SIERRA VISTA — A free clinic at Cochise County Superior Court in Sierra Vista attracted nearly 40 people seeking to restore their right to vote, hold public office and serve on a jury, which they lost upon being convicted of a felony.
“It was an overwhelming response,” said Sierra Vista attorney David Thorn, one of the attorneys who volunteered to assist attendees with the process of petitioning for restoration of their civil rights.
“We thought it would be a strong showing if 15 to 20 people showed up and instead we had about twice that number.”
Bisbee attorneys Anne Carl and Joel Larson and three lawyers from Pima County also volunteered for the clinic, which was sponsored by the Cochise County Re-Entry Coalition (CCRC).
The vast majority of felons are non-violent offenders who will return to the community after serving their jail or prison sentence, CCRC board member Tom Reardon said.
“Having their rights restored after they’ve served their time assists them — and their families — secure better jobs, housing and education opportunities,” he said. “This allows them to become a complete and involved citizen.”
Some of the attendees at the March 23 event had convictions dating back decades and came to the clinic with their old, typewritten paperwork.
“After all of these years, they made the effort to come in and make a positive change,” Larson said. “For me personally it was a humbling experience and extremely worthwhile.”
Thorn helped a Sierra Vista man convicted of possessing and transporting marijuana for sale in Texas.
“He admittedly did something dumb to make a few quick bucks but he had no prior criminal history and no subsequent criminal history,” Thorn said. “I’m contacting a colleague in Texas to try to help him get his rights restored.”
Some attendees couldn’t file their petitions during the clinic because they didn’t have required documentation, such as prison discharge papers and federal court sentencing records.
“I gave them my contact information so they could reach me once they obtain what is needed,” said Thorn, who said he believes restoring rights serves the community.
“People who are convicted of committing felonies are our neighbors, parents, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, grandparents, grocers, plumbers, baristas, mechanics, etc., and we must welcome back those who have fallen from grace.”
Reardon announced on Monday that CCRC will hold another clinic this fall, which is welcome news to Carl, who says she was struck by how young a few attendees were.
“Their trouble with the law happened so early in their lives,” Carl said. “They own their screw-ups and they’ve learned hard lessons. They’ve paid their debts and want to become more productive members of our community. Who can argue with that?”
The petitions filed March 23 will likely be scheduled for court hearings in mid-April.