Diversity & Inclusion
Data / Legal / Nonprofits

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service’s data scraping tool is making record expungement easier

The nonprofit's Client Legal Utility Engine improves low-income residents' ability to see what cases they have open in the state and possibly get their criminal records expunged.

Client assistance provided by Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. (Courtesy photo)

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) has updated its Client Legal Utility Engine (CLUE) data scraping system that improves low-income residents’ ability to see what cases they have open in Maryland and possibly get their criminal records expunged.

The CLUE data scraping tool was created back in 2015 by Matthew Stubenberg to aid in finding cases where clients were eligible to have their records expunged, or erased in the eyes of the law. The tool is also used by partnered universities and government organizations for researching issues like bail reform or legal issues regarding COVID-19.

“[Clients] figure, ‘That’s been on my record for a really long time and that’s going to stay on my record,’” said Margaret Henn, director of program management for MVLS, which matches low-income Marylanders to pro bono legal aid for civil cases. “A lot of times people really are not aware or don’t think of expungement as an option.”

CLUE’s recent expansion accommodates Maryland Electronic Courts changes, offers better data security, and allows non-technical partners to perform searches.

In October 2017, a Maryland bill that allowed a greater number of criminal records to be expunged went into effect.

Before CLUE was created, residents could submit a records request, wait for that request to be approved, then wait for the government to get back to you with that data set within the next month — if you were lucky. CLUE data is available quickly because it’s constantly updated with data from the Maryland courts system.

To use CLUE to its fullest capacity, you need access from MLVS, but you can go to the site and download anonymized data if that’s all you need.

“Really what we’re looking at is that whatever they’re interested in using it for is aligned with the MVLS mission,” said Henn about the criteria to be granted access to CLUE. The org’s mission is “increasing access to justice for Marylanders” while aiding in civil cases such as income tax disputes, landlord-tenant disputes, criminal record expungement and divorce-custody disputes.

CLUE’s recent expansion was supported by the Abell Foundation, Open Society Institute-Baltimore and the University of Maryland Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.

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