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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 created a holistic clinic for low-income Bay Area residents burdened by court, bail bonds, and other criminal legal debt and advocated to end undue criminal monetary sanctions in order to challenge the criminalization of poverty.

Rio targeted the criminalization of poverty by working with low-income people to discharge their court and bail bonds debt through defensive and affirmative litigation. They also helped to reduce the amount of fees imposed on defendants through policy and budget advocacy.

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, informed Rio’s work challenging the criminalization of poverty through this project.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Rio Scharf:
  • Played a central role in the successful campaign to reform the civil assessment, a traffic court late fee that, until 2022, extracted $100 million from low-income communities in order to fund the courts
  • Helped secure a preliminary injunction in a first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit using consumer protection law to protect thousands of consumers from one of California’s worst bail bonds companies
  • Managed a Bail Clinic that discharged over $100,000 of bail bonds debt and secured over $20,000 of refunds through pro bono partnership
  • Led the campaign to pass AB 2147, the Freedom to Walk Act, a state bill that reforms California’s jaywalking laws, which have historically given rise to pretextual and racist police harassment

Next Steps

After the Fellowship, Rio will move to Honolulu to serve as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway in the District of Hawai’i. After clerking, Rio plans to continue using creative litigation strategies to advance racial justice and elevate the voices of those kept out of political power.


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