Legal Aid Headlines

June’s News Roundup

By Kristin Parker

From John Oliver to Brad Smith to the U.S. Supreme Court, this month’s headlines will bring you up to speed on how local events are impacting the nation, and vice versa. Don’t forget to visit In the News to catch up any stories you may have missed.

New UW Research Shows How Prison Debt Ensnares Offenders
The Atlantic reviewed a new book by UW Sociologist, Alexes Harris – A Pound of Flesh – documenting how hundreds of former inmates, as well as the people they harmed, are cheated by a cynical and cyclical state-sponsored debt spiral. According to Harris, Washington state collected $30 million in legal financial obligations (LFOs) in 2012. In the her book, Harris references a report published by LFW grantee Columbia Legal Services, which found “that in one county jail, 20 percent of the population on a given day were there for nonpayment.” Read more about the book and CLS’s contributions in this Seattle Weekly article.

Debt Buyers and Computerized Bulk Litigation
In his wonderfully satirical and humorous fashion, Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver uncovers how companies across our country are purchasing debt cheaply then attempting to collect it in an aggressive and often unethical fashion. Fueled by the cold efficiency of collection computer software and an army of printers, debt buyers are able to bulk generate litigation, which is quickly reduced to judgment despite often having little or no evidence to prove the claim and with no meaningful review by an actual person. Northwest Justice Project has been out front on this unregulated practice and its effect on the civil justice system and low-income people. For more, read “Report Finds Courts Sacrifice Justice for Efficiency with Regards to Debt Buyer Cases” by Scott Kinkley.

Op-Ed: Rethinking Juvenile Justice and Its Impact on Minority Teens
The Seattle Times published an op-ed written by Judge Michael Trickey and Spokane City Councilmember Breean Beggs on behalf of the Access to Justice Board. Judge Trickey and Beggs express the ATJ Board’s belief that “action can be taken now that has the potential to transform our justice system and result in less crime and far fewer minority youths and adults languishing in detention facilities, jails and prisons.” These recommended actions are: reform school disciplinary practices, improve access to mental health and chemical dependency services, and revise sentencing schemes that disproportionately harm minority youth. Nice work, ATJ Board!

Seattle Officials Dismayed by High Court’s Immigration Deadlock
In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s 4-4 tie regarding President Obama’s immigration plan to safeguard millions from deportation, Seattle activists and elected officials rallied at the Federal courthouse downtown to express their disappointment. The Court’s failure to make a decision means the lower court’s ruling stands, and as many as 100,000 community members in our state could face the threat of deportation and cannot obtain work permits. Mayor Ed Murray, City Councilmembers M. Lorena Gonzalez and Jorge Baron, Executive Director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, spoke at this event. Despite the unfortunate ruling from the court, NWIRP is going a great job keeping the community up-to-date on the effects of this indecision. Check out more coverage of this story from KUOW.

Microsoft’s Brad Smith Tapped for LCS’ National Leaders Council to Address Crisis in Legal Aid
Microsoft President & Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith has just been tapped to join the Legal Services Corporation’s newly formed Leaders Council. The Council aims to raise awareness about the national legal aid crisis where 50 percent of people seeking help are turned away. As previously reported the Leaders Council also includes baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, former 49ers coach and Seahawk’s rival Jim Harbaugh, as well as William Neukom, retired K&L Gates partner and founder of Seattle-based World Justice Forum.

Additional legal aid headlines:
June 28, 2016Thousands of Immigrant Kids Added to Class-Action Lawsuit Over Right to Counsel

June 27, 2016 – Legal Technicians Provide Family Law Assistance

June 27, 2016 – Judge Oks Class Action for Children in Deportation Hearings

June 22, 2016Seattle-area Hospitals Under Fire

June 21, 2016Lawsuit: Local Hospital Is ‘Unfair and Deceptive’ to Some Low Income Patients

June 21, 2016 – Law Firms Are Already Inside Some US Walmarts

June 1, 2016 – Civil Legal Needs Study Update: An Alarm and an Opportunity