Archive for the ‘Initiatives’ Category

Virginia Schools Need Support Staff, Not More Police

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Virginia Schools Need Investment in Support Staff—Not More School Resource Officers

Yesterday, Governor Northam announced over $3.47 million in School Resource Officer (SRO) incentive grants to 53 localities across the Commonwealth. The funding will allow school divisions to add more SROs to Virginia’s K-12 public schools, increasing the number of SROs in Virginia by 10 percent, according to the press release. To create safer schools where all children can learn and thrive, Virginia must divest from placing law enforcement inside schools and make bold new investments in school support staff and trauma-informed and restorative practices.

School Policing Is A Racial Justice Issue

African-American students are disproportionately swept into the criminal justice system for incidents that take place at school. A 2017 Virginia Tech study uncovered significant racial disparities in referrals to law enforcement for school-based offenses: African-American students accounted for roughly 23 percent of the student population in Virginia but nearly 50 percent of referrals to the juvenile justice system. Those disparities are heightened inside school buildings and persist throughout Virginia’s law enforcement and juvenile court process. A single report of a student to law enforcement, even if it does not lead to a juvenile court intake, can have devastating and ongoing consequences for a student: stigmatization by school staff and peers, erosion of trust in school staff, susceptibility to more police encounters, and loss of interest in school.

As outlined in an extensive report from The Advancement Project, school policing has roots in efforts to quash youth support for the Civil Rights movement, and African-American students report feeling less safe with police in schools.

Our Schools Don’t Need More SROs

According to Virginia’s 2017 Statewide School Safety Audit Survey, 87 percent of high schools and 85 percent of middle schools have either a full-time or part-time SRO. In recent years, in headline after headline, we have heard about school police officers responding with force against students with disabilities, using chemical restraints like pepper spray against middle school students, threatening or intimidating students, and harboring ties to white supremacist groups. Through data collection, we see vague, subjective behavioral “offenses” like disorderly conduct charges decrease in the community, yet substantially increase in our schools. Only this past General Assembly session did lawmakers mandate that all SROs receive training specific to their duties—a law that will not even go into effect in full until July 2020.    

Both the data and historically overpoliced communities themselves tell us clearly: rather than providing for the safety of students, a school law enforcement presence merely shuttles more students—and disproportionately more African-American students—into court for school discipline matters that should be handled by school personnel.

Meanwhile, Virginia understaffs positions critical to student support—positions that should be the first line of support for students who instead are garnering charges—and student caseloads are staggering. School counselors had an average caseload of 385 students in 2016, well above the recommended standard of 250 students. In 2015, school social workers had an average caseload of 1,600 students; the national recommendation was 1,000.

Virginia Must Fix Its School Funding Crisis

SROs are law enforcement officers, not student support personnel. Rather than prioritizing SROs, the Commonwealth must first fulfill its state constitutional duty to invest in high-quality, twenty-first century schools with adequate student support staff. But given the opportunity, the administration has neglected to propose, and the General Assembly has declined, over and over, to fully fund the required staffing positions to achieve high-quality schools for all students. Despite broad support for a new law, effective July 1, to require school divisions to lower counselor-to-student ratios, the state’s FY20 budget doesn’t fully fund the new caseload requirements—leaving local school divisions with an unfunded mandate. This shortfall also exists despite recommendations from the Virginia Board of Education to lift the state budget’s arbitrary “support position cap”—which limits funding for school support positions, including central office positions, attendance officers, school social workers, and maintenance personnel.

To truly create supportive learning enforcements for our students—Virginia must fully fund our schools.

 

 

 

6 Things To Know About Driver’s License Suspensions

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UPDATED

6 Things To Know Right Now about the recent Virginia budget amendment

to temporarily halt driver’s license suspensions for unpaid court debt:

 

