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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ADVOCACY GROUPS OPPOSE BI-PARTISAN ‘DEAL’ ON FELONY LARCENY THRESHOLD

Richmond, Va., February 13, 2018 —
The organizations listed below support an increase in Virginia’s long-outdated felony larceny threshold but oppose the so-called bipartisan compromise announced last week that traded an increase in the threshold for passage of legislation enhancing the enforcement of restitution orders entered in criminal cases.

At just $200, the current threshold amount of theft that allows charging someone with a felony in Virginia – invoking possible prison time and a loss of voting rights for life – is the lowest in the country and hasn’t been increased since 1980. Over the ensuing 37 years, inflation on an item worth $200 would have increased its value to nearly $600 today. ($200 in 1980 has the same “purchasing power” as $594.14 in 2017.)  In that sense, an increase in the felony larceny threshold to $500, which appears to be a move in the right direction, doesn’t even keep pace with inflation.  If you reverse the inflation calculation, an increase in the threshold to $500 will mean that you will be able to be convicted of a felony today for stealing the equivalent of just $168.31 in 1980 dollars. So, arguably, we are going backwards, not forwards.

Still, an increase to $500 might have been acceptable were it not for additional provisions of the “deal” struck to obtain bipartisan support for the increase. We are concerned with the proposed changes to how payments of restitution will be enforced in Virginia that were part of the announced “compromise.” If these changes are adopted, indigent defendants without the ability to pay restitution could be kept on probation indefinitely. It would also turn probation officers and judges into debt collectors. Even if someone is released from probation, they would still face 10 years of court hearings where a judge would have the discretion to put them back on probation or put them in jail for failing to pay restitution at any time. This unjust scheme amounts to a form of Debtor’s Prison.

This is not just a matter of fairness and keeping up with a changing economy. It is a racial justice issue, a women’s rights issue and an economic justice issue. The “compromise” as agreed to would continue to affect women and people of color disparately, as well as keep many poor people under indefinite looming threat of additional consequences under the criminal justice system.

For these reasons, we oppose the announced compromise on the grand larceny threshold and accompanying legislation regarding restitution.

American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia
Justice Forward Virginia
Legal Aid Justice Center
Loudoun County Branch of the NAACP
NAKASEC (National Korean American Service & Education Consortium)
Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations
Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy
Virginia Organizing

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:

Sylvia Cosby Jones, Esq., Managing Attorney
Legal Aid Justice Center
804-521-7305 | sylvia@justice4all.org

James Bowling, Esq., St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP
Counsel for the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority
434-296-7138 | jmb@stlawva.com

JOINT PRESS RELEASE:

PUBLIC HOUSING TENANTS REACH SETTLEMENT WITH RICHMOND REDEVELOPMENT AND HOUSING AUTHORITY ON CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

 Richmond, Va., February 6, 2018—

Public housing tenants and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) have reached a proposed settlement in a federal class action lawsuit challenging RRHA’s implementation of tenant utility allowances. 

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, $951,835.45 will be distributed among current and former Richmond public housing tenants who were impacted by RRHA’s utility surcharges from November 1, 2012, through October 31, 2016.  An additional $79,590.23 will be returned to tenants through implementation of new utility allowances. Cenquetta Harris, a named plaintiff in the case, said of the proposed settlement: “As tenants, we work hard to try to pay our bills, but our utility bills were too high. This settlement shows that when we band together to stand up for ourselves, we can make sure that everyone is treated fairly.”  RRHA Interim Chief Executive Officer Orlando Artze said, “We are pleased to have worked constructively with the plaintiffs over the past several years to resolve this complex dispute so that RRHA can continue to focus on meeting the needs of residents in our public housing communities.”

The class action lawsuit, filed in February 2017, alleges that RRHA’s failure to properly set, implement, and charge electric utility allowances, resulted in excessive charges to current and former public housing tenants.  A proposed class of plaintiffs, represented by lawyers at Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), and Thomas D. Domonoske, Consumer Litigation Associates, contend that these excessive charges increased tenants’ share of their housing costs, and caused tenants to pay more than allowed.

