Ohio certificates remove mandatory bars to jobs and licenses
February 2, 2013 was an historic day in Ohio. The Ohio legislature added a new judicial restoration mechanism: the Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE). The CQE, contained in Ohio Rev. Code §2953.25, provides new hope to the 1 in 6 Ohioans who have a criminal conviction and as a result are ineligible for certain jobs and licenses because of a mandatory collateral sanction (of which there are many in Ohio law). To date 242 Ohioans have received a CQE, and more are expected to apply when word gets around that this relief is available.
The legal effect of a CQE is to lift mandatory collateral consequences that operate as a bar to employment or professional licensing under Ohio law:
[A CEQ] lifts the automatic bar of a collateral sanction, and a decision-maker may consider on a case-by-case basis whether to grant or deny the issuance or restoration of an occupational license or an employment opportunity, notwithstanding the individual’s possession of the certificate.
Any Ohio resident with a conviction under Ohio law may apply for the CQE one year after completing their sentence for a felony, or after six months for a misdemeanor. Those who were subject to the supervision of the state correctional system must submit an online application to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC). If the petition passes the DRC review – for completeness only — the applicant then files it in the Ohio common pleas court in the county of his or her residence.
Like most judicial restoration statutes, the CQE statute requires the court to make certain findings of fact after a thorough background investigation. The standard for issuing a certificate is whether the individual has established by a preponderance of the evidence that (a) granting the petition will materially assist in obtaining employment or occupational licensing; (b) the individual has a substantial need for the relief in order to live a law-abiding life; and (c) granting the petition would not pose an unreasonable risk to the safety of the public or any individual. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2953.25(C)(3). The certificate is “presumptively revoked” if the individual is convicted of or pleads guilty to a felony offense committed after issuance of the certificate. § 2953.25(H).
The court where the application is filed must notify the court where the conviction occurred that the applicant has filed a request for a CQE, and must also notify the prosecutor and the victims and seek their views. The application process is explained in greater detail here.
Why would a CQE make an applicant more attractive to an employer? There are two reasons: first, the statute protects an employer from a negligent hiring claim if the CQE recipient, after being hired, demonstrates dangerousness or commits a felony. Second, a CQE issued by the court may reassure the employer that the applicant has been fully investigated by a court. Finally, a certificate may give the employer a measure of protection from bad publicity.
The CQE remedy offers hope to so many Ohioans whose only available remedy to avoid mandatory employment-related penalties resulting from their conviction was a pardon. But it is not an easy process. The CQE applicant must complete a 16 page online application. It can be a daunting process for those applicants with limited education or even access to a computer.
Enter the University of Akron School of Law and its Reentry Clinic. Started in March 2008, the Reentry Clinic offers assistance with judicial sealings and gubernatorial pardons. In June 2013, the clinic expanded its program to include helping clients with the CQE application process.
Once a month, the law school holds a free clinic for individuals interested in applying for a CQE. Staffed by volunteer law students, the CQE clinic assists applicants with completing and submitting the online application. It also offers follow-up assistance to those attendees who need help printing and filing their applications.
Since the first CQE clinic in June 2013, over 1000 clients have come to the clinic. Volunteers have completed 391 CQE applications, and many of these have received CQEs.
The law school is expanding its CQE clinic other parts of Ohio, thanks to a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation, and will replicate the Akron model in Cleveland, Youngstown, Toledo and Columbus. It will collaborate with Towards Employment, the Youngstown mayor’s office, the University of Toledo Law School and Capital University Law School to hold the clinics in each city.
The grant also provides funding to educate Ohio employers about the benefits of the CQE, and funds a survey of CQE recipients to gauge the success of the CQE. The law school has already begun the survey, and reports from a small sample of CQE applicants are positive. Half of those surveyed reported that the CQE had assisted them with either getting a job or improving their position with their current employer.