Brighter Futures Free Legal Clinic at SBVC
By Dianne Anderson
Nothing puts a damper on the holiday spirit like paying hundreds of dollars for big traffic tickets or grappling with a court failure to appear.
That and more of life’s hard knocks legal problems will be handled at the upcoming Legal Clinic to be held at San Bernardino Valley College.
“That is exactly what we are really trying to accomplish,” said event coordinator Angelina Hernandez, a 211 Reentry Services Coordinator at Inland Empire United Way. “The Public Defender’s Office is very supportive. They’re totally on board with assisting the community.”
On Saturday, November 16, the event will be held from 8:00 a.m. To 1:00 p.m. at San Bernardino Valley College, Room B-100, located at 701 South Mount Vernon Avenue.
Earlier this year, they hosted an event that drew 80 clients. Some had failures to appear or dealing with extenuating circumstances that complicated their legal situations.
One disabled single mother of four had active warrants from violations that mounted, but didn’t have the money to pay. Hernandez said she still had to go to court, but she had confidence knowing that help was available.
“It’s what we hear too often. She had traffic violations that she could not afford. She was able to get back on her feet, and is driving legally,” Hernandez said.
Attorneys will be on-site to help.
She said Brighter Futures Legal Clinic started after Children’s Fund and Children’s Network had reached out to the United Way 211 organizations to help deal with many families seeking assistance. The coalition consists of many community partners serving San Bernardino County.
Through their Brighter Future core committee, several agencies are represented, collaborating, and there is a huge passion to help the community become empowered. They are also in the process of expanding their reach to meet the needs of the people where they are.
“We’ll be moving to the high desert and the west end. We want to let people know that when we come to service, we’re genuinely trying to assist them in overcoming their barriers.”
Hosting events at Valley College has been a good venue to get the word out, she added. Last spring, college staff assisted, providing information to participants about certificate programs and courses.
Because there is always a high demand for legal services, she said many United Way 211 partner agencies are on board with the effort. This time around, among the many offerings will be ticket payment plans, help with reducing Prop 47 felonies, expungements, certificate of rehabilitation, professional license release, and child support payment options.
She said it’s not always a criminal case that hinders housing access or jobs, sometimes it can be back child support. She said that San Bernardino County is working with clients that are court-ordered to pay child support to help prevent them from dropping off the radar, which brings more problems down the line.
Anyone with an old offense for a simple marijuana possession can also get that issue cleared up under Proposition 64. Simple possession is no longer illegal, and the court can retroactively dismiss those charges for a post-conviction release.
She said Brighter Futures Legal Clinic is always looking to network with local nonprofits and help get material and information out to the community.
From the opening of registration online, she said 200 had responded within the first week. They are trying to get as many people document-ready as possible.
Those in need of service should come prepared with their rap sheets in hand. A photo ID is helpful, or some form of ID, but she said they don’t turn anyone away. Some people hear about the event last minute.
“Last time, people literally were just dropping in to talk to the attorneys or child support department,” she said.
Their outreach is also focused on AB 1008, the amended Ban The Box law now in effect in California. Employers are no longer supposed to ask applicants if they have a criminal history until the applicants receive a conditional offer of employment.
Still, some employers try to find loopholes, or may be uneducated about the law, which was passed so prospective employees could get a foot in the door to talk about the skills they can bring to the company.
In the Inland Empire, they didn’t see a real effort to educate service providers or employers. Recently, the group hosted another information event at Valley College with a guest speaker from California Fair Employment and Housing, who presented on assisting employers becoming compliant with the law.
“We’re trying to help people with their background, but we’re also informing them about their rights.”
“Our programs are limited as far as budget, but we do our best. It doesn’t take a whole lot of funding to put something together that matters. It’s keeping it simple, showing up providing services.”