  • 1. The budget amendment should lift current driver’s license suspensions for unpaid or delinquent court debt, and will prevent future such suspensions beginning July 1, 2019 and lasting until June 30, 2020. (We don’t yet know what the policy will be after the budget amendment expires.)
    • According to the DMV, if your license is suspended solely for unpaid court debt AND it is not expired AND you still have it in your possession, your driver’s license will automatically become valid (and reinstatement fee will be waived) on July 1, 2019, and you will not have to do anything.
    • If your license is suspended solely for unpaid court debt and it IS expired or otherwise needs to be updated (for example, you lost it or you need to update your “proof of legal presence”), your suspension will be lifted and reinstatement fee waived BUT you will likely need to contact the DMV to renew your license and will likely be charged renewal or other administrative fees, which will vary by individual.
    • If your license is suspended for unpaid court debt AND some other reason, the DMV says it will lift the court debt suspension BUT you will still need to serve out the other suspension(s) and fulfill any court or DMV obligations related to those suspensions before your license can become valid. We do not yet know how DMV will implement this.
    • If your Virginia driver’s license was suspended for court debt and you now live in another state, the Virginia DMV says this suspension “will no longer be visible” to other states, but we do not yet know what this means in practice.
    • The DMV says they will send a letter to individuals in Virginia listing any additional actions, if any, they will need to take to get a valid license (renewal applications, fees, etc.).

2. Though it lifts current court debt-related driver’s license suspensions and prevents future such suspensions through June 30, 2020, the budget amendment does not cancel debt owed.

You will still be required to pay your court debt, & the court could still pursue collections against you with mechanisms that include: wage garnishment, tax intercept, debt collector intervention, and, possibly, issuing a kind of warrant called a “show cause” that will require you to appear in court to answer for the debt, which could result in some jail time.

In some cases, payment of your court debt may be a part of probation requirements or to maintain a suspended jail sentence term—please consult your attorney in these matters for advice.

3. The budget amendment only lifts/prevents license suspensions that are solely due to unpaid court fines & fees.
This does not include, for example, license suspensions given for unpaid child support. It does not include suspensions directly resulting from convictions for reckless driving, DUI, or simple possession—though it would include a license suspension based solely on any unpaid fines & fees tied to those convictions.

4. It’s possible to have more than one kind of driver’s license suspension at the same time. If you have a license suspension for an offense like a DUI, reckless driving, etc., AND a license suspension for unpaid court fines and fees, the budget amendment should still cause the unpaid fines/fees suspension to be lifted. This means, however, that the other suspension(s) will still be in effect. Again, the best way to keep track of this is to obtain your DMV compliance report on or before July 1 of this year, or as soon as you can after that.

5. The Virginia state budget that contains this budget language goes into effect July 1, 2019, and the DMV says eligible licenses will automatically become valid (unless there are administrative requirements or other suspensions), but our advice: make sure your license is valid before you drive. This law will not come into effect until July 1, 2019, so none of this applies until then!

    • If you drive, please drive with caution—our best advice is to seek your DMV compliance report until it shows your suspension has been lifted. Then, you may want to carry the compliance report with you if you drive, just as a precaution.
    • Even if your suspension is lifted, your license might not be VALID, and if you drive, you could be charged with “Driving Without An Operator’s License” (DWOL) until you fulfill the necessary requirements. The new law does not prevent consequences for DWOL or DWLS (Driving With License Suspended) charges—if your license is not valid or you are still serving another suspension or you drive from now until July 1, 2019, while under a court-debt suspension, you can still be subject to these charges.

6. If your driver’s license was suspended solely for unpaid court debt, you should not be charged the $145+ license reinstatement fee by the DMV for that reinstatement. If you have another type of license suspension, or if you need to obtain a new driver’s license or renew an expired one, the DMV may charge you fees related to either reinstating your license once you’ve served your other suspension, or fees associated with renewing or first obtaining a license. If your only license suspension is for unpaid court fines and fees, however, you should not be charged a fee related to the suspension, but could face fees for renewal, replacement, etc.

If you have questions about your driver’s license suspension, please contact the DMV. Their website has some information, as well as a contact email form specific to these cases, and other phone numbers and ways to reach them: www.DMVnow.com

Access a share-able PDF of this FAQ here. 

For more information about our Legal Aid Justice Center work on these issues, please visit our website at http://www.justice4all.org/drive.

 

 

Educate Every Child: A 2019 Legislative Snapshot

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Educate Every Child: A Snapshot of the 2019 Legislative Session

 

Our JustChildren program’s Educate Every Child campaign is one of our longest, most ambitious efforts; it seeks to fulfill the promise of our state Constitution to ensure a free, high-quality, public education to all children in the Commonwealth. Our policy work focuses on improving the critical attributes of such a system: equity, access, support, quality, opportunity, and sustainability, all of which create more justice for our clients and their families. We also specifically seek to redress the racial inequities that persist in our schools and to dismantle the effects of the racist laws and policies upon which our public K-12 education system was historically built.

