Lawsuit Compels Riverside County To Stop Harmful Fees And Fines, Begin Reimbursements
Children and families in Riverside County, California, scored a major victory in the fight against harmful court fees and fines, after a class-action lawsuit filed by the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP) spurred the county to implement major reforms.
The lawsuit, which charged Riverside County with illegally collecting fees from families that could not afford to pay them and causing significant economic strain, led the county to stop collecting such fees in April 2020. An amended complaint, filed by NCYL and WCLP in September 2020, sought reimbursement payments to families from Riverside County for previously collected fees. In December 2021, the court certified a class of families who had made payments to Riverside County of these illegally-assessed fees.
The lawsuit has the potential to impact thousands of families in Riverside County — the 10th most populous county in the U.S. — who have been charged juvenile fees in violation of California law. These violations disproportionately punish Black and Brown families and those with low incomes.
“The juvenile justice system is supposed to support the rehabilitation of young people, but in Riverside County, that guiding philosophy is turned on its head,” said Michael Harris, an attorney and Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and Juvenile Justice at NCYL. “The county’s practices have had a devastating effect on families that needed help.”
The complaint filed by the plaintiffs in March 2020 alleged that Riverside County did not follow necessary legal protocol when it charged families with fees. The county has been obligated to follow a process which included obtaining a court order, and ensuring families had the ability to pay fees they were assessed, however, the county did not provide families with required notices about their rights, the legal process, or how to challenge the fees.
After the county stopped collection of fees in April 2020, the amended complaint filed in September 2020 sought to compel the county to reimburse families for past fees since the county did not follow the required process. Riverside County’s failure to comply with its legal obligations means its collection of fees violated state statutes and the state constitution.
Plaintiffs Shirley and Daniel Freeman, both of whom are older than 65 and retired, were pursued by Riverside County for more than a decade for roughly $8,000 in fees related to their grandson’s involvement in the juvenile justice system.
The Freemans’ primary source of income was Social Security retirement. Contrary to state law, Riverside County did not evaluate the Freemans’ ability to pay, did not provide notice of their right to contest the assessment and collection of fees, and did not obtain a court order against the Freemans. Instead, the county misled the Freemans into making monthly payments.
NCYL is proud to support families like the Freemans in obtaining relief and justice.