Starting Again: Clinic Students Help Women Survivors of Violence Expunge Records

Apr 11, 2023

The Youth Opportunity Clinic (YOC) and the Criminal Practice Clinic teamed up this year to work on a joint project supporting programming for local non-profit Thistle Farms. Thistle Farms works with women survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction by ensuring access to safe housing and financial independence. General Sessions Judge Lynda Jones approached Youth Opportunity Clinic Director Cara Suvall about doing an expungement and court debt clinic in Davidson County for the women at Thistle Farms. This was a great project that overlapped with both clinics’ mission and learning goals.

In the course of only a week, the two clinics working together were able to secure and review record information, analyze eligibility for various forms of relief, and prepare interview plans and documents for nearly twenty participants. “We were warmly welcomed to Thistle Farms, where we met in person with the clients interested in working with us,” said Professor Suvall. “Just days later, during a docket that Judge Jones created specifically for this project and with the support of the District Attorney’s Office and the clerks, the student attorneys had the opportunity to appear in court to get expungement orders signed and to approve indigency applications.”

Reflecting on her work, student attorney Celia Woodhull, JD ’23 said, “The YOC expungement clinic was a really meaningful experience. Over the course of the semester, I had direct contact with clients and developed my research skills, which were immediately used to expunge our clients’ records.” Woodhull noted that students were able to “appear on behalf of our clients,” which for her demonstrated the power of access to counsel in making the process smoother and more efficient for clients.

This joint clinic was a wonderful capstone to the semester, as students had a chance to see how far they had come in their lawyering skills, from client interview to court appearance and everything in between, and their ability to analyze Tennessee’s complex expungement statute. “It was the quintessential clinic experience: we worked closely with clients, which required substantive legal knowledge and the ability to react on the fly, while really helping folks get past a traumatic phase of their lives,” Fields Pierce ’23 said. “I’m proud of the positive impact we were able to scale across a great group.”

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