During the 2019 General Assembly session, we reached some significant milestones in our ongoing work to increase support staff and decrease criminalization of students in Virginia’s public schools. As of the close of the regular session, we successfully championed the following:

Reducing School Counselor Caseloads

  • Partnering with The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we helped secure an initial $12 million to seed a phase-in plan to reduce school counselor caseloads to the nationally recognized best practice of one counselor per 250 students (1:250), across school levels. We continue to advocate for a Governor’s budget amendment for the 2019 Reconvened Session to fully fund the Year One plan at $36 million, and will further advocate for the full three-year plan (or better) in the coming biennial budget for the 2020 session.

Increased Targeted Funding for Low-Income Students

Mandatory Training for School Resource Officers

  • As part of our yearlong effort to direct reinvigorated focus on “school safety” towards prevention and positive supports to students, we successfully advanced bills and policy initiatives through the House Select Committee on School Safety, the Governor’s School Safety workgroup within the Children’s Cabinet, and the Virginia Commission on Youth to require all School Resource Officers (SROs) to be trained to meet minimum certification and re-certification standards established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. We’ll continue working with DCJS to ensure those standards include training in topics like working with students with disabilities, cultural competency, the mental health needs of students, child and adolescent development, and mediation and de-escalation skills. We were also able to limit additional funding for SROs to existing positions—no small feat in an era when more law enforcement is a popular response to school safety concerns.

Mandatory MOUs for Cops in Schools

  • Within that same “school safety” work with the relevant committees, we successfully advanced a legislative policy initiative to require Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between local school divisions and local law enforcement whenever SROs are placed in schools, in an effort to define and refine the scope of police duties and actions in the school environment. SROs should not be responsible for or reacting to school discipline matters. These bills emerged from the House Select Committee on School Safety through our yearlong effort to shape that committee’s focus and agenda.

Increased Transparency & Accountability in Disciplinary Alternative Education

While successes like the ones listed above might seem to become fully assembled over the course of one legislative session, the behind-the-scenes story unfolds over a much longer timeline. Our advocacy to improve support staff in schools, for example, measures itself in decades.

Most recently, last year during the 2018 legislative session, in partnership with Sen. Jennifer McClellan, we brought the most recent recommendations from the Virginia Board of Education to fully fund the Virginia Standards of Quality to the General Assembly, in the form of several budget amendments designed to eliminate the arbitrary decade-old cap on school support staff and assure that students had adequate access to school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses. The presentation of those amendments in committee helped once again put the General Assembly on notice that our public K-12 system is radically underfunded, and that the Commonwealth is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide high-quality education to Virginia students.

We then leveraged the awareness we raised during the 2018 session into both broad-based and targeted advocacy within the various school safety committees and workgroups over the past year, to again demand adequate school funding for K-12—especially for economically disadvantaged students, this time zeroing in on school counselors and the At-Risk Add-On funding as priority measures. Among our efforts:

  • In July 2018, we authored a letter to the House Select Committee on School Safety, the Governor and the Children’s Cabinet, and the Virginia Commission on Youth outlining detailed policy recommendations for improving school safety in Virginia schools, with proposals including: increasing school counselors, improving SRO training, and requiring MOUs when using law enforcement in schools. We secured more than 25 organizational co-signers to the letter, and many of our recommendations became a part of each of these group’s final school safety platform.
  • In August 2018, with The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we released a report, “Investing in Student Safety and Success: The Growing Importance of Effective Staffing in Virginia Schools,” which outlined the multi-faceted need for support staff in our schools.
  • In November 2018, we hosted a Legislative Listening Session for current school counselors to share their experiences and recommendations directly with legislators. The event was held at ART180, in the midst of an art installation created primarily by current or formerly incarcerated students entitled “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out.”
  • Prior to and during the 2019 legislative session, we helped several legislators and Gov. Northam’s administration to draft the successful legislation that will expand SRO training and provide for the statewide use of rigorous MOUs between schools and law enforcement. We successfully advocated for the inclusion of the Department of Criminal Justice Services model MOU as a framework with which the local agreements must align. We worked diligently on this DCJS model as it was developed in 2015-2016, based in large part on our own model school/law MOU within our 2016 report on school policing, which adheres to best practices and a student-centered, trauma-informed approach. 

