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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
Ban The Box
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 firstname.lastname@example.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
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).
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.
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!
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!
There 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 Mihailovich’s Exciting New Job and his Inspirational Alumnus Award
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!
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
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
Starting 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.