November 14, 2015
In its first month, interest in California’s new traffic ticket amnesty program has been frenzied. In Los Angeles County alone, the private debt collector managing the program fielded 128,000 phone calls. GC Services received applications related to more than 50,000 citations and accepted full or partial payment on more than 12,000 — collecting $1.3 million. The company also sent the state Department of Motor Vehicles nearly 8,000 requests to reinstate licenses.
Legal advocates, however, report that the program has been fraught with inconsistencies.
“You don’t want to be too critical … a month into it,” said Michael Herald, legislative advocate for the Western Center for Law & Poverty (WCLP) and an author of the legislation. But, he said, “we’ve seen a whole host of counties where, if we don’t have an advocate there, folks who should be getting help aren’t getting help. Or the vendors who run these programs aren’t doing what they can to make sure people are getting the full benefit of the law.”
One petitioner who ultimately had his license reinstated was initially told by a GC Services representative at the Metropolitan Courthouse that he was ineligible for the amnesty program. Only when Theresa Zhen, a pro bono attorney with A New Way of Life, joined the petitioner and quoted the law, was the petitioner able to negotiate a payment plan that he could afford — down from $150 per month to $1.
Last week, Zhen and attorneys for seven other Los Angeles County-based legal organizations sent a letter to Superior Court Executive Officer Sherri R. Carter outlining problems with implementation of the amnesty program and recommending fixes. Among their suggestions was more oversight of the debt-collection contractor.
Organizations mentioned/involved: Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP), A New Way of Life (Los Angeles)