chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

After the Bar

Public Service

Empowering Disenfranchised Communities through Public Service

Dayna Maeder

Empowering Disenfranchised Communities through Public Service

Jump to:

Justice for all is not realized when there are entire communities of people who cannot vote. ABA Young Lawyers Division Chair Choi Portis seeks to remedy this imbalance through this year’s public service project.

Operation: Second Chance

Operation: Second Chance is designed to uplift and empower historically disenfranchised communities through advocacy and action. The project, Portis explained, is twofold. The first piece involves providing information and resources to YLD affiliates regarding hosting expungement fairs. The second piece is an advocacy piece, working in conjunction with the YLD’s policy officers to advocate against and educate regarding voter suppression efforts

Operation: Second Chance is a passion project based on Portis’s hard work in her community. She hosts expungement fairs and participates in voting rights efforts locally but realized something was missing.

“I hadn’t seen anything on a national scale from the ABA specifically regarding these issues and wanted to bring them to the forefront,” she said. “Additionally, the YLD has not had a free-standing public service project in a few years, and I wanted to re-energize the Division’s public service arm and efforts.”

Why Expungement?

“Black and brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system,” she said. “Being from Detroit, I have seen this first-hand. I wanted to use my position this year as the YLD chair to implement and effectuate some change in this area.”

Portis has seen lives changed due to assisting in expungement efforts and wants other YLD members to have the tools needed to do the same in their communities. To that end, the YLD’s Public Service Team is working diligently to create a toolkit that will be made available for distribution to affiliates. It will have the information and resources needed to host expungement fairs.

The Case That Made the Difference

In addition to expungement fairs and policy advocacy, Portis also volunteers to take on expungement cases through a local legal aid clinic. One case, in particular, resonates strongly in her memory and is part of what fuels her work in this arena.

“I was assigned a case where a gentleman had received a drug conviction when he was 19. He was home from college visiting his cousin, and the cousin was selling drugs out of the house. The police raided the home, and he got a conviction for being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said.

Fifteen years later, he is a hardworking member of society, has a family, and has no other touches with the legal system since his conviction. Portis said he was up for a promotion at his job, and when his job ran a background check, the conviction came up, and he was immediately terminated.

“On the day of the court hearing, he was extremely nervous, and I reassured him that the motion had a good chance of being granted,” Portis said. She was right: the motion was granted, he was rehired, and he received the promotion.

“This changed my entire perspective on practicing law,” she said. “For the first time in my career, I felt like I was helping someone, not for my own monetary gain, or because this was a case that was assigned to me and I had to do it, but genuinely assisting someone in getting a second chance on life.”

Get Involved

YLD members can help make differences just like this for people within their communities. You can get involved by planning expungement fairs, volunteering with legal aid groups conducting fairs, and taking on these types of cases pro bono. We hope you will.