“Justice Calling” Newsletter

Community Court


IMG_0179I was walking in downtown Spokane on my way to the library headed to Community Court. It is where all the cool kids hang out on Mondays mid-morning to early afternoon. Why do we hang out there, you may ask. Because we care about our community, because we want to help people, we want to make an impact.

Who are these cool kids and what do they do at the downtown library? We are a ragtag group of community organizations that collaborates with the courts to get disadvantaged (and usually impoverished) people the services they need.

Community Court is open to everyone but many start through the courts, as low level, non-violent offenders that would otherwise be jailed for minor offences that are often related their homelessness, drug or alcohol dependency or mental illness. Putting them in jail for minor offenses is expensive for the city and doesn’t help these folks. So the prosecutors, public defenders and the judge collaborate with community organizations to get them services instead.

There are a variety of organizations there to help people get signed up for mental health services, housing, public benefits and oh so much more. I go to represent the Center for Justice and to help people sign up for Medicaid or Washington Apple Health as it’s known in these parts.

Back to my story. I continued my stroll through downtown. IMG_0166The sun was shining, the air was crisp and not many people were out. I always enjoy the walk when the weather is nice. It’s only about a half a mile from my office and the stretch runs along beautiful Riverfront Park with its artwork, fountain and the river running right through the middle of it.

As I got close to crossing the street near the library, a bicyclist sped by and made eye contact. I gave a little nod and he nodded back. He was long and lean and a stocking cap covered much of his head but I could make out some short dreads underneath. He was holding a large piece of cardboard in one hand as he raced by.

I got to the library and settled in at my table with all the other service providers. Said my hellos to friends and set up my computer and my vast array of pamphlets. It got busy.

The tall cyclist came wandering in and sat at my table. He introduced himself. He had the name of a little town in California not too far from where I used to live in my youth. Hearing it brought a smile to my face.

He was soft spoken and polite. He looked like a guy who had just fallen on hard times and was trying to get himself back on track. I signed him up for healthcare without a hitch. He thanked me and left my table. I distractedly went on about my work and finished up for the day.

As I was walking out in a slew of others leaving, he came running up to me from behind. He was out of breath as he handed me the folded piece of cardboard. I opened it up and thanked him. He was gone in a flash. This is what he left behind. I think sharing his artwork was his way of extending a little gratitude for the help I had given him.


Comm Court pic

click the links below for more about community court




Justice Calling 10/14

Center for Justice Oct 2014 Newsletter heading "Justice Calling"

Rick Eichsteadt photo

Rick’s Review

A Message from the Executive Director, Rick Eichstaedt

“A compassionate city is an uncomfortable city!  A city that is uncomfortable when anyone is homeless or hungry.  Uncomfortable if every child isn’t loved and given rich opportunities to grow and thrive.  Uncomfortable when as a community we don’t treat our neighbors as we would wish to be treated.”

 –Karen Armstrong, Founder of the global movement, The Charter for Compassion

It is sometime disheartening to read our local news and hear about efforts of a few to move our STA Bus Plaza because they don’t like “those people” or that the City’s sit and lie ordinance is not enforced against people sitting and lying on the sidewalk waiting to buy the latest iPhone.  Recently, our City spent $20,000 on a campaign to encourage people to give money to specified nonprofits instead of panhandlers.  This $20,000 resulted in a mere $212 being raised!  Too often, certain interests in our City take the approach that we should implement measures to simply hide poverty and homeless by making it difficult or even illegal to be downtown.

We at the Center for Justice do not believe that hiding the problems of poverty and homelessness is the solution to the problem. Solutions that work come from a place of compassion. These solutions, as Karen Armstrong says, means being uncomfortable and acknowledging the problem.

How do we do that in Spokane?  First, we acknowledge that we cannot solve the problem alone or that our actions amount to a total solution.

Second, we act to provide both individual legal services and policy guidance to tackle the problem.  One way is to give those who need it the most an opportunity to get back on their feet and get back to work – we do this by providing assistance to those who have lost their licenses to regain their driving privileges. In the last year, we helped nearly 300 people regain their licenses.  We help people clear their criminal records of old convictions and help them deal with repayment of past court fines (LFOs).  We also address housing issues and help people stay in their homes and help create opportunities for people to get into housing.

While serving the needs of individuals creates real and meaningful results, we understand that our system is broken and often creates roadblocks that keep those in poverty or those who are homeless from moving out of their situation.  That is why we are working on changing both local and state policies.  Our criminal justice system amounts to 70% of our County budget and often does little to make us feel safer or address the root cause of crime.  Our Smart Justice program is working to create evidence-based programs that get people out of the crime by addressing their addictions or other roadblocks to getting back to work or school.

We are working hard to reform our Legal Financial Obligation (LFOs) system in Washington that often throws people in jail (at a cost of $120 a day to taxpayers) for failing to pay their court fines.  We are working on statewide and local efforts to “ban the box,” which will stop people from being automatically disqualified from employment for a past arrest or conviction. We also are working to stop the efforts to move the STA Plaza and are reviewing the legality of our City’s sit and lie law.

We know it is not easy to solve issues of poverty and homelessness.  We know that it is uncomfortable to advocate against “easy” solutions, but as uncomfortable as it is, it’s the right thing to do to create a just and compassionate community.

