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Veteran’s clinics, license restoration program ready for replication

Senior Editor Regular News

Veteran’s clinics, license restoration program ready for replication

Senior Editor

Guidelines for setting up clinics to assist veterans and local courts to help those who have lost their driver licenses get them back have been prepared for the Supreme Court’s Commission on Access to Civil Justice.

QuoteThe commission, at its December 14 meeting in Tallahassee, heard from the Tallahassee Veterans Legal Collaborative and from Leon County Judge Stephen Everett who worked on that county’s special court sessions to assist people with suspended driver licenses.

The guidelines and policies for both programs are available to interested agencies and parties from the commission.

One thing common to both programs was extensive planning needed for successful operations.

Dan Hendrickson, president of the collaborative, said the local effort, which includes the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Florida State University College of Law, grew out of the annual Veterans Stand Down program and backers realized an ongoing network was needed to help veterans.

“The networking needs to be flexible and collaborative and interdisciplinary so when veterans come in the variety of their needs will be addressed.. . . If you’re persistent and collaborative, people are going to continue to come in,” Hendrickson said.

FSU law Professor Jennifer LaVia, who runs the clinic, said it has obtained space at the Tallahassee VA clinic and at a local American Legion facility for weekly sessions with veterans.

Space is needed, LaVia said, where veterans are comfortable and which is accessible to those without cars.

Both she and Hendrickson said the Veterans Stand Down is an excellent program to build from, but LaVia noted it is an annual weekend event.

“Imagine a hospital that was open one or two days a year,” she said. “We realized people have needs all the time, they need someone to talk to. Just having someone to talk to reduces their stress level.”

The program also works with the local veterans court, and there is a definite need. LaVia said the clinic, in less than two years, has served more than 700 veterans, primarily in the Big Bend area but also from all over the state.

“What we really need is more pro bono lawyers,” she said. “That’s been one of the big challenges is finding more lawyers willing to take on full representation. We can provide advice, we can fill out forms, but in terms of long-term representation. . . . ”

LaVia provided a detailed outline of how the Tallahassee effort was organized, set its goals, determined staff needs, and determined which veterans were eligible for the program’s services.

Her report and Hendrickson’s were a follow up to the access commission’s previous meeting where it heard a report on veterans’ legal needs.

License Restoration

Judge Everett reported on two special court sessions he and Judge Layne Smith held to help people with suspended licenses. The program has since been duplicated in Broward County.

Everett said the idea came because of question­s that arose in regular court sessions from people who had lost their licenses or had them suspended.

Aside from traffic-related penalties, people have lost licenses for not paying court-related fines and penalties, not completing community service or other sentence-related obligations, and failing to pay child support.

Everett said it took about six months to organize the first driver license clinic because of the multitude of agencies involved — state attorneys, public defenders, the Department of Revenue, which enforces child support collections, clerks of courts, who collect court fines and other charges, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (which came prepared to print and issue new licenses to those who had them restored), and others. It also had to be held when it wouldn’t interfere with other routine court operations and, for obvious reasons, at a place accessible to people without cars.

Everett said the clinics were more successful than might appear. Overall, less than 50 people left the events with their licenses restored, but more importantly, many who had multiple problems began the reinstatement process by getting one or more of those problems resolved.

Many times the problem was financial, with child support or court fine and costs obligations ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Even the former amount can be daunting to those who have trouble raising $100 to $200, Everett said.

He added officials are looking into a grant to help resolve those financial barriers, perhaps paying costs in exchange for community service.

Broward County Judge Robert Lee said the driver license clinics are important. “The lack of a driver’s license, I think, almost anywhere in the state of Florida is an impediment to good people,” he said.

U.S. Middle District Judge Timothy Corrigan said he’s noticed that the federal court-supervised release program is impacted because participants don’t have licenses.

Lee County Clerk of Court Linda Doggett said her office did a similar program and agreed it takes careful planning but is worth the effort. She also said participants frequently had driver license issues from more than one county or jurisdiction, something that needs to be addressed.

“It’s a pretty steep initiative to take on, but we should do something,” Doggett said.

Everett presented the commission with an outline of how the program was organized and operated in Leon County.

The guidelines and policies presented to the commission for the veterans and driver license projects can be obtained by contacting Frank Digon-Greer at The Florida Bar at [email protected].

Costs to Businesses Talk

On another matter, the commission heard a presentation by former Bar President and Commission Vice Chair Greg Coleman and the Office of the State Courts Administrator on a proposed talk that Coleman asked commission members to make four times in the next year to business groups. The talk focuses on the costs to business when employees have personal, unresolved legal needs such as family law matters, landlord/tenant, small claims, domestic violence, and other issues.

It also notes that even middle-income workers may have trouble affording attorneys for their legal needs. Coleman said the purpose is to build business community support for legal aid and self-help programs so their employees can find solutions for routine legal problems.

Commissioners made several suggestions that Coleman said would be incorporated into the final presentation.

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