Questions Dog a Case Involving a Suspended License and a Viral Video


The irony was too much for the video not to go viral: A Michigan man charged with driving without a license shows up for a court hearing via video … while driving a vehicle.

But the story behind Corey Harris’s day in court — and the many memes, jokes, fan art and commentary it has spawned since the May 15 video made the rounds last week — is more complicated than it seems.

Two years ago, a judge in another Michigan county had rescinded the suspension of Mr. Harris’s driver’s license, which he had lost because of a child support case.

That revelation, first reported by WXYZ Detroit, provided some context to the comical exchange between Corey Harris and Judge J. Cedric Simpson of Washtenaw County and drew attention to the varying and potentially confusing bureaucratic processes for reinstating a driver’s license in Michigan.

Mr. Harris’s license was suspended in 2010 in connection with a child support case in Saginaw County, Mich, according to WXYZ. In January 2022, Judge James T. Borchard of Saginaw County ordered that the license suspension be rescinded, court records show.

But the suspension was never lifted — the reason is a source of debate — and Mr. Harris, 44, was cited in October for driving with a suspended license in Pittsfield Township.

At a pretrial hearing in that case on May 15 in Anne Arbor, Mr. Harris appeared before Judge Simpson via Zoom while driving up to a doctor’s office. The flabbergasted judge revoked his bond and ordered Mr. Harris to turn himself into jail, where, Mr. Harris told WXYZ, a Detroit television station, that he was kept for two days.

Mr. Harris told the news station that he had been driving his wife to the doctor.

“I was thinking about getting my wife medical help,” Mr. Harris said in a phone interview with the station last week. “That’s what I was thinking. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I got a suspended license. I don’t care about all that.”

Now, back to the question about why the license suspension wasn’t rescinded.

On Tuesday, Chief Judge Julie A. Gafkay, of Saginaw County, said in a statement that a judge’s order to rescind a license suspension is “effective only upon payment of the license clearance fee to the Saginaw County Clerk’s office and the reinstatement fee to the Secretary of State.”

The office of Judge Gafkay said court records showed that Mr. Harris did not pay the clearance until last month, on May 22.

The Michigan Department of State said on Tuesday that it had not been notified of the Saginaw County judge’s order to lift Mr. Harris’s suspension.

In an on-camera interview with WXYZ Detroit on Tuesday, Mr. Harris blamed the Saginaw County Court for his misfortune and said he had never been advised about paying a fee or remaining steps in the process.

Appearing for the interview with his new lawyer, Dionne Webster-Cox, he added that he was shocked when the police officer who cited him in Washtenaw County in October told him that his license was still suspended.

“I looked at him like ‘You’ve got to be joking ’cause all of this was supposed to have been taken care of already,” Mr. Harris said.

The often complicated process for restoring a driver’s license in Michigan became apparent to the Michigan Department of State after a new law lifting suspensions for thousands of drivers in certain cases, including child support, took effect in late 2021.

In response, the agency created a free clinic called “Road to Restoration” that helps people whose suspensions were lifted by the law navigate the process.

It was not immediately clear if Mr. Harris’s suspension had been lifted as a result of the new law.

Mr. Harris’s court appearance took on a life of its own after the video surfaced last week and become the subject news stories (including one by The New York Times) and the talk of on-air personalities like Stephen A. Smith, who spent several minutes of his podcast deriding Mr. Harris.

Mr. Harris described the response to the video to a reporter with WXYZ on Tuesday.

“I’ve been followed, I’ve been laughed at, I’ve been ridiculed,” he said.

“I don’t even go on the internet anymore,” Mr. Harris added, noting that he had deleted his social media accounts. Efforts to reach him on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Another pretrial hearing on the driving while suspended charge in Washtenaw County is scheduled for Wednesday.

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