Last year when Paul Nwuli lost his job as a district manager in Las Vegas for a fast food chain, he moved quickly to keep providing for his wife and two kids. With ride sharing services recently approved in Nevada, Nwuli put in his application to become a driver.
After a short wait he got a reply that his application was denied because of his criminal record. Nwuli was shocked. “I didn’t know I had a record,” said Nwuli, who emigrated from Nigeria in the late 1990s. “I’ve never gotten in any trouble, not even a speeding ticket.”
Several years ago, when Nwuli first moved to Las Vegas from Los Angeles, he left his dogs and a few chickens in the care of a friend. According to Nwuli, while he was away animal control cited him for not properly caring for the animals. Nwuli did not return home soon enough to respond to the complaint in the allotted time and was convicted of a misdemeanor.
After the discovery, Nwuli called around to law offices seeking advice, and one clerk referred him to the free record sealing classes offered by Nevada Legal Services in conjunction with the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law’s free legal education program.
The class launched in 2014 when Deputy Public Defenders John Piro, a 2010 Boyd School of Law graduate, and Bita Yeager noticed people needed help navigating the convoluted, multistep process that involves gathering numerous records and petitioning the court. In 2015 Yeager was appointed as a justice court judge and the program was transferred to Nevada Legal Services.
Classes are held twice every week and are taught by Boyd students under the supervision of Kendra Jepsen, a 2015 Boyd graduate and attorney at Nevada Legal Services. Last year, several students who taught the class – including Heather Armantrout, Emily Dyer, D. Ryan Efros, and Jessica Georgescu – also worked on drafting legislation for the 2017 state legislative session to propose a more streamlined process for record sealing in Nevada.
“It’s important to be able to seal your records because it seems more and more employers are doing background checks. Many people need to seal records to be able to support themselves and their families,” said Jepsen, who seals criminal records for Nevada Legal Services clients at no cost.
The Boyd School of Law, in partnership with Nevada Legal Services and the Clark County Public Defenders Office, has assisted 1,500 Nevadans through its record sealing classes.
Depending on the crime, there are different limitations on when a record can be sealed; and some criminal records, such as sex offenses and crimes against children, can never be sealed. The earliest a record of a simple misdemeanor can be sealed is two years, and the waiting period goes up to 15 years for the most serious felonies. The decision on whether or not to grant the seal is entirely up to the judge’s discretion.
After taking the class in fall 2015 and seeking some help from Jepsen, Nwuli got word that his record was sealed in the spring.
He promptly reapplied to work for the ride share services and was accepted. Now he has work to pay the bills while he looks for a position in his previous field of business and restaurant management. He’s also been inspired by the class to study law.
“I can’t thank them enough,” Nwuli said. “It’s such an amazing thing to set up a program like this that is helpful to the community. I think it’s a great service.”