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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Angela Ciolfi
Director of Litigation & Advocacy, Legal Aid Justice Center
434-529-1810 | angela@justice4all.org

Linda Thomas
Chair, Virginia State Conference of the NAACP
lt1863@aol.com

Cynthia Robertson
Counsel, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
cynthia.robertson@pillsburylaw.com

Thomas V. Loran III
Partner, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
thomas.loran@pillsburylaw.com 

Shira Rawlinson
Assistant Director of Communications, Institute for Justice
srawlinson@ij.org

16 Law Professors, 18 Civil Rights and Poverty Law Organizations, and a Libertarian Law Firm File Amicus Briefs in Support of Plaintiffs in Stinnie v. Holcomb

Charlottesville, Va., August 17, 2017—Last evening, a diverse array of stakeholders filed three “friend-of-the-court” briefs urging the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the trial court’s dismissal of Stinnie v. Holcomb for jurisdictional reasons.  These stakeholders include 16 law professors, 18 civil rights and poverty law organizations from all over the country, and the Institute for Justice.

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. 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 on appeal to the Fourth Circuit. 

Three amicus curiae briefs were filed with the Court of Appeals today:

  • The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP led a group of 18 civil rights and poverty law organizations from all over the country. They submitted a brief “to advise the Court regarding the important civil rights issues at stake, and the devastating impact that Virginia’s statutory license suspension scheme has had on some of the Commonwealth’s poorest citizens, especially its poor black citizens.”  The civil rights organizations are represented by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.
  • In its brief, the Institute for Justice argued that the federal courts are essential for vindicating federal constitutional rights against infringement by the states and that the Plaintiffs’ complaint should not have been dismissed. The brief goes on to explain why the case is so important:  “The Virginia statute at issue in this case jeopardizes [the right to earn a living] because it penalizes people of limited means by making it more difficult, if not impossible, for them to travel to their jobs. In essence, the law punishes drivers for being poor, and the punishment it inflicts makes those drivers even poorer. That is irrational and unconstitutional.”  The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit, public-interest law firm committed to protecting individuals’ constitutional rights, including their right to earn an honest living.   
  • A group of 16 law professors with expertise in constitutional law, civil rights, and federal jurisdiction also filed a brief in support of the Plaintiffs/Appellants. Their brief underscores the “sound development of legal doctrines governing the power of federal courts to vindicate federal rights” and warns that if adopted, “the district court’s reasoning will upend settled doctrines and close the courthouse doors to many who are entitled to invoke a federal forum to vindicate their federal constitutional rights.”  The law professors are represented by Hogan Lovells US LLP.

A full listing of the signatories is below.

“We are grateful that so many individuals and organizations appreciated how important this case is to hundreds of thousands of people and their families,” said Angela Ciolfi, attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center. “We stand steadfast with our clients and the nearly one million long-suffering Virginia drivers who 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.  We will not stop fighting until the automatic suspension law is struck down or repealed.”

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. 

The podcast, Independent Study, recently did an in-depth profile of the case.  You can download the podcast—complete with interviews of lead Plaintiff Damian Stinnie and Charlottesville/Albemarle jail superintendent Martin Kumer—on SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/wtju/debtors-prison) or on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/independent-study/id1203225942). 

The Plaintiffs/Appellants Opening Brief (filed August 9, 2017) and the three Amicus Curiae brefs filed today are attached.  To read more about the lawsuit, 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. 

About the Amici

Law Professors*

  • Jack M. Beermann, Professor of Law and Harry Elwood Warren Scholar, Boston University School of Law
  • Monica C. Bell, Associate Professor of Law, Yale Law School
  • Pamela Bookman, Assistant Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law
  • Stephen L. Braga, Professor of Law and Director, Appellate Litigation Clinic, University of Virginia School of Law
  • Erin R. Collins, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law
  • Robin Effron, Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School, and Visiting Professor, Notre Dame Law School
  • Heather Elliott, Alumni, Class of ’36, Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law
  • John C. Jeffries, Jr., David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law
  • Lee Kovarsky, Professor of Law, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
  • Corinna Barrett Lain, S. D. Roberts & Sandra Moore Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law
  • Clare Pastore, Professor of the Practice of Law, University of Southern California Gould School of Law
  • George Rutherglen, John Barbee Minor Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law
  • Adam N. Steinman, University Research Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law
  • Alan M. Trammell, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Arkansas School of Law (Fayetteville)
  • Stephen I. Vladeck, Professor of Law, University of Texas School of Law
  • Howard M. Wasserman, Professor of Law, FIU College of Law.

