Did you know that there are 1,225,000 active driver’s license suspensions in North Carolina relating to unpaid traffic fines and failure to appear in court for traffic offenses? These suspensions constitute about 15% of all adult drivers in the state. The NC Pro Bono Resource Center, the NC Justice Center and the Durham Expunction and Restoration (DEAR) Project are currently seeking Pro Bono Attorney Volunteers to assist with the Driver's License Restoration Project in counties across North Carolina. We had a chance to learn more about the Driver’s License Restoration Project from the Pro Bono Resource Center’s Staff Attorney, Leigh Wicclair, to find out more about the project and how legal professionals can get involved.
LM: Can you tell us about the Driver’s License Restoration Project?
LW: The project is focused on restoring driver's license privileges for low-income clients who cannot afford to pay traffic fines and fees and whose driver's license is suspended as a result. This project addresses two key justice issues: First, poverty, rather than the willful refusal to pay a court fee or appear in court, is the root cause of a significant number of driver’s license suspensions. Second, catastrophic racial disparities exist which result in households of color being disproportionately exposed to, and severely impacted by, traffic debt.
Volunteers will screen records and prepare motions to remit costs and fines, draft advice letters, conduct client intakes at clinics, and represent clients by petitioning for relief.
LM: Is there training provided for volunteers?
LW: Training is provided, and pro bono volunteers will become well versed in this area of law. Depending on the component of the project the volunteer is working on and the volunteer’s experience level, the training may be as short as 30 minutes. Lack of experience is not a barrier to making an immediate impact, and we need your help!
LM: Do volunteers have to be North Carolina lawyers?
LW: We welcome NC lawyers, lawyers barred in other states, and paralegals to assist with different components of this project.
LM: How does the program work?
LW: The Driver’s License Restoration Project began as a pilot in Durham and New Hanover counties. Together with our legal and community partners, driver’s license restoration clinics were held for people who have license suspensions based on an inability to pay a traffic ticket or for failing to appear in traffic court. Now we are expanding these clinics to other counties. In Durham, the District Attorney’s Office has taken this relief a step further by presenting motions to remit fines and fees to the court on behalf of people who have been identified as having long term license suspensions for failing to pay low-level traffic tickets and court fees. The District Attorney’s Office has agreed to offer relief to thousands of people who meet this criterion. The city of Durham has created a website www.secondchancedriving.org, that allows residents to find out if they benefitted from this initiative and to request a letter with more information about their driving record.
There are so many people who need relief and resources are limited, so pro bono volunteers are essential to this project.
LM: How do lawyers sign up to volunteer and what are the current needs for the project?
LW: Email email@example.com. We are seeking volunteers from across the state to help prepare motions to remit fines and fees, to draft letters for people requesting information through www.secondchancedriving.org, and to assist with client intakes at clinics. Training is provided and you do not need to have previous experience. We are also seeking experienced traffic law attorneys to represent clients with suspended licenses in court, and the need is particularly great in rural districts.
LM: Is there anything else you would like to add?
LW: The loss of a driver’s license for someone who is already economically vulnerable is profoundly devastating for the entire family. Losing one’s license often leads to losing one’s job, high transportation costs and commute times, less access to medical care, and even criminal justice involvement for continuing to drive with a suspended license. North Carolina has the potential to serve as a model to other states for how to combat this problem, but we cannot do it without the work of pro bono volunteers.
Leigh Wicclair serves as the Pro Bono Resource Center’s Staff Attorney. In this position, Leigh increases access to legal services and pro bono opportunities across the state by organizing projects for private attorney volunteers. She also serves in a volunteer capacity to support these issues through the Wake County Bar Association YLD Pro Bono Committee and the NC Advocates for Justice Criminal Defense section.
Contact Leigh via email at firstname.lastname@example.org