that these, these folks get an opportunity to have this clean slate.
This, this, like, it, it wiped, um, from, from their past. And to finally, I think, Put away that last, final, um, you know, experience, um, that’s precluding them from it, from advancing, that being that criminal conviction. So, just clarification for myself, so, um, who ultimately decides if they are able to get their records expunged, like when they go to the hearing?
Yes, so, good, and I, I know, hopefully I’m not like talking like too quickly through, through the process,
um, Once, you know, we get to have a hearing. It is the court. It is the judge. And so they get to decide whether or not you have met the statutory requirements, whether or not you have demonstrated that you are certainly deserving of expungement under this particular statute. So they are the end all, uh, end all be all of making that decision.
Okay. Got it. Do you the laws you don’t necessarily agree with? Do you want to dive into that a little bit? Yeah, so, uh, I think, and I understand why the legislature wrote it the way that they did, but I think in practice, and it is true for a lot of laws that come out, right, that sometimes once we get into them, it’s like, I don’t know if their intentions Um, are, are being met with how they’ve written the law, specifically as it relates to the human trafficking expungement.
You have to have a predicate offense to be eligible. That means you have to have loitering, a loitering charge, um, and or a soliciting charge. There’s a third one and I cannot remember what it is. Um, but typically it’s either loitering or soliciting. Now so far that hasn’t been, in my experience with, with my clients, has not been an a hurdle per se because almost every human trafficking survivor does have a solicitation or a loitering charge.
However, it is required and so if you have someone that meets every other aspect of that statute, if they absolutely are a victim or have been a victim of trafficking, if they can prove the nexus between the underlying conviction, and if they can demonstrate that they, um, have a, um, compelling reason to have their record expunged.
If they don’t have that predicate offense, they’re not eligible. Yeah, there was someone, um Who is connected with freedom? Who has that issue? Right. And so, it can come up. And I think, um, I know Emily Dunlap from Advocating Opportunity. I know that her and her team and some other folks are working within those.
to try to get that nixed from the statute because practically speaking, it just doesn’t necessarily make sense. I don’t know that you, but for having a solicitation or loitering charge, you aren’t then a victim. I mean, we all know that that necessarily is not true. Right. And what are these people thinking when they’re writing?
Right. I think they thought that that’s a very clear indication of, okay, You definitely are a victim because you have this particular charge that is almost always linked with folks who are victims, but Practically speaking there will be those folks who slip through who do not have that charge and are otherwise still absolutely Eligible.
I just don’t think that should preclude folks from being able to To otherwise obtain an expungement. The second part of that that I find, well, certainly is an issue, is that it can be very difficult that if you do have a prior conviction for solicitation or loitering, which are misdemeanors, right, which are in municipal court, those are, sometimes those are easier to expunge or the process can be a little bit quicker, right?
Judge Thomas is who gets to, um, deal with those types of, uh, convictions. If you get those expunged or sealed, it is incredibly hard if you didn’t keep the paperwork from that process to then prove to the court That, that record exists because it’s been wiped, and so it’s hard to obtain if you do one before the other if you have your loitering and solicitation charges sealed or expunged prior to, say, another charge, any other charge that you need to demonstrate the predicate offenses.
Well, those predicate offenses are sometimes gone if you don’t have the paperwork. Oh my gosh. So we’ve had, we’ve come very close to having that issue. Thankfully, um, you know, the, there, the clients who have had those predicate offenses expunged prior to having other charges expunged did keep their paperwork.
But again, if you don’t have it, it’s really difficult. We can put it into an affidavit. We can, there are other avenues, but it’s very difficult if the court doesn’t have it. I should say it’s easier to say, hey, look, see here it is right here on my record. expungement.
Which is so weird, because you’re working to get the record expunged, but then you’re like, actually, I still need it. So yeah, if you have a client, the first thing you ask them is like, okay, do you have a loitering and or solicitation charge? They’re like, oh, yes. And you’re like, okay, don’t get those expunged or sealed just yet.
We’ll do those after. Those will kind of be our last step, um, uh, for, for the expungement process. Because there are, we’ve had clients that have cases that are in, you know, not just Franklin County, but Pickaway County or Delaware and Franklin County. So we’re kind of strategically figuring it out. Where do we start, you know, which, which counties do we start in first or which courts do we start in first to make sure our last is the solicitation or loitering.
Or we make sure that we have adequate paperwork to demonstrate that you’ve been convicted. Yeah, those predicate offenses. Um, so for those who are looking to get their records expunged, how long does this process usually take? I guess like best case scenario and like worst case scenario. Oh gosh, yeah, so in my experience, best case scenario.
It depends on the court. It depends on how backlogged they are. Um, you know, it can be as quick as two months. It can be as long as six months. Um, but I’ll tell you a lot of times that the, um, clients, um, who are seeking the expungement, they’re okay with that. Okay. Because they’re so, I think, just, you know, they’re so, I mean, Um, patient in a way that, okay, I just really want to get this done, whatever it takes, you know, um, just want to do it the right way and ensure that, you know, they, they’ve put their, their best case, their best foot forward.
Um, and you know, it’s, it’s up to the attorneys too to try to figure out like, you know, how often do you nudge the court or do you ask? And, um, that’s when it helps to have those relationships with the court where you can say, you know, hey, um, is this, is it, hello, do you still have this? Is it, have you pushed this along?
What’s going on? Um, but I’ve never had a case where, um, that I can think where I’m like, man, it took forever. Do you want to jump in and share some success stories that you’ve like been a part of? Yeah. So there was one recently, I say recently this year, that it was one of the first, um, felony of the second degree cases that I’ve had.
