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Newsroom Type: Statements and Press Releases

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Western Center Responds to Assembly Budget Vote to Repeal The Maximum Family Grant

Sacramento, March 31, 2016 – Today marked a critical step in ensuring children living at the deepest levels of poverty are no longer subject to a classist, racist, myth-driven law and are eligible for assistance to help them and their families build better lives.

The Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services took action to repeal the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) policy in the CalWORKs program.

Read the press release here

Driver’s License Suspensions Still a Problem for People Too Poor to Pay Exorbitant Traffic Fines

San Francisco, CA – Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice urged local courts nationwide to put an end to policies that penalize people simply for being poor – including the practice of suspending driver’s licenses when individuals miss payments on fines. This practice is all too common in California traffic courts, and is not prevented by amnesty policies that went into place last year.

Today, a coalition of legal organizations put San Mateo County Superior Court on notice, demanding that the court change its policy of suspending the driver’s licenses of people who are too poor to pay exorbitant traffic fines. After several months of communication with the court system without adequate resolution, a demand letter was sent today by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, the Western Center on Law & Poverty, and the ACLU of Northern California.

The coalition, joined by Bay Area Legal Aid, also sent a letter this morning to the California Judicial Council, urging the Council to instruct all California traffic courts to stop suspending the driver’s licenses of people who are too poor to pay exorbitant traffic fines.

Last year, Gov. Brown created an amnesty program for people who owed debt on traffic citations and had lost their license in a set time period. But anyone who got a ticket after January 1, 2013 is at best only partially eligible for amnesty. They are ineligible for a reduction in what they owe, and even if they can get their license back, courts are still allowed to suspend their license again if they miss a payment.

“Unfortunately, amnesty does nothing to prevent thousands of Californians from currently being caught up in the same web of traffic debt and license suspensions,” said Antionette Dozer, Senior Attorney, Western Center on Law & Poverty. “We need to take much bolder action by stopping the suspension of licenses and by significantly reducing the traffic fines on low income families. Courts can do that right now but they are failing to do so.”

Read the press release

LOCAL TEACHER FILES LAWSUIT ALLEGING LANDLORD RETALIATED AGAINST HER FOR PUBLIC PROTEST OF $1,100 RENT INCREASE

San Mateo, CA – A local middle-school teacher has filed suit against her landlord alleging that he retaliated against her because she participated in the San Francisco Peninsula’s growing movement for tenants’ rights. The complaint alleges that the Plaintiff, Barbara O’Neil, was targeted by her landlord shortly after speaking to the media and her elected officials about a massive rent increase. Ms. O’Neil is represented by Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, the law firm of Kaye Scholer LLP, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
“It’s not easy to speak up as a tenant given the current housing crisis, “ said Plaintiff Barbara O’Neil. “Fear is pervasive. There’s nowhere to go if your landlord evicts you, so tenants are forced to put up with abusive landlords rather than risk homelessness. We must put a stop to the bullying. Tenants cannot let our voices be silenced by threats from out of control landlords.”
Faced with a $1,100 rent hike, Ms. O’Neil joined a multi-racial coalition of residents advocating for stronger tenant protections in San Mateo. She was featured in a front-page article in a local newspaper and also provided public comments at several City Council meetings. Ms. O’Neil decried the nearly 63% rent increase and urged her elected officials to protect working families from the waves of unreasonable rent increases and arbitrary evictions sweeping across the Peninsula.
The lawsuit alleges that only four days after Ms. O’Neil spoke at a City Council meeting, her landlord began to threaten her tenancy for living with two pet cats, despite the fact that the landlord had given her express permission to keep pet cats when she moved in almost eleven years prior. The landlord’s sudden threats constitute illegal retaliation for the exercise of Ms. O’Neil’s First Amendment rights, according to the complaint.
“This case illustrates how some landlords are too willing to exploit the housing crisis to destabilize our communities,” said Daniel Saver, an attorney at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. “Although currently it is lawful in San Mateo for landlords to impose unconscionable rent increases on their tenants, it is illegal for landlords to retaliate against tenants who speak out against such egregious rent gouging. We must send a clear message that retaliation against tenant organizers will not be tolerated in San Mateo County.”
The lawsuit, filed in San Mateo County Superior Court, seeks an order enjoining the landlord from further retaliation and monetary damages.

