The role of traffic court fines in the poverty cycle

Not Just a Ferguson Problem
Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How the Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California

Many have heard of the scathing March 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Justice on the police department of Ferguson, Missouri and the use of fines as a revenue source for the city — fines that are placed disproportionally on people of color via small infractions.  Unfortunately, similar methods of municipal financing is occurring in our own state.

A consortium of legal aid organizations:  The Western Center on Law and Poverty, the East Bay Community Law Center, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, have produced a report that looks at the impact on families of the policy of using traffic fines.  “Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California,” outlines how the fines have increased significantly since 2006, how the courts often impose the maximum fine and how there is little incentive not to since these fines support the courts, and how the resulting license suspension for not paying results in job loss and, therefore, further inability to pay the fines.

Not-Just-a-Ferguson-Problem-Drivers-License-Infographic

San Francisco has the Second Chance Legal Clinic for people who are in just such a predicament:  their license was suspended and they owe exorbitant fines.  This clinic also helps people that are barred from employment or housing due to past criminal actions.  The East Bay Community Law Center, who also helped with the above report, also has a Clean Slate Clinic.

You can find out about these and other resources at the Alameda County Law Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fee Waivers Involving Guardians Conservators and Petitioners For Their Appointment

 Judicial Council of California

Invitation to Comment: Fee Waivers

Legislation effective on January 1, 2015, has changed the law governing court fee waivers involving guardians, conservators, and petitioners for their appointment. The new law clarifies that the fee waiver in such matters is in favor of the (proposed) ward or conservatee and must be based solely on his or her financial condition, but requires the fiduciary or the petitioner for the fiduciary’s appointment, or both, to participate in all court proceedings and to respond to all court orders concerning the waiver.

To implement this new law, the committee is proposing a new rule of court regarding fee waivers in guardianships and conservatorship proceedings and new versions of Judicial Council fee waiver forms for use by probate guardians and conservators, and by petitioners for their appointment. The rule would also address fee waivers in decedent estate proceedings.

Court fee waivers in decedent estates, guardianships, and conservatorships and for wards and conservatees participating in civil actions

Deadline for Comments: April 23, 2015 5:00 PM (Pacific)
Submit Comment Online or by email: invitations@jud.ca.gov

 

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Lawyers in the Library Volunteer – Tim Iglesias – Housing Law/Affordable Housing Expert

One of the many dedicated attorney volunteers for Alameda County’s Lawyers in the Library program

Tim Iglesias, law professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, organized and co-wrote an amicus brief in a case now before the California Supreme Court.  On Wednesday, April 8, 2015, the court heard oral arguments in CALIFORNIA 2015_tim_iglesias_photoBUILDING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION v. CITY OF SAN JOSE (AFFORDABLE HOUSING NETWORK OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY) (S212072).  An amicus brief filed in this appeal can be read here.  Others can be found by accessing the California Briefs database at the Alameda County Law Library.

For more discussion on this case, see the article in the SJ Mercury News here.

Recently, Professor Iglesias was a member of the panel of experts discussing the case on KQED’s radio program,  Forum, on April 9, 2015.   The program focused its discussion on the case and its possible impact on the estimated 170 local California governments that have “inclusionary housing” laws including the city of Berkeley in Alameda County.

We, here at Alameda County Law Library, know Professor Inglesias as one of the many dedicated volunteer attorneys who staff the Alameda County Lawyers in the Library program.  Volunteers provide free consultation and referrals on a wide variety of issues including landlord tenant disputes, probate matters, employment problems, and other general consumer issues. These consultations take place at public libraries (including the Alameda County Law Library) on a rotating basis throughout the month. The Lawyers in the Library program is an important step in the library’s mission of providing access to justice to its community.

For more information about the Lawyers in the Library program including volunteer opportunities, please contact Nicole at ACLL at nicole.lemieux@acgov.org.

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California’s Direct Democracy – Initiatives, Referendum and Recall – Sources

California’s system of direct democracy in the news

On Friday (April 3, 2015), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a California election law that requires the sponsors of ballot initiatives to identify themselves on the petitions they circulate to voters, rejecting a panel’s earlier decision that the law violates the constitutional right to speak anonymously.  (Chula Vista  Citizens for Jobs v. Donna Norris,  Case Number 12-55726)

The court also unanimously upheld a state law that requires the official sponsor of a proposed ballot measure to be a person rather than an association or a corporation. (CA Election Code §321(a); see also People v.Darcy, 139 P.2d 118,123. Defines an “elector” as “any person who is an United States citizen, 18 years of age or older and … is a resident of an election precinct at least 15 days prior to an election.”)

The San Francisco Chronicle published an article that discusses the history and the findings of the case.

