A report by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area has documented systemic socioeconomic bias and economic exploitation of the poor throughout courts in California.
The report, Not Just a Ferguson Problem - How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California, begins with this introduction:
Low-income Californians are being disproportionately impacted by state laws and procedures related to driver’s license suspensions. Due to increased fines and fees and reduced access to courts, more than four million Californians have suspended driver’s licenses.
These suspensions make it harder for people to get and keep jobs, harm credit ratings, and raise public safety concerns. Ultimately, they keep people in long cycles of poverty that are difficult if not impossible for many to overcome. This report highlights the impacts on families, how the problem happens, and what can and should be done to rectify it.Commission on Judicial Performance reform advocates point out that four separate sections of the California Code of Judicial Ethics - the state laws governing judge conduct - require judges to ensure that the courts are free of bias or prejudice based on socioeconomic status.
"Incredibly, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights report shows irrefutably that judges throughout the state have for years, to use the exact terminology from the Code [of Judicial Ethics], not refrained from manifesting bias or prejudice based on socioeconomic status," said CJP watchdog Fatima Katumbusi.
"Even worse, according to the CJP's own report on judge misconduct involving bias, they have never, literally never, disciplined a judge for socioeconomic bias. It has now become embarrassingly obvious that [CJP Director] Victoria Henley and the CJP do not know what socioeconomic bias even is," Katumbusi asserted. "They would not know what it is if it hit them over the head because it has hit them over the head, and they're frozen like a deer in the headlights."
|CJP Director Victoria B. Henley|
Canon 3C(2) directs judges to require staff and court personnel to refrain from manifesting bias in the performance of official duties, and 3C(5) requires judges to perform administrative duties without bias or prejudice.
The 30-page LCCR report offers solutions to stop the cycle of driver's license suspensions for collections, protect jobs, and collect more revenue, beginning with ending the use of license suspensions as a collection tool for citation-related debt.
In what CJP watchdogs cite as an explicit example of socioeconomic bias by courts, the report also proposes to allow people to access the courts without regard to income by eliminating the requirement to pay "bail" in full before seeking relief from the court.
The report concludes:
In today’s society, driving is often a lifeline to work, health care, and education. When cities discriminatorily enforce traffic laws, when we suspend licenses for people who cannot pay a citation, when we close the courthouse doors to people who are poor, we are limiting families’ growth and survival. California should stop suspending licenses for failure to pay, allow poor people access to the courts, and move millions of Californians back toward economic security.Related links:
- Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Report: Not Just a Ferguson Problem - How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California.
- Commission on Judicial Performance Report: Judicial Misconduct Involving Bias.
- California Code of Judicial Ethics: Canons 3B(5)(6), 3C(2)(5).
- New York Times: Economic Disparity is Seen in California Driver's License Suspensions.
- Think Progress: How Driving While Poor Became a Crime in California.