Equal Justice Works Fellow To Represent Youths Facing Court Fines

Carly Wasserman ’21 Looks To Create Blueprint for Ending Fees
Carly Wasserman

Carly Wasserman will work with the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, California, to provide legal services for schoolchildren facing court fines and fees. Photo by Julia Davis

April 8, 2021

Carly Wasserman ’21 will help schoolchildren facing court fines and fees as the University of Virginia School of Law’s latest Equal Justice Works Fellow.

Through the two-year fellowship, which provides a full salary, recipients design their own project or join an established fellowship program “dedicated to serving a specific population or addressing an unmet legal need," according to the EJW website.

Working with the Oakland, California-based National Center for Youth Law, Wasserman will represent students referred to municipal court, and create resources for pro bono attorneys to do the same. Wasserman will also work with advocates, attorneys, and impacted families with the goal of creating a blueprint for how communities can work to end municipal fines for school-based behaviors.

Little information exists regarding the imposition of municipal court fines and fees against children, she said, so part of the fellowship will be working with local partners to collect and publicize data on the penalties. Students are referred to municipal court for offenses such as tardiness, graffiti and truancy.

“When the youth go to these courts, they don’t really know what’s going on,” said Wasserman, a former high school teacher. “It’s a burden on them and their families, so they’re often pressured to just settle and get it over with without really completely understanding the circumstances and the consequences. So it’s a system that’s really ripe for abuse, and it’s just a horrible process because the families really need support instead of being sent to these courts.”

Instead of focusing on punishment, she said, schools should examine underlying reasons students misbehave, such as problems at home, health concerns, feeling unsafe at school or a lack of special education services.

At UVA Law, the Reisterstown, Maryland, native has been a Karsh-Dillard Scholar, Justice John Paul Stevens Fellow, Legal Writing Fellow, and research and projects development editor of the Virginia Journal of International Law. A fellow in the Program in Law and Public Service, she also served as Shaping Justice conference chair, and as president of the student organization Child Advocacy Research and Education, as well as firm solicitations director for the Public Interest Law Association, and research and projects development editor for the Virginia Journal of International Law.

She has been a research assistant for Professors Richard Bonnie ’69 and Kimberly Jenkins Robinson, and a participant in the Appellate Litigation and Youth Advocacy clinics.

Director of Public Service Amanda Yale said she could think of no one more qualified and dedicated to the issue coming out of law school than Wasserman.

“Her tenacity and relentless advocacy are exactly what is needed here,” Yale said. “Carly’s smarts, grit and drive will serve her well combating this insidious practice.” 

Wasserman said child advocacy-related courses at the Law School were especially beneficial for giving her a legal framework for her fellowship, and student pro bono service provided a bridge to practice.

“I’m really thankful for my time at UVA,” she said, “and I think it really helped prepare me a lot to be able to do this work that I came to law school to do.”

She earned an M.S. from Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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