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Michigan Supreme Court chief justice commends Operation Drive

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published November 10, 2020

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ROYAL OAK — On Oct. 29, Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack, of the Michigan Supreme Court, sat in remotely for the virtual docket review session of the 44th District Court’s Operative Drive program.

The program, founded by 44th District Court Judge Derek Meinecke in 2016 to be a more effective way to address driving offenses due to recurring suspended license violations, strives to help individuals clear their driver’s licenses.

To date, the program has cleared approximately 900 licenses.

According to a Michigan courts news release, the law prohibiting driving on a suspended license applies the same charge and punishment no matter the reason for the license suspension, such as drinking and driving, fleeing from police, or the late payment of a traffic ticket.

Operation Drives takes on cases on an individual basis, providing guidelines to hold individuals accountable, specific guidance regarding any underlying issues for their license suspension, and encouragement to work toward clearing their licenses.

Through the program, Meinecke wants to improve the quality of life and job prospects for individuals who cannot afford driver responsibility fees or who do not have reliable local public transit.

Meinecke establishes relationships with people in the program, inquiring after family members and using a network of prosecutors and defenders to navigate court appearances, reduce charges and waive fees where possible.

During the Oct. 29 session, Meinecke touched base with a man whom he helped provide an interpreter to conduct a written exam to get his learner’s permit, a woman who had never had a driver’s license, and several other individuals who, through the program, cleared as many as 20 tickets on their journey to clearing their licenses.

At least two individuals showed Meinecke their recently issued driver’s licenses, including a man who hadn’t had his license since approximately 2005 and who first became involved in Operation Drive in 2016.

Meinecke said that he is authorized to delay sentencing for a year, but case law exists that allows him to go beyond the year, which is how the program is able to help individuals who need more time than a year.

Each time a program participant receives his or her license, Meinecke asks one question: “Did you smile in the picture?”

While about half of them do, Meinecke said he always asks because they should be proud of the work and hurdles they overcame.

“It’s really inspirational,” McCormack said during the virtual session. “I have to say thank you for allowing me to be present and see the way you all are collaborating and working across silos to figure out how to actually improve people’s lives. This is a real public service.”

McCormack added that she would “love to” export the 44th District Court’s model to other places.

“Please do consider me a partner. I want to help in any way I can,” she said. “Let’s stay in touch about growing what you’re doing.”

According to unofficial Nov. 3 election results, McCormack retained her seat and will serve another eight-year term ending in 2028.

Outgoing Royal Oak City Attorney David Gillam said Meinecke talked to him about Operation Drive when he was first starting it.

“Obviously, we’ve been supportive of it all the way through,” Gillam said. “We see people (in court) whose driver’s licenses are suspended and have been for years and years and years. Realistically, unless someone changes their attitude, they will never be able to get a driver’s license again. I give Judge Meinecke credit for trying to take on the problem.”

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