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Time Is Running Out To Cash Riverside County Juvenile Fee Settlement Checks

Around 1,200 Riverside County families who paid juvenile detention fees between December 2016 and April 2020 were mailed settlement checks earlier this summer. But around 400 have yet to cash them, and time is running out.

The backstory: California families that had a child in the juvenile system used to be charged a daily fee for every day their child was in juvenile hall. California legislators banned that in 2021. But earlier this year Riverside Superior Court approved a $540,307 settlement for families who paid those fees between 2016 and April 2020. Those checks were mailed in July.

Why it matters: Rebecca Miller, a senior litigator at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the fees loomed over the families while their child was incarcerated. “This is just such an important opportunity for us to undo some of that financial stress that these fees cause” Miller said.

Why now: Families who think they’re eligible have until Nov. 11 to cash the check. There’s about $150,000 left unclaimed from the settlement. Hong Le, a senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law says she hopes all community members are able to access the money that’s owed to them. “We’ve already seen the positive impacts these repayments have had on some class members,” Le said. “Everyone who was harmed by these illegal practices deserves this refund and to be able to use this money however they choose.”

How to know if you’re eligible? Head to the settlement site or call Riverside County’s settlement administrator.

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Check’s in the mail — Riverside County residents encouraged to cash reimbursements from juvenile court fees settlement

Check’s in the mail — Riverside County residents encouraged to cash reimbursements from juvenile court fees settlement

What would you do with an extra couple hundred dollars? How about an extra thousand, or more?

These questions are a welcome reality for many Riverside County families that were recently reimbursed after being charged with illegal juvenile court fees, and they could be a life-altering reality for many more community members who are still eligible for refunds — but time is running out.

Any parent or guardian who paid juvenile detention fees to Riverside County from December 2016 to April 2020 is encouraged to check their mail for a refund check.

The reimbursements are the result of a June 2023 settlement in a class action lawsuit, Freeman v. County of Riverside, brought against the County by parents and guardians impacted by juvenile court fees. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs — representing a class of some 1,200 people — alleged the County violated state and federal law when it charged millions of dollars in fees to families with children in juvenile detention, but failed both to ensure that families were able to pay the fees and to inform families of their right to challenge the fees. The plaintiff families are represented by the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. 

“We sincerely hope that all community members are able to access the money that is owed back to them,” said Hong Le, senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law. “We’ve already seen the positive impacts these repayments have had on some class members. Everyone who was harmed by these illegal practices deserves this refund and to be able to use this money however they choose.”

Many checks remain uncashed

Riverside County, per the class-action settlement, agreed to pay $540,307 in refunds to class members. This came after the County agreed to stop collecting $4.1 million in outstanding juvenile detention and administrative fees following the filing of Freeman v. County of Riverside in March 2020.

More than $150,000 in reimbursement funds remain uncollected following the distribution of checks this summer. That money could be life-changing for many eligible recipients who may be unaware of their eligibility, which is why the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law and Poverty are recommending that community members check old mail they have lying around and that they encourage friends and family members who may have paid juvenile court fees to do the same.

Community members who have already cashed their checks have used the funds, among other ways, to get out of debt, to help with household bills, and to improve their living situations.

“If you think that you should have received a check, please call 833-472-1997 to see if you are eligible. The Settlement Administrator can reissue a check if it didn’t reach you. The settlement is the only case in the country where families are receiving refunds for fees charged to them when they had a child in the juvenile system. We don’t want any family to miss out on getting this money,” said Rebecca Miller, senior litigator with Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Visit here for more information about the lawsuit and settlement. Information from the Settlement Administrator can be accessed here.

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The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves. For more information, visit www.youthlaw.org.

Western Center on Law and Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

California’s Riverside County Agrees to Reimburse Families $540K in Juvenile Detention Fees

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Para ver esta información en español, haz clic aqui

Settlement Website, click here

January 31, 2023

Contacts:

Willis Jacobson, National Center for Youth Law: [email protected]

Estevan Montemayor, Western Center on Law and Poverty: [email protected]

 

CALIFORNIA’S RIVERSIDE COUNTY AGREES TO REIMBURSE FAMILIES $540K IN JUVENILE DETENTION FEES

Riverside County families who were subjected to illegal collection of juvenile fees moved a step closer toward justice — in the form of cash reimbursements — after a court this month granted preliminary approval of a settlement in a class action lawsuit they brought against the County.

