Viral Zoom Court Driver NEVER Had a Valid License, Judge Says

Saginaw County Clerk of Court
Saginaw County Clerk of Court

On May 15, a Michigan man named Corey Harris showed up to a virtual court hearing behind the wheel of his car after being cited for driving without a license. Footage of Harris speaking to the flabbergasted judge was posted online and shot to stratospheric levels of virality last week.

Then came a twist in the case: The revelation that a judge in a neighboring county had ordered the suspension of Harris’ license be lifted two years ago.

But things got even stranger at a Wednesday hearing, which began with Judge J. Cedric Simpson revealing that Harris has in fact never had a driver’s license, and ended with the defendant being taken into custody.

Simpson opened the hearing by saying he wanted to make sure the record was clear. “Based upon what the court has looked at, he has never had a Michigan license. Ever,” he said. “And [he] has never had a license in the other 49 states and commonwealths that form up this great union. He has never had a license.”

The judge went on to untangle the confusion, explaining that it had not been Harris’ license that had been suspended last October in Pittsfield Township, but rather his privilege to drive in the state.

“Hence, for example, if he had had a Kentucky license, he would be able to drive everywhere that Kentucky would allow him to drive,” Simpson said. “He just couldn’t drive in Michigan because his privileges had been restricted.”

In fact, Harris apparently knew this. Prosecutor Konrad Siller said during the Wednesday hearing that police body camera footage showed Harris acknowledging “at least twice” to the officer who pulled him over that he didn’t have a valid license.

As to how the court figured it out, Simpson explained that his office had gone back through Harris’ records, finding that he had applied for his first Michigan photo ID on May 3, 1999, at the age of 19.

“Counsel knows, and so do I—you cannot have both. Either you have an ID or you have a license,” Simpson said. “And he has religiously, every year, gotten a new ID, and so he knows that he doesn’t have a license. And quite frankly, I just wish he would have said that at the beginning, and all of this hoopla could have been just put all aside.”

The fresh twist in the saga was first reported on X by a journalist for HuffPost.

After Harris’ disastrous pretrial hearing on May 15, Simpson revoked his bond and ordered him to turn himself in to the Washtenaw County jail by that evening. Harris spent two nights behind bars.

Two weeks later, shortly after Harris went viral, local ABC affiliate WXYZ reported that his suspension, which was tied to a child-support case, had actually been lifted by a judge in 2022.

“It has literally been pure… hell. I’ve been assaulted, I’ve been followed, I’ve been laughed at, I’ve been ridiculed. I have been disrespected,” Harris told the station.

The report shed light on the seeming thicket of bureaucratic incompetence that had led to the wrongful citation. In order to see his driving record wiped clean, Harris was supposed to have paid a $125 fee to the Saginaw County Court Clerk’s office, which would have allowed the court to send a notice of clearance to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, which oversees regulation of the state’s motor vehicles.

Harris pointed the finger at the Saginaw County Friend of the Court, an office that assists court administrators. “They were supposed to have lifted it two years ago, but they didn’t,” he told WXYZ, adding, “Always double-check behind these workers because they will say that they will do something and they don’t do it.”

Simpson defended his “sister court” on Wednesday, saying that the Saginaw County Friend of the Court had done “nothing wrong.”

“His driving privileges… were unsuspended in 2022,” he explained. “That required Mr. Harris to do something; he didn’t do it. Therefore, the Friend of the Court was under no obligation to send anything to the Secretary of State.”

It was not immediately clear if anyone had notified Harris of the outstanding fee back in 2022. He paid it on Monday, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State previously confirmed. Simpson said Wednesday that the Friend of the Court had “immediately” sent over the notice of clearance, taking the suspension of privileges off his driving record.

The judge emphasized that no clerical error had been made, either by his office, the Pittsfield police, or the Saginaw County authorities. “It was a failure on the part of Mr Harris to do certain things,” he said.

Harris’ attorney, public defender Dionne Webster-Cox, who appeared alongside him in the WXYZ interview, said that she was committed to resolving the case, and that Harris was “in the process of procuring his license.” She said he had his permit test scheduled for Thursday.

“[Once he] gets his permit, he’s got to drive for at least 30 days,” Simpson said, then, cracking a smile, added, “Apparently he knows how to do that part.”

Other parts of the hearing were less jovial, particularly when Webster-Cox stressed that it wasn’t Harris’ fault that he was now a meme. “My client didn't start the hoopla. Perhaps he’s made some comments, but he didn’t start the hoopla whatsoever,” she said. “That was someone that was outside of his control.”

Simpson seemed to take exception to this. “You say it wasn’t started by him,” he said later. “Oh, it certainly was. It certainly was when he made his first statement to WXYZ.” The judge added that the person Harris needed to blame for the whole kerfuffle was “the person that he was staring at in the mirror.”

He added later, “Just own it! Once you own it, then it becomes a whole lot easier just to move forward.”

The judge then brought up the fact that Harris had a warrant out for his arrest, stemming from a separate traffic stop in Allen Park in June 2015, when he’d again been cited for driving without a license. Simpson acknowledged that he didn’t know whether this had been mentioned to Harris after his pretrial hearing last month.

“I really don’t care whether he was or not,” he said. “All I know is that was back in mid-May, and it hasn't been taken care of.”

Simpson then had a court officer escort Harris out of the room. Online records show that Harris has since posted bond in the case. His next court date for that traffic stop is on August 13, while his next hearing in the viral case is slated for August 7.

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