Harris County D.A. Kim Ogg Gives Over A Thousand People with Legal Issues an Opportunity to Wipe the Slate Clean
ABOVE: Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg talking with HCDA Community Outreach Coordinator Shekira Dennis and volunteer about the Make it Right! program event details
World-renowned trainer and public speaker Dale Carnegie once said, “If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
For many individuals living in Harris County, they found themselves hiding in the shadows and living in fear because of past criminal records and outstanding warrants with Harris County that prevented them from going out, getting busy and doing something productive with their lives.
This past Saturday, February 23, those individuals were given a new chance at redemption, as Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg gave them an opportunity to come out from the shadows and make things right, by resolving their cases and warrants with no out-of-pocket costs and no risk of arrest.
Over a thousand individuals came out on Saturday to the FountainLife Center for Ogg’s life-changing event called the Make It Right! program.
The purpose of the Make It Right! program is to help individuals resolve pending low-level cases and old warrants, while also giving them the opportunity to clear their records and simply “make it right” with the county.
This was Ogg’s third Make It Right! program event. Each event targets a specific jurisdiction within Harris County. Saturday’s event was held in Precinct 7.
“By coming to Make It Right!, we’re offering folks the rare opportunity to clean up their lives in a day,” said Ogg. “These cases can play out in people’s lives in negative ways; they can become warrants that lead to arrests, and that, obviously, can have a devastating impact on families and employment opportunities.”
Attendees were able to resolve outstanding Harris County Class C Pending and Open Warrants, although traffic offenses and felonies were not eligible. Class C cases include public intoxication, failure to appear, criminal trespass, minor consuming/possession of tobacco and other misdemeanors.
Attendees were able to have all Class C Misdemeanors in Precincts 7 Justice Courts, with the exception of assault, addressed on-site, without fear of arrest, such as:
- Criminal Mischief – Less than $100
- Criminal Trespass
- Continuing obligation of a child now an adult
- Minor consuming / possessing Alcohol
- Minor in possession of Tobacco
- Parent Contributing to non-attendance
- Issuance of a Bad Check (Defendants had to bring restitution for issuance of a bad check offenses to be eligible for dismissal)
- Failure to I.D.
- Failure to Appear
- Drug Paraphernalia
- Public Intoxication
- Disorderly Conduct
- Theft – Less than $100
In the days leading up to the event, officials reiterated the goal to help, not to arrest or identify, individuals for deportation.
“As the top criminal justice agency in the county, it’s important people understand we’re here to help,” said Ogg. “It’s not about throwing people behind bars, we’re really here to assist them when they find themselves crossways with the law and want to make it right.”
Precinct 7 Justice of the Peace Court Judge Jeremy Brown acknowledged how fines and fees can affect communities of color, and the importance of helping citizens get back on the right track.
“There’s collateral damage when you fund government on fines and fees; it falls on the backs of the working class and poor folks,” said Brown. “This is a great first step in fixing that, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done within the criminal justice system.”
The Make It Right! program brought community partners together to provide free legal resources, a job fair, and community services and essentially served as a one-stop shop for all citizens. Attendees were able to get free legal assistance with Expunctions, Immigration, Tenant/Landlord Concerns, Child Support and much more.
“We offer direct connections to employers, volunteer attorneys and social service providers,” said Harris County District Attorney’s Office Community Outreach Director Shekira Dennis. “This holistic approach to restorative justice is both cost-efficient and in congruence with the core pillars of restorative justice.”
This was a fact that was not lost amongst many attendees.
“When I heard about the program, it seemed like it was exactly what I needed to help get me back on track,” said Randy Belcher. “Sometimes life just happens and things don’t work out. People need this kind of help. Older people, disabled people- we can use the help.”
Attendee Sherry Soumaoro was also happy to take advantage of the services and resources provided, and had a message for anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation.
“If you need to, find a way to take advantage of the situation because it doesn’t make sense that you end up looking over your shoulder every five minutes, you shouldn’t have to live like that,” Soumaoro emphasized.
In addition to Ogg’s office, resource and service providers included the Public Defender’s Office, Precinct 7 Justices of the Peace Jeremy Brown and Sharon Burney, Harris County Constable Precinct 7 May Walker, Workforce Solutions, and the Houston Lawyers Association. METRO also provided free transportation from surrounding areas to the event.
Beacon Law, a key partner for the Make It Right! program, provided dozens of volunteers to meet individually with the hundreds of people who came out to the event.
Program Director and attorney, Leslie Ginzel, noted how life-changing the day can be for someone looking to find a clean slate.
“I’ve seen so many people who have that one thing on their criminal history that they’re eligible to have sealed,” said Ginzel. “Many qualify for the fee waiver and get that done. That can open up doors for real opportunities and employment.”
Ogg tells the Forward Times this is one of her most important initiatives and she plans to continue offering such needed programs to the citizens of Harris County.
For individuals or organizations interested in finding out more information about the Make It Right! program, please visit www.HarrisCountyDA.com or call 713.274.5800.