The lawsuit, Freeman v. County of Riverside, alleged that the County did not follow California law and the U.S. Constitution when it charged millions of dollars in fees to families who had children in juvenile detention. Under state law, the County was obligated to ensure families had the ability to pay fees they were assessed and inform families of their right to challenge the fees. The plaintiffs claimed that the County failed to fulfill these legal duties. The families are represented by the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

After the families filed their complaint in court in March 2020, the County agreed to stop collecting $4.1 million in outstanding juvenile detention and administrative fees. The parties have now negotiated a settlement, in which the County agrees to pay $540,307 to reimburse more than 1,200 class members for the fee payments they made.

“The County’s practices have had a devastating effect on families,” said Michael Harris, an attorney and Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and Justice and Equity at the National Center for Youth Law. “This settlement will offer those families meaningful relief and deter Riverside County and other jurisdictions from illegally assessing and collecting money from struggling families.”

The settlement, if finalized, would mark a major victory for families in Riverside County, some of whom have been caught in decades-long cycles of financial turmoil as a result of the County’s collection practices. Plaintiffs Shirley and Daniel Freeman are among those from whom the County pursued for more than 10 years to collect fees related to their grandson’s time in juvenile detention. “The settlement gives recognition to what happened to us and other families,” said Shirley and Daniel Freeman. “We are pleased that the lawsuit helped families by canceling amounts they still owed and now the settlement will return some of the money that was collected from them.”

“Even when state law requires consideration of ability to pay, individuals and their families are frequently burdened with debt they’re unable to pay. These fees cause significant harm to families, undermining community health and trust in public institutions,” said Rebecca Miller, Senior Litigator with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “This case shows why fees should not be charged to individuals involved in the juvenile justice system.”

Families from whom Riverside County collected juvenile detention fees will receive mailed notice about the proposed class action settlement in the coming weeks. Parents and guardians who believe they might be members of the class action entitled to relief under the settlement should visit the Settlement Administrator’s website at www.riversidejuvenilefees.com or call (833) 472-1997.

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The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves. For more information, visit www.youthlaw.org.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

Challenging Unjust Juvenile Fee Collection for Families in Riverside

Last month, Western Center filed a motion for class certification in our case, Freeman v. Riverside County, which challenges how Riverside County charged fees to parents and guardians whose children were involved in the juvenile legal system. The case was filed together with our co-counsel, the National Center for Youth Law.

Families were charged daily “costs of support” – $30 or so per day for each day their child was in detention. State law required the county to assess families’ ability to afford the costs, which were often thousands of dollars, and provide procedural due process before collecting. Riverside did nothing – just calculated the fees and sent the totals to collection. Our case seeks to shine a light on this abuse of government authority, and asks for a refund of illegally collected fees.

Fortunately, the authority to charge these types of juvenile fees has been eliminated in California, as well as counties’ ability to collect older fees. The story behind this case is important, not just for accountability in Riverside, but also because there are still many fees charged to overpoliced communities in California.

Cases like this one demonstrate why advocates are fighting for abolition of juvenile and adult criminal fees – not a reduction or ability to pay process. There are important racial equity principles behind that goal, because of who the juvenile and adult legal systems target. There are also common sense administrative policy reasons for fee abolition, mainly that ability to pay processes are inequitable and don’t work. Our case in Riverside shows that even when state law requires an ability to pay process, it is not followed, or it’s followed so ineptly or inconsistently that it becomes meaningless. Ability to pay processes also replicate racial bias in the courts and legal system.

As this case proceeds, I must share our appreciation and admiration for our clients who have worked with us on this case for over two years, and for their bravery in telling their stories. We are hopeful for a good outcome, and that the class data we may be able to obtain illustrates why shifting the cost of government onto individuals through user fees causes inequity, and in a nutshell, constitutes wealth stripping from low income communities and communities of color.

ACLU pushes Riverside Superior Court to end civil assessments on traffic tickets

“In a seven-page letter sent Tuesday, June 22, to Superior Court Presiding Judge John M. Monterosso, the ACLU and Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles claim the court’s current blanket policy of imposing $300 civil assessments violates state law and the state and U.S. constitutions.”

https://www.pe.com/2021/06/25/aclu-pushes-riverside-superior-court-to-end-civil-assessments-on-traffic-tickets/

PRESS RELEASE: Advocates call on Riverside County Superior Court to stop civil assessments on unresolved traffic tickets

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Riverside County’s practice of automatically adding up to $600 when a driver misses court or doesn’t pay a ticket violates state law and constitutional protections.