Rick's sig



Rick Eichstaedt

Developing future Riverkeepers

Jerry White helps elementary student cast a fly rod

by Jerry White

After-school fly fishing & river education camps have finished up at the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center.  These camps happened because of a successful partnership between Hutton Settlement, Inland Northwest Nature Connection, Spokane Riverkeeper , Spokane Valleyfest and Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation.  Additionally, the Spokane River Forum helped us organize the service portion of the project.  Over the course of a week, the students from Huttton settlement learned a bit about river ecology, macro-invertebrates, native trout and invasive species.  They learned how to tie flies, they participated in the Upriver Scrub picking up garbage along the river, and finally caught some fine hatchery trout from the Mirabeau Parkway pond.  These rainbow trout were left in the pond after the kids fishing day during Valleyfest.  The camp kids helped ensure that these trout would not die during the winter, but be caught, cleaned and eaten for dinner by the kids of Hutton.  Thanks to all for a great experience!

Help us continue our work in the community! Please consider purchasing a Spokane Riverkeeper T-shirt for $25. High quality, Alternative Apparel brand, available in 3 colors- Adult sizes only. For each purchase made, Ammonite Ink will donate $11.20 to Spokane Riverkeeper! 

Brown paper lunch bag with Center for Justice Logo

Monthly Community Outreach Programs at CFJ – Free of charge

  • Justice Night- every 1st Tues at 5pm
  • Justice Lunchbox- every 3rd Wed at Noon
by Randi Madison

The Center for Justice began offering legal advice to any person, free of charge in early 2012.  Originally held at the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library, the “Justice Clinics” eventually turned into “Justice Night” and were moved to the lobby of the Community Building at 35 W. Main. They are offered every first Tuesday of each Month from 5:00 – 6:00 pm.

Justice Night typically serves between 10-20 people with free advice from volunteer lawyers, such as Mari Luna who is featured in this newsletter’s Volunteer Spotlight. The topics range anywhere from the expungement of criminal records or getting your driver’s license back, to consumer law, disability and race discrimination, family law, landlord-tenant issues and more.  Those who attend can expect to have a one-on-one conversation with a local attorney and obtain free information about their civil issue. We cannot help address criminal issues at this time.

The Center’s newest community outreach program happens at lunchtime. It is a casual, brown-bag discussion series called Justice Lunchbox.  We started this program in an effort to provide a framework where the public can have open dialogue on a wide variety of justice issues.  So far we have facilitated an opportunity for 25 people who attended our first event to speak informally with recently nominated members of the Spokane Police Ombudsman Commission, Pastor Deb Conklin and Rachel Dolezal, about police brutality, accountability and their visions for their role on the Commission. Each shared their personal connections to this issue and helped the attendees better understand how the Commission was poised to function. They clarified that the Commission will not refer cases, but will request that the Office of Police Ombudsman (OPO) examine or re-examine specific non-disciplinary policy or procedure issues and confirm or reject OPO requests for additional investigation by Internal Affairs.  A full description of the Commission and its duties is outlined online in Section 04.32.150 of the Spokane Municipal Code.

On October 15th, Center for Justice board member Nick Pontarolo led a more intimate discussion with 11 attendees, on the current political environment in Afghanistan.  Returning from a month-long experience in Afghanistan as a tourist in March of 2014, he gained a tremendous love and appreciation for the people and deep interest in the politics of the country and continues to follow it closely through connections with friends currently living there and through following news from sites such as the United States Institute of Peace. Providing an unassuming layman’s approach to the topic, he covered the recently signed bi-lateral agreement between the US and Afghanistan, the formation of the Unity Government and the first ever democratic election that took place this year, and touched on the importance of why we, as Americans should care about and follow what is going on in Afghanistan.

Our next Justice Lunchbox will be on Wednesday, November 19 and will feature Riverkeeper Jerry White and Riverkeeper Technical Lead Jule Schultz as they talk shop and reveal the latest calls to action to help protect our Spokane River from major polluters.  In December, CFJ Emeritus Board Memeber, Denise Atwood of Ganesh-Himal Trading will lead a discussion. “Looking back – looking forward: 30 years of Free Trade in Nepal” will be held on December 17 at noon.

The Dr. and Lawyer are in written on a whiteboard

CFJ’s Health and Justice Initiative

by Randi Madison

Center for Justice Staff Attorney Barry Pfundt has been active in making the link between the legal aid and healthcare. This has included contributing to the Health Housing Homeless Integration Pilot Program (H3) which is a project aimed to reduce hospital re-admissions and improve health outcomes for medically vulnerable homeless individuals through provision of housing, community health worker support, and wraparound client services, as well as efforts to establish a Medical-Legal Partnership in Spokane and the Spokane Hot-Spotters Community Action Group.

Barry emphatically supports working collaboratively with the Spokane community to accomplish the triple aim of reducing the cost of health care, improving the patient experience and boosting the overall health of the Spokane population.  He speaks passionately about how healthy living conditions, access to food and shelter and access to medical care are fundamental needs of individuals.  These fundamental needs must be met before anyone is able to implement preventative health care. Someone who is faced with homelessness, the threat of eviction, unsafe living conditions, poverty and hunger are not able to sufficiently address health related issues.  The medical-legal partnership will focus on many of the root causes affecting use of the medical system.

Working with healthcare providers, attorneys can aid in reducing the burden on taxpayers, social workers, the educational system, and the penal system as well.

“Many times” Pfundt says, “the healthcare, educational, civil legal, criminal justice, social support, and other systems act as silos, standing alone, and alone they are failing significantly in addressing the larger issues at hand. However, at the Center we have the firm belief that if each of these silos work together to provide a cooperative web of support, there will be the capacity to make a very significant impact toward the quality of life for everyone in our community.”

Pfundt says that we can expect to see a press release regarding the Health and Justice Initiative in the near future.

