Dan Noyes
August 17, 2015

Gail Cottrell drove tractor-trailers for the Postal Service for 27 years. While looking for a new job and driving insurance, she was told that her license was suspended without her knowledge.

Cottrell had gotten a ticket from San Francisco police for a broken headlight in January 204. She had it repaired, had an officer sign off, and mailed in a $21 check. She misread the amount, which should have been $25.

The officer had written her home address on the ticket incorrectly, so she never received any notice from traffic court about the extra $4 she owed, or about failing to appear for her court date. She learned that her court date had been set for March 28, even though the officer had written January 22 as her date to appear – the same day she was ticketed.

Her $25 fine has turned into $497 with all the penalties, which she is unable to pay as a single mom raising two daughters and struggling to pay rent.

Cottrell contacted the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Executive Director Kimberly Thomas-Rapp said, “The big issue is when there is a mistake made by the officer or even the court system, who has the obligation to fix and address the problem? In Ms. Cottrell’s case, the entire burden was really placed on her. The fees and the fines are just continuing to mount against Ms. Cottrell and she can’t do her job. She can’t work. So, it would be impossible for her to even pay on the fees and fines at this stage of the process, but she shouldn’t have to in the first place.

In May, the Lawyers Committee released a report called “Not Just a Ferguson Problem — How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California“, which details how people of color or low income have had their licenses suspended for a failure to appear in court or pay fees and fines.

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Organizations mentioned/involved: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF)