With traffic violations spanning from Florida and Wyoming to his name, Ray Ross of Hawthorne lost his driver’s license for this state in 2020.
“A lot of my stuff was running traffic lights and stuff like that,” Ross, 35, of Hawthorne, said recently during a visit to the Bradford County Clerk of the Court office in Starke.
Having matured and now wanting to qualify for his commercial driver’s license, he first needed to get his regular driver’s license reinstated.
That meant paying roughly $5,000 in fees at the clerk’s office.
However, thanks to Operation Green Light, an annual statewide program run by each county’s clerk of the court and comptroller’s offices, Ross, who runs a local restaurant, said he paid just $60, with the rest to come as part of a $100-a-month installment plan.
The program allows Florida residents to pay overdue fines, traffic tickets and court-ordered obligations, while saving on additional fees.
Ross said he didn’t realize how simple Operation Green Light was to benefit from.
“I found out about the program through a traffic lawyer I was using …” he said. “They are going to give you back your license – all you have to do is keep up with the payments.”
Previously, Operation Green Light was only available in person. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the counties began offering the program via Zoom. Now with lifted restrictions, residents were able to access the resources both in person and online.
Diane Gorton, a civil and criminal traffic clerk at the Gilchrist County Clerk’s office, said the program allowed residents to have their licenses reinstated at their local clerk’s office, or online, in just one day.
Alachua County Court Judge Kristine Van Vorst said Florida counties worked with state and local agencies as well as law firms to facilitate the process.
“Now the effort is so much greater because we’ve added agencies that help the project,” Vorst said. “Citizens can get pro bono legal advice. The lawyers come together. They have their own training. They evaluate each case, and they contact each citizen to assist them.”
Gainesville lawyer Raymond F. Brady said this was the second year his firm had partnered with Operation Green Light.
“This year, I had around 15-16 pro bono lawyers helping, and another 15-16 UF law students also participating and helping,” Brady said.
He said each case came with different problems that need to be resolved.
“For the period that the program is open, our lawyers meet and look at what fees need to be paid off and what can be waived from their case,” Brady said.
At the same time, the counties used collection agencies to put people who wanted to reinstate their licenses on payment plans to repay the violations and surcharges.
Alachua County Clerk of the Court Jess Irby said Operation Green Light began in his jurisdiction under a different name, Fresh Start, in 2018. However, Florida passed a statute in 2019, making it so each county must offer the green light program at its clerk’s office.
Alachua County data shows it has collected a total of over $109,000 from 863 residents through the program – with 417 cases cleared for reinstatement – since June 2019. More than 375 people had their cases closed, and 57 had their licenses reinstated that given day at the clerk’s office, according to the data.
Scott DuPree, criminal court director for Irby’s office, said there were typically more cases closed than reinstated. That’s because someone may have multiple cases with suspensions, which they would have to clear before getting their one license back, he said.
Still, Irby said the program was very successful this year.
“We worked hard to get the word out and promote it, and we think it really showed,” he said.
Ross said it’s a great program.
“I recommend it to anyone,” he said.