  • Watch a 6 minute video on the Spokane Hot Spotters Community Action Group .  The group invites the community of healthcare and social service providers dedicated to the health and well-being of the people of Spokane to consider how you and your organization can be a part of this growing network.  This is an opportunity to contribute your talents and resources to this community-wide effort to change Spokane’s health care infrastructure for the better. For more information on Hot Spotters please contact the Spokane County Medical Society Foundation at 104 S. Freya St., Suite 114 or call 509-532-8877

oil train explosion

Oil and Mercury and Waste, Oh My!

by Jerry White

A call for Action!  Governor Inslee’s  Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study – will be out for public comment at the end of this month. This is a critical time for you, the public to comment on this plan!  As rail is a growing mode of transportation for moving petroleum products, our communities are at high risk for spills into the Spokane River and explosive accidents in our urban core.  Your input at the public hearing is needed in changing the prevention, preparedness and response landscape.

  • When: October 28
  • Where: Riverfront Park and Double Tree Hotel in Spokane
  • Time: Rally at Riverfront park 5:00 pm and Oil Transportation hearing at Doubletree from 6-10:00 pm
  • RSVP: http://bit.ly/1rDxV0j

One week prior to the above activity, there will be an oil hearing workshop at community building at 6:30 on oct 21.  Please join us!

Fish Consumption and Water Quality     Governor Inslee has also just come out with draft “human health criteria” or fish consumption rates. These rules in many ways determine how much pollution dischargers can dump into our rivers.  Unfortunately, the Governor’s rules go easy on polluters and do not go far enough to protect the public and our Spokane River.  While the rules increase the assumed amount of fish in people’s diets, a good thing, they also allow the public to bear more of the risk of developing cancer from chemicals in our waterways and in our fish.  This is unacceptable.

Currently, the Spokane River has multiple fish advisories that reflect a very polluted river.  Sadly, this affects the poorest of our citizens who fish for their meals and those in tribal communities who have a long tradition of catching and eating fish. Washington currently assumes a daily fish intake of 6.5 grams, about a pinky finger-sized portion, which many people find completely unrealistic, especially when considering the traditionally fish-heavy diets of Northwest tribes. The new proposed rules would increase the assumed intake to 175 grams, one of the highest in the nation and viewed as much more representative of actual diets. But it accommodates the higher rates by increasing cancer risk rates from one in 1 million up to one in 100,000.

the Department of Ecology is not currently taking public input at this time regarding this issue.  You can follow their public involvement on their website.  For more information, read this article Ecology dept. drafts new fish consumption rules amid strong opposition by Jacob Jones at the Inlander.

Hangman (Latah) Creek is on Washington State’s list of impaired water bodies (the 303[d] list) for fecal coliform, pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. We are actively monitoring the point and non-point sources for toxic contaminates and conducting water quality testing to document the problems in this important tributary of the Spokane River.

Accolades! Bravo! Wahoo!

CFJ volunteer lawyer Mari LunaVolunteer Spotlight

CFJ interview with Attorney, Mari Luna

Mari Luna regularly volunteers her time and free legal advice at the Center for Justice’s monthly Justice Night. Her parents always said things like, “Your skills are God’s gift to you; what you do with those skills, are your gifts back to God.”  She really thinks, though, that every time she decides to volunteer or do something to help other people because that’s the “right thing” to do,  that she ends up receiving much more than she ever gives.

Like so many young people who grew up in the 70’s her heroes were icons who came to prominence in the 60’s: President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and, although perhaps not as popular, Ralph Nadar. Mari shares that JFK’s challenge to give back and determine what we could do for our country to make it a better place was inspirational, and that MLK’s non-violent approach to achieving civil rights for all American citizens truly changed our country for the better. Ralph Nadar’s crusade for safer cars, food, and water, freedom of information, and consumer protection was ground breaking.

“I truly wanted to somehow be a part of these positive individuals’ vision for a better future. My high school prophecy predicted I would become an attorney and work for Nadar’s Raiders in Washington DC., Monday through Friday, while I helped organized civil rights’ marches for equality and nondiscrimination on the weekends. Although I didn’t quite make it to DC, my dreams of seeking and doing justice remain.”

One of Mari’s first experiences as a new attorney was working as a volunteer at the Legal Action Center in Seattle. She recalls how a young couple came in with a landlord-tenant issue; their landlord had failed to return their $300 deposit after they vacated their rental home. “We began by starting to draft a demand letter, but then I decided to just call the landlord. I identified myself to the secretary as an attorney representing the couple. The landlord took my call. I was so new and really didn’t know a lot about landlord-tenant law, but I quoted the RCW and stated I was sure he knew he was required to either inform the couple why they were not receiving the return of their deposit or issue them a check for the full amount of the deposit within 14 days of the end of the lease.

He started trying to explain, but then stopped. After a pause, he told me if I sent them over he would have a check waiting for them. The clients seemed pleased but a little doubtful as to whether or not the landlord would actually give them the money. They returned near the end of the day with smiles,  a thank-you, and a book they said they had “thrifted” for me because money was tight, and they hoped I didn’t mind that it was used. I was overwhelmed by their gratitude and in awe of the power of knowing the right RCW to quote at the right time. The law was an amazing force! And, as my Star Wars obsessed son always says, “You must use the force for good.” The book still sits on one of the shelves in my office. I truly treasure it. I quickly realized working with clients who might not otherwise be able to receive legal assistance was truly as much a personal benefit for me as it was a service for others.”

I am sincerely motivated and inspired by the staff and other volunteers at the Center for Justice as well as the clients. I’ve worked with Virla, Julie, and Barry most often. They are positive, upbeat, and caring. They work tirelessly for the clients and are always generous with their time and talents. They answer my questions, and Virla even tries to keep me on schedule–I think I talk too much most of the time. Every night I’ve worked at Justice Night, I have been rewarded by clients’ words of thanks and expressions of gratitude.

