NJP News | Volume 1 | Issue 2
Dear Friend, 
 

The importance of ensuring access to legal assistance and representation to state residents living in poverty is more critical and compelling than ever. Since 2003, the average number of civil legal problems experienced by low income households tripled to 9.3 each year. Less than a quarter of these households receive any legal help.  


These sobering statistics are found in the Washington Supreme Court's recently released
 2015 Civil Legal Needs Study Update Report. Compounding this problem is the increase in poverty. The number of Washington's poorest residents eligible for civil legal aid has risen to 1.25 million, a 40% increase since the Supreme Court's original 2003 study. Communities of color - and especially children of color - suffer disproportionately as poverty rates for African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos are essentially double the statewide rate. Other groups experiencing higher than average legal problems include disabled persons, unemployed persons, and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. 

 

For nearly twenty years Northwest Justice Project (NJP) has served as the hub of our state's civil legal aid delivery system. With generous community and public support, NJP works to make equal justice a reality by promoting the well-being of low-income individuals and communities across Washington.

 

 


Attacking Barriers to Employment

 

Driver's license suspensions are the number one employment barrier for low-income individuals. Washington State has 375,000 suspended driver's licenses and NJP is leading the effort to develop a statewide relicensing system to make it easier for people to restore their licenses, get insurance, and get back to work.

 

After Barbara's driver's license was suspended in 2010, when she was unable to pay $533 in fines, it became very difficult for her to find a job in her rural area with no public transportation.  In collection, her debt kept climbing due to a 12% interest rate: by 2015 she owed $1,002.11. On her own, Barbara was unable to work out a reasonable repayment plan with the collection agency, which also tried to make her pay some fines owed by her deceased husband.  NJP represented her in removing the fines from collection and restoring her license.  Barbara was allowed to make reasonable monthly payments on the original fine, and she is once again able to look for work.    



"Access to justice is a fundamental and well-recognized right afforded all citizens of our State, whether disabled or non-disabled." Hon. James J. Dixon, Thurston County Superior Court

 

NJP recently played an instrumental role in a Washington trial court's first ever issuance of an order that a mentally disabled claimant is entitled to appointed counsel at public expense in a hearing before the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (BIIA). The claimant sought this accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination because his mental illness impaired his ability to represent himself in challenging the Department of Labor & Industries' denial of his claim.   

 

First, NJP appeared as a friend of the court in support of the claimant's case before the Court of Appeals.  The case was sent back to the Superior Court for findings of fact to establish his mental disability and the accommodations needed to ensure that he has meaningful access to the BIIA process. NJP then represented the claimant before the Thurston County Superior Court, which ruled that the BIIA record clearly established that the claimant had a mental disability, that the BIIA failed to accommodate his disability and that appointed counsel, at public expense, is a reasonable accommodation in order to appeal his L&I claim before the Board. Both the BIIA and L&I have appealed and NJP will continue to represent the claimant in the Court of Appeals.


 


NJP Presents at the Temple of Justice

 

On May 28, 2015 NJP Attorney Elizabeth Hendren presented on her inspiring work at the Minority and Justice Commission's Supreme Court Summit Reentry: Do We Really Care About People Succeeding After Prison? 

 

Previously incarcerated mothers face tremendous obstacles to regain custody of their children who are often placed by the state with abusive partners while the mother is in prison (estimates are that 90% of incarcerated women are survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault). R.I.S.E. (Reentry Initiated through Services and Education) holds onsite clinics for mothers nearing release so they can begin preparing to overcome the many legal obstacles they will face once their sentence is completed.  R.I.S.E. provides released mothers with legal assistance in their efforts to reunite with their children and take the necessary steps towards self-reliance and independence.

Photo by cmh2315fl / CC BY 

 

Watch Elizabeth's presentation Barriers to Success: Family reunification on TVW, and access other summit materials here (Elizabeth presents at the 1:41:19 minute mark).   

 

 


Emergency Wildfires Response 

 

NJP is taking the lead in developing a statewide coordinated civil legal aid emergency system to respond to the needs of low-income communities faced with wildfire emergencies this summer. NJP will engage legal aid providers from across the state to ensure that broad geographic coverage and a full menu of legal resources are available to affected individuals and communities.    

 

Governor Inslee declared a state of emergency in all 39 Washington State counties in response to severe drought and anticipation of wide-spread wildfires. Last year, during the Carlton Complex fires NJP staff in our Omak witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences of wildfires on low-income agricultural workers, especially those with limited English proficiency (LEP).

In the past NJP has worked closely with local pro bono programs, first responders, FEMA, the Red Cross, and ABA Young Lawyers' section to coordinate emergency legal aid responses in Oso and other federal disaster declarations.

Photo by Washington DNR / CC BY 

 

   


 

To learn more about our work contact Bryan Baker, Director of Development, like us on Facebook, and visit our website where you can access our annual reports and explore more of NJP. Also, please share NJP News with your friends and colleagues so they can join NJP in helping make equal justice a reality in Washington.

 

Sincerely, 

CÚsar E. Torres
Executive Director