BayLegal Joins Lawsuit to Stop Exorbitant Late Fees Used to Fund Court Systems in San Mateo County

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Today, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Bay Area Legal Aid, and Fenwick & West LLP filed a lawsuit challenging San Mateo County Superior Court’s unlawful practice of automatically imposing a $300 charge every time an individual misses a payment or court deadline in their traffic infraction case.

These fines, called civil assessments, disproportionately impact unhoused people due to the lack of stable mailing addresses, and Black and Brown people who, because of the severe racial disparities in which individuals are subject to traffic stops, are far more likely to end up in traffic court. In San Mateo County, police pull over Black drivers twice as often as white drivers.

This racially and economically unjust and unlawful practice has become deeply ingrained in our court systems, which have come to rely on the revenue stream from civil assessments. It comes at the cost of increased economic instability for low-income defendants. According to BayLegal Senior Litigation Counsel Fawn Jade Korr: “Government debt—including traffic court debt—is one of the many barriers to economic security for Californians struggling to pay for their basic needs. Wage garnishment to pay traffic court debt can be very destabilizing. Preserving employment income is key to preventing long-term homelessness and financial instability that can negatively impact healthcare and family security.”


Read the full press release from LCCR-SF here.


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