So this was an F2 robbery. Which is like big. So the felonies are unclassified felony, which is like aggravated murder, right? Unclassified felony is bad. Then there’s first degree felony. So that’s your, that’s your worst. So F5, and then you get into the misdemeanors. So yeah, in the grand scheme of things, F2 is pretty serious.
And depending on the charge, you can be subjected to a certainly mandatory prison time. And so, We had a case, it was an F 2 robbery, and I should note, she also had an F 5 possession of drugs, um, that we got expunged first, right, so we kind of were just like greasing the wheels, okay, we’ll start here, we’ll start with the lower felony, um, you know, and that was in a different court, and I should note that it depends on where your underlying felony Okay.
Was what judge it was before typically that you get that same judge for your expungement. Oh interesting which is good in a way because a lot of times some Sometimes the courts will recall that particular person or your client will recall that particular judge and they can share some information with you about the underlying offense or how it came to to, to, to final resolution, you know, with respect to like what their interaction was like with the judge, because it is nice to be able to say your honor, I don’t know if you recall, but you know, so and so was before you, you know, four years ago and you said this to them and that to them and you know, here they are, they’ve changed their life, they’ve, they’ve kind of turned everything around.
So that’s, that’s can, can be a nice thing. Um, so we have this and it’s here in Franklin County, we have an F2 robbery and under the statute, you’re required to There are additional findings that the court has to make for felonies of the second or first degree. And as I sit here right now, I cannot recite those for you.
Um, It’s okay. But there are additional findings that the court has to make in an effort to ensure that because you have this more serious charge, and I should note, under the expungement, or under the human trafficking expungement law, the only charges that are ineligible right off the rip, are murder, aggravated murder, and rape.
Everything else is otherwise eligible as it stands. So F 2 robbery is eligible. So I know in this instance we have a higher burden, we have a bigger hurdle to overcome than say an F 5. But it was, I don’t know, for an attorney, it was like that exciting challenge to demonstrate because you, you know, you have such strong convictions in your client and their story and what they’re, you know, and what they’re saying and what they deserve.
And so you get this, you know, attorney passion to get before the court and to argue it on behalf of your client, but to also let them argue it. And so you know you have this hearing and you know that you have to prove all these things because it is an F 2 robbery. And you know you have the state on the other side probably pausing because it is an F 2 robbery and it’s not the traditional F 4, F 5, theft, possession of drugs, things of that nature.
But you know you have a good judge. And so you’re like, okay, this is going to be great. So, we get in there and we’re telling our story and then it gets to be the client’s opportunity to tell their side. And so they get to go up in the witness stand. And that was the first time that I had a client go up into the witness stand.
Sometimes they just will sit next to you or stand next to you and tell their story from counsel table. But they went up to the witness stand. And I think that made it more real for them. And then they get to tell their story. You know, we go through all the elements that they need to satisfy. Um, you know, are, are you a victim?
Explain how you’re a victim. Um, you know, have you been previously convicted of, you know, loitering, solicitation? You go through all of it. And the client starts crying, but that’s when you, that’s when you feel that release, right? That’s when you see that they’ve been able to like, tell their story and get it out.
And they’re, you know, they just, no matter what happens at the end of that hearing, this has been very impactful in terms of the process for them. Yeah. And so they step off the, you know, she steps off the stand and, um, comes back to the table and the court’s like, Um, you know, and it’s like, Oh, because in F2 robbery, I mean, I can’t explain just the difference of having that level of a felony on your record versus having a lower level felony, right?
And robbery, right? If anyone knows anything about the underlying facts, you know, there was a gun involved and all kinds of things. And so I didn’t, regardless of what actually happened, it just looks. That’s bad. And it feels bad for that person as well. And so that was one of the greater success stories, um, being able to have one of those higher level convictions expunged.
It also is very reassuring that the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office will continue to support those types of charges as well. So long as we meet, meet our burden. That’s a great story. So what has been your biggest takeaway from working with survivors of human trafficking? I think my biggest takeaway is that they are incredible people.
They are so appreciative, um, so, like, just polite, and they’re so They are some of the most, like, just appreciative clients that I’ve ever worked with. Um, just, you know, generally, I mean, they They understand, they understand what, you know, is hard, uh, in life, what is traumatic, what is terrible. When someone comes into their life and can offer them some semblance of good or some light or a fresh start, man, they just, they really lift you up and that for me like in turn just wants to lift them up, right?
Like, I know that I’m giving them an opportunity to have a different, you know, chance or different chances just by virtue of being able to help them navigate this system. It’s them doing the work, right? I’m just there to make sure that they’re checking the right boxes and doing and saying the right things.
Um, but The way that they appreciate the work that you’re doing, um, is incredible, and I, I love to have that experience. If I could do just this work full time, um, I absolutely would. It is, it is so, it’s empowering for me, it’s empowering for them, and to be able to share that experience with them, you know, these, these types of cases sit with me, you know, you know, will sit with me, certainly, forever, just because of…
Just the result and their ability to appreciate what you’re able to do and you appreciate who they are. It’s just like this beautiful relationship. I think that’s a reason of why, I mean, I’ll speak for myself as why I’m here. It’s both empowering for them and yourself. I think one of the, one of my takeaways too is, is when I start to hear All about their life all about their past and I’m like, how are you like standing?
Like how are you how are you here? And so that is so encouraging, you know for me as well Just like okay, you think you’ve got it hard or you think it’s bad and maybe it is but I mean, you know You you’re so encouraged by folks who are just able to overcome some of life’s like worst experiences. You’re like, man, you’re strong Yeah, it’s a great perspective.
Yeah, indeed indeed Awesome. Thank you so much for rolling with our tech issues. Yeah, for sure. Either way, it’s recorded.