Bay Area Legal Aid, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, and the law firm of Fenwick & West LLP, are celebrating a significant victory this week in our ongoing litigation against the Judicial Council of California and the San Mateo Superior Court. In a stipulated agreement filed on Monday, the San Mateo Superior Court has agreed to stop imposing the burdensome late fees known as “civil assessments”—which plaintiffs allege the Court used to extract from low-income residents in an unlawful scheme to fund the court system.
Civil assessments are rooted in mass-incarceration era policies and were implemented to address funding shortages during the tough-on-crime frenzy in the 1990s. They have been automatically assessed without judicial review, adequate notice, or consideration of a person’s circumstances in court systems throughout the state every time a person misses a ticket payment or court deadline. . While we celebrate this significant victory on behalf of our low-income clients and their communities in San Mateo County, we remain focused on efforts to stop imposing civil assessments in all trial courts in California. Settlement talks with the Judicial Council of California are ongoing. We hope that the Council shares our vision of a California civil legal system that finally severs its reliance on this burdensome, regressive and racist tax on poor Californians that serves no legitimate purpose.