Pro Bono Program Gets Drivers Legally Back on Road
By Csaba Sukosd | October 29, 2018
More than 200 people lined up inside Franklin County Municipal Court looking for a way to be lawfully behind the wheel after lengthy, sometimes years-long, entanglements. They were attempting to reinstate their licenses at a pilot program hosted by the court and several legal groups working pro bono.
"The procedure to get them [drivers' licenses] reinstated is very, very complicated, and there are a number of steps they have to go through, and there are several different entities, [where] both the BMV and the court system may be involved in their license suspension," said Sally Bloomfield, a pro bono attorney, who's volunteered her legal services for decades.
The Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk's Office, the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation (OLAF), the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, and Ohio State Bar Association coordinated the event, which was set up with multiple stations among the facilitators to identify and fix issues that prevent people from having their licenses reinstated. Representatives from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Franklin County Job and Family Services, bankruptcy advisers, and an auto insurance company were among the others also on hand as part of a "one-stop shop."
"It's so encouraging to see so many people work together for a common goal," said OLAF pro bono director Sophia Chang.
For many attendees, the assistance by legal experts was desperately needed for what they said has been a road filled with conflicting information.
"I haven't really been able to get it pinned down how exactly to get it back because there's a couple steps I have to go through and one kind of tends to butt into the other," said John Ragalyi, who had his issues clarified in minutes after being without a license for years. He has been seeking a license reinstatement since 2015.
Franklin County resident Sarona Williams' frustrations date back to 2007 when she was caught driving with a suspended license near Cleveland because of an outstanding warrant. As a result, the past 11 years have been full of countless complications and moments of angst.
"It's been very tricky getting back and forth to work. I just have to get a ride everywhere [with] Uber, a cab. I mean, it's financially stressful," she said. "Now that I know what to do to get my license back and everything back on track, it's a huge burden lifted."
Many of the pro bono attorneys said they rarely deal with basic legal services, such as consumer debt or housing concerns, like evictions, during their day-to-day practice. When they do volunteer their time to resolve essential matters, they not only expand their legal horizons, but also help those who can't afford much-needed legal advice.
"We have an obligation as attorneys to give back or give forward, and this is a wonderful way to do it," said Bloomfield.