A Q&A with Regina Hernandez of Legal Aid Chicago
What has been the number one key learning for you during this first year of the New Leaf Illinois program?
It’s been a fascinating experience to see this major piece of legislation implemented into my team’s daily practice. We’ve been able to see the relief written into the new cannabis law take effect in real time – we have seen its strengths, and we see where there is still more work to be done to continue to make a significant impact on the communities hurt most by the war on cannabis.
We know there are thousands more Illinois residents who may be eligible for cannabis expungement. How would you encourage them to take the first step?
Every time there is a change in expungement/sealing law, people take another chance on a system they may feel has denied or failed them before. In the last 5 years alone, so much has changed in terms of eligibility requirements. Applicable wait periods have shortened, and there are more types of offenses than ever that qualify for relief. Please keep trying, and do not give up. Connect with legal aid agencies doing relief work and get your records reevaluated. Something you’ve been told is ineligible before may qualify now.
You’ve spent your career in the legal aid field. What is one piece of advice you have for people looking to get into public interest law?
In my opinion, any good legal aid attorney needs to recognize how interconnected different legal areas are, especially when your primary client population consists of those experiencing poverty. A family law issue, for instance, can easily have housing law or consumer law issues that need to be addressed. In criminal records work, we see a direct connection every day to housing and employment troubles, most commonly.
As we head into winter, are there any shows or books you are enjoying?
Very excited about the newest Star Trek shows – Discovery, Lower Decks, and Picard, specifically. In terms of books, I just started Courtroom 302 by Steve Borgia. The author is a former Chicago Reader reporter who spent a year at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse (26th and California) in the late 90s. A great read for anyone interested in the criminal legal system here in Chicago, racial justice, and civil rights issues.