Davidson County General Sessions Expungement Clinic Brings Court to the Community

August 10, 2016

An expungement clinic in Davidson County attracted several hundred people hoping to clear criminal records that can present obstacles to getting jobs, homes or other opportunities.

The event was held at New Covenant Christian Church in north Nashville as part of its annual CommUnity Day on August 6. The goal was to provide important resources to people of all ages in the surrounding community. In addition to the Community Court docket, the event included shoe giveaways, haircuts, health vendors, and employment opportunities.

People began lining up for Saturday’s Community Court five hours before its 11 a.m. start with Davidson County General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell. The Music City Community Court was launched in 2012 by Judge Bell and pilots several community initiatives focused on preventive and diversionary justice.

“Anytime we can bring the courthouse to the community I know we are breaking down barriers and really helping people move on with their lives. This is true justice reform,” she said. “Justice does NOT stop at the courthouse steps.”

Judge Bell opened the event by empowering attendees to speak with a volunteer attorney to find out if they were eligible for expungement and to take the necessary steps to have a criminal record expunged. Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry, Assistant District Attorney Katie Ladefoged, and Administrative Office of the Courts Pro Bono Coordinator Patricia Mills also spoke in support of the event. Other general sessions court officials, including Judge Melissa Blackburn and Judge Lynda Jones, attended the event as well.

In addition to the public officials, the event was made possible with the support of more than two dozen volunteer attorneys and law students, who donated their time to help participants sort through the legal issues.

Amber Floyd, a senior associate attorney at Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, LLP in Memphis, serves as the volunteer coordinator for the Music City Community Court.

“Past mistakes should not define and limit a person’s entire life for the rest of his or her life. However, a criminal record can do exactly that. It can make it very difficult to obtain housing, employment, and a host of other opportunities for advancement,” Floyd said.

With more than 250 people seeking assistance, the need for this Community Court was apparent, and the attendees appeared grateful for the opportunity to get legal information and take a step in the right direction. Even after the five-hour CommUnity Day event ended, dedicated volunteer attorneys continued to assist clients who patiently waited for their turn to have a criminal record reviewed for expungement eligibility.

New Covenant Christian Church is a member of the Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance, a project of the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission. The Administrative Office of the Courts provides administrative support for Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance events and projects. It is an alliance of faith-based groups in Tennessee who commit to providing legal resources to their congregations and communities. The Administrative Office of the Courts supported this event by staffing the registration table and providing information about legal resources.

For more information and to learn more about the preventive and diversionary justice programs with Judge Rachel L. Bell and the General Sessions Music City Community Court, Division VIII, you may contact Judge Bell at 615-862-8341 or rachelbell@jis.nashville.org.

Expungement is a court-ordered process where the legal record of some criminal cases can be erased in the eyes of the law. In Tennessee, only certain criminal records can be expunged. Some cases can be expunged without any fees. Visit TNCourts.gov/expungements for more information about expungements in Tennessee.

Pastor Judy Cummings & Judge Bell

Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry

Volunteers preparing to assist with expungement clinic

Judge Bell speaking to the group about the docket and how it will work.