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Rio Scharf

  • Hosted by Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Sponsored by Latham & Watkins LLP
  • Service location San Francisco, California
  • Law school Harvard Law School
  • Issue area Civil Rights/Civil Liberties
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Rio is creating a holistic clinic for low-income Bay Area residents burdened by court, traffic, and bail bonds debt and advocating to end undue criminal and civil monetary sanctions to challenge the criminalization of poverty.

Rio’s project targets the criminalization of poverty. It does so primarily by working with low-income people struggling with court, traffic, and bail bonds debt and helping them get their debt discharged through defensive and affirmative litigation. The project also aims to reduce the number of fines and fees imposed on defendants and challenge the debt-collection practices that people with criminal legal debt face.

Rio was born and raised in the Bay Area and treasures the region for its eccentric and idealistic spirit. The Bay Area, however, strains under the weight of severe inequality. For years, Rio has worked as a community organizer to build power to advance equity in the region. That work, which included tenant organizing and advocacy for incarcerated people, will inform Rio’s work challenging the criminalization of poverty through this project.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the two year fellowship period, Rio has:

  • Eliminated over $60,000 of bail bonds debt and secured over $10,000 of refunds through pro bono partnership
  • Assisted in securing a preliminary injunction in a first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit using consumer protection law against one of California’s worst bail bonds companies
  • Helped lead the campaign for AB 1238, the Freedom to Walk Act, a California state bill that would decriminalize jaywalking

Next Steps

In the next year, Rio plans to:

  • Help clients file small claims court actions to address consumer protection violations by bail bonds companies
  • Represent clients with immigration bonds and assist them in eliminating their outstanding debt
  • Continue co-counseling in an ongoing class-action lawsuit against a major California bail bonds company


California Supreme Court ends bail company’s bid to continue violating consumer protection laws, halting debt collection

Alleging unfair business practices, these East Bay residents are suing the bail bond industry

After Landmark Legislation, California Considers Eliminating Even More Criminal Justice Fees

California lawmaker wants to decriminalize jaywalking

Bay Area Lawmaker Seeks To Decriminalize Jaywalking, Says Citations Disproportionately Issued To People Of Color

Op-Ed: The traffic ticket from hell

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