For most of us, a simple traffic ticket is an expensive annoyance. But for millions of our fellow citizens—disproportionately low-income people of color—it’s a financial calamity that creates a spiral of bad consequences. They lose their driver’s licenses because they’re too poor to pay their traffic tickets, and then they lose their livelihoods, because the only way for them to pay their debts—to get in the car and go to work—means breaking the law. This leads to additional criminal prosecution, more fines and fees, and even jail. Claudia Wilner argues we must correct inequities in our policing practices and our license revocation laws that effectively criminalize poverty.
Claudia Wilner, a Senior Attorney at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, leads NCLEJ’s work combating unlawful civil and criminal justice debt collection practices. Claudia is counsel to the class in Thomas v. Haslam and Robinson v. Purkey, which have led to the restoration of driving privileges to tens of thousands of low-income Tennesseeans. Prior to joining NCLEJ, Claudia worked at New Economy Project where she brought impact litigation against financial institutions, launched and supervised the NYC Financial Justice Hotline, and partnered with low-income New Yorkers and community groups to fight discriminatory economic practices and press for sound community development. Previously, she was a Skadden Fellow at the Mental Health Project of the Urban Justice Center and a law clerk for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. She graduated from New York University School of Law in 2002, where she was a Root Tilden Kern Scholar. Claudia has received the Legal Services Award from the New York City Bar Association, the Rising Star Award from the Partners Council of the National Consumer Law Center, and the National Association of Consumer Advocates’ Consumer Advocate Award, and she was a finalist for Public Justice’s Trial Lawyer of the Year award.