Minneapolis (5-19-05): -- The Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA) is pleased to announce the International Leadership Institute as the 2005 recipient of the Advancement of Justice Award. Presentation of the award was made May 19 at the HCBA Annual Meeting.
The Advancement of Justice Award is the only award given by the HCBA to honor the work of an agency, or individual who is not a lawyer. The award is given in recognition of contributions toward improving the administration of justice, achieving freedom through law, or increasing the public’s understanding of the legal profession and justice system.
The award was given to the International Leadership Institute (ILI) to recognize the efforts of its Community Expungement Workshops. The ILI, a Minnesota non-profit, provides resources for communities and people of color who are in transition. Since January 2002, the ILI’s Civic Education Program has collaborated with the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center and other organizations to provide these free workshops. Over 2,600 people and advocates have attended sessions in north and south Minneapolis, and St. Paul communities. By informing citizens about a process, the legal system can work better for all involved – from citizens to judges.
The ILI Community Expungement Workshops provide individuals with the basic information to begin to process their non-violent criminal records for expungement through the courts. Expungement prevents the general public—including landlords, and potential or current employers—from viewing past offenses and holding them against individuals.
According to Coventry Cowens, ILI Program Director/volunteer, “Word was coming to ILI that responsible citizens were losing their jobs or being asked to explain offenses like shoplifting, or misdemeanors as juveniles. Some of the offenses were 20 years old but were being used against citizens, especially people of color.”
Through the workshops, individuals learn how to expunge their records, or how to work with a lawyer to help with the process. This can eliminate a significant hurdle to further employment and a better quality of life. There has been a direct correlation with workshops held and an increase in requests for information from the county.
The Hennepin County Bar Association, the largest of Minnesota's 21 county bar associations and representing almost half of Minnesota's attorneys, is a private, non-profit organization which provides or supports many free or low-cost services to the public including: Volunteer Lawyers Network which provide free legal advice for low income people; TEL-LAW, a legal information message system available at no charge in local calling areas; Lawyer Referral and Information Services; public education programming; and financial grants through the Bar Foundation.