State ballot measures

The Ninth Circuit case deals with municipal ballot measures but the process for placing an item on the state ballot has also been in the news recently due to the efforts of a South California attorney, Matt McLaughlin, to place on the ballot an initiative that calls for physical harm to be done against homosexuals.

The California State Attorney General, Kamala Harris, has filed an action for declaratory relief in Sacramento Superior Court (subscription kamala_harrisrequired for search) seeking judicial authorization for relief from the duty to prepare and issue the title and summary. (AG’s statement)

For further information on the story of the Attorney General’s response to the anti-gay initiative, you can read the LA Times here or the Sacramento Bee here.

The process for submitting a petition to be placed on the California state ballot is a rather simple process defined by the California Elections Code

  • write the text of the initiative
  • submit the text to the AG to prepare a title and a 100-word summary
  • pay the $200 filing fee

The attorney general is then required by law to prepare a title and a 100-word summary and forward it to the Secretary of State for public comment. Only then does the signature-gathering process begin.  Mr. McLaughlin has submitted his text and paid $200.  It is now up to the OAG to take the next steps.    Attorney General Harris has filed the petition with the court for a ruling that would allow her not to move forward.

The history of direct democracy in California

200px-Flag_of_California-svgCalifornia’s system of direct democracy has been a part of state government for more than 100 years.   The initiative, referendum and recall processes were adopted at both the state and local levels when voters ratified amendments in a special election on October 10, 1911.  For further research into the history of CA initiative and referendum process, a good source is the web site of the Initiative and Referendum Institute of the University of Southern California.

Here is a selection from the web site of the Initiative and Referendum Institute of University of Southern California:

What are ballot propositions, initiatives, and referendums?

Ballot measures or ballot propositions are proposals to enact new laws or constitutional amendments or repeal existing laws or constitutional amendments that are placed on the ballot for approval or rejection by the electorate. There are several different kinds of ballot measures:

An initiative is a proposal of a new law or constitutional amendment that is placed on the ballot by petition, that is, by collecting signatures of a certain number of citizens. Twenty-four states have the initiative process (list). Of the 24 states, 18 allow initiatives to propose constitutional amendments and 21 states allow initiatives to propose statutes. In most cases, once a sufficient number of signatures has been collected, the proposal is placed on the ballot for a vote of the people (“direct initiative”). In some cases, the proposal first goes to the legislature, and if approved by the legislature, is not voted on by the people (“indirect initiative”). For constitutional amendments, 16 states allow direct initiatives and two allow indirect initiatives. For statutes, 11 states allow direct initiatives for statutes, seven allow indirect initiatives, and two states (Utah and Washington) allow both direct and indirect initiatives.

A referendum (sometimes “popular referendum”) is a proposal to repeal a law that was previously enacted by the legislature, and that is placed on the ballot by citizen petition. A total of 24 states permit referendums, most of them states that also permit initiatives. Although the Progressives considered the referendum as important as the initiative, in practice, referendums are fairly rare, especially compared to initiatives.

A legislative measure or legislative proposition (or sometimes “referred” measure) is a proposal placed on the ballot by the legislature. All states permit legislative measures (list) and all states except for Delaware require constitutional amendments to be approved by the voters at large. In some states, legislatures place nonbinding advisory measures on the ballot. Legislative measures are much more common than initiatives and referendums, and are about twice as likely to be approved. Some states, such as Florida, also allow certain commissions to refer measures to the ballot.

There is no provision for any sort of ballot proposition at the national level in the United States.  However, the initiative and referendum are available in thousands of counties, cities and towns across the country and are utilized far more frequently than their statewide counterpart.

 

Other Internet sources of interest to those researching California ballot measures are:

UC Hastings collection

The researcher can browse:

PDF images of California Ballot Pamphlets (1911-2012).
PDF images of Individual Ballot Propositions.
PDF images of California Initiatives.  (includes a record of those initiatives that did not qualify for the ballot)

Other research sites suggested by the UC Hastings website include:

A History of California Initiatives: 1912 through January 2015 The Secretary of State has made available online an historical study and statistical analysis of California initiative measures.

California Attorney General Official Website For current information and full text of Initiatives (2004- current).

California Secretary of State Official Website For current information and full text of Propositions (1996- current).

For those researchers who are particularly interested in the history of California’s tax initiatives, they may want to look at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association website.  The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association was at the forefront of many of the state tax proposition campaigns  and continues to “be dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights, including the right to limited taxation, the right to vote on tax increases and the right of economical, equitable and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

Public Policy Institute of California  at the University of California, Berkeley has published a number of policy studies on the California initiative process.  Included on PPIC’s site is an overview  of the process itself and another on reforming the process.

