A judge in Brooklyn has expunged the criminal record of a woman he convicted of fraud 14 years ago, after learning it was preventing her from holding a job.
The woman, a mother of five only known as Jane Doe, was found guilty in 2002 of faking injuries from a car accident and attempting to collect insurance money. For the 13 years following her conviction, she has unable to hold on to a job, because her employers would eventually find out about her conviction, and fire her.
"She doesn’t lie to her employers, who do not ask her if she has a criminal record at the hiring stage," U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson, who originally convicted the woman, wrote in his expungement decision, which came last week. "However, after she gets jobs, record checks are performed by her employers or others acting on their behalf. Once they learn of Doe’s conviction, she gets fired. This has happened to her half a dozen times."
In October, the woman filed an application asking that the conviction be expunged. Eight months later, he approved the petition. Gleeson wrote in his decision:
Even if one believes, as I do, that employers are generally entitled to know about the past convictions of job applicants, and that their decisions based on those convictions are entitled to deference, there will nevertheless be cases in which all reasonable employers would conclude that the conviction is no longer a meaningful consideration in determining suitability for employment if only they had the time and the resources to conduct a thorough investigation of the applicant or employee.
"I have conducted such an investigation, and this is one of those cases," he went on.
In an interview with Fusion, the woman's lawyer, Bernard H. Udell, said he and his client accepted the decision "with tearful glee."
"He did a really good thing," Udell said. "It's not something done very often, if at all."
It was not immediately clear what kind of precedent there is for this decision in New York, let alone a federal case; the New York State Bar did not immediately return a request for comment. The story was first reported by the Wall Street Journal's Joe Palazzolo, who quotes a former Justice Department pardon official that this is the first case she's heard of in which a judge unilaterally decided to expunge a valid conviction.
But it is well known that millions of individuals have had their lives essentially ruined by arrest records that haunt them years after they've served their time.
Here's Judge Gleeson's decision, which was issued late last week.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.