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Denton Municipal Court, Goodwill helps people clear criminal records and expunge Class C warrants

When a Denton resident appeared before the Denton City Council in 2022 to speak about his difficulties in finding permanent employment, he was one of three adults in the United States with a criminal record.

As an older black man, he was also part of a group that has a disproportionately high criminal record and is six times more likely to face prison time than whites, according to figures from the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group that works to eliminate racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

Even a minor criminal record of misdemeanors or arrests without convictions can have far-reaching consequences for a family’s safety and create lifelong barriers, especially since studies show that 9 out of 10 employers and 4 out of 5 landlords ask about criminal records, Noella Sudbury, founder and CEO of Rasa, a nonprofit specializing in low-cost criminal record expungement, told Forbes in November.

Sudbury said a criminal record makes it “incredibly difficult for people with even minor criminal records to find a job, stable housing, or move on with their lives – 79% of people living with a person with a criminal record have been denied housing at least once because of that record.”

As senior director of workforce development at Goodwill North Central Texas, Bobbie Hodges has firsthand experience with people affected by this issue when they enter prison or write letters before their release asking for help from Goodwill’s job resource center. Hodges said that’s why Goodwill began offering expungement clinics last year to help job seekers with criminal records.

Goodwill recently partnered with the Denton Municipal Court to host a corrections clinic and a “court in the community” to assist in the expungement of arrest warrants for individuals with Class C misdemeanor summonses.

The free event will take place on Monday, July 15, between 9 a.m. and noon at Goodwill, 2030 W. University Drive in Denton.

Goodwill will help the first 100 people for free when they seek a job and sign up for the services. The nonprofit retail and job placement organization is working with five states – Texas, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois – to expunge criminal records.

An expungement means that the court seals or destroys all records of an arrest and court proceedings.

Advance registration is required for the repayment consultation and the court in the municipality.

“We’ve seen that criminal background is a big obstacle,” Hodges said. “Some of those backgrounds go back years and still hinder clients. They made those mistakes when they were young.”

Judge Tyler Atkinson presides over the Denton Municipal Court. He was familiar with Court in the Community events from his time in Fort Worth and has now scheduled one for Monday at Goodwill on University Drive.

Judge Tyler Atkinson presides over the Denton Municipal Court. He was familiar with Court in the Community events from his time in Fort Worth and has now scheduled one for Monday at Goodwill on University Drive. “There is no reason for people to be holding warrants in Denton,” he said in an email. “We want to get these cases resolved.”

In an email Monday, Denton Municipal Judge Tyler Atkinson said next week’s “Court in the Community” event has two goals: to provide the public with an option to request expungement of charges filed at the county level and to help people clear their Class C misdemeanor summonses pending in Denton Municipal Court.

“If someone is unable to get a job because of an expungable criminal record, they should register and come to the event to see what opportunities are available to them,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson also said, “We cannot help resolve warrants at the county level – such as a drug offense. If you know you have a warrant out for a more serious offense, you should contact the Denton Police Department or Sheriff to discuss options for vacating the warrant.”

Atkinson said that as part of the Court in Community event, the court will waive warrant fees incurred as a result of a summons, bringing the amount owed back to the original amount at the time the summons was issued.

Atkinson will be on site on Monday to help people set up a payment plan for outstanding balances or a community service agreement.

“The main goal of the event is to resolve these cases,” Atkinson said. “We want people to come and talk about their circumstances so we can find a solution. If someone comes to the event with the goal of resolving their citations, all warrants will be immediately vacated.”

This is not the first time Goodwill has hosted a clinic on criminal expungement in Denton. The first one was held in March and was attended by about 40 people.

Hodges recommends that people bring their state-issued ID, even if it’s not from Texas, and that they have access to email and phone, as that’s how they’ll communicate with people and keep them updated on the removals.

A passport, birth certificate and/or social security card are also helpful, as is arriving early for the event on Monday.

Goodwill uses Easy Expunctions — one of several online sites like Rasa that offer expungement services — to help with criminal record expungement, Hodges said.

“Some records cannot be deleted,” Hodges stressed. “Whatever they have, we will look at it and start the process. Some people may have three or four records and two or three of them will be deleted.”

Criminal record expungement isn’t cheap. Hodges estimates it costs between $1,500 and $3,500 to hire a lawyer to expunge someone’s record.

Easy Expunctions offers three options online in Texas. The free option checks your record. For $9.99, you can find out if you’re eligible for expungement. If so, the starting price to expunge your record is $699. The San Antonio-based company also provides customized legal documents, a confirmation letter and an online mugshot remover.

But as Hodges pointed out, getting an expungement in Texas is not easy and depends on several factors, such as the sentence, the nature of the crime and the consequences of the crime. These factors are covered in Chapter 55 of the Texas Penal Code.

For example, Class C misdemeanors under Chapter 55 can be expunged if at least 180 days have passed since the arrest and no felony charges have been filed. Some expungements can also occur if a person has completed a veterans’ treatment program or a mental health program.

Of course, coming up with $700 or the money for a payment plan to get a criminal record expunged isn’t easy, either, especially if you don’t work or barely make enough to support your family and pay rent in North Texas.

Resources for various legal aid services are available on the Texas State Law Library website. These services include the Texas Fair Defense Project Record Clearing and the Texas Law Expunction Project.

The law library website also has resources available to help people understand Texas expungement laws, including the Georgetown University Law Center’s Texas Fresh Start Guide, a free and anonymous online tool to help determine if expungement is possible.

Clean Slate Texas — a coalition of community and advocacy groups, business and religious leaders, and families affected by the criminal justice system — also offers a list of online resources, including criminal record expungement clinics, to help people with criminal records.

In fact, it was a flyer for Goodwill’s repayment clinic that prompted Atkinson to contact Goodwill about hosting a clinic and a “Court in the Community” event, according to Hodges.

Atkinson, who has been chief municipal judge in Denton for four years, became familiar with Court in the Community events when he was a municipal judge in Fort Worth. Fort Worth Chief Judge Danny Rodgers, who retired last year, and Court Administrator William Rumuly, who is now the municipal court director, worked with Goodwill to host them, Atkinson said.

“In general, we have a high resolution rate in Denton,” Atkinson said in his email. “The vast majority of people who receive subpoenas respond quickly and choose a resolution option.”

Monday’s “Court in the Community” event is considered what Atkinson calls a “safe harbor court,” meaning authorities won’t arrest someone for a traffic violation if they show up in court to sort out their issues. He acknowledged that some people might be afraid of going to court, which is why they’re holding the event at the Goodwill location on University Drive “to meet people closer to where they live and shop.”

“There is no reason for people to hold warrants in Denton,” Atkinson wrote. “We want to resolve these cases. Even if the person doesn’t have the full amount of the summons, we want to work with them to come up with a reasonable plan to keep them from ending up in warrant status.”