Rows of homeless and low-income defendents fan the heat of a Friday afternoon away while waiting to be called to the stand. The state seal of California provide some officiality to the cumbersome, shabby scene inside community center of St. Vincent DePaul. An occasional uproar of applause is released as a case file is shut and a defendent walks away free of from thousands of dollars of fines.
This is Alameda’s County Homeless Court. A dozen public defenders, court staff and case workers feverishly work together to present low-income individuals cases before an official judge. The common mission is to help these defedents overcome legal barriers like misdeameanors, moving violations, court fines and fees that hinder their ability to move their lives forward.
Weeks of preparation document defendents’ income, housing, employment, education, parenting, substance abuse recovery, personal growth and community service as progress in exchange of a financial payment. In the end, everyone who made an appearance was let off the hook–but not without a speech from the Judge Gordon Branco to not make the same mistakes in the future.