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Supreme Court: Don’t Jail Disabled for Legal Financial Obligations!

In a victory for indigent disabled people throughout the state, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by NJP that federal law prohibits courts from ordering defendants to pay court imposed Legal Financial Obligations if the person’s only source of income is social security disability benefits. The court added: “…A person's present inability to meet their own basic needs is not only relevant, but crucial to determining whether paying LFOs would create a manifest hardship.” City of Richland v. Wakefield.

Northwest Justice Project attorneys Karla Camac Carlisle and Jefferson Coulter represented Ms. Wakefield, a struggling disabled indigent mother of four on SSI, at every stage of the case seeking “remission” of LFOs imposed on her by the Cities of Richland and Kennewick.

The problem of LFOs imposed on indigent communities to fund courts and municipal services has recently garnered significant national attention, as well as here in Washington. The Supreme Court received briefs from the Washington State Attorney General, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Columbia Legal Services, and the Center for Justice at Gonzaga School of Law as Amicus Curiae.

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