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Landmark Rubicon Lawsuit Settled, Paves Way for Fair Treatment of Low-Income Drivers

By Jonathan Bash August 8, 2017

Solano County adopts model policies that lessen the burden of traffic fines and fees           

                              

San Francisco, CA - A settlement was reached today in the first lawsuit in California to challenge the suspension of driver’s licenses as a means of collecting unpaid traffic fines. The lawsuit was originally filed on June 15, 2016 against Solano County Superior Court, challenging the court’s practice of suspending the driver’s licenses of people who could not afford the astronomical price of traffic tickets.

“Having to choose between food and a traffic fine is not a choice at all," said Jane Fischberg, President and CEO of Rubicon Programs, a plaintiff in the suit. “This settlement gives us hope that we are finally moving away from unjust systems that criminalize poverty. We applaud the Solano Court’s good faith effort to make the system more equitable – so that everyone in our communities has an opportunity to achieve economic mobility."

Prior to the lawsuit, the Court routinely failed to notify traffic defendants of their right to demonstrate they were low-income and unable to pay the fines – which the suit alleged was unlawful. The Court also lacked a mechanism for low-income drivers to seek a reduction in the fine or an alternative to payment based on their poverty.

Today, the parties filed a settlement that achieves the goals of the lawsuit. Under the terms of the settlement, the Court will notify every traffic defendant of their right to be heard regarding their “ability to pay.” The Court will update all notifications to traffic defendants, including its website, the oral advisements provided by traffic court judges, and the “notice of rights” handout given to all traffic defendants. The new notices explain the traffic defendants’ rights to ask the Court for a lower fine, a payment plan, or community service if they are indigent.

Further, the Court agreed to change its procedures for assessing a defendant’s ability to pay. For traffic defendants who are homeless, receive public benefits or are low income, the Court has agreed to consider alternative penalties that do not involve payment of a monetary fine – such as community service.

"We hope that Solano's reforms will be a model for other counties to follow," said Rebekah Evenson, Director of Litigation and Advocacy at Bay Area Legal Aid. "We laud the Solano County Superior Court and Presiding Judge Fracchia for working with us to reform their traffic system in a way that treats low-income drivers fairly and equitably."

“We appreciate that the governor and legislature recently put an end to the harmful practice of using license suspension to punish low-income people who can’t afford to pay costly tickets,” said Christine Sun, Legal Director at the ACLU of Northern California. “Now we’d like to see counties across California follow Solano County’s example and address the exorbitant traffic fines and fees structure that plunges people into a cycle of poverty.”

A 2017 study by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, "Paying More for Being Poor: Bias and Disparity in California’s Traffic Court System," showed that Californians pay some of the highest fines and fees in the country—which can devastate the lives of Californians with lower incomes.

People of color also bear a disproportionate amount of this burden. The study’s Bay Area data revealed that African-Americans are four to sixteen times more likely to be booked into county jail on a charge related to inability to pay a citation. Because of over-policing in communities of color and racial profiling, African-American and Hispanic individuals are more likely to receive traffic tickets than are white and Asian individuals and are far more likely to be cited solely for driving with a license that was suspended for failure to pay or appear in traffic court.

The lead plaintiff in the suit, Rubicon Programs v. Superior Court, is Rubicon Programs, a nonprofit that provides comprehensive employment, career, financial, legal and health & wellness services to thousands of low-income people across the Bay Area. Additional plaintiffs in the suit include the ACLU of Northern California, and Henry Washington, a low-income Hayward resident whose license was suspended because he could not pay a “fix-it” ticket. Plaintiffs were represented by:

Read the final settlement here.

Media Contacts:

 

Sarah Williams, Attorney, swilliams@rubiconprograms.org or (510) 412-1763

Jonathan Bash, Communications Manager, jonathanb@rubiconprograms.org or (510) 231-3993

 

Linda Kim, Bay Area Legal Aid, Lkim@baylegal.org or (510) 250-5218

Bethany Woolman, ACLU of Northern California, bwoolman@aclunc.org or (415) 621-2493

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Trading the Dark Side for the Light Side: Mario’s Story

By Jonathan Bash August 7, 2017

Mario, a member of Rubicon Programs' July 2016 cohort, always intended to live a good life, but the things he wanted always seemed out of reach. Entering adulthood in a resource-deprived community, Mario felt that the only viable path to success came from “the dark side.”

