Following legislative reforms in 2022, SJLF is working in partnership with other legal nonprofits in Southern California to monitor and advocate against courts’ use of civil assessments, fees that exacerbate the cycle of court debt for thousands of Californians.
In March 2022, SJLF joined a coalition of lawyers in Southern California, including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the ACLU SoCal, and Public Justice, working to challenge the imposition of civil assessments – fees that courts impose when a person fails to appear in court or pay court fines on time.
Courts often impose these fees without any consideration of a person’s ability to pay, so individuals who cannot afford to pay their original fines are saddled with additional court debt. Through public records requests, court-watching, and interviews with impacted people, the Southern California coalition identified counties where courts’ use of civil assessments is particularly problematic and advocated for change to court policies.
In July 2022, a large coalition of advocates in California successfully lobbied the state legislature to institute broad reform of civil assessments. These reforms included eliminating all existing civil assessment debt (to the tune of over $750 million), lowering the maximum civil assessment from $300 to $100, and redirecting future collected debt to the Legislative Council rather than the local courts. In the wake of these substantial reforms, SJLF continues to work with the Southern California coalition to monitor courts’ continued imposition of civil assessments and advocate for their abolition.