    *Institutional affiliations are included for identification purposes only. Amici are acting on their own behalf and not on behalf of any institution with which they are affiliated.

Civil Rights, Racial Justice, & Poverty Law Organizations
Virginia State Conference of the NAACP (“Virginia NAACP”) is an affiliate of the national NAACP. Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. The mission of the NAACP is to ensure the equality of political, social, and economic rights of all persons, and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. Throughout its history, the NAACP has used the legal process to champion equality and justice for all persons. The NAACP recognizes the importance of economic stability in advancing an equal opportunity society and advocates for smarter, results-based criminal justice policies to keep our communities safe, including an end to racial disparities at all levels in the system.

The Virginia NAACP is joined in this brief by the eighteen civil rights and poverty law nonprofit organizations identified below:

  • Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
  • American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Virginia
  • Center for Civil Justice
  • Center for Justice
  • Colorado Center on Law and Policy
  • Equal Justice Under Law
  • Florida Legal Services, Inc.
  • Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Mississippi Center for Justice
  • National Center for Law and Economic Justice
  • North Carolina Justice Center
  • Public Justice Center
  • South Carolina Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
  • Texas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
  • Tzedek DC
  • Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
  • Western Center on Law and Poverty

Institute for Justice
The Institute for Justice is the National Law Firm for Liberty.  IJ litigates to limit the size and scope of government power and to ensure that all Americans have the right to control their own destinies as free and responsible members of society. http://ij.org/

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Charlottesville, Va., August 8, 2017— Today, as part of its commitment to helping refugee children obtain protection from the Virginia courts, the Legal Aid Justice Center released a practice advisory on “Strategies for Obtaining SIJ Predicate Orders in Virginia Post-Canales v. Torres.” The practice advisory, written together with Ayuda and the Poarch Law Firm, will help advocates make persuasive arguments to keep the courthouse doors open for immigrant children statewide. This release is an updated version of the advisory issued on July 14, 2017.

Resources:

Virginia SIJ Practice Advisory Post Canales

Canales Practice Advisory Appendix (doc)

Canales Practice Advisory Appendix (pdf)

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Jefferson-Madison Regional Library
201 E. Market Street, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

Monday August 7
6:30-8pm

201 E. Market Street, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

Are you thinking of speaking out against racism on August 12?
Want to know your rights with police on the street? 
Do you have questions about legal protesting? 

Join speakers from the Black Movement Law Project and Legal Aid Justice Center for a presentation and discussion about protest, the police, and your rights. The speakers will also be available for questions afterwards.

Spanish interpretation available
For childcare requests or general questions contact kim@justice4all.org

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Legal Organizations Ask Local and State Officials to Investigate Police Response to Klan Counter-Protest

Charlottesville, Va., July 17, 2017—Today, the Legal Aid Justice Center, Rutherford Institute, ACLU of Virginia, and Central Virginia chapter of the National Lawyers Guild call on the Governor and officials for the City of Charlottesville to investigate the outsized and militaristic governmental response to those who chose to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights to assemble in public and engage in peaceful, nonviolent protests. 

The legal organizations ask local and state officials to:

  • acknowledge that the deliberate choice to use warzone tactics on July 8th—instead of planning for de-escalation—is inconsistent with Charlottesville’s values and good policing;
  • authorize and initiate an independent investigation into law enforcement’s actions before, during and after the permitted demonstration on July 8th to determine whether any actions were unlawful; and
  • ensure accountability for any unlawful tactics used, whether by the Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) or the Virginia State Police (VSP).

Letter to Local Officials (PDF)

Letter to State Officials (PDF)

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. 