“I got caught up dealing drugs,” he says.  He was able to make enough to pay the bills and get what he thought he wanted. “I was feeling pretty content. But I began to stagnate, physically, mentally and spiritually. And in the end, I became my own best customer.”

He spent more than a decade in and out of jail, fell behind on his child support and lost touch with his family. When he hit rock bottom, his life until then came into focus, and he thought about all the time he lost not being a productive citizen. That day, he made a decision to learn from his mistakes, grow as a person and embrace the “light side, the good side.”

His neighbor, a former Rubicon client, suggested he look into Rubicon Programs. At first he was skeptical, “what could happen in just a few weeks?” But soon, he crossed the threshold and realized that he could turn his life around, and that Rubicon’s staff would be sticking with him for the foreseeable future.

“All the workshops challenged me and helped me grow. Each day I chipped off a bit of the block of what they offered. I met with all of the coaches. Jessica stayed on me and made sure I followed through. Mr. Alexander, Pat, Reggie, Max, Dalia, Ken, Porschea, Lila, even the office staff, all were instrumental to my success. ”

Now, one year later, Mario works with LiUNA!, the laborers union in San Francisco. The job, which he secured after capitalizing on a few community connections — including one with Aboriginal Blackmen United (ABU), a local labor advocacy group — earns $30 an hour.

He now has enough to move closer to his mother and his kids, own a reliable car and save for a rainy day, while also enjoying the good things in life. He has paid off his child support, rebuilt relationships and found stability for the first time in decades. In particular, his strengthened relationship with his mother, Mary, has helped him thrive. "I couldn't have done this all without her support. She believed in me when few people did."

He’s proud of the work that he does, building public parks, sidewalks and hospitals. And he hopes to continue to grow in his career. He plans to learn how to use new types of modern equipment and develop brand new skills in his field. “I want to be a real asset to a company,” he says.

He also wants to give back. He’s joined Rubicon’s Men’s Group, where he meets every week to share his success with new participants. “I’m glad I am able to be an inspiration to others.” He tells everyone he runs into, especially if they’re down on their luck, “go over to Rubicon.”

He says that he keeps coming back because it keeps him focused, and keeps him grounded. “I’ve been able to get everything I need with Rubicon. And if they don’t have it, they know how to help me find it.”

“I’m proud that I am able to be where I am at this stage in my life. I’ve overcome some serious obstacles. It’s been a struggle. But I’ve conquered them all, thanks to Rubicon.”

Help us break poverty by donating today.

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Rubicon’s Young Professionals Board

By Lisa Dyas July 19, 2017

 

The Young Professionals Board raises awareness and resources to help meet the needs, address the challenges and uncover the untapped potential of our neighbors living in poverty. Join us to meet other young professionals with a commitment to equity for East Bay communities.  

 

OUR FOUNDING YEAR
In its first year, we will come together to introduce Rubicon's mission to a new generation of professionals who will help us achieve our vision of an East Bay without poverty. Together we will: 


EDUCATE
Learn about the challenges facing our neighbors living in poverty, and how Rubicon partners with them to find solutions.

SUPPORT
YPB members will harness their creativity to increase awareness of Rubicon and develop critical resources to support our mission. 

ACT
The YPB will produce a signature event that connects young professionals who share our vision in conjunction with our annual fundraising event, East Bay State of Mind.
 

JOIN US!

Job Description>>

Application>>

Brochure>>

Questions? Alex Pfeifer-Rosenblum, Development Manager

 

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Statement: Rubicon Programs Stands Against ACA Repeal

By Jonathan Bash June 27, 2017

RICHMOND, CALIF. — "No health care bill should be written in darkness. Don't be distracted. Don't get complacent. The U.S. Senate is counting on the American people to lose their focus and let them slip a terribly unpopular piece of legislation past us.

If we don't fight, 22 million people will lose their lifeline and tens of thousands will die.

We in the Bay Area must fight back, we must call our own representatives to tell them to stand strong against this repeal. And we must call, tweet and email every Republican who is on the fence.

Rubicon Programs, and our allies combating poverty throughout the Bay Area, stand strong against this legislation – legislation that will increase profits for big business and roll back the historic health gains for low-income people brought by the Affordable Care Act.

We also stand together to guarantee the right to health care here in California. Until we have a single-payer program, our current system will continue to extend the cycle of poverty and promote human suffering."

Jane Fischberg

CEO and President, Rubicon Programs

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In Furtherance of Justice | Wiping the Slate Clean

By Lisa Dyas June 7, 2017

Rubicon's legal team helps our participants with a wide variety of legal assistance to equip them to remove barriers that may stand in their way of achieving their long-term goals. This question and answer series with Rubicon's staff attorneys explores the many intersections between breaking the cycle of poverty and the law.

