Court report

Court report

Those seeking help with current legal cases or wondering how to get certain prior convictions vacated can get free help doing so.

In conjunction with the nationwide annual Law Day event, the Skagit County Volunteer Lawyer Program — a partnership between the Skagit County Bar Association and Community Action of Skagit County — will be working with those wishing to have certain prior convictions vacated, have fines reduced or eliminated, or get refunds of those fines.

Historically, the focus of the local Law Day event has been on giving free legal advice of all sorts, said Andy Dugan, director of the Skagit County Volunteer Lawyer Program.

With people facing additional struggles because of the COVID-19 pandemic and with racial inequity and systemic racism in the forefront of many people’s minds, this year the lawyers decided to focus on providing specific help, he said.

“Having an old criminal record can make it impossible for people to get housing or a job since these often require background checks,” Dugan said in a news release. “Even after fully complying with a sentence, people unfairly continue to experience unjust consequences of an old mistake for the remainder of their lives.”

Those struggles can be especially difficult for people of color, tribal members, and those who English is not their first language, Dugan said.

“This is one way to make a more racially equitable county,” Dugan said.

This year’s event will have an emphasis on two recent law changes, Dugan said, including a 2019 change that allows those with certain convictions to have those convictions overturned, meaning they would not show up on a background check.

“Because of the pandemic, not many people were able to take advantage of this law yet,” Dugan said.

Having those convictions removed from a record can assist people with finding and keeping housing and employment, he said.

“Given the extremely low residential rental vacancy rate in Skagit County and a difficult employment market as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are slowly lifted, vacating a prior conviction can have an immediate positive impact on people’s lives by keeping them in a home with a job,” the release states.

While not all convictions are eligible to be vacated, those with convictions are encouraged to utilize the event to see if their court-ordered fees may be reduced, eliminated, or have a payment plan activated.

The other type of case the event will focus on this year relates to a recent state Supreme Court ruling that made the state’s felony drug possession law unconstitutional.

While much is still unknown about how the ruling will affect those with those convictions, it is possible people may be eligible for refunds related to that conviction, Dugan said.

Because of the pandemic, the Law Day event will be held in a hybrid online and drive-thru format, where cases can be first reviewed by a lawyer online, and the documents can then be signed at one of two drive-thru events: in Concrete on April 30 and in Mount Vernon on May 1.

In most cases, the person receiving the legal help will not need to show up for a hearing.

To see eligibility and register for the event, visit https://forms.gle/cPz58WSL3KRM36HB8.

Only those with convictions in Skagit County are eligible.

Registration must be completed by Sunday.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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