A state senator awaiting trial on charges of offensive touching and disorderly conduct will lead a series of town halls designed to help those with criminal records have them expunged.
Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, will host workshops in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties starting Thursday, Oct. 28.
The sessions are in line with Brown’s duties as the newly-appointed director of the Wilmington HOPE Commission, which aims to reduce recidivism by helping ex-offenders transition successfully from incarceration to being law-abiding, productive members of the community.
The workshops were announced by the General Assembly’s Senate Democratic Caucus, which stripped Brown of his chairmanship over the Senate Judiciary Committee after his arrests. It then removed him from the committee altogether, saying his legal concerns could present “potential distractions or conflicts of interest.”
While Brown’s utilization of Senate resources to further the mission of his private employer does not appear to violate any of the rules outlined in the Senate’s rules of legislative conduct, it has some government watchdogs raising their eyebrows.
John Flaherty, who sits on the board of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, said the announcement of Brown’s town hall tour was “a little confusing.”
“He is a state senator — he got this job probably because he is a state senator — and he’s probably trying to make the best of it,” Flaherty said. “But I think that he needs to take care of his own issues first before he can go out and try to teach other people how to get back in good graces with the law.”
Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Brown for comment.
Brown was arrested in May after he allegedly punched a woman at Taverna Rustic Italian Restaurant in Talleyville.
The senator reportedly threw a glass of water at the woman and left the restaurant before police arrived. He turned himself in three days later.
He is expected to face trial on Dec. 1 on the charges, both misdemeanors.
His workshops focus on the issue of expungement, which refers to the process by which a record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from state or federal record, according to the American Bar Association.
“An expungement order directs the court to treat the criminal conviction as if it had never occurred, essentially removing it from a defendant’s criminal record as well as, ideally, the public record,” the association says.
The Delaware Legislative Black Caucus made expungement a core pillar of its Justice for All agenda announced in the wake of the May 2020 George Floyd killing in Minneapolis.
The caucus argues that systemic racism is responsible for people of color being unfairly targeted and disproportionately punished for minor crimes such as marijuana possession and traffic violations.
In response, some legislators have sought to make the expungement process easier. Doing so could help minor offenders seek employment and lead better lives, they say, rather than being trapped in a cycle that too often ends with them back in prison.
The HOPE Commission explains in its mission statement that it “will target reduction of the impact of violence and promote well-being in our communities by advocating for, supporting, empowering and assisting ex-offenders to positively integrate back into our communities.”
Brown’s appointment as head of the commission was met with outrage by many following his legal challenges. The group countered that he was chosen after a “rigorous, extensive search.”
He began his duties as the organization’s director on Sept. 13. As of 2017 — the last time data was available — the position earned an annual salary of $98,000.
Nevertheless, Flaherty said expungement seminars would be more appropriately hosted by the Criminal Justice Council or a similar group to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“Organizations like that already give seminars on how to obtain expungements,” Flaherty said. “I think Senator Brown would do well to take care of his own personal issues before trying to take care of others’ in a case like this.”
Brown’s advocacy for expungement issues did not begin with his hiring at the commission. In 2019, he served as the primary sponsor of Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 37.
That bill made adult expungements mandatory for some isolated misdemeanors once a petition has been filed with the State Bureau of Identification.
The bill also made clear that other charges can be expunged at the discretion of judges with input from both the Delaware Department of Justice and any victims affected by the crime in question.
“Delawareans with a criminal record for even the lowest level crimes face barriers to employment, housing and an education – a lasting punishment that can haunt them long after their sentence is complete,” Brown said in the press release announcing the events.
According to the release, more than 250 people received help initiating the expungement process when Brown hosted his first expungement fair in Dec. 2019.
Additional expungement fairs planned in 2020 were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each of the three upcoming expungement fairs will be held from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., including:
- Thursday, Oct. 28 — New Castle County
Simpson United Methodist Church, 907 Centerville Road, Wilmington
- Tuesday, Nov. 9 — Kent County
Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, 101 N. Queen St., Dover
- Tuesday, Nov. 16 – Sussex County
Georgetown Town Hall, 39 The Circle, Georgetown
A limited number of free, one-on-one expungement counseling spaces are available at each fair to those who register at this link.
Counseling spaces will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis to those who register before the deadlines of Tuesday, Oct. 26 for New Castle County, Nov. 5 for Kent County and Nov. 12 for Sussex County.
Share this Post