The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and other groups have filed a lawsuit challenging a $300 charge imposed by the San Mateo County Superior Court upon individuals who miss a payment or court deadline in a traffic infraction case.
The lawsuit claims that the $300 charge, known as a civil assessment fee, has been imposed in more than 80,000 cases in the past three years and is essentially filling funding gaps in the Court system at the expense of “those who can least afford to pay.” The ACLU says the Court’s $300 civil assessment fee is “administered without judicial review, adequate notice or consideration for a person’s circumstances.”
The suit was filed on behalf of Anthony McCree, 28, who was reportedly cited for fare evasion while traveling to a job interview and was homeless at the time. When he missed his payment, he was automatically charged a $300 fee, according to the ACLU. After securing housing in Alameda County, McCree, still struggling to find employment, received notes from the Court that he owed $860 when the base fine for fare evasion is a maximum $250, the organization said.
The ACLU said the $300 fee disproportionately impacts people of color, who are “subject to traffic stops and citations at much higher rates than their white peers.”
San Mateo County Superior Court Executive Officer Neal Taniguchi told Climate the Court does not comment on pending litigation.
Joining the ACLU in filing the suit are the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Bay Area Legal Aid and Fenwick & West LLP. The suit was also filed on behalf of Debt Collective, a debtors’ union fighting to eliminate unjust debt.