SEATTLE, WASHINGTON. The Civil Survival Project (CSP), a non-profit organization, and six class representatives Irene Slagle, Christina Zawaideh, Julia Reardon, Adam Kravitz, Laura Yarbrough, and Deighton Boyce, have filed an amended class action complaint against the State of Washington and each of the thirty-nine counties in the State.
Over the last several decades, the State and counties have been collecting legal financial obligations (LFOs) as a condition of the judgment and sentence in criminal cases. On February 25, 2021 in State v. Blake, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington struck down RCW 69.50.4013, the State’s strict liability felony drug possession statute, as unconstitutional. As a result, the convictions arising out of this statute, and related statutes, are also unconstitutional, as are the LFOs imposed pursuant to these convictions. In this amended complaint, plaintiffs ask the court to order that the State and all counties (1) refund LFOs collected in Blake and Blake-related cases in full, (2) cancel all outstanding LFO debt, and (3) cease reallocating Blake and Blake-related LFOs to other cases. Additionally, plaintiffs seek a declaration from the court that these convictions are void and vacated as unconstitutional.
CSP, its members, and individual plaintiffs have waited long enough for the State and counties to develop the comprehensive system of LFO relief requested by plaintiffs. This amended complaint is therefore necessary to effectuate relief for people across the State.
“Since February, thousands of people have been waiting for their counties and the State to provide them with the LFO refunds they are due and for counties to cancel their outstanding debt. As of this date, they are still waiting. It is imperative that the system makes them whole and ends their hardship.,” said Prachi Dave, Policy and Advocacy Director, Public Defender Association (PDA), one of the attorneys bringing the lawsuit.
“Our members at CSP continue to wait for relief from their Blake and Blake-Related convictions, and none has been forthcoming. Since February, we have received intakes from people across the State asking about relief options and it has been difficult to provide reliable information to people as practices in different counties varies so widely. For people who already have difficulty accessing the courts, this chaotic landscape is difficult to navigate. We must streamline the LFO process for their sake,” said Tarra Simmons, the Executive Director of CSP.
“We are delighted to represent CSP and our individual clients to fully realize the promise of the Blake decision through this lawsuit,” said Adam Klein, co-lead counsel and the Managing Partner of Outten & Golden LLP.
CSP’s members and the plaintiffs in this lawsuit have personally experienced the weight of LFO debt, particularly when it comes to Blake and Blake-Related convictions. They have had to make hard choices about paying for necessities, or paying their LFOs. Additionally, the longer this debt hangs over their heads, the longer it takes for them to find employment and housing and to simply move on with their lives. The human impact on our communities is enormous. The imposition of criminal debt on individuals trapped in the criminal legal system tethers people to the system for years and studies show that LFOs burden Black, Indigenous, and People of Color for a longer time, post-conviction. This lawsuit seeks to remedy those historic harms.