Brian Ruben named 2022 George Barrett Social Justice Fellow

Jun 24, 2022

Brian Ruben, Class of 2022, has been named a 2022 George Barrett Social Justice Fellow. Ruben will serve his one-year fellowship with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, a Denver-based anti-poverty nonprofit organization that advances social change.

Brian Ruben, Class of 2022

Ruben’s appointment as a George Barrett Social Justice Fellow was announced by Dean Chris Guthrie and Assistant Dean and Martha Craig Daughtrey Director for Public Interest Spring Miller.

As a Barrett Fellow with the CCLP, Ruben will work with the organization’s legal staff and local agencies, community groups and legal nonprofits throughout the state to help eligible Coloradans with criminal conviction records seal them from public records searches. “A criminal record has a negative impact on a person’s ability to get a job and find housing,” Ruben said. “Thousands of Coloradans are eligible to have their conviction records sealed, but many need legal assistance right now to get that done.”

Colorado’s recently passed Clean Slate Act requires the state to create an automated process to seal the criminal records of all those eligible beginning in 2024. Ruben will provide direct legal assistance to individuals seeking to seal their records before the automated process is implemented, and he will also work with CCLP, other legal nonprofits and community groups to educate people throughout the state about who is eligible for record sealing and how the automated process will work. He will also gather information about how courts statewide currently manage record sealing to support the development of the automated process.

His work during his year-long fellowship will be supervised by CCLP Managing Attorney Ellen Giarratana.

“Colorado’s process for sealing records has historically been incredibly cumbersome and expensive, which makes it inaccessible to most people. The new automated process is intended to place the burden on state agencies to seal all eligible records rather than requiring individuals to go through the court process,” Giarratana said. “Brian will work with our staff and community partners to engage in a statewide public education campaign to increase awareness of automated record sealing, and his direct representation of individuals who need their records sealed now—before the process becomes automated—will help us understand how different prosecutors and judges handle motions to seal. That will help us improve Colorado’s processes and demonstrate why automation is needed.”

Ruben became interested in working with the CCLP to expand access to record-sealing after learning that only a small fraction of those eligible to have their criminal records sealed had done so. “Most people need legal assistance to file the proper petition to have their record sealed,” he said. “In Colorado, only a small percentage of the people eligible for record-sealing have successfully completed the process. I’m excited to work with community advocates throughout Colorado to help people understand their rights and how record-sealing works and to file as many petitions as possible to seal criminal records.”

Ruben became interested in expanding access to legal services available to low-income people as an undergraduate student at Arizona State University, where he worked as a volunteer community organizer to register voters and to pass an increase in the state’s minimum wage. “Our efforts helped push a state long hailed as a libertarian bastion to adopt a living wage,” he said.

He spent his 1L year at the University of California Hastings College of Law and transferred to VLS as a 2L, drawn by in-person classes and the strong public interest program. At VLS, he joined the staff of the Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review and served as an associate problem writer on the Moot Court Board after finishing as a quarterfinalist in the 2021 Bass Berry & Sims Moot Court Competition.

Ruben honed his legal and community advocacy skills by working as a summer intern for ArchCity Defenders in St. Louis, Missouri. “I worked on an Eighth Amendment class action lawsuit that was part of a successful grassroots campaign to pressure the City of St. Louis to close a century-old jail notorious for triple-digit temperatures and black mold infestations,” he said.

He spent summer 2021 working with the ACLU in San Diego and worked as a student attorney in Vanderbilt’s First Amendment Clinic last fall.

“Brian has demonstrated a deep commitment to social justice issues, and we are thrilled that he will begin his legal career working to ensure that Coloradans can access the record-sealing relief to which they are entitled,” Miller said.

The Barrett Social Justice Fellowship honors the legacy of renowned Nashville civil rights attorney George “The Citizen” Barrett ’57 by enabling a Vanderbilt Law graduate to carry out a one-year public interest project under the supervision and sponsorship of a host organization. The law school funds each fellow salary and health insurance at the host organization.

Ruben is one of two 2022 George Barrett Social Justice Fellows whose one-year public interest work will be funded by the George Barrett Social Justice Program at Vanderbilt Law School. His classmate Jackson Hill will work with the Powell Project, a national initiative focusing on sentencing reform and reducing death sentences nationwide.

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