About the Rutherford Institute
The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms. Founded in 1982 by constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead, the Institute’s mission is twofold: to provide legal services in the defense of civil liberties and to educate the public on important issues affecting their constitutional freedoms.

About ACLU of Virginia
The ACLU of Virginia promotes civil liberties and civil rights for everyone in the Commonwealth through public education, litigation and advocacy with the goal of securing freedom and equality for all. For more information on the ACLU of Virginia go to https://acluva.org.

About the National Lawyers Guild
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is the nation’s oldest and largest progressive bar association and was the first in the U.S. to be racially integrated. The Central Virginia NLG Chapter is committed to using the​ law for the people by​ uniting lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective force in the service of the people by valuing human rights over property interests. NLG–Central Virginia (VA) is dedicated to advancing, among others, the following objectives: to dismantle racism; ​to bring together all those who recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of workers, women, LGBTQIA people, immigrants, people with disabilities, and people of color; to maintain and protect civil rights and liberties in the face of persistent attacks upon them; and to use the law as an instrument for the protection of the people, rather than for their repression.

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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

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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.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS:
Tim Wallace
Director of Development, Legal Aid Justice Center
434-529-1853 | twallace@justice4all.org

Bill Farrar
Director, Public Policy and Communications
804-873-0624 | bfarrar@acluva.org

Federal Office for Civil Rights Opens Investigation of Discrimination in Richmond Public Schools
Congressman McEachin Joins LAJC, ACLU, and Richmond NAACP in Calling for a Swift But Thorough Investigation

 Richmond, Va., April 17, 2017—The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) has given notice it will open an investigation into allegations that the Richmond Public Schools’ disciplinary policies and practices unlawfully discriminate against African American students and students with disabilities.

In August 2016, Legal Aid Justice Center and the ACLU of Virginia filed a complaint with OCR on behalf of two individual students and the Richmond chapter of the NAACP, alleging that RPS’ discipline policies punish African American students and students with disabilities more harshly and more frequently than their peers.

On April 12, 2017, OCR notified complainants that the office would open an investigation. During the investigation, OCR will collect and analyze information from the complainants, the Richmond Public Schools, and any other relevant sources. The letter did not indicate how long an investigation would take, or when the results would be released.

“I am very pleased to learn that OCR has opened an investigation into Richmond Schools because of the complaint filed by Just Children. I remain extremely concerned about the treatment of minority and special needs students throughout my district, which is why I have requested a district-wide investigation into disparate treatment. This is a positive first step and I strongly encourage the OCR and the DOE to initiate expeditiously a broad and in-depth investigation, as I have requested. Thank you, Just Children, for your critical and outstanding work on behalf of our students,” said Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04).

The complaint alleges that during the 2014-15 school year, African-American students with disabilities were 12.91 times more likely than white students without disabilities to be short-term suspended, according to data provided by the Virginia Department of Education. New data has surfaced since the Complaint’s filing indicating that RPS continues to exclude an astonishing number of students each school year and that troubling discipline disparities remain.  According to Virginia Department of Education data, RPS suspended 4,680 students at least once during the 2015-16 school year. African-American students made up nearly 75 percent of the student population but 90.4 percent of students who were short-term suspended and 94.2 percent of students who were long-term suspended. While students with disabilities made up 17.7 percent of the student population, they accounted for 29.8 percent of students who were short-term suspended and 37.4 percent of students who were long-term suspended.

“These disparities have persisted too long,” said Rachael Deane, legal director for JustChildren, LAJC’s child advocacy program. “We applaud the opening of an investigation, and ask OCR to conduct a swift but thorough investigation of unfair discipline in RPS.”

Complainants allege that the student code fails to clearly define misconduct and prescribes overly harsh consequences for relatively minor misbehavior. The complaint calls for alternative approaches to discipline that would address instances of student misconduct while improving overall school climate. It argues that that Richmond Public Schools could eliminate discrimination and more effectively ensure safe and orderly schools through the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, social and emotional learning programs and restorative justice processes.

“We are confident that the OCR investigation will shed light on and bring corrective relief to systematic disparities based on race and disability in RPS’ application of discipline,” said Leslie Chambers Mehta, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia. “This is a first step towards eradicating the school-to-prison pipeline in Virginia’s capital city.”