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Kern County Lawsuit Settles – Thousands of Indigent Residents Obtain New Welfare Benefits

FEBRUARY 4, 2016 – The Western Center on Law and Poverty, Irell & Manella LLP and Jennison & Dodds, LLP won a dramatic overhaul of Kern County’s general assistance program on behalf of homeless and disabled residents unlawfully denied public assistance, named plaintiffs Hans Mills and Danny Bowen, and the California Partnership, a non-profit dedicated to serving low-income communities.

“This an important step towards bringing relief to the thousands of homeless people in Kern County,” said Western Center attorney, Antionette Dozier.   “We hope that it will become a part of a larger plan to address homelessness and poverty in the County.”

In October 2013, the Western Center on Law and Poverty sued Kern County over its systemic and unlawful failure to provide statutorily-mandated aid to its poorest residents and petitioned the Kern County Superior Court to stop Kern County from denying general assistance in violation of state and federal law. The lawsuit alleged the plaintiffs’ experience was illustrative of the 1,200 homeless residents of Kern County. After two years of litigation, Kern County agreed to settle the majority of issues. As part of the settlement, on February 2, 2016, the Kern County Board of Supervisors adopted new regulations and policies increasing the amount of aid while reducing the burden of obtaining that aid for indigent and disabled individuals.

The new regulations and policies will greatly benefit the poorest residents of Kern County.  Indigent residents will no longer be required to go through a burdensome multi-stage application process to receive aid, which will now be available immediately. Kern County is also obligated under the new regulations to make numerous accommodations for disabled applicants and recipients, including the provision of transportation assistance for those in need and support in obtaining documents or information to submit an application for general assistance.

Hans Mills, Danny Bowen and the California Partnership are represented by Richard Rothschild and Antionette Dozier of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.  Craig Varnen, Bryant Yang and Luke Burton of Irell & Manella LLP and Diane Dodds of Jennison & Dodds, LLP served as pro bono counsel.

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Term- High and Low Profile Decisions with Lurking Access Issues

By Gill Deford, Jane Perkins, Gary F. Smith & Mona Tawatao

With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on the line again and same-sex marriage up for review, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Term featured two very high-profile cases. The decisions resolving those issues also included significant content under the broadly defined rubric of access to federal courts. In addition, as always, many decisions that did not attract public attention raised important access issues. One of those, which analyzed the supremacy clause, may suggest increasing difficulty for Medicaid recipients and perhaps beneficiaries of other Social Security Act programs to bring challenges to their programs’ policies and practices. Here we summarize the new developments in statutory construction, deference, stare decisis, and the other issues of federal practice that can present either barriers or pathways to reaching the merits of federal court claims.

Read more here

Women’s Equality Day, August 26, 2015 California Women and Allies Make Stand to Ensure Support for Women’s Economic Security Agenda

Rally on the State Capitol Steps led by the Stronger California Advocates Network, including hundreds of women from across California, featuring State Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, State Senator Holly Mitchell, and other members of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, and U.S. Congresswoman Doris Matsui.

An historic coalition of advocacy and faith-based groups from across California will mark Women’s Equality Day this Wednesday, August 26 by gathering on the State Capitol at 11:45 a.m. to celebrate the progress made so far in this legislative session in support of women and families and to encourage the legislators and Governor to complete their work of ensuring that California is a state where women and families can thrive by working to ensure women’s economic security in California.

A Stronger California Press Release- PDF

Victory in Rivera v. Douglas!

