Moritz alumna and staff member Terri McKee reaches major milestone with Opportunity Port
By: Emma Kapp
Terri McKee '21 recently submitted her 100th filing for record sealing as a service provider for Opportunity Port, a service engagement project of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC). McKee started assisting with record sealing applications with DEPC in the summer of 2022 and reached this meaningful milestone with the support of her colleagues.
“It’s a privilege to be the legal face of this service through DEPC,” McKee shared. “Being a part of this work has been extremely rewarding.”
Opportunity Port originated as a Columbus City Council initiative before moving operations to DEPC in July 2021 under the leadership of its project manager, Hannah Miller. The program provides a digital, mobile-friendly way to access legal assistance for record sealing and expungement applications. Interested individuals fill out an online survey and select a service provider – either McKee at DEPC or one of the other four legal aid organizations who have partnered with Opportunity Port – to assist them with determining eligibility and completing a formal application. The service provider then files the application with the court of disposition and pays the requisite filing fee. If the application is granted, sealed records are removed from public view and made inaccessible to most people for most reasons. Expunged records go further and are removed entirely for most purposes.
A criminal conviction, or even just an arrest record, can have long-lasting consequences, beyond the sentences individuals serve. In Ohio, recent laws expanded the eligibility for record sealing and expungement, but many are not taking advantage of this solution. According to a study conducted by DEPC, there was a 55% increase in the number of record sealing applications the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) received between 2011-2021. However, compared to the number of potentially eligible individuals, the overall utilization rate of record sealing remains relatively low.
“Not many people realize that having a criminal record of any kind can significantly affect one’s ability to get a job, progress in one’s career, find housing and even volunteer,” said Jana Hrdinova, administrative director at DEPC. “By assisting people with the sealing of their records, Terri is helping remove barriers not only for them, but also for their families and loved ones.”
Opportunity Port was designed to make record sealing and expungement an easier process for eligible individuals to navigate and to limit the need for in-person appointments. But even with limited face-to-face meetings, McKee enjoys interacting with clients and building trust to ensure the applicant has a positive experience with DEPC as well as the court at which the applicant must attend a hearing.
“This is a human-centered service, and understanding a client’s story is crucial to my assistance in the application process,” she said. “I think we can sometimes forget how rules and processes affect real people, so taking the time to listen and connect with individuals makes a difference.”
Listening and developing a holistic view of an issue are just two of the skills McKee says she developed during her time as a student at Moritz. She credits Professor Joshua Dressler for helping spark her interest in criminal law, which eventually led her to the role she has now with Opportunity Port. McKee was also among the first group of students to benefit from Professor Olwyn Conway’s innovative Effective Communication for Lawyers class. The course uses theater and improvisation techniques, which McKee says helped her to develop more effective communication skills that she uses daily in her work with clients. McKee would advise current students to form relationships with people who share their passions so they can connect on a deeper level and engage with the subject in a meaningful way.
Opportunity Port sees a fantastic success rate: over 90% of applications filed are granted. What McKee finds even more rewarding, though, is when she hears from clients after she’s filed their application. “So many people say they’ve wanted to do this, but just didn’t know how,” she said. “I’m always humbled when a client reaches back out to me to say thanks or let me know how hopeful they are for the future now.”
Opportunity Port currently assists any Ohio resident with applications to seal or expunge criminal records in Franklin County and Tuscarawas County. Soon, it will expand to serve clients across the state of Ohio. With the strong foundation laid by McKee and Hannah Miller, Opportunity Port will continue to grow its reach and impact more Ohioans.
To learn more about the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, visit their webpage.
The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center released Drugs on the Docket, a podcast exploring how U.S. court rulings impact drug law and policy. Listen to Season 1 here.