Mari is in the process of starting a private practice with a wonderfully bright young graduate from GU Law School, Stephanie Zimmerman, and is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

Twa'le Abrahamson - Spokane Riverkeeper's 2014 River Justice Hero Award recipient at Dirty Martinis for Clean Water eventAnnouncing the 2014 Mike Chappell Spokane River Hero Award

Every year at Dirty Martinis for Clean Water we recognized a River Hero.  Last year, we recognized Steve Faust for his leadership in organizing the Spokane River Clean-up.  In 2012, the first year of our award, we recognized the late Russ Nobbs, a long-time Spokane environmentalist, for his dedication to recycling.  This year, we’re thrilled to carry on the tradition and announce that the 2013 Mike Chappell Spokane River Hero Award recipient is Twa-le Abrahamson-Swan!

By way of background, in 2011 the Spokane community lost a real hero when Mike Chappell, then director of Gonzaga’s Environmental Law Clinic and one of the driving forces behind starting Spokane Riverkeeper suddenly passed away.  That year, we held Dirty Martinis for Clean Water a mere few weeks after Mike’s passing and while on stage we announced that starting next year we would do something to recognize Mike’s legacy of work on Spokane River issues.  While there are no strict criteria for receiving the award, there are two obvious criteria – (1) does the recipient love the river and (2) does the recipient make a difference to our environment that is felt across the community?

Twa-le currently serves as the Air Quality Coordinator for the Spokane Tribe.  Recently nominated to the National Tribal Air Association to represent interests of Tribes in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, Twa-le continues to learn about the Tribes concerns throughout the region with respects to environmental, cultural, health and other impacts and advocates for Tribes at the regional and national levels. Many of us in Spokane have gotten to know Twa-le because of her leadership of the issues of coal transport by rail through our community and her clear call for accountability to our community’s safety and environment.

During a September 25 visit by leaders from the Lummi Nation as part of their Totem Pole Journey, Twa-le gave a clear message that members of her Tribe and those across the Northwest value our environment more than cheap coal –“We have the power to say ‘no’ to that and ‘yes’ to future generations, salmon and our children.”  Thank you Twa-le for your unending passion and dedication to protecting our environment, including our beautiful life-blood, the Spokane River!

Holly, a Dirty Martinis for Clean Water volunteer wearing a Spokane Riverkeeper Tshirt holding martini glassesHighlights from Dirty Martinis for Clean Water

Thank you to all of our amazing sponsors, volunteers, and guests that supported Spokane Riverkeeper’s 8th annual Dirty Martinis for Clean Water! On Friday September 12th nearly 200 people joined us at Riverside Place overlooking Spokane Falls to enjoy delicious Dry Fly Distilling martinis, beer from River City Brewing, local wine, and tasty appetizers from London’s Ultimate Catering.

As always, a huge thank you to our phenomenal business sponsors: Avista, Clifton Larson Allen, Community Building Foundation, Bricklin & Newman LLP, The Inlander, Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Pioneer Technical Services, ROW Adventure Center. And thank you to our individual sponsors for their generous support: Ian Cunningham, Patty Gates, Ted Knight, Jeff Lambert, and Craig Trueblood. We simply could not do this without all of you!

Mark your calendars for next year’s Dirty Martinis for Clean Water on Fri Sept 18th!  And we look forward to spending another wonderful evening with you all in May to support the Center for Justice at our annual Jazzed for Justice social featuring live jazz music and silent auction. Save the date: Thurs May 14, 2015!

Check out photos from 2014 Dirty Martinis for Clean Water!

3 CFJ Ladies share how their leadership will benefit Spokane

Intern Katie Freeman-Otte, Staff Attorney Julie Schaffer and CFJ Communications and Development Staff Randi Madison attended a 6-day Women’s Leadership Conference, focusing on individual and collaborative visions for Spokane. Generously funded by the a few anonymous donors, 20 Spokane women altered their busy professional and personal schedules to dedicate their undivided energies toward finding their purpose, strengthening community and support systems and enhancing their leadership.  As a result, each woman was able to work through issues of shedding insidious beliefs, stories and biases that can limit women’s leadership capacity,  to begin prioritizing connecting across differences, and reinventing leadership while integrating healthy feminine and masculine characteristics. Each woman became a witness to each other’s self-proclaimed commitment as to how, through supported amplification of their purpose, their leadership can and will benefit Spokane.

The training, rooted in values of respect, humility, creativity, intentionality and inquiry is called Cultivating Women’s Leadership (CWL) and was co-founded by Nina Simons (Bioneers) and Toby Herzlich (Biomimicry for Social Innovation) in 2006.  Joined by Rachel Bagby (Artist and Leadership Consultant for Google, et.al.), the three have gracefully navigated the facilitation of leadership skills for over 200 women.  Julie Schaffer shares, “It was a dream come true to have this retreat come to Spokane.  This was the first time CWL has ever done a place-based retreat where all of the participants live in the same community….and I can confidently say it was a success.”

To end up with a group of 20 women who are individually and collaboratively committed to building upon the current strengths and improving Spokane for the benefit of its residents cannot help but make unforeseen transformations for our city.

Julie Schaffer attended the CWL retreat two years ago and stepped into a new pair of shoes this time in Spokane as a facilitator-in-training.  “It was a transformative experience for all of us personally, and I am confident that real and tangible ripples will be felt across all of Spokane as a result of us connecting with one another and having the space to dream.”


