Columbia Law students assist SJSU’s Records Clearance Project

From March 16-20, eight Columbia Law students visited San José State University to assist the College of Applied Sciences and Arts Justice Studies department’s Records Clearance Project during their spring break. The students are the fourth group that has opted to use their spring break from Columbia Law School to help Santa Clara residents who want to expunge their records.

During the week, the law students worked with SJSU undergraduate students to interview eight clients, prepare petitions to have their records expunged and provided a rap sheet analysis of paths to expungement to 19 women in Elmwood County Jail.

Each law student was partnered with an SJSU undergraduate student for a week of intense work on the project.

“It’s been a great week and it’s been fun for me even though it has been a ton of work,” said Peggy Stevenson, the founder and director of the Records Clearance Project.

Since 2008, Record Clearance Project students and volunteers have provided more than 32,000 hours of service, not including the time put in for the Spring 2015 semester. According to the team’s estimates the market value of RCP services is 10 times the actual cost to run the program.

As of March 2015, the Records Clearance Project volunteers and students have prepared 823 petitions for 242 clients since the start of the program, with 99 percent of the convictions expunged and 94 percent of eligible felonies reduced to misdemeanors.

With luggage filling the corners of the room just before some of the law students flew home on the last day of their spring break, Stevenson asked them for feedback on the week’s work.

“Help us see what worked well and help us see what didn’t,” she said.

Preetha Reddy said she thought the activities were well timed to give them a sense that they had started and completed a project in the short time they had at SJSU.

“It was a good balance of being here, working along and with partners,” she said. “We did a lot of work, but it was well-timed and organized.”

She said that working on preparing petitions for future court hearings and also working with the women in the jail offered the chance to see clients of the Record Clearance Project as they neared the end of their journey while seeing others just beginning their journey.

“We got more than we gave,” Mindy Lin said. “We learned so much…I feel like we could do more.”

Some of the law students commented on how much the undergraduate students knew about the process of expungement while they were learning it on the spot.

“I was really impressed with how much we fit into five days,” Josh Dell said. “It’s more than in two weeks of law school…I lucked out that my client was very forth coming and really deserving.”

All the law students said they felt that their clients were deserving and working to change their lives for the better.

“I learned a lot about other people’s stories and wanting a new life,” Wendy Ren said, noting that her parents were skeptical that someone who had committed a crime would want to start a new life. “I didn’t know until I went through the process. It is a turning point for me as well.”

Some of the law students felt the same way.

“When you look at a client on paper, it’s just work,” Lin said. “It seems like it’s not that bad – it should be straight forward. But it’s not just legal. It (affects) marriages, families and self-esteem.”

The full list of Columbia Law students who participated in the alternative spring break at SJSU includes:

Wendy Ren

Kim Hyo

Mindy Lin

Josh Dell

Bryant Cobb

Joseph Niczky

Bram Schumer

Preetha Reddy



Records Clearance Project continues to change lives

Norma Burns recalls in detail the day she had her first appointment with San José State University Justice Studies students from the Records Clearance Project in 2011 for a speed screening.

“I went in there and there was another lady there as well,” Burns said, adding that when the student volunteer walked away to consult an attorney, the young woman started crying. “I went over and I was consoling the woman. She was like, ‘My rap sheet is so long, I’m not going to be able to get my record expunged.’ I told her she had already made the first step because she had come here.”

Since 2008, Record Clearance Project students and volunteers have provided 32,000 hours of service. According to the team’s estimates the market value of RCP services is 10 times the actual cost to run the program.

Heritage Society Luncheon Presentation

In October, Project Director Peggy Stevenson, Lisseth Castillo-Valencia, a project coordinator and Burns presented an update on the project at the SJSU University Advancement’s annual Heritage Society Luncheon at Flames Eatery and Banquet, with donors who have made a planned gift to the university in attendance.

During the presentation, the team informed attendees that one in four adults in California has an arrest or conviction record, which can interfere in their ability to get employment, housing, student loans, public benefits and in other intangible ways such as causing low self-esteem.

The Records Clearance Project coordinators work to inform people that California law allows the court to dismiss, or expunge, many criminal convictions and helps some residents work through the process.

