The University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law’s Homeless Advocacy Clinic and community partners, the ACLU of Northern California, the Western Center on Law and Poverty and Legal Services of Northern California, scored a major victory by helping to eliminate more than $162 million worth of fines and fees for low-income people in Sacramento.

The coordinated effort came on the heels of the enactment of AB 199, a bill designed to mitigate the impact of excessive traffic court fees on low-income Californians. The Homeless Advocacy Clinic teamed up with other statewide leaders after its clients were improperly denied relief under the new law.

The Homeless Advocacy Clinic provides legal services to unhoused Sacramentans, including in the area of infractions or traffic tickets.

“Sadly, it is common for our clients to get tickets for innocent behavior they must engage in while living outside—things like sitting down or sleeping in public,” said Tori Larson, a staff attorney in the clinic.

Assistant Clinical Professor Ron Hochbaum, director of the Homeless Advocacy Clinic, added: “Sacramento is notorious for its criminalization of homelessness. The National Homelessness Law Center has placed the city in its ‘Hall of Shame’ for its aggressive enforcement of anti-homeless laws.”

“It was startling to have our requests denied. As a law student, you expect the courts to follow the law,” said Ismael Perez ’23.

Hochbaum said he is, “very proud of the Homeless Advocacy Clinic students for their determination and hard work in this effort.”

“While we are satisfied with this result and the relief it provides to thousands of unhoused Sacramentans, we will not rest until the city and county stop punishing people for behavior that is unavoidable while living outdoors. People need housing, not fines that drive them deeper into homelessness,” Hochbaum said.

McGeorge School of Law’s Homeless Advocacy Clinic is one of only five law school clinics in the nation dedicated to working with people experiencing homelessness and the only law school clinic in the nation exclusively serving unhoused clients who have had contact with the criminal legal system. Students in the clinic learn fundamental lawyering skills such as interviewing, counseling, and oral advocacy while working on real cases.

The clinic was established in 2021 with a grant from the CARESTAR Foundation. In 2022, Robert Buccola ’83 and his wife, Dr. Kawanaa Carter, committed to a $300,000 gift to help sustain the clinic.

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