SAN FRANCISCO — Riverside County Superior Court is illegally adding hundreds of dollars in civil assessments to unresolved traffic tickets, according to a demand letter sent by Western Center on Law & Poverty and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Riverside County’s traffic court automatically adds multiple $300 civil assessments on to California’s already expensive traffic tickets, without considering the circumstances of individual cases as state law requires. The oversized civil assessments are an excessive fine under the state and U.S. Constitutions, adding $600 to a $50 or $100 base fine. The advocates also say the court receiving income from these fees creates a conflict of interest.

“Civil assessments are inequitable and exacerbate wealth extraction from overpoliced Black and brown communities,” said Adrienna Wong, attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “What’s more, because the money from civil assessments goes into the state Trial Court Trust Fund, courts have an interest in imposing more and larger civil assessments. Instead of doubling down on a structure that rewards courts for imposing civil assessments and deprives drivers of impartial decision makers, California could fund courts directly.”

More often than not, the failure to resolve a traffic ticket is the result of poverty, including the inability to pay and lack of access to legal assistance. Often, a driver’s failure to come to court or pay their ticket stems from transportation barriers, insufficient childcare, inflexible work schedules, disability, or homelessness.

“California’s traffic ticket system is broken,” says Rebecca Miller, a senior litigator for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Despite multiple amnesty programs and other efforts to provide relief to drivers with low incomes, there are still billions of dollars in unpaid traffic debt. Adding hundreds of dollars to unresolved traffic tickets does not make people pay their tickets; these failed policies make it harder for people to work and create more obstacles for Californians trying to pull their families out of poverty.”

Civil assessments punish those who face added barriers to payment or court appearance, thus widening inequality and disproportionately targeting people with low incomes, people of color, people with unstable housing, and people with disabilities. This is exacerbated by the economic devastation of the pandemic, which has fallen harder on Californians with low incomes and people of color.

The demand letter sent to Riverside Superior Court describes how its traffic court policies are stricter than what state law provides. For example, the traffic court only allows drivers 10 days to ask the court to excuse their non-appearance or non-payment, but state law provides 20.

Additionally, Riverside traffic court’s forms artificially restrict the reasons someone may be excused for not coming to court on a ticket by only providing check boxes for medical incapacitation/hospitalization, incarceration, and military orders.[1] State law says that a driver may be excused for “good cause” and does not limit it to those three categories.

Advocates are asking the Riverside court to stop imposing civil assessments, and to bring its policies into compliance with state and federal law. Change may also come at the state level, because the Legislature’s proposed budget would repeal civil assessments and increase direct funding to the courts.

Contact: Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org

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[1] Riverside Superior Court Form # RI-OTS38 [Rev. 10/13/17].

PRESS RELEASE: Lawsuit Against Riverside County Seeks Reimbursement for Families Illegally Charged with Juvenile Justice Fees

 

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

For over a decade Riverside County collected juvenile fees without following the mandated legal process, disproportionately punishing Black and Latinx families and those with low incomes.

Riverside, CA — An amended complaint was filed today against Riverside County for its failure to reimburse families that were illegally charged fees for their children involved in the juvenile justice system. In response to the plaintiffs’ demand letter and an earlier complaint in the same case, the County stopped collecting juvenile fees in April, but has not issued reimbursements for thousands of families who were wrongfully charged fees they could not afford.

“For years, Riverside County illegally collected fees from families that could not afford to pay, which caused significant economic strain and kept families in a cycle of debt.” said Rebecca Miller, Senior Litigator at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Our lawsuit seeks to right that wrong.”

The complaint alleges that the County did not follow necessary legal protocol when it charged families with fees. Before the County ended fee collection in April, it was obligated to follow a process which included obtaining a court order, and ensuring families had the ability to pay fees they were assessed.

The County did not provide families with required notices about their rights, the legal process, or how to challenge the fees. The amended complaint filed today seeks to compel the County to reimburse families for past fees since the County did not follow the required process. Riverside County’s failure to comply with its legal obligations means its collection of fees violated state statutes and the state constitution.

“We want to help get people their money back,” said Daniel Freeman, a plaintiff in the case. “When families make a mistake, the County doesn’t care. But when the County makes a mistake, they don’t have to do anything. They should have followed the rules. People really suffered because they didn’t, so they should pay that money back.”

For over ten years, Riverside County pursued Mr. Freeman and his wife, both who are over 65 and retired, for approximately $8,000 in fees related to their grandson’s involvement in the juvenile justice system, as they raised their grandsons whose mother died. The Freemans’ primary source of income was Social Security retirement. Contrary to state law, the County did not evaluate the Freemans’ ability to pay, did not provide notice of their right to contest the assessment and collection of fees, and did not obtain a court order against the Freemans. Instead, the County misled the Freemans into making monthly payments.