Resources:
Press Release (pdf)

OCR Notification Letter (pdf)

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.

Follow the Legal Aid Justice Center on Twitter @LegalAidJustice and on Facebook.

About the ACLU of Virginia
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia is a private, non-profit organization that promotes civil liberties and civil rights for everyone in the Commonwealth through public education, litigation and advocacy with the goal of securing freedom and equality for all. In addition to the litigation for which the ACLU has been known, we also educate the public, inform the media, lobby legislators, organize grassroots activists, and disseminate information about our constitutional freedoms through our membership and volunteer chapters.

Follow the ACLU of Virginia on Twitter @ACLUVA and on Facebook.

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LAJC Announces New Leadership for JustChildren
Rachael Deane to become 3rd JustChildren Legal Director
A
ngela Ciolfi to take on new role leading impact litigation and advocacy organization-wide

Charlottesville, Va., April 14, 2017—The Legal Aid Justice Center is pleased to announce two new changes to its leadership team:

Rachael Deane will take the helm of LAJC’s acclaimed JustChildren Program, Virginia’s largest children’s law program.  Founded in 1997, JustChildren relies on a range of strategies, including direct services, impact litigation, and policy advocacy, to make sure the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable young people receive the services and support they need to lead successful lives in their community.  Ms. Deane will succeed Angela Ciolfi as the Program’s third Legal Director.

In 2016, Ms. Deane came to JustChildren to lead the program’s litigation portfolio from the National Fair Housing Alliance, where she was the Associate Director of Enforcement.  Before that, she managed civil rights advocacy and enforcement for Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), a statewide fair housing organization based in Richmond.  In 2012, she was named “Top 40 Under 40” by the Virginia Housing Coalition.  Ms. Deane is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington and the University of Richmond School of Law.  Since arriving at JustChildren, Ms. Deane has taken on leadership roles in JustChilden’s campaigns to increase state financial support for public schools and combat discipline discrimination in the Richmond Public Schools.

“For two decades, JustChildren has worked to amplify youth voices in Virginia and to ensure that all children have the tools they need to learn, grow, and become successful, “ said Ms. Deane.  “Today our work is more urgent than ever, and I am eager to continue our efforts to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, reform our juvenile justice system, and make sure every child has access to a high-quality education and a robust community support network.”

Angela Ciolfi will leave her post at JustChildren to become LAJC’s Director of Litigation & Advocacy. Ms. Ciolfi joined LAJC as a Powell Fellow in 2004 after clerking for U.S. District Judge Reginald C. Lindsay.  She won the Oliver White Hill Award from the Virginia State Bar in 2003 and the Child Advocacy Award from the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division in 2010.  Ms. Ciolfi is a graduate of The College of William and Mary and University of Virginia School of Law.  During her time as Legal Director, the JustChildren team won significant education reforms, including tying graduation rates to high school accreditation, prohibiting suspension for truancy, rolling back zero tolerance policies, and improving regulation of unlawful school fees.

In her new role, Ms. Ciolfi will work with all four of LAJC’s programs—JustChildren, Immigrant Advocacy, Civil Rights and Racial Justice, and Economic Justice—in developing multi-faceted campaigns using litigation, policy advocacy, organizing, and communications to challenge policies and practices that perpetuate poverty.  “It’s always been LAJC’s philosophy that it is our duty to use our limited resources to fight for changes with the greatest possible impact,” said Ms. Ciolfi.  “I am eager to join our clients and the rest of the LAJC team in stamping out injustice and exploitation where it hides in plain sight—from the “get out of debt” ads on TV to the over-policing of our schools.”

“Angela brings a wealth of experience to her new position.  She is a visionary thinker with tenacity and expertise who will increase the impact of all our work,” said Mary Bauer, LAJC’s Executive Director.  “And the Legal Aid Justice Center and our clients are profoundly lucky that Angela’s former position as  the Legal Director of JustChildren has been filled by Rachael Deane.  Rachael brings enthusiasm, intellect, and a commitment to justice that will serve children throughout the Commonwealth exceedingly well.”