The road to equity, access, support, quality, opportunity, and sustainability for Virginia’s schools is a highway, not a cul-de-sac. Even with these victories, our work will continue—into the coming legislative sessions, within administrative agencies, in conversation with the media, in collaboration with our organizational coalitions (which commonly include groups like The Commonwealth Institute For Fiscal Analysis and the Virginia School Counselors Association), and—most importantly and urgently—in partnership with affected communities. We will continue to prioritize racial equity and an anti-racist agenda in our policy advocacy and partnerships. And we will continue to use data to help tell the policy stories necessary to effect change. This post maps only two years’ worth of our commitment to demanding that Virginia fulfil its constitutional duty to assure every child receives a high-quality public education; the successes detailed here grow out of two decades of JustChildren’s efforts, and serves only as a mile-marker in our ongoing work. We’re grateful to our partners and the children, families, and communities we represent—building this path will take every one of us together.

To stay up-to-date on our Educate Every Child and school funding campaigns, please sign up for our alerts here.

 

 

Driver’s License Lawsuit Back in District Court

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                              

Contact:  Tim Wallace, 434-529-1853, twallace@justice4all.org

Plaintiffs are Back to Challenge Virginia DMV’s Unconstitutional System of Suspending Licenses of Low-Income Drivers Who are Unable to Pay Court Debts

Commonwealth’s law unfairly traps low-income people in a vicious cycle of debt, unemployment, and incarceration

Charlottesville, Va., September 11, 2018 – Today the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) filed an amended complaint, motion for class certification, and motion for preliminary injunction in Stinnie v. Holcomb, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines. The original complaint was filed in 2016, dismissed by the district court in 2017, and revived by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018 when it permitted the plaintiffs to amend their complaint.

The amended complaint alleges that Virginia’s license-for-payment suspension statute violates the due process and equal protection rights of low-income drivers suffering under license suspensions for no other reason that they cannot afford to pay court fines and costs.

Nearly one million Virginians (approximately 1 in 6 drivers) currently have suspended licenses for failure to timely pay court fines and fees. The suspension process happens automatically after even one delinquent payment and can end up lasting years, especially for low-income residents who must prioritize their essential basic needs: rent, utilities, groceries, and taking care of the health and welfare of their children and other relatives, including those who are elderly and/or have disabilities.

For far too many, this harsh suspension law forces a choice between providing for their families and risking incarceration for driving illegally. In Virginia, a third offense for driving without a license carries a mandatory sentence of 10 days’ jail time. From 2011-2015, Virginians who had lost their license only for failure to pay court fines and fees were sentenced to a total of approximately 1.74 million days in jail for driving on a suspended license. Such incarceration not only prevents people from paying their existing court debt, it adds new debt to their balance and costs the Commonwealth hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to keep debtors behind bars.

The time has come for courts and policymakers to recognize this license-for-payment system for what it is: an unconstitutional deprivation that props up a form of debtors’ prison in the Commonwealth. Nearly 87% of Virginians travel to work by car, and reliable, accessible public transit remains scarce throughout the state, making a driver’s license essential to finding and maintaining employment. For those whose licenses are their employment—truck drivers, construction vehicle operators, bus drivers, and even some healthcare positions, for example—a license suspension is effectively a job termination.

The case of Adrianne Johnson, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, is the embodiment of the kind of vicious cycle this license-for-payment system creates for low-income residents across the Commonwealth. Ms. Johnson accrued court debt in 2013 while working for low hourly wages as a nursing assistant. She attempted to maintain a payment plan to pay down $865 in court costs, but struggled to keep up with monthly payments while also caring for her two children, working jobs that typically paid between $7.25 and $10 per hour. She continued to risk driving because she needed to get to work and to take her daughter to doctors’ appointments. In 2017, she was convicted of driving on a suspended license, which added nearly $250 to her overall court debt. The compounding debt and an unreasonable payment plan have led to another automatic license suspension for Ms. Johnson, and she does not drive anymore, which has affected not only her employment prospects, but her daughter’s health, as well.

Ms. Johnson’s struggles parallel those faced by thousands upon thousands of low-income Virginians across the Commonwealth who owe court debt but are stripped of the very tool they need to pay it down.

“The suspension statute sets up two justice systems in Virginia,” said Angela Ciolfi, Director of Litigation and Advocacy at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “Those who can immediately pay court fines or fees are able to quickly untether themselves from their infractions, while those who do not have the resources to pay continue to be punished well beyond their original infraction—they are punished for their poverty, and set up for even harsher consequences as their debts compound, their jobs are lost, and their families struggle to make ends meet.”

