Skip to main content

A few months ago, Peter Bolac, the State Bar’s legislative liaison, was dusting off historical State Bar Council meeting minutes. He came across minutes from the council meeting in 1981 when the late Robinson O. Everett, serving as chair of the Special Committee on Interest on Trust Accounts, made a report to the council recommending the adoption of the IOLTA program in North Carolina. As Mr. Everett reported at the time, other efforts of the legal profession to improve the administration of justice require a significant commitment on the part of lawyers—of their time, money, or both. Conversely, Mr. Everett emphasized the ability, with the creation of IOLTA, to simply take advantage of an innovative concept for the benefit of the public and the administration of justice in the state of North Carolina.

Mr. Everett may not have imagined that the profession would still today have the opportunity to generate funds in this way. Certainly recent economic conditions and the low interest rate environment have impacted the IOLTA program in a way that likely was not anticipated in 1981. However, the core principle at the founding of the IOLTA program remains—to support programs improving the administration of justice for the public’s benefit.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, previously known as Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, is a long-time grantee of the IOLTA program. The organization opened its doors in 1967. Today, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy provides a wide range of civil legal assistance. Over the course of the organization’s 50 year history, the program has developed deep roots and partnerships within the community to respond to the changing needs of low-income clients. Through individual advice and representation, community education and outreach, representation of groups, self-help remedies, collaboration with other agencies, community economic development, legislative and administrative advocacy, and impact litigation, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy pursues justice for those in need.

Last year an attorney from Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy met Janessa. A few years ago, Janessa, 21, found herself hanging out with the wrong friends and making bad decisions that resulted in misdemeanor charges for larceny and drug possession. These charges were ultimately dismissed, but they remained on her criminal record. “I thought everything was fine because they were dismissed,” Janessa says. She had no idea that these mistakes would follow her into her adult life. It wasn’t until she started applying for jobs that she realized she had a criminal record.

She remembers interviewing for a local retail position and sailing through the three interviews necessary for the job. “I was the perfect candidate for that job, but then it came down to them asking if I had any problems with them running a background check,” Janessa says. “I knew what they would find, so I told them about the charges.” She didn’t get the job. Every time she filled out a job application, the necessary background check was her barrier—to employment, to a stable income, to opportunity.

Last fall Janessa walked into the Single Stop office at Central Piedmont Community College where she had been taking courses in the hopes of earning an associate’s degree to put her on a better path. A friend told her about the legal assistance Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy offers to students through the Single Stop program. She met with an attorney, and she was surprised to learn she was eligible to have the dismissed charges removed from her record by applying for an expunction.

With the help of her attorney, she applied and waited six months for a decision from the state. In April, a few weeks before graduation, she got the answer that would ultimately open the door to opportunity. Her application had been approved, and she no longer had charges listed on her criminal record. “This was the only thing holding me back,” she says. “Now I have more opportunities. I have a clean slate.”

After graduation, Janessa hopes to continue her education at UNC-Charlotte studying business and human resources. After years of trying to put her mistakes in the past, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy helped Janessa find a fresh start as she heads out into the world with her degree in hand and a determination to succeed.