This week, In Furtherance of Justice, talks to Rubicon attorney, Sarah Williams, about Clean Slate Day 2017. 

Wiping the Slate Clean

What is Clean Slate Day?

Clean Slate events help people with criminal records access expungements and felony reductions which in turn remove barriers to employment and housing.  Rubicon has been involved in organizing Clean Slate events in Contra Costa County since 2011. What was special about the last two Clean Slate Days, including the most recent one held this past April, was that we were actually able to convene court.  Unlike past events where we've met with people and explained their rights and the process of getting records expunged, we now have an official court proceeding with a judge granting expungements. 

In 2017, we also served more people than ever; 320 people had more than 1,000 cases expunged. To put it in perspective, more cases were cleared in a single day than what is typical for a whole year. To go through the process as an individual, the process can take anywhere from six to nine months. 

 

What does it mean to have a record expunged? 

Having your record expunged gives you the legal right to say, “No,” when asked if you have a criminal background on a job or housing application. In California, an expungement does not take the conviction off the record, but it really clears the way for people with conviction histories to find employment and housing. 

In California expungement is available to a lot of cases. As long as the sentence for a conviction does not include state prison, it is eligible for expungement. As our state is moving further away from sending people to prison and toward shorter sentences in county jail, more people will be eligible for this life-changing remedy. 

 

What role do community partnerships play in pulling off an event of this scale?

A lot of credit goes to Judge Diana Becton who was the person who initially approached the Public Defender’s office in 2016 to make our Clean Slate events more than information sessions. She wanted to do something in conjunction with her church at Easter, and actually hold court. These are inspirational events for both the participants and the community.

The District Attorney’s office was also involved in approving cases to be expunged. Rubicon also played a big role in the planning for the event because we actually have a great deal of experience running Clean Slate events. We also worked closely with the county Reentry Coordinator, Bay Area Legal Aid, Safe Return Project, and the Reentry Success Center. The Public Defender’s office was responsible for the lion’s share of the work, and really went into overdrive to approve hundreds of cases to present to the District Attorney.

 

What do Rubicon attorneys do for Clean Slate Day?

We help with logistics, we get the word out about the event, and this year we helped bring in the Department of Child Support Services as a partner to have somebody to check people's cases and answer questions.  Of course, a lot of our responsibility is just making sure that our Rubicon participants are able to access the services. I think it’s really helpful for our participants to have people actively thinking about legal remedies that will help them find stable employment, and housing. We are also there on the day of the event to support our participants and to be available to provide information and referrals for the many walk-ins who come to the event.

 

What impact does having their record expunged have on Rubicon participants? 

Having cases expunged opens up employment and housing doors, but it can also make people feel better, freer. It is a really concrete way that they can move away from their past mistakes and finally feel that they have been forgiven. Our participants say all the time that they did their time and want to move on, but in reality that's not what happens.  There are all these collateral consequences to having a conviction; being kept out of employment, being kept out of housing, not being able to go to school. I think, too, that standing in front of the judge, and hearing her say, " Congratulations, good job," as opposed to sentencing you to jail -  that's priceless. It's like official forgiveness.

Events like Clean Slate Day are so important because they help people get a second chance without having to jump through a million hoops. Even if you're trying to do everything right, you just encounter roadblock after roadblock. An event like Clean Slate can allow so many more people to access this remedy that can positively change their lives. Expungement doesn't change the past or lessen the consequences of a crime, it is about making it easier to reintegrate into society.  

One Rubicon participant actually had nine different cases expunged at the event. He had an extensive RAP sheet and had been getting in trouble for over 15 years. But now he is in recovery and is on the right track. He came with a whole cheering section and sat through the entire day, watching and supporting as the people around him have their convictions expunged and their felonies reduced. With these expungements he is well on his way to moving beyond his past mistakes and being able to work full-time to support his family.

Could changes at the federal level impact future Clean Slate Days?

Most criminal law is state law, and while there are federal prisons and crimes, it's not that common. California has really been moving in the right direction toward criminal justice reform with legislation like AB 109 and Prop 47, which took a bunch of low level felonies and reclassified them as misdemeanor, Prop 57 that helps people get out of prison faster. I actually think that as we see more regressive action at the federal level, we will see a bigger push toward reform and social justice at the state level. 

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