LEON VALLEY, Texas – Kathy Francis said her troubles with the Department of Public Safety started in March 2019, while applying to renew her driver’s license.
“Let’s get this handled, because I’m a rule follower,” said Francis, recalling the conversation she had with her wife.
The couple lives in rural Bandera County, meaning it made sense during a trip to town to stop by the driver’s license mega center on Huebner Road, in Leon Valley.
Francis, just as she had done multiple times since the mid-1990′s, wrote “BiPolar” on the application when asked if she had a mental condition that may affect her ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.
“If I am sick with it and I am out, I want the first responders to have that information,” said Francis, recalling what she had told multiple DPS employees in the past when they asked why she would answer the question truthfully.
Francis said the admission had not impacted her ability to renew her license in the past.
This time, however, listing her mental illness caused DPS officials to flag her application.
“Even when I have needed to go into the hospital, never driven during a crisis, I have always made certain to be a safe driver,” said Francis.
In late October 2019, Francis received a letter from DPS stating that her eligibility to keep a license was under review and had already been forwarded to the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Medical Advisory Board for its opinion, records show.
Days later, DSHS officials notified Francis that her healthcare provider would have to complete a medical history form, warning her that the section marked psychiatric “MUST be completely filled out,” records show.
Francis provided medical records to the Defenders showing, in part, that her doctor responded that she had not seen any evidence of bipolar disorder from Francis the past ten months.
Francis said, coincidentally, that when she filled out the DPS application her mental health diagnosis was actually in the process of being changed to complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is unclear whether writing down PTSD on the application would have caused the state to flag Francis’ application.
DPS officials declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this story, citing confidentiality and privacy laws, and instead directed the Defenders to its website.
Last April, DPS officials informed Francis that they intended to revoke her license and that it would take effect in June if she did not request a hearing before a judge.
Francis opted for the hearing, which was reset multiple times last summer due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to DPS records.
Francis said she knew better than to show up for the hearing without an attorney, but her attempts to find one in time failed.
One legal agency based in Austin informed Francis in June that it could not provide her assistance due to a lack of resources, according to a denial letter provided to the Defenders.
When the hearing finally took place in September in Bandera County, Francis said she was admonished by the judge for speaking before being spoken to.
“He told me that he would conduct how the hearing was held and that I was to sit down, that first he would speak, then the prosecutor would speak, and then I would have my chance,” said Francis, who described the judge as “incredibly hostile.”
Court records show the judge sided with DPS, causing the revocation to go into effect later that month.
“Banged his gavel and we were done. I’m proud that I waited until I went outside to fall apart,” said Francis.
Earlier this year, DPS officials informed Francis that the revocation of her license would remain in place.
Milo Colton, a criminal procedure professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law, said during a Zoom interview last month that he is not surprised Francis’ license was revoked.
Colton, however, said Francis could eventually get her privileges reinstated.
“When the administrative agency locks you up you can challenge them and the lawyers know how to do it,” said Colton, who pointed out that DPS has to take possible remedies into consideration.
When it comes to mental health conditions, specifically, Colton said therapy and medication could be two possible remedies.
“I think she’s got a very good case of getting her license back,” said Colton.
A certified DPS driving history for Francis, provided to her in June, shows no prior incidents on her driving record.
But with her license revoked and Bandera County having very few mass transit options, Francis has had to lean on her wife to provide transportation.
“I have been fighting the stigma of mental illness since I was a teenager,” said Francis, who vows to keep fighting to have her driving privileges reinstated.