Donald Brown says he’s given up driving because he’s given up battling the city of Houston.
“I don’t want to have a license anymore,” said the Houston man. “I got tired of fighting them. I just said forget it.”
Brown has amassed a number of outstanding tickets, some of which he agrees with and some he doesn’t.
But he says one particular one was the last straw.
“He said give me your license and your insurance,” Brown told the I-Team. It was 2011 and Houston police had pulled him over for a broken taillight. But Brown was also charged for not having his license with him.
But, later Brown got a bill from the state that showed him being convicted of driving without even being licensed.
State law allows authorities to charge as much as $300 for that particular offense and now officials wanted that money.
“They started telling me about a surcharge and I said, ‘surcharge?’” Brown explained.
So what’s going on?
Well, for years the city of Houston has been telling the state of Texas that drivers who had left their license at home or elsewhere were instead unlicensed drivers and subject to that $300 penalty.
“There is no question,” said Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman.
Feldman admits that thousands of drivers were affected.
“I think there was something like 20 some odd thousand records involved,” he said.
The misreporting occurred over about a seven year period from 2006 through 2012 and may have resulted in drivers paying as much as $6 million dollars in improper fines to the state.
The cause of this mess? A coding error in a city of Houston computer.
But Feldman says ‘that was then’.
KHOU 11 News: “Has the city taken care of everyone?”
Feldman: “As best we can tell.”
The Houston official says once the city learned about the problem, they contacted the state.
“To make sure everyone gets refunded and that all records are clear,” he said.
But, not everyone is so trusting.
“Pull back the curtain. Let us participate in the process,” said Houston attorney Tom Brown.
Brown and other attorneys are how Houston found out about this mess, when they filed a lawsuit against the city.
“The question as to whether this has been taken care of”, Brown said, “is a question that we need to have answered in the open light of the judicial process.”
For example, Brown thinks there could be not 20,000, but possibly far-more drivers who were wrongly billed because of Houston’s error. And if motorists didn’t pay the state’s fee, Brown explained what may have happened to them.
“If someone falls behind on the surcharge payments, there’s an automatic process that can lead to a suspension of a license.” he said. “And it’s an issue that needs to be corrected.”
Texas officials declined to talk with the KHOU 11 News I-Team about this fiasco.
However, the City of Houston’s attorneys say they are trying to get Tom Brown’s lawsuit dismissed by a judge.
The city claims a contractor caused the error in their computer. In addition, they maintain that everything has since been fixed and refunded.
Don’t buy that?
Then check your records for 2006 through 2012 to see if Houston ticketed you for not having your driver’s license. If so, you may have some money coming to you.