Amended Complaint (pdf)

Memo Supporting Class Certification (pdf)

Memo Supporting Preliminary Injunction (pdf)

 

Background:

Stinnie v. Holcomb is a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of hundreds of thousands of Virginia drivers who cannot afford to pay court costs and fines.  Every year, Virginia traps hundreds of thousands of low-income residents in debt and poverty by automatically suspending their driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines, regardless of whether they could afford to pay.  As of December 2017, nearly one million Virginia drivers currently have at least one suspension on their license for failure to pay, including approximately 650,000 people whose licenses are suspended solely for not paying court costs and fines.  For many drivers, that means giving up their only mode of transportation to work, forcing them to choose between losing their jobs and risking jail time for driving on a suspended license.  These long-suffering Virginia drivers will continue to endure a never-ending cycle of debt and incarceration, so long as the law forces them to choose between driving illegally and forsaking the needs of their families. 

In October 2016, the Virginia Attorney General’s office filed a Motion to Dismiss on behalf of the Defendant, DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb.  On March 13, 2017, the U.S. District Court granted the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, citing jurisdictional reasons and concluding that the Commissioner was not a proper defendant. In dismissing the Plaintiffs’ complaint for jurisdictional reasons, the Court made it clear that it was not blessing the constitutionality of Virginia’s license-for-payment system, stating:  “Virginia law leads state judges to automatically suspend a defendant’s driver’s license for nonpayment of court fees and fines, regardless of his ability to pay. That unflinching command may very well violate Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.”  (Mem. Opinion p. 35) 

The case is now back in the district court to give the Plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their complaint, which they are doing today, along with filing motions for class certification and a preliminary injunction. In their motion, the Plaintiffs are asking the Court to order the DMV Commissioner to stop enforcing the statute, and to remove the unlawful suspensions from Plaintiffs’ driving records without charging a reinstatement fee.

To read more about the lawsuit, or to download the briefs, go to http://www.justice4all.org/drive.

About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide. 

LAJC Asks Appeals Court to Reverse Dismissal

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Charlottesville, Va., June 14, 2017—Today, the Plaintiffs in Stinnie v. Holcomb filed notice of their intent to appeal the dismissal of their complaint to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Plaintiffs ask the higher court to reverse the lower court’s order dismissing their lawsuit before giving them an opportunity to prove that the Defendant suspended their licenses unlawfully.

Stinnie v. Holcomb is a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of hundreds of thousands of Virginia drivers who cannot afford to pay court costs and fines.  In October 2016, the Virginia Attorney General’s office filed a Motion to Dismiss on behalf of the Defendant, DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb.  Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP filed “friend-of-the-court” briefs supporting the Plaintiffs’ arguments that the statute is unconstitutional. On March 13, 2017, the U.S. District Court granted the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, citing jurisdictional reasons and concluding that the Commissioner was not a proper defendant. On May 22, 2017, the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend the Judgment was denied. Today, the Plaintiffs have filed a Notice of Appeal of the lower court’s rulings on the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Alter the Judgment, and related issues.

“This case is about a patently unconstitutional law that punishes hundreds of thousands of Virginians and their families for their poverty, and takes people out of the workforce.  All the Plaintiffs want is a chance to prove that the Commonwealth’s automatic suspension law violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the law,” said Angela Ciolfi, attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center.  “We hope the Fourth Circuit will agree that such an important civil rights case affecting so many of Virginia’s residents should not be dismissed so early in the case.”

“I want to work and support my family,” said Demetrice Moore, a plaintiff in the case. “But public transportation is limited, and it’s hard to find jobs I can get to without a driver’s license.  Suspension for unpaid court debt makes it harder for courts to get their money.  Virginia’s policy hurts people and makes no sense.” 

Every year, Virginia traps hundreds of thousands of low-income residents in debt and poverty by automatically suspending their driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines, regardless of whether they could afford to pay.  Nearly one million Virginia drivers currently have at least one suspension on their license for failure to pay, including approximately 650,000 people whose licenses are suspended solely for not paying court costs and fines.  For many drivers, that means giving up their only mode of transportation to work, forcing them to choose between losing their jobs and risking jail time for driving on a suspended license.  These long-suffering Virginia drivers will continue to endure a never-ending cycle of debt and incarceration, so long as the law forces them to choose between driving illegally and forsaking the needs of their families. 

Independant Study’s podcast features an indepth look of our case complete with interviews of of Damian Stinnie. Click here to download.