A superior court judge has ruled in favor of Medi-Cal applicants forced to wait for more than 45 days for an eligibility determination.  Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ruled Friday that the California Department of Health Care Services must process all applicants within 45 days, as required by state law.  The court held that the State may comply with that order, as it complied with an earlier preliminary injunction, by providing temporary benefits to persons who are likely eligible.  The State must also notify all those whose applications have been delayed the specific reasons for the delay and that they have a right to a hearing.

As you may remember, the lead plaintiff in Rivera v. Douglas is the mother of a Medi-Cal applicant who received retroactive approval for Medi-Cal a few months after dying of a preventable ailment.  At the time the suit was originally filed, there were hundreds of thousands of people with severely backlogged Medi-Cal applications.

The State has not indicated whether or not they plan to appeal.

State of Inequality: California’s Vanishing Middle Class and What We Can Do to Rebuild It

Presented by Capital & Main, Western Center on Law & Poverty and UFCW Western States Council Featuring

Professor Manuel Pastor

Director, USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) and Co-Director, USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII)

Gary Cohn

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Investigative Reporter, Capital & Main

Jessica Bartholow

     Western Center on Law & Poverty

Plus: Testimony from California residents on the real impacts of economic inequality

Wednesday, September 2
4:30-6:30pm

UC Center Sacramento
1130 K Street, Suite LL22
Sacramento, CA 95814

This spring, the online news site Capital & Main published a month-long series on the broad economic and social impacts of inequality in California. “State of Inequality” offered one of the most comprehensive portraits of how economic disparity is reshaping life in the Golden State, and what steps can be taken to rebuild our vanishing middle class. This event will bring the findings of that series directly to lawmakers and their staff.

State of Inequality: California’s Vanishing Middle Class and What We Can Do to Rebuild It- PDF flyer

 

 

U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing v. The Inclusive Communities Project

Western Center applauds the Inclusive Communities Project and its counsel on securing last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing v. The Inclusive Communities Project which preserves the disparate impact doctrine as a tool for combating housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Western Center, with lead amici counsel the Equal Justice Society, and co-counsel Legal Services of Northern California, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, PC, and Rachel Godsil of Seton Hall Univ. School of Law, submitted a brief on behalf of social scientists from around the country whose research and scholarship focuses on how implicit and unconscious bias can lead to discriminatory outcomes based on race and other protected categories.

The brief asserts that despite the persistence of intentional discrimination and overt expressions of racial hatred, as evidenced horrifically by the recent mass shooting in Charleston, most discrimination today operates on a unconscious or hidden level and that disparate impact is critical to revealing and remedying the effects of such discrimination.

For what appears to be the first time, the Supreme Court acknowledged this phenomenon finding that “[r]ecognition of disparate-impact liability under the FHA also plays a role in uncovering discriminatory intent: It permits plaintiffs to counteract unconscious prejudices and disguised animus that escape easy classification as disparate treatment. In this way disparate-impact liability may prevent segregated housing patterns that might otherwise result from covert and illicit stereotyping.”Slip op at 21.

Western Center is proud of its contribution to preserving disparate impact as a means by which Californians and people around the country segregated and marginalized by non-intentional housing discrimination can enforce the protections of the Fair Housing Act.

 

Dick Rothschild, Director of Litigation, received the Kutak-Dodds award in Washington D.C

We are truly honored to work with a legal services legend!  Dick Rothschild, our Director of Litigation, received the Kutak-Dodds award at last week’s NLADA (National Legal Aid & Defender Association) Exemplar Award Dinner in Washington DC.  This prestigious recognition celebrates individuals and law firms that have demonstrated outstanding leadership, vision, dedication and achievement in promoting and supporting equal justice.  His career-long dedication to civil legal aid has inspired countless individuals within the equal justice community, including the nearly 500 guests in attendance at the event.  We are extremely proud and congratulate him on his exceptional accomplishments.