While RRHA denies any wrongdoing, the parties have agreed to the proposed settlement in order to avoid the uncertainty and expense associated with continued litigation, and believe that the proposed settlement agreement is in the best interest of RRHA and all impacted public housing tenants.  “RRHA is glad to have reached an amicable result with the tenant plaintiffs in this case, which promotes RRHA’s goal of transparency and fairness while providing affordable housing to Richmond residents,” said Artze.  “It is important to note that RRHA did not benefit financially from the billing of utility charges to residents.  In fact, the administrative requirements of the utility surcharge system and insufficient HUD subsidy result in RRHA’s provision of electric utility service to residents at a financial loss to the agency.”  Similar settlements have been reached with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority as well as the Petersburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

The proposed settlement, filed today, must be approved by Federal District Court Judge John A. Gibney, Jr. before it is final.  In addition to monetary relief, RRHA will make changes in its lease as well as in certain policies and practices, including:

  • Setting and implementing new, higher utility allowances that will stay in place for at least 3 years.
  • Creating new notices, policies and procedures for elderly and disabled tenants needing additional electric usage due to their conditions.
  • Changing its billing statements to give tenants more information about their utility surcharges.
  • Ensuring RRHA staff is trained regarding utility billing procedures, tenant requests for relief from utility billing, and the grievance procedure.

“The settlement is the result of hard work by both parties, and we are very pleased that in addition to relief for past charges, our clients will be billed fairly and in compliance with HUD rules going forward,” said Sylvia Jones, attorney for the plaintiff tenants.  Interim CEO Orlando Artze also noted that he is pleased that any unclaimed refunds will be used to create an energy efficiency fund for the benefit of RRHA public housing residents.   

Documents:

Settlement Agreement (PDF) 

Joint Motion for Class Certification and Preliminary Approval (PDF)

Memo in Support of Joint Motion (PDF)

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About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), representing Plaintiffs in this case, 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.

About Thomas D. Domonoske
Mr. Domonoske, representing the Plaintiffs in this case, is of counsel with Consumer Litigation Associates.  His primary emphasis is on using the civil justice system to remedy credit-related frauds, including predatory lending, debt collection, and credit reporting.  He has published many articles on several aspects of consumer law in various professional publications.  In the past seventeen years he has given over 140 consumer law trainings at various events around the country and regularly trains JAG lawyers for the United States military.  He has served as a member of the Harrisonburg City School Board and also on the Board of Directors of the Fairfield Center and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

About the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA)                            
A locally administered, and federally funded housing authority, RRHA provides real estate development, rental housing assistance, and property management of public housing communities for low and moderate-income families throughout the City of Richmond.

About St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP
St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP, representing RRHA in this case, is a litigation firm that has past experience in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 public housing litigation and represents clients in Virginia state and federal courts in matters including civil rights law, business law, eminent domain, criminal defense, college and university disciplinary proceedings, government representation, estate planning and real estate matters.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Pat Levy-Lavelle
Attorney, Legal Aid Justice Center
804-521-7308 | pat@justice4all.org

New Report: Court Reforms Don’t Ease License Suspensions
Commonwealth’s suspended drivers sentenced to 348,000 days
in jail annually 
for driving while in default

Richmond, Va., January 24, 2018—Nearly one million Virginia driver’s licenses remain suspended for unpaid court debt a year after significant legislative and judicial efforts at reforms aimed at helping people reinstate their licenses, according to a new report released today by the Legal Aid Justice Center.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Commonwealth’s license-for-payment system led to the sentencing of approximately 1.74 million jail days for people charged with driving on a license suspended only for failure to pay court fines and costs, which is an average of more than 348,000 jail days each year.

The report,“Driving on Empty: Payment Plan Reforms Don’t Fix Virginia’s Court Debt Crisis,” examines 116 general district court payment plan policies and finds that:

  • Payment plan policies in place across Virginia are not designed to take into account people’s individual financial circumstances, resulting in unrealistic and unaffordable payment plans that often lead to default;
  • More than 1/3 of GDC polices do not mention ability to pay at all. None provides any indication how it evaluates ability to pay or what that means for payment plan terms; and
  • Many courts have no community service provisions (or very restrictive community service provisions), charge arbitrarily high down payments to enter plans, fail to mention the statutory right to seek modification of plans, or restrict access to subsequent payment plans for indebted Virginians who default.   

“Virginia’s automatic license suspension policy is quite literally Virginia’s form of debtor’s prison,” said Pat Levy-Lavelle, attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “If you can’t drive, you can’t work, and you can’t pay. And if you do drive, you go to jail—and even the most generous of payment plan policies can’t save you.”

To read more about Virginia’s license-for-payment system, go to http://www.justice4all.org/drive.

Attachment:
Driving on Empty Report (pdf)

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 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.

