State government revoked the driver licenses of 14,223 people in a hapless Tennessee county whose traffic court sent notice to Nashville of uncollected fines.
The uproar this week in Montgomery County was prompted after the state’s commercial traffic control agency, the department of safety and homeland security, revoked driver licenses in the Clarksville area of people who owe litigation taxes, court costs or fines assessed by Montgomery County general sessions court.
By David Tulis
Patty Arms, chief deputy of the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, said the 14,223 notices were for purported obligations going back to 2012, according to the Leaf-Chronicle newspaper.
The judges responsible for the revocation project are Ken Goble, Jr., Wayne Shelton and Ray Grimes. Not only are they elected, so is the clerk of circuit court who handles sessions court issues, Cheryl Castle.
It appears the decision that could be explosive for the officeholding careers of these local members of the political class.
Clarksville is home to a federal military base, Fort Campbell, whose 101st Airborne Division is said to be a defender overseas of American liberty and constitutional freedoms.
This week, phones at the courthouse rang constantly and lines formed at the windows with people wanting to know what to do. Many are said to be angry. Hundreds of people waited in line for a chance to deal with a clerk behind the window. By Wednesday evening, 575 people had shown up to pay so they might have their driving privileges in commerce reinstated.
Instant outlaw class
The power to outlaw thousands of drivers (operating in commerce and subject to state regulation) was brought to life by an improvement in Montgomery County’s software.
Until now the county had been able to deal with it overdue payment claims and the state’s authority to revoke licenses one driver at a time. But a digital upgrade allowed the county to make a mass submission to the department of safety, and to have the tidal wave of revocation requests go to Nashville all at once. That occurred April 24 — and the state’s “notices of revocation” into the county this week by first-class mail.
Tennesseans are starting to hear of people who have been made outlaw by state government. One such victim is Arthur Jay Hirsch of Lawrenceburg, whose challenge to the system is on appeal after he was criminally convicted for exercising a constitutional right to travel.
A prospective outlaw in Montgomery County is Edward Napper, who got a notice Monday saying he owed F$12,000 after having served 10 years in jail. He thought he’d had a clean slate. He tells a reporter for the Leaf-Chronicle he is trying to come up with a payment plan that wouldn’t wreck him.
“I have a certain amount of money and that’s all,” Mr. Napper says. “I don’t even know what to do.” If his license remains revoked, he says, he can’t get to work.
Fines may be unconstitutional
State law forbids any fine past 50 dollars from being assessed by a judge. Article 6, section 14 says, “No fine shall be laid on any citizen of this state that shall exceed fifty dollars, unless it shall be assessed by a jury of his peers, who shall assess the fine at the time they find the fact, if they think the fine should be more than fifty dollars.”
I will publish shortly details about what this provision means for people in Montgomery County, who should understand that Tennessee courts are often lawless and ready to disregard the constitution.
A single mom, Miranda Foy, weeps outside the court building, having signed an agreement to pay F$50 a month. She says her debt had already been paid. “I don’t know what to do. I did everything I was supposed to do. *** I don’t have a choice.”
Miss Foy had been charged with DUI and drug possession. She’d paid a F$1,600 court fine, finished probation, paid all those fees, as well.
The county’s list of commercial targets is 356 pages long, with an average of 40 cases per page. The first page alone lists $68,344 owed for fees, fines or litigation taxes. Most of the letters that went out are to victimes of general sessions court.
Ashley Moore, account services manager of the circuit court clerk’s office, said Thursday that payment plans are accepted but must be honored and there is a F$25 one-time fee. Some payment plans could stretch into years, as some people owe F$30,000 or more. The county is demanding payment in paper currency or its digital equivalent, though the U.S. constitution at Article 1, section 10, says no state can make anything other than gold or silver a tender in payment of debt.
“We try to find out what a defendant can pay,” Mrs. Moore says to the local newspaper. “If they say $5 a month, we say the minimum is $25. If they say $100, we can take that.”
The general sessions court judges handled 11,302 criminal cases, 19,130 traffic cases and 7,901 civil cases in fiscal year 2008/2009.
Sources: Stephanie Ingersoll, “14,223 driver’s licenses revoked in Montgomery County,” Theleafchronicle.com, May 5, 2016. http://www.theleafchronicle.com/story/news/2016/05/03/thousands-get-licences-revoked-montgomery-county/83876730/
Stephanie Ingersoll, “Revoked licenses bring hundreds to court,” Theleafchronicle.com, May 5, 2016. Stephanie Ingersoll, firstname.lastname@example.org