  •  Schaffer committed her purpose and leadership toward creating ongoing opportunities like CWL to reach more women in Spokane in order “to create space for women to open the channels to their passion, to find their voices, to rewrite internal stories, to use leadership to empower others, and to feel truly supported by other women.”  Her first goal is to nurture this group by organizing ongoing opportunities to continue the work that was started.  The first reunion is scheduled for October 24.
  • Randi Madison is currently working toward “greening” her current screen printing and graphic design business and expanding it’s social responsibility to offer fair trade, fair labor and organic apparel to her customers in March of 2015.  The expansion will include a relocation of the printing shop and the development of a retail space in a soon to be renovated building on Ash Street.  There she will hope to offer opportunities to help foster neighborhood pride and bring economic traffic to a typically impoverished part of town. She plans on provide training and employment opportunities for recently released prisoners to aid in re-entry and to offer a “one for one” program where purchases of retail goods result in subsequent donations of organic, fair trade, fair labor onesies or kid’s tees to low income families with children under age 6.
  • A new Spokane Women’s Business Union has been formed to address the wage-gap between women and men with a focused effort on women of color and men. The group will be meeting on Tuesday October 21 to launch the program and form it’s first operating agreement.

Julie SchafferCFJ Staff Attorney, Julie Schaffer completed her Fellowship with the Washington Bar Association’s Leadership Institute!

The mission of the Washington Leadership Institute (WLI) is to recruit, train, and develop minority and traditionally underrepresented attorneys for future leadership positions in the Washington State Bar Association and legal community. They strive to recruit fellows for each class who reflect the full diversity of our state, which includes race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and geographic location.  Julie had an opportunity, along with the other Fellows to be mentored by experienced facilitators that currently hold or have held high-level leadership roles and positions within the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) Board of Governors; WSBI committees or sections; county, minority, or specialty bars; local courts; the Washington State Supreme Court or the U.S. District Court.  The cohort of Fellows from each year’s institute are required to complete a cooperative community service project.  You can find out more about the Washington Leadership Institute fellowship program here.







Justice Calling 6/14

Heading for Web 6.14Issue 1, Volume 7

Rick’s Revieweichstaedt

A Message from the Executive Director

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public”

That is what Dr. Cornell West, a prominent and provocative democratic scholar, once said. But what does justice really look like?  We are lucky at the Center to practice a type of law, focused on social and environmental justice.  Each of us is here because we love Spokane and we believe that, with a little more love, it can be even better. As the Executive Director of the Center for Justice, I can honestly say that justice is about love that manifests itself in a number of ways. Here are some examples of how it looks in public…

Staff attorney Julie Schaffer is working hard every day to break the cycle of recidivism and incarceration that too many people find themselves in.  By finding common sense “Smart Justice” approaches to our criminal justice system, we can focus on keeping people from reoffending by addressing the root cause of crimes – such as drugs or mental illness.  The Center’s advocacy for increased mental health courts, community court, and at-home monitoring provides proven and cost-effective models of addressing the crime and allowing people to be productive members of our community.

Staff attorney Barry Pfundt and community advocate Suellen Pritchard believe that  low-income medical providers and legal providers can coalesce, wherein doctors can be trained to identify legal issues that impact a person’s health such as substandard housing contributing to the asthma of a child.

Relicensing director Virla Spencer sometimes provides a little tough love when working with folks who may have thousands of dollars in unpaid traffic fines and unresolved violations that are preventing them from legally driving.  Her guidance and love gets them back on the road with insurance and a realistic payment plan – and importantly back to work or school.

Our senior attorney Jeffry Finer provides compassion to those who are often ignored – the imprisoned – by advocating that their basic human right to health care is provided even when they are incarcerated.

Our outgoing Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich has become the embodiment of love for our Spokane River.  His passionate advocacy for the River has elevated issues of stormwater pollution, PCBs, and coal and oil transport into community issues that demand the attention of business leaders and elected officials.  We all love Bart and it will be a tough (but necessary) job to find someone to fill his shoes.

Yes, sometimes we see a side of Spokane that is hard to love.  But we know that every time justice takes place, we are able to show that there is a more kind, equitable, fair and compassionate side of our city.  Justice IS what love looks like in public, and those here at the Center for Justice truly believe this. We also know that we cannot do this work alone – we sincerely appreciate the immense amount of support given from volunteers, interns, community partnerships, donors, board members and those like YOU who continue to spread good news of our work.  All of you are what enable us to carry on. Thanks for your past and ongoing support to help us do this work.

Rick's sig

Rick Eichstaedt

 Too Poor to Pay? Back to Jail… With Interest

by Jeffry Finer

If you’ve followed NPR’s week-long exposé of the modern “debtors’ prison” system you know that some 46 states permit their courts to charge indigent offenders — with interest — for their court costs, their lawyer, and any restitution and to use the unpaid debts to re-jail anyone slow to make payment. The revolving door to the jail-house is thought to be good business for the counties, but critics point out that tossing everyone too poor to pay their court debts ends up costing taxpayers more than the program makes and throws former offenders lives into financial chaos. The re-jailing of former offenders who are behind in making payments means their loss of work, housing and employment. Subsequently then, they must reintegrate into the community. It is a fast-track to promoting despair and more offenses.

The Center for Justice took up the fight in 2010 and successfully brought a class-action suit against Spokane County for its aggressive collections techniques, including the infamous “Auto Jail.” The first half of the case settled in 2011 with a substantial payment to one portion of the class. This month, the Center’s work brought the saga to a close with a final settlement for the remaining class members.

Here’s the skinny: the class includes everyone incarcerated at Spokane County Jail solely for non-payment of Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs for short) for the time spanning January, 2008 through July, 2009. We estimate that 4886 days of improper confinement are at stake, covering several hundred inmates. The payment fund (nearly $340,000) will be spread between inmates who will receive $190,000 (approximately $39 per day) and a $25,000 payment into a fund to improve the Legal Financial Obligation collection process to make the process fairer and more transparent.

It’s been four years since we began this struggle to bring Spokane County’s debt collection practices into line with the legal requirements. Although we first hoped that the case could be settled in one bite, saving taxpayers and the County unnecessary attorney’s fees, the County’s outside defense firm was steadfast in splitting the case and working the second part for an additional two years before settling. This split alone raised the cost of the suit and burdened our clients as well as the County with additional costs. But, with the two settlements now in hand, the worst practices have now stopped.