Both staffing changes take effect immediately.

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.

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Follow Legal Aid Justice Center on Twitter @LegalAidJustice and find us on Facebook.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Opens Investigation into Displacement, Poor Conditions, and Discrimination at Virginia’s First Privatized Public Housing Community. 

 Hopewell, Va., March 9, 2017—In response to complaints filed on behalf of eight current and former public housing residents, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has opened an investigation into discrimination and other program violations at Virginia’s first Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversion. Under the RAD program, Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) and Community Housing Partners (CHP) razed the public housing community Langston Park in 2014 and built new apartments on the site, now called the Summit at Hopewell. The complaints allege HRHA and CHP discriminated against both families with children and residents with disabilities; pushed tenants out of Langston Park, depriving them of their legal right to return to the redeveloped Summit at Hopewell; and relocated other tenants to severely overcrowded housing in poor condition.

The complaints to HUD describe multiple violations of residents’ civil rights under the federal Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. They also allege violations of protections of the federal Uniform Relocation Act for relocated residents, and of RAD program requirements meant to protect affected residents. The alleged problems began early in the conversion process and have continued through the present.

According to the complaints, CHP illegally discriminated against the families from Langston Park who returned to the Summit after construction based on disability status or having children. CHP forbade anyone under the age of 18 from watching their younger siblings, taking out the trash on their own, accessing the computers and other amenities at the community center if not under the direct supervision of an adult, or playing outside unsupervised. One letter from the Summit’s property manager even threatened to call Child Protective Services if children were left in the care of someone under the age of 18. According to Helen Hardiman, Vice President of Law and Policy at Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc., “CHP’s alleged behavior left families with children little choice: stay inside or face harsh penalties. This is exactly the kind of discrimination the Fair Housing Act outlaws.”

One of the complaints states that HRHA and CHP denied a resident’s repeated requests for a first floor unit at the Summit to accommodate her medical disability, in violation of her rights. Last year, she died at her home in the Summit of cardiac arrest and arrhythmia, complications from the very disabilities that were exacerbated by HRHA and CHP’s alleged failure to grant her multiple requests for a reasonable accommodation. Within a week of her death, CHP moved to evict her surviving household members, her 8- and 9-year old grandnieces.

The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) is a “public-private partnership” model for redeveloping aging public housing. In most RAD projects, public housing authorities transfer both management and a large portion of ownership of formerly public housing to private companies, but continue to subsidize the property with direct and indirect federal assistance. Langston Park was the first RAD conversion in Virginia. There are currently thirty-nine other public housing communities in Virginia that HUD has approved to convert under the program. (See below for a list of localities/communities approved for RAD conversion.)   

The RAD conversion process requires property management to relocate residents to suitable housing on or off site during construction. According to the HUD complaints, when construction work began at the Summit in 2014, residents were relocated off-site to apartments that were overcrowded or virtually uninhabitable. Families as large as six members were crammed into two-bedroom apartments. Many of these apartments also had moisture and mold issues, according to some parents who allege that previously healthy children experienced medical problems while living in the overcrowded and rundown units, including asthma and other breathing issues.

RAD program rules also guarantee all residents the right to return to the redeveloped property. Some families from Langston Park allege they were pushed out of the community altogether, and not allowed to return to the Summit after construction. HRHA and CHP rebuilt the Summit with fewer large apartments for families with children. One resident in Langston Park with a daughter in a wheelchair claims CHP told her that there would not be an accessible unit at the Summit. Several residents at Langston Park claim they were misinformed and pressured, in violation of program rules, to accept buyout offers to move elsewhere, apparently because their return to the Summit would limit CHP’s eligibility for tax credit financing. According to Kim Rolla, Staff Attorney and Housing Coordinator at Legal Aid Justice Center, “all of these alleged actions denied residents – the intended beneficiaries of this program – their federally guaranteed right to return to the redeveloped property. It caused displaced residents extreme financial hardship. Many ended up in unstable housing situations, and some even experienced periods of homelessness.”

