My partner, Tom Coffey and I bring a unique blend of experience and knowledge in the practice of criminal law and expungement. Tom's path included graduating from Providence College, Harvard Divinity School, and Notre Dame Law School. Tom first went to Washington, DC as an aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and later Senator Chuck Schumer. Tom began his legal career as a prosecutor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tom fell in love at Notre Dame and married a Kentucky classmate and moved to Louisville. As a young lawyer, he served as a prosecutor in both the County and Commonwealth Attorney Offices. Tom served as Deputy Trials Division Chief in the Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney's Office. Because of his trial experience, he was recruited by Morgan, Pottinger, and McGarvey law firm and currently serves as head of litigation. Tom has long been active in the brain injury community and is the former President of the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky and continues to serve on its Executive Board.
While both Tom and I enjoyed public service, our true passion is public policy. With our unique work experience and interest in public policy, we both worked to change the expungement law in Kentucky. Tom and I became advocates for expungement reform, helping draft and work on two different expungement Bills (Senate Bill 79 & House Bill 40). We were the lawyers who met with labor, business, local and state leaders, legislators and those who were impacted by draconian laws that trapped them in a lifetime of frustration and poverty as a result of a minor offense. Even after numerous disappointments-we kept at it. Slowly minds began to change on this issue. Support grew, leaders realized that expungement reform was just as much about jobs and economic development issue as it was a social justice issue. That realization was crucial to turning the tide and sweeping away obstacles to expungement reform.
As the founding partners of helpexpungeme.com, we have been advocating for expungement reform for the last decade. We were honored when the Expungement Bill's sponsor, Rep. Darryl Owens, asked me to testify twice to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee urging them to pass Kentucky's expungement law, House Bill 40. Rep. Owens also tasked me to secure support of our Chamber of Commerce (Greater Louisville Inc.-GLI). After meeting with GLI's leadership, Louisville Metro Council President David James and Benham were invited to make a presentation to the GLI Board on House Bill 40. As Kentucky's largest and most influential Business and Civic Organization, their endorsement was crucial to the passage of expungement reform in Kentucky. When GLI came on board, the dominos began to fall and soon House Bill 40 earned the support of the Democratic and the Republican Party Chair, AFL-CIO, Teamsters, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Democratic and Republican nominees for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Judiciary Chairs in both the House and the Senate.
I think it will be easy for you to understand why I am so passionate about expungement reform. My grandfather, John Y. Brown, Sr. was this states youngest Speaker of the House, and was the youngest United States Congressman during President Roosevelt's famous 100 days. He was credited with saving Cumberland Falls from destruction. He helped secure funding from the DuPont family, overrode a Governor's veto, during a time when that just didn't happen and saved the Niagara of the South, the second largest waterfall in the eastern half of the United States, the only Moon Bow in the Western Hemisphere from total destruction. John Y. Brown, Sr., was known as Kentucky's best trial lawyer and for years represented the United Mine Workers during some of the bloodiest and most painful times of the labor movement in America. Brown Sr.'s most important accomplishment was securing the passage of Kentucky's Civil Rights Bill. As the sponsor, he was credited with the passage of the first Civil Rights Bill passed in the South. Dr. Martin Luther King called the bill the most progressive legislation passed in the South since the Civil War. My family has also been involved in the economic development of our state. My uncle, John Y. Brown Jr. became involved with Col. Harland Sanders as a young lawyer when the Colonel was still selling his secret herbs and spices out of the back of his Cadillac. John Y. Brown, Jr., and his business partner bought out the Colonel in the early 1960s and by the end of the decade, they had turned Kentucky Fried Chicken into the largest food company in the world with headquarters here in Louisville. As Governor he pledge to run state government like a business. As a reformer, Brown appointed the most accomplished Cabinet in Kentucky history. He cut the size of state government, saved over hundred million dollars by adopting new business practices and oversite, he granted the legislature independence, and he brought UPS to Kentucky. There is no Kentuckian who has had a bigger role in improving the economic vitality of our state. All of the children and grandchildren of these men have been challenged to make a difference by their work to make a difference.
As a young prosecutor, Benham was recognized as Kentucky's Outstanding Public Servant by Attorney General Ben Chandler on behalf of the Kentucky Prosecutor's Advisory Council for my work in the courtroom, advocacy and authoring Kentucky's DUI Trial Manual, "But Ocifer, I only had two beers!". Benham was the first nonelected prosecutor to win the award. He received this recognition even though he had been practicing law for less than five years. The next year, I was chosen Prosecutor of the Year by the Jefferson County Lodges of the Fraternal Order of Police. I was also asked to serve as Special Counsel to the Kentucky DUI Task Force and recognized by MADD Kentucky, as their Outstanding Public Servant. My career has included serving as the Crime Commission, serving as a Jefferson District Court Judge, and as a Special Justice on the Kentucky Supreme Court. Governor Beshear appointed me to the Kentucky Lottery Board where I served as Audit Chair and Vice-Chair. My career has been about community involvement and the development of smart on crime initiatives.
Expungement reform was the natural progression of working in the criminal justice system and my appreciation of the importance of economic development and equal opportunity. As a criminal defense lawyer, I soon realized the difference between me, my friends, classmates, work colleagues, and my clients was merely luck. We were lucky perhaps because of family, education, work opportunity, and maturity. Most people I have represented, I would not hesitate to invite in my home or have them live next door to me. As I matured I was struct by the harshness of a criminal conviction in the modern world. In my parent's generation if you made a mistake you could prove yourself worthy of trust by your work. In the modern world, it is virtually impossible to get past your criminal record. With the spread of the internet, it became clear to me that our society was placing a lifetime sentence on people for relatively minor infractions. I read and studied about issues ranging from disproportionate minority sentencing to the Harvard studies showing that men do not develop an appreciation of consequences of behaviors until their late twenties. I soon learned that there are over 20,000 collateral consequences to a criminal conviction. What was more astounding was learning that one in four adults-70 million Americans have a criminal record. The use of criminal background checks for every job application has resulted in creating a class of Americans that are either unemployed or underemployed. The more I read about expungement, the more convinced I became of its necessity. My convictions were reinforced last month by the release of a study by the University of Michigan Law School which revealed that on average the wages of those who expunged their record increased by 25% within two years of expungement! While this was an exciting development, the report also exposed the fact that only 3% of those eligible to expunge their record in Michigan had petitioned the court for expungement. The news in Kentucky is not much better. Since the passage of Kentucky's first felony expungement bill in 2016, only 2001 Kentuckians have expunged their felony record as of the first week of July 2019. We must do better!"