From now on, anyone facing a Spokane County court-imposed debt for criminal charges will be advised along these lines:

I understand that I have the right to defend myself from the charge that I willfully failed to pay my legal financial obligations by showing that I was indigent. I understand that the judge cannot jail me if I can prove that I did not have enough money to pay my fines and made good faith efforts to legally acquire the money. By signing this Order, I am waiving my right to present indigence as a defense for my failure to pay.

The concept of billing indigent people for their criminal legal defense persists. As noted in the National Public Radio investigative series, forcing indigent people to pay for their defense runs contrary to the promise of a defense regardless of the accused’s indigence. It is clear that this billing practice thrives largely as a means to finance cash-strapped courts. At the Center, we don’t believe the poor have to pay for their day in court, nor that jail is the smart means to enforce debts.

We’re pleased to have been part of the effort to bring some the process back into balance. More work remains to be done so that the poorest in our community are not unfairly burdened with supplementing court budgets.  This includes helping individuals seek a waiver of interest (12% annually!) on their LFOs, or helping them determine if their LFOs have expired.  We are also actively working to develop smarter LFO policies at the local and state level. 

Welcome to Spokane! No Sitting Allowed.Sit Lie Protestor - Ordinance deemed unconstitutional

by Barry Pfundt

Seriously, it is illegal to sit down in downtown.

That windowsill or planter might seem inviting, but it could result in a fine of up to $5,000.00 and 1 year in jail.  In late 2013, one of the final acts of the lame duck Spokane City Council was the passage of a “sit & lie” ordinance that requires all of us to remain standing in the downtown core unless you can find a bench or get permission to do so.

A number of these ordinances have been springing up after the 9th Circuit upheld a similar sit-lie ordinance in Roulette v. Seattle. Rather than use existing laws, like those governing pedestrian interference, drug use, trespassing, malicious mischief, etc., sit-lie creates a shortcut method of relocating “undesirable” individuals as opposed to addressing the root causes of the activity. And, since our laws do not provide adequate protection for discrimination based on social class, this approach adversely and unfairly impacts low-income individuals – particularly those experiencing homeless.

The law has created logistical problems for service providers downtown and is a short-sighted way sweeping issues under the rug. Not only that, but there is evidence that these laws simply don’t work. See http://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/1023sit-lie2.pdf. Fortunately, not everyone in Spokane supports short-sighted, knee-jerk policies like sit-lie.

The Spokane Community Court is addressing challenges downtown in a systemic and effective way, blazing a new path and receiving national attention in the process. With your help we will continue to encourage our community to be thoughtful about issues like crime and poverty and build support for SOLUTIONS THAT REALLY WORK!

To learn more about the Sit-Lie Ordinance and efforts to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights, please contact staff attorney Barry Pfundt barry@cforjustice.org.

Ban The Box
Employment Application

by Julie Schaffer

The majority of our clients have a criminal record; in fact, one in four Americans has a criminal record.  This means that one in four people have to “check the box” on the job application that asks about criminal history.  Unfortunately, an application with a checked box often goes in the trash – the applicant never gets an opportunity to show the potential employer their qualifications, rehabilitation, or personal character.

Our unwillingness to incorporate people with records back into the labor market resulted in a loss of $57-65 billion to our Nation’s GDP in 2008[i].  If we don’t let people with records participate in our economy, we are forcing them to survive on the fringes and this often leads back to jail, which is expensive for taxpayers and harmful to families.  Research shows that a person who finds employment after being incarcerated is far less likely to commit another crime than someone who cannot find a job.

Fortunately, there is massive momentum in our country to change this practice and to “Ban the Box.”  Eleven states and 60 counties and cities have adopted what are being called “Fair Chance” or “Ban the Box” laws – These are modeled off of what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) calls a “best practice” and they give people with criminal records an opportunity to be judged based on their qualifications first, without the stigma of a record.  The laws prohibit blanket exclusions against people with records, and ensure that employers consider criteria such as age of offense, rehabilitation efforts, and relevance to the job before excluding someone based on a past conviction.  The policies do not prohibit employers from conducting background checks or from hiring the most qualified applicant.  Rather, they merely delay the use of background check information and ensure a case-by-case assessment.  Most of the laws that have been adopted only apply to public employers, but four states and twelve local jurisdictions (Seattle being one) have applied the law to all private employers as well. And some private employers are choosing to do it – Target and Walmart voluntarily removed the box on applications because it made business sense.

As part of the Center’s re-entry work and our Smart Justice project, we are working hard to see that local employers, including the City and County, give workers with criminal records a fair chance to be considered for quality, living wage jobs.  We are working closely with local stakeholders and the National Employment Law Project (www.nelp.org/banthebox) to get Fair Chance policies adopted in Spokane.  To learn more, contact Julie at julie@cforjustice.org.

[i] “Ex-offenders and the Labor Market,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, John Schmitt and Kris Warner, 2010. http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/ex-offenders-2010-11.pdf

Clean Water Act – Riverkeeper’s Active Lawsuits

by Bart Mihailovich

The Spokane River belongs to you.  And you have a right to a clean Spokane River watershed with rivers and streams that are safe for swimming, paddling and fishing and hospitable to redband trout, beavers and ospreys.  The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) is in place to protect and restore our nation’s waters for your use and enjoyment.  The CWA gives citizens (YOU) the right to bring civil lawsuits to enforce the CWA against discharges of pollution into your waterways.  As a member-based organization, Spokane Riverkeeper enforces the CWA on behalf of its members through citizen lawsuits against egregious violators.