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Dear Friends of LAJC, 
  
The 2018 Virginia legislative session is underway! Session began Wednesday, January 10th, as the legislature worked to organize itself amidst many new faces and a new building: this year—and for at least three more sessions until a new building is completed—the General Assembly will complete much of its committee work and have legislative offices in the Pocahontas Building, located at 900 E. Main St. in Richmond. 
  
Legislators have already filed more than 2400 bills & resolutions so far for this 60-day session, and more are coming. LAJC staff will be working to educate policymakers and support our partners on a variety of issues, but our primary priorities for this session:  
   
Educate Every Child 
SB 170 (Stanley, McClellan) / HB 296 (D. Bell, Bourne): Once again, we’ll be working hard to roll back harmful school suspension and expulsion laws. This year we’ll be focusing on eliminating suspension and expulsion for students in Pre-K to 3rd grade. Read more on the data and policy behind our recommendation in our Suspended Progress 2017 report released last October
  
SB 476 (Reeves): In an effort to limit unnecessary and harmful contact between students and law enforcement, we are supporting this bill to give schools discretion in whether to refer students to law enforcement for misdemeanors and status offenses. Currently, schools have no choice and are mandated to refer nearly all offenses. 
  
Budget Amendments: LAJC will be supporting several budget amendments to make sure our schools are adequately funded and focused on improving school climate and reducing suspension and expulsion. These amendments include: additional funding for alternatives to suspension and expulsion; increasing targeted “At-risk Add-on” funding for economically disadvantaged students; and lifting the artificial cap on schools’ ability to fund support staff such as social workers, psychologists, nurses, and maintenance staff. 
   
Juvenile Justice: We will be working to protect investments in home- and community-based alternatives to incarceration for youth and making sure Virginia juvenile justice policies don’t create an open door to the adult prison system. 
  
Protect Civil Rights and Decriminalize Poverty
SB 181
 (Stanley)One in six drivers in Virginia has their license suspended for unpaid court fines and fees—an unfair, automatic process that keeps many people in a cycle of debt, unemployment, criminal charges, and even jail when they must drive to meet their basic needs: work, healthcare appointments, the grocery store, and more. SB181 would repeal this license suspension statute, which is not only ineffective at collecting fines and fees, but also props up a debtors’ prison model in the Commonwealth. 
  
LAJC will also be weighing in on any criminal justice efforts that affect low-income communities of color, who most often bear the weight of policies that impede access to justice and expand/perpetuate mass incarceration and its consequences. Among those proposals, we will be supporting a broad increase to the felony larceny threshold and positive reform to the discovery process in Virginia.

Support Immigrant Communities
LAJC will be working in partnership with VACOLAO to ensure that immigrant communities have equal treatment, equal opportunities, and equal representation in the Commonwealth. Priorities for this session include: driver’s license/permit access for all immigrant Virginians; in-state tuition access for immigrant Virginia students regardless of legal status, and resolution efforts to condemn hate and celebrate diversity.  
   
Improve Health Care Access
LAJC unequivocally supports expanding Medicaid to ensure health care coverage access for the 400,000 Virginians who are cut off from being able to access critical basic care. We are members of the Healthcare for All Virginians coalition, and stand in support with the coalition’s work.
  
To get involved with our legislative advocacy, please contact LAJC Attorney and Policy Coordinator Amy Woolard at amy@justice4all.org
  
You can also sign up for email alerts on our website here (we will be sending more session updates like this one), and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We will be sharing advocacy materials, updates, blog posts, and calls to action as the session progresses!

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CONTACT:
Becky Wolozin
Attorney, Legal Aid Justice Center
703-720-5606 | becky@justice4all.org

Falls Church, Virginia (January 8, 2018) – In response to growing school enrollment barriers faced by immigrant students across Virginia, the Legal Aid Justice Center has released a practice guide, Dream Big: Education for Immigrant Students and Children of Immigrants. The guide clarifies the responsibilities of the Commonwealth’s school divisions to provide tuition-free education to all students, regardless of immigration status. It also outlines general school enrollment principles under Virginia law and answers common questions faced by attorneys and service providers who are assisting immigrant families.

“Virginia schools should be welcoming, supportive, and safe places for all students,” said Becky Wolozin, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center and author of the practice guide. “Unfortunately, immigrant children and children who have immigrant parents often face unnecessary barriers to enrolling in school and obtaining the services they need to learn. We hope this guide will assist advocates in using state and federal protections to ensure that all children in Virginia have the opportunity to learn.”

