As we wrap up the summer of our third year at Tzedek DC, we are proud to report that, thanks to your critical support, we have been able to serve over 1000 vulnerable DC families. In full representation cases, we are saving clients an average of over $1,500 per case, the equivalent of more than two weeks wages at the DC minimum wage. For those who we are able to serve with current resources, our work is enabling community members to avert crippling default judgments, negotiate feasible repayment plans, repair credit, and recover from financial abuse crimes before such problems overwhelm their lives. Through this work, we are both building bridges and increasing access to the justice system for DC residents who tell us that now, often for the first time, they feel the legal system is finally working for them.
We are deeply grateful for the growing recognition of our work from supporters old and new, D.C.’s legal community, and commentators (see “Tzedek DC in the news” below). At the same time, we are ever mindful of the continuing attacks on our most vulnerable neighbors from federal policy, including attacks on our immigrant households and the evisceration of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other consumer safeguards -- attacks that have helped lead to a 172% increase in debt collection filings in DC Superior Court since 2016 and that both strain our resources and reinforce our determination.
2019 highlights at Tzedek DC include:
• Taking on a referral of 412 cases from the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia for residents victimized by a debt collector’s use of fraudulent robo-affidavits and fraudulently obtained judgments in DC Superior Court;
• Launching ¡Sin Deudas, Sin Dudas! (Spanish for “No Debts, No Doubts”), an outreach campaign in support of DC’s Latinx community, which has been the subject of the Trump administration’s immigration practices that chill residents’ participation in the civil court system; and
• Systemic advocacy to end DC’s ongoing denials of driver license renewals for those with debts to the DC Government, regardless of their ability to pay.
For a deeper dive, just keep on reading – or scroll down here and click (on non-mobile devices) on the links to specific update topics.
Meanwhile, we hope that you can join us at the third annual Eat Well, Do Justice! celebrations, coming on September 23rd. This year our celebrity chefs (including Barack Obama’s former personal chef!) will be battling to see who makes the best knish – it’s an event not to be missed, with guest judges including Congressman Jamie Raskin and Dahlia Lithwick of Slate. Click here to buy a ticket or donate for Eat Well Do Justice!
Thank you again for making our work at Tzedek DC possible.
At the request of DC Attorney General Karl Racine, Tzedek DC has accepted referrals for 412 DC residents in connection with allegedly fraudulent robo-signed affidavits by debt buyer Midland Funding. Following a multi-state investigation, Midland settled and DC consumers will receive credits totaling $577,783. However, Midland also sued and obtained Superior Court judgments against most of the residents affected by this alleged fraud. Those court judgments are the focus of our work in the cases. We are seeking to vacate the judgments obtained in those cases and ensure that residents’ records are no longer harmed by Midland’s alleged fraud and abuses.
This bilingual campaign encompasses diverse partnerships, bilingual training sessions, workshops, and tailored informational materials for client community members and partner staff on topics like finding legal assistance, avoiding default judgments, managing credit, and spotting economic crimes. We are also working to get our existing Spanish-language TV and radio PSAs aired on the region’s major Hispanic media outlets, while developing new PSAs microtargeted to Spanish speakers who listen to music on their cell-phones or computers (for much wider distribution, at much lower cost). This work is done in coordination with our community-facing partner organizations like CARECEN.
Building on our successful prior efforts to end DC's automatic drivers license suspensions for unpaid traffic tickets, Tzedek DC is working to end DC’s automatic denial of driver license renewals for those with debts of over $101 to the DC Government, regardless of ability pay. Denial of renewal is, in effect, a slow-motion suspension. Residents with lower incomes, needing to get to work and elsewhere, often drive anyway on suspended licenses. When caught and arrested, as over 7,000 were between 2015-2017 (80% of them African-American), they then face spiraling fines, fees and penalties that they are even less able to pay than the original traffic debt. To see our oversight testimony to the DC Council, click here.
In the Washington Post: after having rescinded residents’ licenses for failure to pay parking fines -- a policy that criminalized poverty -- DC reinstated licenses and driving privileges for tens of thousands
In the American Constitution Society Issue Brief series: WilmerHale partner and Tzedek DC Advisory Council member Danielle Conley and Ariel Levinson-Waldman co-author A New Frontier for Civil Rights: Ending Discriminatory Driver’s License Suspension Schemes
Washington Jewish Week: Venable LLP partner and Tzedek DC Advisory Council member Allyson Baker and Ariel Levinson-Waldman, On His Yahrzeit, Celebrating the Legacy and Soul of Tzedek DC Co-Founder Ronald R. Glancz