For the LA County Public Defender, three’s the charm

Eighteen years sober, the grandmother wearing the stylish flat cap had a rap sheet from her younger days, a past that didn’t reflect who she is now. She saw on the LA County Channel a video about record-clearing events and took action.

She had a precious reason for wanting to do so.

“This is going to change my life, and someone else’s,” the grandmother said during a LA County Public Defender event on Nov. 4. “Due to my criminal record, I couldn’t get my 1-year-old grandson. Now, I can.”

The client was one of about 75 people who sought help with Prop 47 and Prop 64 relief, and expungement services at the UFCW Local 770 record-clearing event in Supervisor Hilda Solis’ First District on Nov. 4.

Across town, more clients were served the same day at the LA County Public Defender “Second Chances” record-clearing event organized with the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles (FAME) in Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Second District in South LA.

“Many clients who have been through the criminal justice system are highly resilient,” said supervising LOSA Bridgette Bates, who helped to lead the FAME event. “They don’t want charity, they just want to be treated like everyone else. We at the Public Defender would like to see our clients given an opportunity to gain employment, shelter and food for their families.”

And in Highland Park, Public Defender employees assisted clients at Supervisor Solis’ expungement clinic commemorating the 1st anniversary of Prop 64, the 2016 voter initiative legalizing cannabis in California.

“I think Prop 47 really helps people clear some major hurdles in getting on with their lives and reestablishing themselves in society,” said clerk Leonzio Salazar, who volunteered to work the Highland Park event. “Being part of this effort felt like I was making a difference in the community.”

For the Public Defender, the three community outreach events were all in a day’s work.

Patricia Smith, management secretary, volunteered to work the FAME event.

“My veteran submariner husband has a quote that I love use, ‘Be courageous, be inspired, be of service,’ ” Smith said. “I stepped out and took a few moments of my time to lift someone else up; and I look forward to doing it again.”

Monica Lopez spent several hours serving the grandmother in Huntington Park. “As a paralegal, we mostly see our clients when they’re dealing within the system. But when I work these events, I realize there is hope. People really do change their lives. I want to be part of that.”

Since September 2015, the Public Defender has participated in more than 100 Prop 47/record-clearing events, adding Prop 64 relief in 2016. The events occur throughout the County in all five supervisorial districts — from Skid Row to Malibu to Lancaster.

“The Public Defender paralegal, Monica, has been so patient,” the grandmother said. “I wish everyone would take advantage of this service and clear up their lives. Stop being stagnant in thinking that your record is going to stop you. Because once this is done, the world will open up.”

Photo captions:

1) LOSA Andrea Wyrick calls the next client at the crowded Local 770 Prop 47 event in Huntington Park on Nov. 4.

2) Paralegals Sophia Woodard and Deanna Gerald assist clients at the PD/First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles event in South LA on Nov. 4.

3) FAME Pastor J. Edgar Boyd, Assistant PDs Candis Glover and Winston Peters at the PD/First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles event on Nov. 4.

4) Supervisor Hilda Solis (in red) with paralegals Katty Yasharal (left) and Miriam Singer, and clerk Leonzio Salazar at the event in Highland Park on Nov. 4.

5)  LOSA Bonisha Schenck and management secretary Patricia Smith at the FAME event on Nov. 4.

6) Supervising LOSA and Assistant Public Defender Candis Glover at the FAME event on Nov. 4.