“Speaking from personal experience, I have helped clear the records for six people and I have had sleepless nights,” Castillo-Valencia said, who took the classes as a student. “I have worked 40 to 50 hours a week on putting together the petitions, but it wasn’t hard to dedicate that much time because we know how important this was to my clients that the amount of hours I put in didn’t matter as long as I did the best job to prepare the petitions for court so the judge could see what we have seen in our clients.”

Tina Daniels, the director of Planned Giving for University Advancement, said she received “wonderful, complimentary and positive comments about the Records Clearance Project, as most of those in attendance were unaware of it.”

Last year, students assisted 214 people with writing petitions to have their records cleared of convictions or to have eligible felonies reduced to misdemeanors. The students attended the most recent RCP hearing on Nov. 18, when a judged listened to RCP petitions in a special court session.

Not including the most recent session, judges have heard 699 cases filed on behalf of 226 people since the start of the program, with 99 percent of the convictions expunged and 94 percent of eligible felonies reduced to misdemeanors.

A personal history

In 2011, Burns was one of those people to have her record successfully expunged, when she started working as a volunteer to help others through the process. She was hired in Feb. 2014 to work as a mentor with the clients of the program and she is open about her checkered past.

Burns’ first experience at SJSU was as a homeless teenager, when she would sleep in booths at the Student Union that were available for reservation by students.

“They used to have a radio station there and there was a deejay at the time who would let me know which booths were available and I used to go there to sleep,” she said.

Burns, now 55, said she was a functioning crack addict for years who managed to stay employed. She and her 10-year-old daughter would stay in her car or sometimes in the attic of someone they knew. Her son had chosen to live with his father rather than with her.

“I was just bouncing from place to place and didn’t have a sense of direction,” she said.

She was arrested three times on different charges, including fraud and assault. She was court ordered to undergo an anger management program. When she did not complete it, she was arrested on a bench warrant.

She was sentenced to a year in jail and completed eight months of her sentence. When she got out in 2004, she said she was prepared to change her life.

“I just fell on my knees and prayed to God to make me a better person,” she said. “I can’t do this anymore.”

Since then, Burns said she has stayed off drugs and out of trouble with the law. She was able to get a job and a place to live. When she heard about the Records Clearance Project, she decided to try to get her record expunged.

“So many doors have opened for me,” she said, since clearing her record. “It’s like I have a better job and a better place to live. My confidence is like out of this atmosphere. I believe so much in others and believe in change.”

Burns said the cost alone would have kept her from completing the expungement process on her own, as the average is $1,000 for filing paperwork with an attorney’s assistance.

“My metaphor for Peggy is like when you throw a pebble in water and it makes rings that get bigger and bigger,” Burns said. “She’s like a rolling stone rolling down a hill of snow that gathers more momentum. It is such a learning experience and teaches so much.”

Student impact

Yevgeniy Mayba, currently a master’s student in Justice Studies, initially signed up for the two-course Records Clearance Project, JS 140 and JS 141 as an undergraduate because “it appeared to be an easy way to obtain credits for two classes while also getting the internship requirement out of the way,” he said via email.

“During the first two meetings of the JS 140 class, however, I came to see that this would be more than just a couple of classes,” he said. “Peggy repeatedly stressed the commitment that would be required to participate in the project and the seriousness of dealing with people’s lives and hopes.”

Mayba said the hardest part of the class was working with a partner.

“As we all have different writing styles and opinions on what is important and should be included in the petition, writing petitions as a team was challenged,” he said. “We had to adapt to one another and learn to compromise, as well as to not be afraid to criticize each other and to be able to receive constructive criticism with grace.”

Mayba said he wants to pursue a career with prisoner reentry or inner city youth in the future.

“The most rewarding part of working with the Records Clearance Project was the realization that I was making a difference in people’s lives,” Mayba said. “Being able to help people get a fresh start in their lives and seeing tears of joy in their eyes was the greatest reward anyone could ask for.”

Another student, Rochelle Rotea, created a Facebook page to help promote the work of the RCP and has also created a crowd-funding campaign through Crowdrise. Visit the facebook page at: Visit the Crowdrise campaign page at:

Donors, partners keep project going

Since its inception in 2008, the Records Clearance Project has been supported by community partnerships, support from the County of Santa Clara and donations of money or in-kind support from foundations, individual donors and law firms.

