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Legal Aid Headlines

September Legal Aid News Roundup

By Kristin Parker

Legal Aid in the News: September

Over the past few weeks, civil legal aid has been featured in the news nationally and locally. Below are a few of our favorite headlines, and if you’re interested in more stories about legal aid and our grantees, check out the In the News page of our website.

Editorial: Moral obligation to not create debtors traps for poor defendants, The Seattle Times, 9/29/16
The state Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling that courts must take into account a person’s ability to pay when assigning discretionary fines. The case involved a Kennewick woman living on permanent disability who was saddled with $1,345 in court fees for three low-level misdemeanors.

Forum shines spotlight on sexual harassment of farmworkers, Yakima Herald, 9/24/16
Prompted by statistics that show 4 of 5 women working in agriculture experience sexual harassment, the regional director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a forum in Yakima, attended by 30 persons from agencies that support farm workers. Attendees said barriers to reporting harassment are language, lack of knowledge of what is expected of them and fear of losing their jobs, all of which enable predators to harass workers. An advocate from the Northwest Justice Project says litigation and education can change this culture of impunity.

NJP wins right to protection orders for domestic violence victims in divorces, Email, 9/15/16
In Juarez v. Juarez, argued by Northwest Justice Project, the Court of Appeals, Division III, ruled that a trial court ‘abuses its discretion’ when it fails to grant short term protection orders for victims of domestic violence who are also in the middle of separation proceedings, citing studies that show the increase risk of homicide resulting from increased contact.

New ACLU Report: bail creates a two-tiered justice system in Washington, Seattle Weekly, 9/15/16
ACLU of Washington reports how the state’s system of assigning bail unfairly impacts low income people. Unable to pay bail, they are locked up, often resulting in loss of employment, housing and even their long term freedom as they are less able to work with an attorney from jail to fight the charges.

NWIRP sues on behalf of 80 detainees in Tacoma seeking asylum, The Seattle Times, 9/15/16
LFW Grantee, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, sued on behalf of 80 detainees denied bail hearings and forced to remain in custody at the Northwest Detention Center as they wait for the result of asylum hearings. Many of the detainees report fearing for their safety in their home countries.

Immigrant detention system could be in line for an overhaul, The Wall Street Journal, 9/27/16
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may stop using private prison contractors to house two-thirds of its immigration detainees, siting inefficiencies and high costs. The Department of Justice announced it would end its use of private prison contractors. This review may impact the recent agreement with the GEO Group that operates the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

Appeals Court rejects lawsuit over lawyers for immigrant kids, The Seattle Times, 9/20/16
A federal appeals court panel rejected a class action lawsuit filed by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and ACLU on behalf of children without lawyers in deportation proceedings. Judges said the claims must be brought individually after deportation proceedings are exhausted.

The injustice of underfunding civil legal aid, The Seattle Times 9/9/16
At current levels of funding, only a quarter of Washingtonians who need legal aid receive it. LFW Board member and King County Superior Court Judge Johanna Bender says the impact is even more devastating for members of the LGBTQ community who often face discrimination in housing, employment and health care. “When civil legal problems compound and fester, escape from poverty can be hopeless.”

For tenants facing eviction, New York may guarantee a lawyer, The New York Times, 9/26/16
Proponents of a bill before the New York City Council say the cost of providing legal aid attorneys for people facing eviction is cheaper than later housing those same families in shelters. Currently, seventy percent of NY tenants face evictions without a lawyer, but this bill would provide Civil Gideon, a reference to the 1963 Supreme Court case that guarantees the right to a lawyer in criminal cases.