The Freemans are only one family of thousands from whom Riverside County pursued millions of dollars in fees using these illegal methods. Through this lawsuit, the Freemans and other plaintiffs in Riverside County seek relief for families charged with juvenile fees in violation of state law.

“The juvenile justice system is supposed to support the rehabilitation of young people, but in Riverside County, that guiding philosophy is turned on its head,” said Michael Harris, Senior Director, Legal Advocacy and Juvenile Justice at the National Center for Youth Law. “The County’s practices have had a devastating effect on families that needed help.”

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Riverside County increases number of people receiving general relief subsidies by 3,900% in past year

In the past year, Riverside County increased the number of people to whom it provided “general relief” by 3,900% in response to a lawsuit filed by three California social justice law firms which argued the county’s system made the cash assistance program hard to access for indigent individuals, particularly those who were homeless.

The $3 million county-funded, state-mandated general relief program (also called general assistance) provides temporary financial assistance to adults who don’t have access to other assistance programs such as Social Security income, disability assistance, unemployment benefits or other programs. The program generally helps single adults who don’t fit into the programs that come with age, disability or family qualifiers.

…“In some cases, folks were telling us they would go to the social services office to apply and would be told by workers that if you are homeless you aren’t even eligible,” said Alexander Prieto, a senior attorney from the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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PRESS RELEASE: With legal settlement, Riverside County now providing General Assistance to over 4,000 individuals in deep poverty, up from 100 in 2018

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Changes to county policy means thousands in Riverside County, particularly adults experiencing homelessness, can now access vital cash benefits

 

Riverside, CA – A settlement has been reached with Riverside County in Isabel Bojorquez, et al. v. County of Riverside, et al., a lawsuit filed on behalf of three General Assistance (GA) recipients to change policies under the county’s GA program. GA is the program of last resort for the poorest Californians – indigent residents who cannot qualify for other benefit programs. 

 

Western Center on Law & Poverty, Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc., and the Public Interest Law Project are the attorneys on the case.

 

Before the case began, roughly 100 people in Riverside County received GA each month. In the time since litigation began in 2018, that number has increased to more than 4,000 people each month, according to the latest available data.

 

The settlement includes an agreement by the county to end its prior illegal policy limiting homeless recipients to six months of housing assistance payments. The county will now only end housing assistance payments where the recipient declines an offer of available shelter without a good reason. 

 

“People experiencing the kind of poverty that qualifies them for General Assistance usually have little to no resources. General Assistance can be vital for a person’s ability to rent a room or find a motel where they can sleep,” said Alex Prieto, an attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty.

 

Riverside County will issue guidance to workers and train them on the county’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. The county will also review previous applications for a limited period and issue retroactive payments to anyone denied under the former policy.

 

“I’m hopeful that this outcome in Riverside will prompt other counties to revisit their policies and approach to General Assistance as well,” said attorney Anthony Kim of Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc. 

 

These changes come after others the county made in response to litigation pressure, and across two previous mediation sessions. To date, the county has raised GA grant amounts, raised resource limits, simplified application processes, issued guidance regarding due process, and ended a policy that required employable recipients to re-apply for benefits every month, even though their circumstances were unchanged.

 

“Increasing General Assistance across the board in California counties, and simplifying the process for people to access it, could provide a significant stop-gap in our state’s battle against homelessness and increasing poverty,” said Lauren Hansen, an attorney at the Public Interest Law Project. “This is a good example of the kinds of things counties can do, ideally without the need for litigation, to curb deep poverty in their jurisdictions.”

 

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About Western Center on Law & Poverty

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice and system-wide change to secure housing, health care, racial justice and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. Western Center attains real-world, policy solutions for clients through litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and technical assistance and legal support for the state’s legal aid programs. Western Center is California’s oldest and largest legal services support center.

 

About Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc. (ICLS)

Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc. (“ICLS”) is the largest non-profit legal aid organization in the Inland Empire with offices located in Riverside, Indio, San Bernardino, Victorville and Rancho Cucamonga.  ICLS is dedicated to securing justice and equality for low-income people in the communities of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, through litigation, counsel, advice, and community education.

 

About the Public Interest Law Project (PILP)

Since 1996, the Public Interest Law Project (PILP) has provided crucial litigation and advocacy support to local legal services and public interest law programs throughout California. The primary purposes of PILP are to assist local legal services programs in rendering legal services to lower income persons who are financially unable to afford legal assistance, and to provide technical assistance, training, research and litigation support to public interest law programs and community based organizations on law and policy issues related to housing and community development, public benefits, health, education, welfare, and civil, consumer and economic rights.