Yesterday I dared to enter the Harris County Civil Courthouse to ask a judge to issue an occupational driver's license to a client of mine. This wasn't my first time to ask a judge to allow a client whose license was suspended to drive -- but it was the first time I had to deal with a judge in civil court. This was because my client's license was suspended by the Texas DPS for an administrative matter, not by a judge following a conviction.
Section 521.248 of the Texas Transportation Code says a judge may grant any petitioner the privilege of driving no more than four hours a day -- but, if the petitioner shows a necessity to be able to drive, a judge may allow him to drive up to 12 hours in a 24-hour period. Over in the criminal courthouse, judges routinely sign orders allowing petitioners to drive 12 hours a day. Generally the only issues involved if the license was suspended as the result of a criminal conviction are whether or not the petitioner has met the Texas DPS' requirements for obtaining an occupational license or whether the petitioner will be required to install an interlock device on his car.
So was it a painless experience? Um, in a word, no. The judge seemed to believe that the only purpose in an occupational license was to get to and from work or school. She was unmoved when petitioners asked for additional time to drop their children off at school or to pick them up after school. I'm sorry, Your Honor, but I believe that falls within the definition of "essential need."
This judge would only allow a person to drive no more than two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon and two hours in the evening -- if that. We were made to feel privileged that she was allowing my client to drive for an hour in the morning, an hour in evening and four hours in the middle of the day. She also required everyone to come back in 90 days for a "check up." Apparently she was worried that she might not be re-elected this year and that someone else would take over her bench on January 1, 2011 -- how that would affect any order with her signature on it I still don't understand. As far as I know an order is not voided upon that judge's stepping down from the bench.
In the end it took us over 90 minutes to get the order signed -- about 85 minutes longer than over at 1201 Franklin. And, to top it off, I had a parking ticket on my windshield when I got back to my car -- how was I to know it would take an eternity to obtain 90 days of driving privileges for my client?