The guide addresses some of the most common barriers to school enrollment faced by immigrant children, including unnecessary and onerous enrollment documentation requirements and family instability due to deportation. Using a question and answer format, the guide clarifies school division responsibilities to immigrant students and families. State and federal law protect the right of all children to attend public school, regardless of immigration status. 

Resources

Dream Big: Education for Immigrant Students and Children of Immigrants

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On Tuesday, November 21, 2017, two immigrant youth from Virginia filed a lawsuit seeking to have their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) reinstated and extended for two years. Represented pro bono by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the law firm of Outten and Golden, they argue that the Trump Administration’s decision to deny them the opportunity to once more renew DACA violated their constitutional rights.

“DACA changed my life,” said 26-year-old Nurimaro Park of Fairfax, Virginia. “Before DACA, I didn’t see much of a future for myself. I was always anxious, my job prospects were poor, and I couldn’t even get a driver’s license. Even though my family came to this country from Korea to give me a better life, I didn’t see myself being able to have much of a life at all.”

Mr. Park’s second two-year DACA extension had recently lapsed and he was saving money to pay for the $495 renewal fee, when on September 5, 2017—without any warning—the Trump Administration announced that the entire DACA program would be phased out beginning in March 2018. But for Mr. Park, and some 50,000 other immigrants like him1 whose DACA extensions had already lapsed and who were still making plans to renew, the program was being cancelled effective immediately, robbing them of a fair chance to renew and plunging their lives into uncertainty. “I was crushed,” Mr. Park said. “I had no warning. If the government had told me this was coming on September 5, I could have taken steps to renew before then.”

“Nurimaro Park played by the rules, but the Trump Administration changed the rules on him,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program. “Fifty thousand other Dreamers just like him were wrongly denied their right to two more years of DACA. To change a deadline without telling people that you are going to do it, and then denying them DACA because they missed the deadline that they had no way of knowing about, violates a basic sense of fair play and decency, and it also violates the Constitution.”

“Many people think that the deadline for Congress to pass a Dream Act is March 5, 2018, because when that’s when the whole DACA program will begin to sunset,” said Mary Bauer, executive director of the Virginia-based Legal Aid Justice Center. “But for Nurimaro Park, and for some 50,000 others, the DACA program has already ended. The emergency has already begun.”

David Lopez, a Washington, D.C.-based partner in Outten & Golden LLP, which concentrates on employee rights, added, “The Administration’s decision to change the DACA renewal policies abruptly and without notice illegally pushed thousands of productive workers who followed the rules into the shadows without legal status.” Outten & Golden recently launched a Resistance Task Force to protect individuals like Mr. Park from efforts by the current administration to curtail workplace protections.

DACA Lawsuit (pdf)


About the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program: The Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program supports low-income immigrants in their efforts to find justice and fair treatment. In addition to representing clients with individual legal issues, we promote systemic reforms to reduce the abuse and exploitation of immigrants, and advocate for state and local policies that promote integration and protect immigrants from aggressive immigration enforcement. Our work aims to end the mass detention and deportation of immigrants, with a special focus on child refugees fleeing violence and individuals and communities targeted for enforcement by overzealous federal immigration agents.

About Outten & Golden LLP: Outten & Golden LLP, a 50-plus attorney law firm, represents employees in individual and class action litigation challenging employment discrimination, wage theft, and other workplace injustices. As advocates for workplace fairness, our passion and profession is to help advance the goals of employees and protect their rights against injustices. Outten & Golden LLP also recently launched a Legal Resistance Task Force to protect the workplace rights of the people and communities targeted by the actions and policies of the Trump Administration. Details: http://www.outtengolden.com and http://www.ogresistance.com.

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Join Legal Aid Justice Center in Advocating for a Clean Dream Act Now!

The decision to cancel the DACA program has left over 12,000 DREAMers in Virginia at risk of losing their legal status and being deported to countries they barely remember. Now, Congress is debating a DREAM ACT that would protect these promising young people, and give them a legal path to a green card and eventually the U.S. citizenship that they deserve.  But anti-immigrant forces in Congress are mobilizing to prevent any DREAM ACT from passing, or attach “poison pill” anti-immigrant riders like increased funding for ICE deportation force, and punitive measures against undocumented communities. DREAMers do not want a solution that would protect them, but at the same time deport their parents.  This is why Legal Aid Justice Center is calling for a CLEAN DREAM ACT NOW!

