January 10, 2024

West Aron

Metropolitan Public Defender
Portland, Oregon

I worked in Metropolitan Public Defender’s Community Law Division for the summer of 2023 assisting clients with legal barriers to housing and employment. Community law tasked me to seal records, request legal debt relief, and facilitate driver’s license reinstatements. I filed motions and sent letters to local courts demonstrating clients’ need for fine waivers or reductions. I also filed numerous expungement motions throughout the summer. My favorite task was drafting an SB 819 application. It allowed me to develop a relationship with my client and tell their full story. Often, our clients have difficult childhoods that lead to adolescent criminal activity, and they are still suffering those consequences decades later. What their original convictions can’t consider is what they’ve done since that time and the compounding consequences of having a criminal record or suspended license. Judges and prosecutors need to hear those stories.

Towards the end of my internship, I got the opportunity to support a client in a hearing. It was my favorite moment of the summer by far. This client owed thousands of dollars to several different courts that he could not pay, much of which was assigned to him while he was incarcerated and unable to attend court for the hearings. Over the course of several weeks, I drafted motions and letters according to the different courts’ guidelines and persuaded the courts to waive most of his fines. On the last case, we attended a hearing where the client’s debt was reduced to an amount he could pay that day and get his license reinstated. Years of work on his part lead to that moment; I was just glad to be there when he got to celebrate his freedom, recovery, and ability to drive to work. The level of gratitude our clients have for simple freedoms was always an inspiring and humbling thing to witness.

Community Law grows every year, but there’s still more demand for its services than funding available. This is the situation for many public interest firms. Clients need these services, and it takes a whole network of trained professionals to deliver them. Without enough resources to meet the demand of our community, it’s no surprise that there’s no money left to assist law students pursuing public interest careers. The summer stipend award provided by PILP fills that gap. As a recipient of this award, I recognize its value. I wouldn’t have been able to work in Community Law without it, and because I could, I am so much more committed to pursuing a public interest legal career.