We sat down with one of our law clerks, Marcus Brown to find out about his experience this summer and what he hopes for the future. Marcus worked with Pisgah Legal staff attorney Ed Treat on expunctions and driver’s license restoration.

Marcus believes that a life dedicated to serving others is a life well lived. This desire to serve is one of the reasons why he joined the Coast Guard after graduating in 2008 and served as an officer for 11 years, and why he decided to leave active duty and enroll in law school with a focus on public law.

Marcus is currently enrolled at the UNC School of Law, lives in Carrboro, NC with his wife and their 1 year-old daughter and participates in the Coast Guard Reserve. “I’m busy but it’s all worth it,” he laughs.

Along with his schoolwork, raising a toddler and being in the Reserve unit, Marcus also added law intern to his roster. This summer, along with 8 other law students from around the country, Marcus joined Pisgah Legal as a law intern.  This program provides valuable real-world experience for the law interns while increasing capacity for Pisgah Legal attorneys.

Marcus took time from his busy schedule to talk about his experience at Pisgah Legal this summer.

What drew you to an internship at Pisgah Legal?

I am drawn to public interest work, and I believe your professional life should be dedicated to something larger than your personal interests. That is a major reason why I joined military service, and when I decided to pursue a law career, this desire to serve has stayed with me.

When I first got interested in the law, I thought I would go into criminal law. But in the past few years, I have educated myself on civil penalties associated with criminal law, and the long-termaffects these penalties have on people- especially when accessing housing and employment.

Recently, North Carolina passed the Second Chance Act [see below], which opens opportunities to remove housing and employment barriers through expungement. When I saw that Pisgah Legal had a program that helped with expungements [removing dismissed and nonviolent misdemeanor cases from criminal records] I knew this was where I wanted to intern.

[The Second Chance Act was a bipartisan “clean slate” bill (Senate Bill 562) that passed the NC General Assembly unanimously and signed into law in 2020. The Second Chance Act expands eligibility for expunging multiple nonviolent misdemeanor convictions and automates expungement of certain dismissed or “not guilty” charges. The Second Chance Act also allows prosecutors to petition for expungement for dismissed or “not guilty” charges and “youthful convictions”. https://ncsecondchance.org/thesecondchanceact]

What was your focus area at Pisgah Legal?

I worked with [Pisgah Legal attorney] Ed Treat with expunctions. I filed petitions and paperwork to have dismissed cases removed from client’s records. With Pisgah serving 11 counties, we had to make sure we were following the procedure that each county had in place, which could be complicated and time consuming.

It doesn’t matter if you had a dismissed charge for first degree murder or for jaywalking- it stayed on your record if you didn’t actively petition to have it removed. And when landlords or employers pull your record, they may not look to see that the case was dismissed or it was a nonviolent misdemeanor from 25 years ago, they just see that you have a record.

The Second Chance Act is a great beginning but it’s still not enough. We had a client with a charge from 38 years ago. It is the only conviction on her record and she has not had another experience with the law since then. But that charge is still on her record and an employer or landlord could decide not to give her an opportunity based on something that happened almost 40 years ago.

Was there a success that you had during your time at PLS that you’re proud of?

Because the internship is only 10 weeks and the petition process takes longer than that to complete, I don’t have a specific success story that I can share- hopefully Ed will have some in the upcoming weeks. But I am proud of the way that Ed and I were able to streamline the expungement petition process for our clients. It is extremely rewarding to know that when a landlord or employer goes into a database a clean record appears for our client.

I also helped with a new program restoring people’s driver’s license. Here, I mainly acted as a bridge of information between the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and the court to find out what fines and fees needed to be paid, what citations had been issued and so on. My main focus was to gather information and summerize their report so Ed could have the needed information to help him make a case for restoration. This is a critical piece in removing barriers for employment for many people.

How has this internship helped shape your future?

I will definitely be working in public interest law, and the time here at PLS has just reinforced that commitment, without a doubt.

What was something you learned during your time at PLS that you didn’t know before?

I learned directly from our clients even more about the extent that civil consequences can have on a person’s life after they’ve been involved with the criminal justice system. And how that stigma affects access to housing, employment and a path to immigration until you can have it removed by expunction or other legal means.

I also learned about the unique public service community across the state that pool their resources to leverage their impact and learn from each other. I saw how Ed reached out to other organizations and learned about their models and how this is a critical piece in starting a new program. 

What else would you like to say about your time at Pisgah Legal?

Ed was great to work with. He gave me autonomy, but was also always available when I had a question or needed his input. I’m very grateful for him for making this an optimal experience. Of course, I would have loved to have been able to meet everyone in person [he worked out of his home in Carrboro, NC] just so I could get more exposure to attorneys working in other areas such as housing, domestic violence and so on. But Pisgah Legal did a great job in making us all feel welcome and involved. We’ll just have to see what the future holds.