Riverkeeper currently has two active CWA lawsuits – one against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) for unpermitted coal discharges in the Spokane River and waterways throughout the state and one against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failure to enact a revised fish consumption rate and human health water quality criteria. Riverkeeper is represented in these actions by Charlie Tebbutt of Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt P.C. (BNSF) and Janette Brimmer and Matt Baca of EarthJustice (EPA).

Riverkeeper vs. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF)

Our case against BNSF resulted when we started monitoring Hangman Creek and the Spokane River and finding toxic coal pieces in those waterways.  Coal is dangerous for our health and wildlife whether it is dumped into our air or into our water, and we did and continue to find pieces of coal ranging from fine dust to large chunks falling out of these open cars every day, spoiling waters of the Northwest and violating the federal Clean Water Act. We filed the case in July of 2013 with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), following in the footsteps of the exact case that was filed in Western Washington by the Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities,  and Friends of the Columbia Gorge.  Our goal is to hold BNSF accountable for this preventable pollution.

UPDATE:  On the morning of March 12th, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington denied a motion to dismiss in its entirety, allowing our Clean Water Act lawsuit against BNSF Railway Company to proceed for coal dust contamination of U.S. waterways, including the Spokane River. This news follows up the news from January 2014 when the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington did this same thing.

Riverkeeper vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 

Our case against the EPA was filed in October of 2013 by Waterkeepers Washington, a coalition of licensed Waterkeeper organizations in the state of Washington including Spokane Riverkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, and North Sound Baykeeper, along with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources.  We allege that EPA is violating federal law by continuing to allow Washington’s Department of Ecology (Ecology) to grossly underestimate the state’s fish consumption rate used to set water quality standards necessary to protect human health. Consequently, water pollution limits fail to protect people who eat fish. People who consume the most fish—for example members of native Washington tribes, sport and commercial fishermen, and members of some immigrant communities such as Asian and Pacific-Islander—face greater risk due to Washington’s inadequate standards.

UPDATE:  We continue to monitor the process of both Ecology and EPA and we have met a few times with EPA to discuss progress and pathways forward.  This remains a very on-going issue and Clean Water Act case.

Accolades! Bravo! Woot! 

Spokane Community Court – Justice Hero of the Year!

Community Court Award

The Justice Hero Award is a way to acknowledge the some great work being done to bring justice to our community. We were honored to present the 2014 Justice Hero award to Judge Logan and the Spokane Community Court team on Thursday, May 9th at our “Jazzed for Justice” Fundraiser.

Like other problem-solving courts, the community court turns the traditional model of criminal justice on its head by offering as much help as punishment. Instead of emphasizing an endless cycle of short-term jail sentences, it promotes community service and intense supervision. It requires defendants to get help with their problem, whether it’s homelessness, addiction treatment, health care – or a sandwich. Instead of issuing stacks of failure-to-appear warrants, it tries to build relationships and requirements that bring offenders back to court regularly and begin to forge community connections.

The Spokane Community Court exemplifies what is possible when we break the mold and step outside of our comfort zone. This team had the guts to reimagine our criminal justice system. The project was basically CRAZY AND IMPOSSIBLE!!! But, they’ve done it! They’ve brought justice outside of the courthouse and into the community, condensed a judicial process that used to take months or years into weeks, incorporated mental and physical health, access to housing, and other social services – all while demanded GREATER accountability from defendants. This has lowered the costs to taxpayers and improved outcomes, helping to break the cycle of arresting the same folks over and over again.

We cannot underestimate the courage and humility this team has shown to make this happen. They’ve demonstrated stubborn determination while at the same time listening and learning to adapt their approach to fit our city, truly amazing and impressive work. If you want to find out more about Community Court talk to one of these folks or head down to the Public Library in the first-floor conference rooms next Monday to see Smart Justice in action.

 Erica Cleveland – Center for Justice Volunteer of the Year!

Volunteer of the YearThere is no way that our small staff could ever advocate for as many individuals and families as we do without the incredible generosity of volunteers and student interns.  I am consistently inspired by how many people come to our offices every day solely because they believe in our mission and they are committed to our clients.  These individuals put in countless hours for no pay and often no school credit.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our interns and volunteers, but also to honor one who I consider part of our CFJ family.  Every time Erica Cleveland gets off the elevator, it instantly lifts the mood.  She embodies generosity, warmth and kindness.  A CFJ event or a Justice Night are not the same without her and she always is willing to step in and help, regardless of the struggles she is facing in her own life.  This is a woman whom we respect greatly – she is a single working mother, she bravely endures the painful physical symptoms of lupus every day, she was the devoted caretaker to her sister until her passing this year, and despite all of this, she still feels compelled to serve strangers in need.  The Center for Justice is honored to present Erica Cleveland with our Volunteer of the Year Award.

Kendel Froese: Crisis Response Advocate of the Year!


CFJ Development Director Kendel Froese received an award at Lutheran Community Service’s Partners in Justice event on June 5th. Kendel has volunteered with the 24/7 sexual assault crisis line that LCS runs for the past 3 years, and earlier this year took an additional leadership role when she joined the Sexual Assault and Family Trauma Response Center’s (SAFeT) Advisory Board. If you ask Kendel what she is most passionate about, she will tell you that it’s sexual assault advocacy. She was incredibly honored by  receiving this award, and was humbled to be in the presence of so many amazing advocates at the Partners in Justice event.

Below is the letter that nominated her for this award:

“It’s tough to choose a crisis response advocate to nominate. They all give freely of their time to one of the most heart-breaking and challenging volunteer jobs I can imagine. I chose Kendel because of her passion for leadership, particularly when it comes to ending sexual violence in Spokane. A natural activist, she shines when it is time to speak up. She is so passionate that she asked to serve on the SAFeT Response Center’s Advisory Board in order to continue her work and raise her voice for survivors. She faithfully attends every meeting, but it doesn’t end there. When there is an opportunity for activism, Kendel is among the first to step up to the plate. She speaks to the City Council, dances in a flash mob, and picks up the crisis line at 3am. She’s a true advocate through and through.

