The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF) awarded Fenwick the Keta Taylor Colby Award for the firm's role in securing a historic lawsuit victory that challenged unlawful civil assessments that disproportionately penalized low-income Californians.
The award will be presented at LCCRSF's 36th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards on February 16 and recognizes law firms that advocate for the rights of underrepresented members of the community through exceptional legal representation.
In January 2022, Fenwick partnered with LCCRSF, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, and Bay Area Legal Aid and filed a suit to enjoin and declare unlawful San Mateo County Superior Court’s civil assessment program, which imposed a $300 fine for every instance an individual failed to pay a traffic infraction or respond by a court deadline. Plaintiffs alleged this additional fee was imposed without judicial review, adequate notice or consideration for a person’s circumstances—financial or otherwise.
After the filing of the lawsuit, the County of San Mateo permanently ended its role as the Superior Court’s debt collector. The San Mateo County Superior Court later agreed to stop imposing the burdensome late fees known as civil assessments.
The lawsuit unfolded as California passed new legislation that eliminated more than $500 million in outstanding civil assessment debts, reduced the civil assessment maximum to $100, and secured funding for courts without their needing to rely on late fees as a source of additional revenue at the expense of low-income Californians.
Read the LCCRSF's coverage of the victory here.
About Fenwick’s Pro Bono Practice
Fenwick’s pro bono program is dedicated to ensuring that disadvantaged people and communities have representation and access to justice. Every year, our lawyers strive to donate three percent of their total billable hours to pro bono legal services to a broad range of clients and causes.