There is also a fifty-state ballot measures directory supported by the  National Council of State Legislatures.  NCSL’s Ballot Measures database includes all statewide ballot measures for more than a century. The database is searchable by topic area, with options such as abortion, bond measures, criminal justice, education, elections, health, labor and employment, natural resources, tax and revenues, transportation and more. The database is updated as new ballot measures qualify to be on the ballot. On election night, each entry is updated with “pass” or “fail.”

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Motion in Limine Changes at Alameda Superior Court

Effective July 1, 2014 each motion in limine requires a $60 fee.  Read the full announcement on the Court’s webpage

If you’d like to read about introducing evidence and motions in limine, see Laying a foundation to introduce evidence (preparing and using evidence at trial)  by Donald F. Miles. [A CEB action guide] 2012. KFC 1030 .Z9 M55 2012 — Action Guides Area

For more guidance from CEB, consider searching “motion in limine” in the CEB OnLaw database available at both the Oakland or Hayward branches of the law library.

See also Civil Practice Guide: California Motions in Limine available in both the Oakland and Hayward branches through the library’s WestLawNext subscription.

You can help keep the valuable research tools available in the law library by making a tax-deductible gift to the Alameda County Law Library online, by calling or mailing to Alameda County Law Library, 125 12th St., Oakland, CA 94567.

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Gems of the Library’s Collection

Hidden-Gems-logoWe all have a tendency to use the same materials over and over again because they are comfortable and reliable.
This is the beginning of a new series to familiarize you with some other resources available in the library which you might find helpful in doing your legal research.
For this first post, we are featuring the California Judge’s Benchbook series. The practice materials we have from Rutter, CEB , Lexis and other publishers are either written for attorneys or the general public (NOLO). The Judges Benchbooks are written as guides for judges to use in understanding cases and in making decisions relevant to them. According to the Preface they are to be “used to guide a judge through the proceedings”. Often, it also can help attorneys and participants to learn about the proceedings from a judge’s perspective and it can be useful in presenting information in court. The books often have information in them which may be not found in the attorney practice manuals.
The California Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER) which creates the Benchbooks (published by West) also conducts continuing education programs for judges as well as training programs for new judges. The Benchbooks are updated annually.
The books on civil procedure are organized chronologically paralleling the steps and procedures in a civil case. They books are located on the open shelves and include:
California judges benchbook 2d. Civil Proceedings—before trial KFC 995 .C335
California judges benchbook. Civil Proceedings – discovery KFC 1020 .C35
California judges benchbook 2d. Civil Proceedings – trial  KFC 1025 .C335
California judges benchbook. Civil Proceedings – after trial KFC 1061 .C335
California judges Benchbook : small claims court and consumer law KFC 976 .C34 (at the Reference Desk)
Other titles in the series outside the civil procedure area are:
California judges benchbook: domestic violence KFC 1121.4 .C3
California judges benchbook: search and seizure KFC 1162 .C357
Look for more hidden gems on our blog in the near future.

Dress Code, Hard to Enforce?

According to the Chronicle, San Francisco Superior Court Executive Officer T. Michael Yuen decided to enforce the 1996 dress code to promote respect for the public and the judicial system. Approximately 90% of staff interacts with the public. He sent a memo in December 2013 to court staff.

From the San Francisco Superior Court dress and grooming standards:
“Employees must maintain a professional, business-like appearance appropriate for an institution that serves the public in the vital functioning of delivering justice.”

“The following is a non-exclusive list providing examples of what is not acceptable…
Tank tops, Cut-off shorts, Beach wear, Warm-ups, Thong-style sandals. “ Other examples given by Michael Yuen were sneakers, jeans, spandex and hoodies.

Some court staff has been written up, some sent home to change and some sent home without pay. The Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 has alleged the dress code is vague and arbitrarily enforced. It filed an unfair labor practice action before the California Labor Relations Board. On Thursday, February 20, 2014, SEIU members, court staff, and others picketed outside the courthouse. This county law library has the state of California  PERB (Public Employment Relations Board) Decisions and related  materials in print from the beginning in 1977. The more recent decisions and older decisions are shelved separately in the library. There is also a website at http://www.perb.ca.gov/.

On the court web site there is also some advice for jurors:
“DRESS FOR JURY SERVICE?
Proper attire is required. Dress as if you were going to a business meeting. Ties and business suits are not required. Please do not wear tank tops, shorts, beach sandals, etc. Temperatures in the Court facilities can vary. Please dress accordingly.”

California judges have a dress code provided by the state legislature. It is in the California Government Code § 68110 Judicial robes; use; style. That statute is supplemented by California Rules of Court, Rule 10.505 Judicial Robes.