Bart’s Exciting New Job and his Inspirational Alumnus Award

Bart River from Video

Congratulations to Bart Mihailovich on his exciting new position with Waterkeeper Alliance! Alas, sadly this does mean he is leaving the Center for Justice. Bart has done an amazing job in his 4 years as the Spokane Riverkeeper and his presence will certainly be missed. However, we are very happy that, in his new position for Waterkeeper Alliance, he is moving on, but still defending our waters.

From the Riverkeeper:

Earlier this week I accepted an offer to join Waterkeeper Alliance as the new Affiliate Coordinator, which will have me working on a new initiative to increase the number of Waterkeepers worldwide.  The new Waterkeeper Affiliate program is an audacious new drive to identify, recruit, train, and elevate leaders around the world to step up and become new Waterkeeper Affiliate programs in watersheds around the world that are in need of strong leaders to fight for clean water.

I can say without doubt that because of the great work of the Center and Spokane Riverkeeper and so many of our great partners and allies and all of you supporters, that the Spokane River is cleaner now than it was five years ago. A clean Spokane River is the most important resource we have in this community.  Actually I take that back. This community is the most important resource we have.  I trust that you all will support each other; that you, our supporters, will get behind the next Riverkeeper and continue to fight for clean water, and that our River will continue to support all of us.

I want to thank you all for your support over the last four years, to me personally and to the Spokane Riverkeeper program and the vision of a clean Spokane River.  This endeavor could not be possible without the tireless work of each and every one of the current and past staff members of the Center for Justice, the countless volunteer and intern hours, the support of the Board, the backing of our members and funders and every encouraging (and critical) comment, Tweet, etc that we’ve received.
I will be staying in Spokane and I will become the biggest supporter for the next Spokane Riverkeeper, and I’ll remain an outspoken advocate for a Fishable and Swimmable Spokane River. 

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!

Bart Mihailovich

And here’s another reason to celebrate Bart! This year, he earned the 2014 Inspirational Young Alumnus Award from Eastern Washington University! Watch the video here…

Board Member Profile: Joe Sheehan

Joe Sheehan2Q. If you had to map the “river of your life,” what 3 major events would you say led you to work for Justice?

From a very young age I have been influenced by the great passion that both my mother as a nurse, and father as a Public Defender have shown for serving others. At age 13, I attended a hearing in which my dad had argued against the death penalty sentencing for the defendant, of which he won. Although I knew this person had done horrific things after I had witnessed the victim’s family testimonies, I was also able to comprehend the perspective of the defendant’s family. In this case, I realized that justice was not as simple as “an eye for an eye,” that it is a complex being. In college when I conducted intake interviews for the Center for Justice, my passions were furthered as I heard people’s stories first hand and was able to recommend cases that could vastly improve people’s lives. My sister and I call my parents “Truth Seekers,” and that is something that I aspire to practice and develop as I go through life.

Q. What do you love about the Center for Justice?

In looking back, the success of the Riverkeeper program has thoroughly impressed me.  As I was there from its inception, I have seen it grow and truly take on a life of its own. Overall though, I love seeing the cumulative positive impacts on our community from what some would say are “the little things.” For instance, with each individual that gets a part of their life back or are made more independent and self-reliant from the efforts of Virla in the re-licensing program, or from Sue Ellen’s advocacy for the impoverished, our community as a whole is strengthened. It’s about the simple things that have large community impacts.  And, it is the investment that the staff, interns and volunteers of the Center make that I am so impressed with.

Q. What are your dreams for the Center for Justice?

  • To be financially sustainable while constantly adapting programs and evolving to meet the needs of our community. We should do what we can to help end the cycle of “the seemingly infinite referral” for those who need help.
  • Increasing accessibility to clients is of utmost importance. Continuing to take on the high profile Civil Rights cases that help build our reputation will also help to increase our visibility in the community and enable more of the low profile cases to be taken. I’d like to have a recurring physical presence in West Central and East Central neighborhoods.

Q. What do you wish people knew about the Center for Justice?

I wish people knew that the Center is not here to support and validate its own existence, it is here for those who don’t necessarily have the resources to seek legal help and available for those in need. I also wish that people knew that the Center is a Non-Profit and therefore our ability to provide these much needed, and otherwise unavailable services to the underserved, relies on the continued generous financial support from our community. I sincerely thank all of our donors, and encourage the formation of new donor relationships, our life blood.

Staff Profile: Randi Madison

randiStarting in May of this year in our newly formed position as the Development and Communications Assistant, Randi is the most recent addition to the Center for Justice staff.  Her current work experience as a small business owner and her previous experiences as the Communications Specialist for EPA Region 10 Tribal Operations Committee and City Recreation Manager in Seward, Alaska come in useful in her new role. She provides support and assistance to the Development Director by taking over the quarterly e-newsletter, organizing events and fundraisers and assisting in strengthening reciprocal community relationships with the Center.

She is a proud wife and mother of two beautiful children. She grew up in Spokane but spent the last 16 years in Alaska working for the advancement and support of Alaska Natives in the field of higher education, sovereignty and environmental protection. Randi holds a BA in Recreation Management from Eastern Washington University and a Certificate in Small Business Management from University of Alaska Southeast.  She has also begun graduate studies in Cross Cultural Communications from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, taking a leave of absence to raise her children. She enjoys discovering new local music, taking walks with her family on the Centennial Trail and designing T-shirts for screen printing.