Despite these widespread problems, both CHP and HRHA have been approved for another RAD conversion together. Both are currently involved in the conversion of an elderly and disabled public housing building – Kippax Place – where advocates are uncovering similar problems and additional ones unique to that building’s population.

LAJC and HOME filed the complaints on behalf of their clients to prevent further violations of the rights of their clients and other residents who were harmed in the conversion process and/or are continuing to be discriminated against. RAD is often touted as the new frontier of public housing, but HUD, housing authorities, and RAD developers must remember their obligations under the law. The redevelopment of Langston Park is a prime example of a failure to do so, and at the expense of residents who deserve better.

To Read HUD’s Letters Announcing the Investigation, click here.

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. 

About Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc.
Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME), founded in 1971, is a statewide fair housing non‐profit. HOME’s mission is to ensure equal access to housing for all people. HOME investigates housing discrimination and provides support for victims of discrimination. You can learn more about HOME and all of its services at www.HOMEofVA.org.

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PRESS RELEASE:
Legal Aid Justice Center launches new Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program focused on reducing incarceration and dismantling systems of racial injustice.

On February 21st, 2017, the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) launched a new core program whose goal is to end the criminalization of poverty in Virginia by exposing and addressing the connections among policing, poverty, race, and injustice.

The program will expand on key initiatives such as LAJC’s “Drive Down the Debt” campaign which includes a class action lawsuit currently being litigated that aims to end Virginia’s practice of automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of individuals who are unable to pay court costs and fines.  Over 900,000 Virginians- 1 in 6 Virginia drivers- has a suspended driver’s license due in part to unpaid court costs and fines.

“With dedicated staff, this new program will enhance our cutting-edge work to dismantle systems of oppression that make and keep people poor and that rip apart communities,” said LAJC Executive Director Mary Bauer. 

Under the leadership of newly hired Civil Rights and Racial Justice Legal Director, Adeola Ogunkeyede, the program will also identify, investigate, and attack other systems of racial injustice.  Adeola was most recently the Director of Staff Development at The Bronx Defenders, one of the premier criminal and civil justice organizations in New York.

Adeola began her career as a staff attorney in the Bronx Defenders’ Criminal Defense Practice, where she defended thousands of men and women in Bronx Criminal Court. Practicing within a community-oriented, holistic defense model, Adeola collaborated with an interdisciplinary team of attorneys and advocates to help clients avoid or mitigate enmeshed penalties stemming from contact with the criminal justice system such as the loss of employment, housing, parental rights, or the ability to reside in the United States. During her tenure at The Bronx Defenders, she also served as a supervising attorney and the Litigation Supervisor of the criminal practice.

Adeola received her J.D. from Tulane Law School where she was a member of the Criminal Law Clinic, president of the Public Interest Law Foundation, and coordinator of the Street Law Program in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Upon graduation, she received the Crest Award for Service and Leadership and the General Maurice Hirsch Award, presented each year to the graduating student who contributes most distinctively and constructively to university or community needs.

After graduation, Adeola interned for the Honorable Carl Stewart of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Before law school, Adeola was a paralegal at a national civil rights law firm in Washington, D.C. A native of Queens, N.Y., Adeola received her B.A. from Duke University.

“In today’s climate, it is more important than ever that there be strong, dedicated advocates who can challenge systems of oppression and amplify community calls for change,” said Civil Rights and Racial Justice Legal Director Adeola Ogunkeyede.

The Civil Rights and Racial Justice program will be housed in LAJC’s Richmond office at 123 East Broad Street. A meet and greet with Adeola will be held at Quirk Hotel on March 14th from 5-7 pm. The event will be a fundraiser for LAJC with wine tastings for $17, a portion of which will go to support the newly formed Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program. More information can be found at  www.justice4all.org/raiseyourglass

Press Contact: 
Tim Wallace, Director of Development
Legal Aid Justice Center
Phone: 434.529.1853, Mobile: 773.426.5948
twallace@justice4all.org

Event Contact:
Jessica Wright
Chief Development Officer- Richmond
Legal Aid Justice Center
123 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Phone: 804-340-7741 Mobile: 804-651-9449
jessica@justice4all.org