A new program implemented by District Attorney Warren Montgomery assisted nearly 100 men and women in getting a fresh start by clearing old arrests and convictions for relatively minor crimes from their criminal records.
The Fresh Start Program pre-screened participants to assure they met the criteria under state law for a legal process called expungement, and those who were eligible were invited to participate on Saturday, Nov. 18, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the St. Tammany Parish Justice Center. The program reduced the fees from the usual $550 per expungement to $100 and expedited the process by bringing all of the agencies needed to sign off on the paperwork together in one room.
“The program was a tremendous success,” Montgomery said. “There were lots of smiles and even some tears, as participants realized what this will mean to their lives, a better job or a chance to advance on the job. In turn, their stability and productivity help to create a safer community for us all.”
Montgomery said the program would not have been possible without the help of many people, including St. Tammany Parish Clerk of Court Melissa Henry, Washington Parish Clerk of Court Johnny Crain, St. Tammany Sheriff Randy Smith and Washington Parish Sheriff Randy “Country” Seal, who all waived their agencies’ fees to make the expungement process more
affordable. The fees alone usually cost $550. Montgomery also waived his office’s fees and raised funds from community donors through the Northshore Community Foundation to help cover a portion of the remaining $250 Louisiana State Police fee , which is state mandated. The waived fees and community donations reduced each participant’s portion of the fee to $100. Community donors included the Louisiana Bar Foundation, Northshore Business Council, Church of the King, Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Haynie Family Foundation, Buddy and Pat Hall and other individual donors.
The event began at 9 a.m. with volunteers from the participating agencies and three District Judges—William J. Burris, August J. Hand, and Reginald T. Badeaux, III—set up at various stations to receive the paperwork. The pre-screened participants met with volunteer attorneys, who walked the paperwork through each of the stations to get the needed signatures. The District Attorney’s Office, the arresting agency in each case, and the clerks’ offices had been provided the names and records of participants in advance for review. The judges signed each order of expungement, and the clerks certified the records through closing time at 2 p.m.
A total of 93 men and women walked away with orders of expungement. Certain crimes are not eligible for expungement under state law, including violent crimes, crimes involving minors, crimes involving the distribution or manufacture of illegal drugs, possession of heroin and crimes that require sex offender registration.
Community partners included the Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Louisiana United International, NAACP of St. Tammany, and the New Orleans Paralegal Association, who all assisted in the intake and screening of more than 300 potential applicants. Informational exhibits were set up in the halls outside the event by Delgado Community College, Northshore Technical Community College, Celebrate Recovery of First Baptist Church of Covington and Louisiana United International. Visit damontgomery.org or find on facebook