James is an African-American man in his mid-forties, living in San Francisco with a disability. James first came to the Lawyers’ Committee Second Chance Legal Clinic in July 2014 because his driver’s license was suspended, and he owed $2,538.96 in debt from traffic tickets and civil assessments related to improperly turning at an intersection, missing a license plate, driving on a suspended license, and failing to pay and appear at his traffic court hearing date.
James missed the court date because he had an emergency procedure and at the time was hospitalized. When he first came to our Clinic, we advised James about how to request a new court date based on his hospitalization, but his request was denied. In January 2015, the San Francisco Petition for Release from License Hold became available, and the Clinic staff reached out to James. Under the new petition, if James could demonstrate that he would be hired for a job if he had a license, and if he agreed to pay the full amount of his debt in installments, he could have his license reinstated.
He was receiving SSI at the time, but had recently received a job offer from Sparkling Green Clean that required him to have a valid driver’s license. After a month and four separate calls to the collections agency that had assumed his debt, James was finally able to sign up for a payment plan. He submitted his petition to the court and a week later it was granted. That same day, James was able to go to the DMV and obtain a valid license.
To read more about the problem of license suspension in California, and how we can fix this problem, read our report, “Not Just a Ferguson Problem – How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California.”