How you can get involved:


Help your neighbors sign CLEAN DREAM ACT NOW postcards to Virginia’s senators and Congressional representatives!

We have printed up hundreds of postcards to Virginia’s senators and Congressional representatives, and we need your help in making sure that their constituents sign the postcards.  Come by our offices to pick up blank postcards for all your friends and neighbors to sign.
Postcards are available Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm at:

Legal Aid Justice Center – Falls Church
6066 Leesburg Pike #520, Falls Church, VA 22041

Legal Aid Justice Center – Charlottesville
1000 Preston Ave, Suite A, Charlottesville, VA 22903

Legal Aid Justice Center – Richmond
123 E Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219

Please stop by as soon as possible, meet our staff, pick up a dozen postcards, and bring them to any community events or just go door-to-door on your block.  We need the signed postcards back in our offices no later than November 21.  Our goal is to have 1,280 postcards signed: one for every DACA student currently studying and paying in-state tuition at a Virginia public college or university.


Attend a CLEAN DREAM ACT NOW event in your community!

Monday, November 6, 7:00pm
Legal Aid Justice Center, 6066 Leesburg Pike #520, Falls Church. VA 22041
RSVP: edgar@justice4all.org

Saturday, November 11, 2:00pm
Claremont Elementary School cafeteria
4700 S. Chesterfield Rd., Arlington, VA 22206
RSVP: simon@justice4all.org

Wednesday, November 15, 5:30pm
Jefferson School City Center Auditorium
223 4th St NW, Charlottesville, VA 22903
RSVP HERE


Join our lobby day in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill!

We will be visiting Virginia’s senators and Congressional representatives at their offices on Capitol Hill, delivering the postcards and urging them to fight for a CLEAN DREAM ACT NOW!

Wednesday, Novemebr 29, 9:30am – 1:00pm (lunch will be provided)
Location TBA

If you are interested in attending please contact Edgar at edgar@justice4all.org or
Contessa at contessa@justice4all.org.  Virginia residents only, please, as space is limited.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Rachael Deane
Legal Director, JustChildren Program
804-521-7304 | rachael@justice4all.org

Legal Aid Justice Center Joins the Education Civil Rights Alliance to Fight Back Against Civil Rights Violations Threatening Students

Charlottesville, Virginia (November 2, 2017) — In the face of increasing threats to student civil rights in Virginia and throughout the nation, Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) has joined with more than two dozen leading education and civil rights groups to launch the Education Civil Rights Alliance (ECR Alliance).

Schools should serve, educate, empower and be safe for all students, yet all across America today, far too many students face bullying and other barriers to education based on their race, religion, national origin, gender identity, disability, first language, or sexual orientation. Immigrant children continue to be illegally denied the right to enroll in school. Increasingly divisive and hateful rhetoric and growing anti-Muslim and White nationalist sentiment only serve to exacerbate the threats to already marginalized vulnerable students.

“We are pleased to join the Education Civil Rights Alliance and to stand against discrimination and hate in Virginia’s schools,” said Rachael Deane, Legal Director of LAJC’s JustChildren program. “All students in Virginia have the right to education in safe schools, and we will continue to work with students and parents across the Commonwealth to ensure that all children have the protection, services, and supports they need to be successful in school and in their communities.”

The ECR Alliance will ensure the civil rights of marginalized students remain protected by providing resources to help parents, educators, school districts, and advocates protect students’ civil rights, supporting enforcement actions at the state and local level when schools districts and states fail to do so, working to raise public awareness of these challenges facing students, and serving as a deterrent to discriminatory and illegal behavior.

This alliance includes powerful community groups, experienced educators, the nation’s largest teachers unions, accomplished legal organizations, influential national associations, civil rights organizations, and government agencies committed to ensuring that schools serve, educate, empower and are safe for all students. Members of the ECR Alliance have extensive experience in, and a deep commitment to, protecting students’ civil rights.

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Activism!  Moon-bounce!  Face Painting!  Food!  Music!   Advocacy!


Come Celebrate the Diversity and Cohesiveness of our Community.
October 21, 2017 from 2-5pm
Glencarlyn Park, Picnic Shelter 2
Arlington, Virginia 

Please join LAJC for an afternoon of fun and community building.  Learn about the community action and legislative advocacy steps you can take to support immigrants. Hear about the legal actions LAJC is taking to protect our immigrant communities.  Enjoy food, music, games, and a day in the park with LAJC staff, volunteers, supporters, community members, and well-wishers. 

This is a free, all ages event but for planning purposes please Register Here.