 

For more information about this case please contact:

Angela Ciolfi, Director of Litigation & Advocacy, Legal Aid Justice Center

434-529-1810  angela@justice4all.org

VSB Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year: Angela Ciolfi

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For Immediate Release:

Angela Ciolfi gave a amazing speech while accepting the Virginia State Bar's 2017 Legal Aid Award.

Posted by Legal Aid Justice Center on Friday, June 16, 2017

The Virginia State Bar(VSB) Access to Legal Services Committee is happy to announce that Angela Ciolfi, Litigation and Advocacy Director with the Legal Aid Justice Center, has been selected as the recipient of the 2017 Virginia Legal Aid Award. In her letter nominating Ms. Ciolfi, Mary Bauer, Executive Director at LAJC, wrote: “Angela does it all, and on a very high level. She represents individual children, pursues sweeping statewide reform through administrative and legislative advocacy as well as litigation, expands the capacity of other lawyers and child advocates through training and technical assistance, secures new sources of funding to combat zero tolerance and educational disparities, employs successful communication strategies to raise awareness of compelling children’s issues, and this all while supervising attorneys in three different cities in Virginia. This range of skills, creativity, and activities, combined with her unparalleled work ethic, make her contributions to the lives of Virginia’s children wide-reaching and substantial.”

Ms. Bauer noted Ms. Ciolfi’s leadership in litigation challenging Virginia’s suspension of drivers’ licenses of low income persons for failure to pay court costs and fines; her work that lead to the launching of JustChildren’s Educate Every Child Campaign uncovering race, disability, class and gender disparities in the handling of suspensions and truancies in Virginia schools; and her advocacy on behalf of at-risk children and other vulnerable persons in the justice system. Another letter supporting Ms. Ciolfi’s nomination stated: “Angela perfectly embodies the values, skills, and talents this Award is meant to celebrate: innovation, creativity, passion, courage, excellence, impact, and, above all, an unwavering and unbroken commitment to her clients and to the public interest. “ Congratulations Angela!

Ms. Ciolfi’s selection is also historic as she will be the first person to have been honored with both the Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award (2003) and the Virginia Legal Aid Award (2017). The Virginia Legal Aid Award will be presented at the Legal Aid Award Luncheon during the Virginia State Bar Annual Meeting on Friday, June 16 at the Sheraton Oceanfront Hotel in Virginia Beach.

Richmond Fair Housing Lawsuit Settles

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Future code enforcement to be more responsive to vulnerable residents’ needs; language access plan to help City residents access services.

Thirty-three current and former mobile home park residents have reached a negotiated settlement to their housing discrimination lawsuit against the City of Richmond. The residents, represented pro bono by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the law firm of Crowell & Moring LLP, had alleged that an aggressive housing code enforcement campaign violated their civil rights. Under the terms of the settlement, the City of Richmond will institute policies that will help minimize the displacement of mobile home residents in future enforcement activities and will better serve residents who are not fluent in English.

“This settlement is a positive outcome for our clients and for all mobile home park residents in the City of Richmond,” said Marie Diveley, Crowell & Moring senior counsel. “The City has agreed to take important steps that will not only benefit vulnerable mobile home park residents, but will also ensure that limited English speakers can access City services without unnecessary language barriers.”

The suit, which was filed in federal court in Richmond last August, alleged that the City violated the civil rights of the residents by targeting mobile home parks, where residents are mainly Latino, for aggressive code enforcement with the expectation that scores of vulnerable families would likely be displaced. According to the lawsuit, the City also refused to provide adequate interpretation and translation services for the limited English proficient residents, in violation of federal civil rights laws.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement the City will: work with a non-profit partner organization to assist mobile home park residents in addressing maintenance code violations prior to park-wide inspections; provide notices of code violations and appeal forms in Spanish to residents who are proficient in Spanish but not English; institute a language-access plan pursuant to federal civil rights guidelines and train City employees on their obligations under the plan; arrange for Fair Housing Act training for certain departments of City government; and provide modest monetary assistance to the plaintiffs, for repair or relocation, and to assist more generally with repairs in mobile home parks. With the agreement, the City also acknowledges that mobile homes play an important role in the affordable housing supply of Richmond.

“This settlement is the culmination of a long process of negotiation to address serious concerns on both sides,” according to Phil Storey, the Legal Aid Justice Center’s lead attorney on the case. “We are pleased that the City and the residents were able to reach a mutually agreeable resolution, thanks to assistance from Mark Rubin and VCU’s Center for Consensus Building.”

Resources

Press Release (PDF)

Aviso de Prensa (PDF)

Lawsuit (PDF)

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