VA AG Undermines License Suspension Relief Efforts

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April 24, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director, 434-529-1810, angela@justice4all.org

 

VIRGINIA OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDERMINES CRITICAL OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSION RELIEF PERMANENT

Charlottesville, VA—Yesterday, the Attorney General and Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner filed a motion to delay or prematurely end the litigation in Stinnie v. Holcomb, a lawsuit filed in 2016 by the Legal Aid Justice Center and McGuireWoods LLP challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statutes automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines. The Attorney General took this action despite knowing the license suspension law—which a court has said is likely unconstitutional—is still within the Virginia Code and will resume as the law of the land next year without a permanent solution, notwithstanding the historic budget amendment that temporarily eases the pain of nearly one million Virginians as of July 1, 2019.

Plaintiffs have always sought a permanent end to automatic license suspension, knowing the only way to achieve that is for the Commonwealth to declare this law unconstitutional and unenforceable, and to assure that those already subject to the law are restored from its harms. The passage of the budget amendment by the 2019 General Assembly does not produce this outcome and thus does not moot the Stinnie case. Justice demands that suffering families shouldn’t have to wait another year or more for a chance that relief might finally be delivered by the legislature when they have the opportunity right now to receive it from the court.

“The actions of the Commissioner and Attorney General are deeply disappointing. They would rather hold people hostage to delay and dithering, instead of letting long-suffering Virginians have their day in court,” said Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director for the Legal Aid Justice Center. “The Attorney General seeks to play legislative roulette with nearly one million families, abdicating his responsibility to stop unconstitutional practices within the Commonwealth, in the chance that the General Assembly does the right thing to make the relief permanent. If the litigation is dismissed and the General Assembly fails to pass a clean repeal bill next year, nearly one million Virginians will be plunged back into the court debt trap on July 1, 2020.”

“The automatic license suspension law is still in the books. It still affects and strikes fear in nearly one million Virginians. The General Assembly did a great thing with the Governor’s budget amendment, but it failed twice to rid the Commonwealth once and for all of this unconstitutional practice. We look forward to our day in court to push for a positive outcome to this civil rights issue.” said Jonathan Blank, partner at McGuireWoods and lead counsel in the case. “It’s time to let justice take its course.”

The Legal Aid Justice Center calls on the Commonwealth to uphold its duty under the U.S. Constitution not to enforce blatantly unconstitutional laws, or to let the case proceed to trial in August and allow the court to rule.

Background:

Stinnie v. Holcomb is a class action lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and McGuireWoods LLP, challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of nearly one million Virginia drivers who cannot afford to pay court costs and fines. The case was originally dismissed at the Circuit Court, but it was revived by the Fourth Circuit this summer when the appeals court allowed plaintiffs to amend their complaint. When LAJC filed the amended complaint, they also asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction, which would have the effect of ordering the DMV Commissioner to stop suspending driver’s licenses for non-payment of court debt while the lawsuit is pending.  On November 15th, Judge Moon took evidence and heard arguments for and against the preliminary injunction.  On December 21, Judge Moon granted the preliminary injunction finding the driver’s license suspension statute likely unconstitutional and ordering the DMV Commissioner to reinstate Plaintiffs’ licenses while litigation proceeds. The Court also rejected the Commissioner’s arguments that the federal court lacked jurisdiction. The case is set for trial in August 2019.

To download a copy of this release, click here.

To read more about the lawsuit, or to download the briefs, go to http://www.justice4all.org/drive

About the Legal Aid Justice Center

The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, workers’ rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.