Bowles and Salamatin worked with team members Cory Crosbie-Foote ’20, Jennifer King ’21, Ayanna Hill ’21 and Brooke Bowerman ‘22 to organize the trip with funding and support from the VLS Office of Public Interest, headed by Assistant Dean Spring Miller. VLS students joined law students from the University of Memphis to work on several projects under the direction of Just City Executive Director Josh Spickler and Wesley Dozier ’19, an Equal Justice Works Fellow whose work at Just City focuses on eliminating financial obstacles to expungement of criminal records.
Just City’s criminal justice initiatives include the Clean Slate Fund, which aids individuals eligible for criminal record expungement who cannot afford the court costs; services also include preparing clients’ expungement paperwork. As an Equal Justice Fellow with Just City, Dozier helps his clients deal with financial hurdles, such as court costs and expungement fees, that have prevented them from expunging their criminal records. His typical caseload is eight to ten clients, and since starting work at Just City in September, he has appeared before most of Shelby County’s criminal court judges representing clients seeking expungement of their criminal records.
“It’s been a big learning curve, but I’m glad to be helping clients whose contact with the criminal justice system is over get on with their lives,” Dozier said. “Having a clear criminal record means your opportunities for employment, housing and education are greatly improved.”
To date, the Clean Slate Fund has helped more than 500 people expunge a criminal record, according to the Just City website. Just City also offers a community bail fund; their data indicates that an average of 230 people per month who pass through the Memphis criminal courts cannot afford to post a bond of under $5,000.
Team members worked at Just City’s expungement clinics, drafted letters to employers and judges, and drafted other documents on behalf of Dozier’s clients. They also participated in Just City’s Court Watch program, through which volunteers attend criminal trials and document courtroom proceedings, any mistreatment of defendants and prosecutors’ behavior.
“The Pro Bono Spring Break Program appealed to me because I was really excited by the prospect of being able to focus totally on pro bono legal work for a concentrated amount of time,” Salamatin said. “We had an opportunity to do everything from helping with expungement cases to searching through their data to identify candidates eligible for help from the Clean Slate Fund.”
The Memphis Pro Bono Spring Break Team was one of two groups of students who devoted their break to volunteer legal work; a second team traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, to work at the Mississippi Center for Justice.
Students apply to participate in Pro Bono Spring Break during the fall semester. “I’m glad the Memphis Pro Bono Spring Break Team had the opportunity to work with Wesley Dozier and the staff at Just City,” Miller said. “They gained important exposure to front-line advocacy work and an understanding of how interactions with the criminal justice system work particular hardships on those living in poverty.”
The Pro Bono Spring Break program was launched in 2016 by Miller and Darrius Woods ’17, who recently completed a two-year stint as an Equal Justice Works Fellow with Atlanta Legal Aid and is now a staff attorney with Standing for Our Neighbors, a housing advocacy nonprofit organization based in Atlanta.