Jerry Hill on PG&E and the North Bay Fires, Pregnant and Imprisoned, Plus: Berkeley Tent Encampment Eviction and California Traffic Tickets

UpFront speaks with Theresa Zhen, Staff Attorney at the Clean Slate Practice of the East Bay Community Law Center and member of the Back on the Road California Coalition, which fights for traffic court reform. She is also a co-author of Ability to Pay Implementation in Traffic Court: A Toolkit for Advocates. Theresa tells us about ways to get your traffic tickets expunged.

Advocacy groups sue DMV for driver’s license suspensions

The Back on the Road coalition, made up of seven California organizations and supported by the ACLU, claims that an individual’s driver’s license can only be suspended legally if the person has “willfully” failed to appear or pay a fine. Simply being “too poor to pay the fine,” according to the coalition’s complaint, isn’t enough to establish intent as required by law.

California judge who mocked blind man emblematic of failed traffic court system

Civil rights lawyers say the problem is just as bad in liberal California and that the Culver charges illustrate how traffic judges have wide discretion to abuse vulnerable defendants and order fines that can destroy people’s lives. […] “It puts you in a spiral,” said Brandon Greene, staff attorney with East Bay Community Law Center. “They don’t have enough money, and they can’t pay the debt.”

Alameda County Traffic Court Eliminates Harsh License Suspension Policy That Punished The Poor

Salmon — the Oakland resident featured in my story, who has legal support from the East Bay Community Law Center — has struggled with homelessness and unemployment and has been unable to pay fines tied to two minor traffic tickets over the last two years. The resulting license suspension has prevented him from getting multiple jobs, and he can’t afford to pay the more than $1,000 he now owes.

Contesting a traffic ticket? California poised to ban pay-first policy

Elisa Della-Piana, a co-author of the report and program director of the East Bay Community Law Center, said she was initially excited to hear that the courts were moving swiftly to take up the issue. However, she and others from the Western Center on Law & Poverty, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Bay Area Legal Aid said they were disappointed that the change would not deal with the broader problem of motorists who incur substantial costs after failing to appear.

Drummond: License suspensions create hardship for poor

“People coming to our clinic want to pay but they can’t pay all at once because the fines have increased so sharply,” says Elisa Della Piana, director of programs at the East Bay Community Law Center. “They go to court and say I’ll pay you $50 a month or $100 a month but the court is saying, ‘we won’t even talk to you until you pay the full amount.’”

Is Being Poor a Crime?

A deep dive into how we have been changing our laws, our police, and our courts, to treat poverty like a crime: the return of debtors’ prisons, the privatization of probation, and the reason why four million Californians have their drivers’ licenses suspended right this minute–and their numbers are growing by nearly half a million every year.