By: Ingrid R. Zerpa, 2015 Goldmark Equal Justice Intern
As the 2015 Goldmark Equal Justice Intern, I had the privilege of working for 10 weeks with The STAR (Successful Transition and Reentry) Project in Walla Walla. As a legal intern, one of my main responsibilities was to educate attorneys, judges, and court administrative staff about the mandates of State v. Blazina, which addressed the burden of Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) on defendants. As the culminating project of my internship and in an effort to reduce the number of people who are unfairly burdened with LFOs that they cannot afford, I invite you to attend “Legal Financial Obligations After Blazina – Best Practices”.
On Friday, October 16th from 12:45 – 5:15 p.m., please join The STAR Project and me for an exciting and important Continuing Legal Education (CLE) training on best practices for attorneys and judges about addressing the issue of Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) during and post-sentencing. This 3.5 credit training will include presentations from Washington State Supreme Court Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle, Appellate Criminal Defense Attorney Jennifer Dobson, and American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Prachi Dave.
In State v. Blazina, the Washington State Supreme Court chronicled the burdens of LFOs on defendants and those exiting incarceration, and emphasized the trial court’s obligation to consider a defendant’s current and future ability to pay LFOs. This training discusses the mandates of Blazina, and focuses on best practices for attorneys and judges when addressing the issue of LFOs during sentencing and post-sentencing, including the appeal process. This CLE provides perspectives from both the bench and the defense bar in order to foster quality work that is well-organized and efficient. The goal of the CLE is to incentivize judges to make a thorough inquiry during sentencing; and consequently, fewer defendants will default on their LFOs payments because a correct inquiry was made.
But what happens after a trial court has imposed LFOs, and a person is having trouble making payments? If a court finds that a person willfully did not pay LFOs, a person may go to jail; though there are alternatives to this, some courts are notorious for opting to send people to jail. Many attorneys are not aware that they can request a remission hearing in order to ask the court to waive or reduce discretionary LFOs. If it appears to the satisfaction of the court that payment of the amount due will impose manifest hardship on the defendant or the defendant’s immediate family, the court may remove all or part of the amount due in costs. If more attorneys request remission hearings for their clients, it would lower the current number of individuals having trouble affording their LFOs. LFOs create an additional barrier and hardship for people, especially low-income people, working to pull their life together after reentry. This CLE hopes to foster good practices among the legal community to help reduce the burdens that low-income people face upon reentry that prevent them from meeting their basic needs and finding a productive place in society.
When I went to law school at Seattle University, I was told, “As an attorney, you have so much power, and you can make a difference.” I used to think that this was a little corny. However, I’ve kept this phrase in my mind over the years, and I’ve realized its truth. Attorneys, especially legal aid attorneys, help people when they need it the most. They help people restore their dignity. Join us on October 16th and learn how you can use your power to make a positive difference.