Some of the contributors include:

The County of Santa Clara

The Castellano Family Foundation
Google Donations for Doers (for volunteer hours of Shaun Warren)

Jewish Community Federation

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation
The Skoll Fund
The Health Trust

Law Firms
Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian Foundation
Kazan, McClain, Satterly & Greenwood Foundation
Morrison & Foerster Foundation
Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP
Rossi, Hamerslough, Reischl & Chuck
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation

Yvette Boddie

Yvonne and Alvin Gimbal
Amanda Hawes
Christopher Ho

Cheri Houle
David and Bette Loomis
Brian James
Jocelyn Larkin
Yulanda Lincoln
Maria Marroquin
William McAlister
Faye McNair-Knox
Paul McNamara
Lorrence and Beverly Otter
Kate Pohl
Anna Ranieri
Irene Resler
Jorge and Rochelle Rotea
Doris Rose Inda
David and Muriel Rosenthal
Susan Rothschild
Alice Smith
Richard Thesing
Martha and Jerry Uelmen

John Wagers

Judith William

Stewart Wobber

Janet and Mark Zimmerman


Community Partners
Ascent Employment Program Inc.
Bay Area Maranatha Christian Center
Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County
Family and Children Services


Salvation Army
South Hills Community Church


SJSU Partners
Andy Trembley, David Kessler, and the SJSU Tech Team
The SJSU School of Social Work and Prof. Gil Villagran

Tony Korshund, Michelle Randle, and all of the CASA Success Center Staff

SJSU Record Clearance Project featured in Mercury news

The San José State University Records Clearance Project was featured on the front page of the San Jose Mercury News May 23, with the story also featured prominently on the newspaper’s website and photo gallery page.

The Records Clearance Project is an effort undertaken by the College of Applied Sciences and Arts Justice Studies department’s Peggy Stevenson and students who work to help those with a criminal history get their records expunged. The program, started in January 2008, connects people eligible to clear their criminal records with undergraduate students in the Justice Studies department who assist them through the process. In 2013, the team reported filing 169 petitions on behalf of 55 clients with all but two dismissals granted. A recent study conducted by Stanford University found many benefits for those who have their records expunged as well as for the economy of their communities, as those who have their records cleared have more opportunities to find employment.

To read the San Jose Mercury article, visit

Study finds benefits of SJSU’s Record Clearance Project

On March 14, five students from the Stanford Public Policy Program shared the results of a study on San José State University’s Record Clearance Project.

The SJSU Record Clearance Project, started in January 2008, connects people eligible to clear their criminal records with undergraduate students in the Justice Studies department in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts who assist them through the process. In 2013, the team reported filing 169 petitions on behalf of 55 clients with all but two dismissals granted.

The study, released on March 17, found that an expunged record makes it easier for people with criminal histories to find employment. According to a press release, “Increased employment in turn benefits the government through increasing tax revenues and decreasing public assistance payments.” The researchers found the cost of court fees associated to expunge a record are a one-time, relatively small cost compared to the potential positive benefit of gainful employment that has benefits that accumulate over time.

In the cost analysis report, the Stanford students found a net benefit of $5,760 per Records Clearance Project client in one year. The students noted there were other benefits that were not quantifiable. The study found the positive benefits continue to accrue beyond the first year after an expungement.

In California, people can apply to expunge a conviction after completing probation or a jail sentence though the study found many people do not pursue expungement because they are not aware of it or don’t have the resources to pursue it.

Based on their findings, the Stanford team made four public policy recommendations related to expungements:

  • Increase awareness and accessibility
  • Increase funding for programs that provide legal expungement assistance
  • Provide more resources for processing and hearing expungement cases
  • Conduct additional research

The SJSU Records Clearance Project team continues to work with clients, with a group of Columbia law students on campus March 17 through March 22 for an “alternative spring break.” The students are volunteering much of their time this week to working with SJSU students on the RCP program, with a goal to prepare client petitions for a May hearing.

For the full Stanford Public Policy Program report, click here for a PDF:

For more information on the San Jose State Univeristy Records Clearance Project, visit or email