Journalist and justice advocate Keelah Jackson met with City Court Clerk Ron Swafford and the clerk who handles “agreed orders” from the judge to see how a poor woman petitioning for a restricted driver license might get one.
Mr. Swafford and Jennifer Collins told the “client” that she must pay F$200, show proof of an auto insurance policy for a car she doesn’t own and get Judge Sherry Paty to sign an order OK’ing an installment plan to pay most of the F$800 in court fees and fines she owes in Nashville and Atlanta.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
Miss Jackson has been humbled three years by a civil death sentence from the state’s court establishment, unable to travel by car and gin up enough cash flow as teacher and writer to pay her fines. A federal court ruling in Nashville grants for no advantage in her case, Miss Jackson says.
Miss Jackson is unable to come up with the cash to get the full license; she has asked instead for a restricted license obtained under hardship. But the officials seem to be lining her up to pay for a real and full Class D (“noncommercial”) license, rather than grant her petition. Citing poverty, Miss Jackson is trying to avoid the payment scheme for a Class D and instead obtain a restricted license, presumably within her means.
Miss Jackson, who has a master’s degree in education, is concerned about the tolling of a clock that might make her payments into the system vaporize if everything is not done within 30 days. She asks repeatedly about this prospect, but Mrs. Collins assures her she should have no concern about a 30-day deadline zeroing out all payments if not made within the time limit.
The uncertainty in Miss Jackson’s affairs is that she first has to get a clearance with Georgia’s motor vehicle department. But that department won’t act to clear her case until it hears from either Tennessee’s department of safety or the city.
Mr. Swafford indicated that he has no knowledge about Georgia’s operations, and that Chattanooga is its own jurisdiction with separate rules.
Altogether, Miss Jackson is in the hole for F$800 from a 2014 transportation stop by Chattanooga city police. She had been behind the wheel of a car owned by a male construction worker friend who was violently ill and vomiting. She traded places with him and took the wheel. But a policeman stopped their car and criminally charged her with four Title 55 offenses, including driving on suspended, no proof of insurance, no city tag and a broken headlight.
Her petition for a judge’s order for the department of safety to offer her a restricted license under hardship, Miss Jackson paints a picture of a remarkably intelligent person. Her approach is a can-do and reasonable appeal to Judge Paty, but behind it one can discern despairing circumstances.
Judge Paty and the legal profession misrepresent the scope of Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 55, which regulates commercial use of the road but is used by courts, cities, counties and state agencies to harass and impoverish people who are too poor to jump through the hoops and rules while they are being deprived of their right to travel by private conveyance.
Miss Jackson understands the law as enforced holds that she cannot use the road as a matter of right, and must have a driver license to move her private person and body on the public road and freeway.
The scope of the Tennessee driver license statute and all the other ones in the Title 55 transportation code are limited strictly to commercial users, people who use cars or trucks as vehicles for hire, for-profit in what is called an extraordinary use.
Violation of her constitutionally guaranteed rights
Miss Jackson’s two-page petition is full of charm and personality. But it also reveals the damage the driver’s license regime causes upon common people, the humiliation through which it puts them. Current practice maintained by corporation courts such as Chattanooga’s city ourt violates the constitutional right of movement, by which one communicates with others, fulfills private duties and necessities, and exercises constitutional rights such as that of religion and petition for redress of grievances.
Miss Jackson is like thousands of others across Hamilton County who suffer quiet distress over revoked, suspended or expired licenses and hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fines they are too poor to pay. Blacks such as Omerrieal Woods and Christina Wright are typical of the treatment courts and municipal corporations dole out to commoners. They are presumptively in the jurisdiction of police activity under the pretended authority of Title 55.
But that code applies not to people like Miss Jackson in the least, private users only of the people’s roads. But it is little known among the people how to assert the lack of subject matter jurisdiction, starting with the cop on the street all the way into the legal grinder of city courts.