Q&A with Maurice Rice II, Staff Attorney at Cabrini Green Legal Aid
As a staff attorney with the Criminal Records division at Cabrini Green Legal Aid, what does a ‘typical’ day look like for you?
A “typical” day in criminal records with CGLA begins with a reminder for my personal challenge to, at least for the present day, move the baton of fair and impartial justice forward.
Depending on the scheduled events for the day, accomplishing that challenge involves speaking with clients in order to determine their motivation for seeking records relief, doing criminal records research and educating the public and fellow attorneys on the meaning and collateral consequences regarding the effect of the Illinois cannabis laws on their lives and in other legal areas.
You’ve been heavily involved with New Leaf Illinois, the statewide cannabis expungement network that launched three months ago. What have you seen with the program thus far?
In the short time since New Leaf Illinois has launched, I have seen hope and gratitude in every interaction with eligible applicants when I let them know the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act and other expungement laws has paved the way for potential relief of their previous cannabis arrests or convictions.
On the other side of the spectrum, I have seen a public that needs to be accurately informed on what is and is not permitted under the Illinois marijuana law. Informing the public makes me all the more grateful for New Leaf Illinois coming into existence and being a member of an organization such as CGLA in partnering with New Leaf to bring this vital information to the public.
We hear about how having a cannabis record can be a major barrier to securing a job and housing. Do you have any personal stories you can share on how expungement has changed people’s lives and boosted their self-worth?
Two current clients readily come to mind. One is seeking to obtain a real estate license and was concerned about the only arrest and conviction on their record due to indirect involvement with a former spouse. The other client is seeking to use past mistakes and become a public school official in order to educate the youth of today on avoiding decisions that could cause them to become entangled in the legal system.
When I informed both these clients that their cannabis convictions are eligible for expungement and those previous barriers preventing them from achieving their full life’s potential could be torn down, their emotions and responses brings about a feeling that words just cannot justify.
Before becoming an attorney, you served for years as a police officer in St. Louis County, Missouri. What motivated you to make this career change? And what perspective do you think your law enforcement background gives you now as an attorney?
After fulfilling my commitment to the United States Army, I served as a police officer for a little over four years in St. Louis County, Missouri. During the last few months in that position, in August of 2014, I was assigned to respond to the months of unrest stemming from the events in Ferguson, Missouri. The feelings of sadness, anger and frustration felt throughout the local and national communities echoed what I felt having been at the epicenter of events during that time.
I immediately felt that there was so much more I could do to address the root cause of what happened, but I would have to become something more and that began my journey to becoming an advocate and attorney.
So with being an attorney with a law enforcement background, I bring a perspective of looking at various matters objectively, never falling into complacence, and above all else understanding that EVERY member of the public deserves fair, unbiased and just treatment under the law regardless of their background, orientation or prior history.