Three Weeks, Three Wins for Second Chances

Andrew Ward
Andrew Ward  ·  November 1, 2023

One of IJ’s core beliefs is that the government can’t rely on irrational concerns to stop people from working—and irrational concerns include irrelevant criminal records. So, since 2018, IJ has been leading a campaign to ensure that people who have served their time can get back on their feet. Late this summer, our successes continued at a record clip. In less than three weeks, our “Fresh Start” practice scored three wins.

The first victory was for Ifrah Yassin, a young woman aspiring to work at a group home for people with disabilities. Under Minnesota law, people with certain criminal records are banned from providing this kind of care. The thing is, Ifrah doesn’t have one of those records. She was arrested for robbery in 2013, but she hadn’t done anything wrong and was promptly released. She wasn’t even charged, let alone convicted. 

Even so, nearly a decade after the incident, the state decided that Ifrah had committed a robbery. This decision—made entirely outside the criminal justice system and based on evidence the state didn’t share—was all it took to earn a lifetime ban. Fortunately, IJ stepped in with a strongly worded letter (what we like to call a “nastygram”). The state quickly rescinded the lifelong ban it had so casually issued, and Ifrah is now free to get to work.

A week and a half later, we scored a win for Rudy Carey. Decades ago, Rudy was a drug addict convicted of hitting a police officer. Then he got clean, turned his life around, and became a substance abuse counselor, working to help others overcome the demons he’d conquered himself. He even won an award for counselor of the year. 

But when Virginia found out what Rudy was doing, it told him to leave his job and never come back. That’s because Virginia has a law banning people with any of nearly 200 different convictions from ever working in substance abuse counseling—even though the same government admits this blocks people with “invaluable” experience. IJ’s lawsuit is almost certainly what prompted Virginia’s governor to pardon Rudy. With his record wiped clean, Rudy has now returned to the work he loves.

A week after that, IJ saved a historic radio station. Founded by James Brown himself, WJBE is Knoxville’s only station focused on the black community. Despite the station’s many awards, the FCC tried to shut it down. Not because of anything related to the airwaves, but because its owner had made a false statement on his personal taxes in 2009. 

After a grueling battle, that effort ended when the FCC’s in-house judge agreed with IJ that her own colleagues had gotten it wrong. That means a Knoxville fixture can broadcast for years to come.

This hat trick, however, isn’t the endgame. Thousands of these laws are still on the books. IJ will keep fighting for everyone trying to earn an honest living—including Altimont Wilks, who is banned from ever accepting food stamps from customers at his two Maryland convenience stores. 

Because of IJ’s generous supporters, these victories won’t be the last. Or, as WJBE might put it: Stay tuned for more hits!

Andrew Ward is an IJ attorney. 

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