Restoring Your Right to Vote and Other Civil Rights

This video features Michelle Martin, a Civil Rights attorney based in Ohio.

Ohio Attorney Restores Civil Liberties Like Running for Office and Serving On a Jury 

Video Transcript: 

Michelle Martin: 

There are lots of people who don't even know that they have the ability to get those rights restored. And some don't even require a full-blown out representation, it just requires that you reach out and set up a consultation.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So when someone gets put into the criminal justice system, they have some of their civil rights taken away. But can they be restored? Can they get them back? And how? Who do they turn to for help? We're gonna answer those questions right now on this episode of Ask The Lawyer. My guest is Ohio attorney Michelle Martin. And I wanna let you know right up front, if you wanna ask Michelle questions about your situation, go to askthelawyers.com, click the button up at the top that says Ask a lawyer, and there's a very simple form right there to fill out. Or you can call the phone number you see on the screen during our conversation. Michelle, it's always good to see you, thank you for answering our questions today.

Michelle Martin: 

Thank you. Same with you, Rob. Thank you for having me here.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So let's just start with a little definition, what does civil rights restoration mean, especially where the law is concerned?

Michelle Martin: 

Right. And that's a great question, I use it all the time, and I expect people to just understand what it means. But it really is the process of restoring voting, or better yet civil rights to people with prior disqualifying events, such as a felony conviction or things like that.

Rob Rosenthal: 

And so what are... You mentioned voting, what are some of the civil rights that can be taken away and that can be restored?

Michelle Martin: 

Right, right. You can lose the right to bear arms, your right to vote, right to hold office, right to serve on a jury. Those rights that we, of course, hold very near and dear to our hearts, those rights can be lost through certain disqualifying events. And so what I'm able to do, if someone has a barrier to exercising a right, I'm able file an application in their county to see if we can get those rights restored.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Is this something you've had a lot of experience with in your practice?

Michelle Martin: 

I have. Something I kind of fell into over five, six years ago initially, and since then, I found that my firm is one of the very few firms in Ohio in Central Ohio especially, that handles civil rights restoration cases, and we've done so for many years. I've had a lot of success in the surrounding counties, and I have a 100% success rate in Franklin County.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Wow. In my very little experience, any time you deal with the government, it's complicated. Is this a complicated process to get these rights restored?

Michelle Martin: 

So it can be. It can be tedious, Rob, and you just have to remain persistent. You have to remain diligent. You have to have someone who understands what is it that the court is looking for, what are the courts considering in your application, what type of evidence is gonna be presented during a hearing. You have to have someone who's going to be patient with the process. This is not a fast moving process. It's something where you're asking the court, in the judge's discretion to allow you to have your rights restored, so it is a very strategic process, and it can definitely be a little complicated if you wanna be successful.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Not the kind of thing someone could handle on their own, they're not just gonna be able to go online and fill out a form and be done.

Michelle Martin: 

Oh, I would not suggest that at all. This is somewhat different than this. A lot of people will try to akin it to the expungement process, because they do have some similarities. This however is a little more statutorily nuanced if you will, and so it is just... It's a little... It's fun, but it's a little more difficult, and there's no straight forward application to it if you wanna be successful.

Rob Rosenthal: 

You mentioned it's a slow process. I'm sure everyone is different, but how long does the whole thing usually take on average?

Michelle Martin: 

It depends on the court's docket. During 2020, I had some that took way longer than you'd normally expect. But honestly, with the dockets moving so slow now I can expect some of the restoration applications to take upwards to a year to 18 months.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So what are some of the requirements that have to be met in order to get civil rights restored?

Michelle Martin: 

So what I tell people first is you wanna make sure all your fines are paid before you even come and see me. Make sure you paid all your fines and fees, that you don't have any outstanding obligations to parole or probation, all your punishment has been served, you don't have any outstanding warrants. Those are things you can really clear up on your own before you come and see me. But the main thing is making sure that your obligations are met. There's some statutory factors depending on the type of disqualifying event that you may have, and so there are some different requirements that we may have to get into depending on what the disqualifier is. But for the most part, I say make sure you got your fines and fees and your obligations met before you come and even sit down.

Rob Rosenthal: 

And in your experience, Michelle, do you find that there are a lot of people that don't even realize this is an option? They don't even know they can get their civil rights restored?

Michelle Martin: 

Absolutely, Rob. You wouldn't believe the amount of folks that come into my office, they'll come in, we complete the application process, and we'll find out that their rights were automatically restored, it really was just a matter of going through the process of having someone knowledgeable to look at your pre-existing... I'm sorry, your prior convictions. Look at your current disposition and tell you what the law says. So there are lots of people who don't even know that they have the ability to get those rights restored. And some don't even require a full-blown out representation, it just requires that you reach out and set up a consultation.

Rob Rosenthal: 

That's such important work. Why is this important to you? Tell me why this is something you're passionate about.

Michelle Martin: 

Well, I mean, our civil and political rights are the class of rights that's protected by all... It's supposed to be protected for all individuals, right? So it encompasses our freedom, deals, and how we, of course, relate to government, social organizations and as private individuals. So ensuring that we have the entitlement to participate in civil and political life in society and things like that, it gets rid of the discrimination, right? So I want everyone to be able to exercise their rights so that therefore we don't have these uncomfortable conversations about discrimination. We all have a voice. We're all able to exercise. So as much as we can clear out a lot of the gunk that we're able to kinda find out maybe we have some laws back in the day that maybe didn't really... Aren't applicable that today or don't really serve the people that we serve now. So I think this is important to get people back on equal footing and give everybody the right or give everybody the opportunity to have these conversations and make everyone feel powerful, right? You give them their rights and then you feel powerful.

Rob Rosenthal: 

I love that. And I don't know if people know this, gunk is a word they teach you in law school, right? That's a Latin word? [laughter]

Michelle Martin: 

Gunk is a word they teach you in law school. [laughter]

Rob Rosenthal: 

Michelle, fascinating conversation. I'm sure we could talk a lot more about it. Thank you so much for helping us out again today.

Michelle Martin: 

Anytime, Rob. Thank you.

Rob Rosenthal: 

And that's gonna do it for this episode of Ask The Lawyer. My guest has been Ohio Attorney Michelle Martin. If you would like to talk to Michelle about your situation, you can go to askthelawyers.com, click the button up at the top of the page, it says Ask a Lawyer, and it's a very simple form to fill out. Or you can call the phone number you saw on the screen during our conversation. Thanks for watching, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal for Ask The Lawyers.

Disclaimer: This video is for informational purposes only. In some states, this video may be deemed Attorney Advertising. The choice of lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.


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