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 will create a holistic clinic for low-income Bay Area residents burdened by court and traffic debt and advocating to end undue criminal and civil monetary sanctionin order 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 and traffic debt and helping them get their debt discharged through defensive and affirmative litigation. The project also aims to reduce the amount of fines and fees imposed on defendants and challenge the egregious 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 spiritThe Bay Area, however, strains under the weight of severe inequalityso for years, Rio has worked as a community organizer trying 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 Plans

Rio’s project will link direct legal services, impact litigation, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing.  Rio will start a clinic that provides low-income people with legal services focused on reducing their criminal legal debt. From the clinic, Rio will identify and litigatcases that have the potential to impact how criminal legal debt is imposed and collectedRio will also coordinate advocacy efforts to shift how jurisdictions regulate debt-collection and fines and fees. Complementing the legal services and policy work will be extensive coalition-work, which will build power to challenge harmful practices related to criminal legal debts 


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