Friday, March 30, 2007

Continuing Legal Education - They're getting desperate

In the picture below, you can see how desperate the New York State Bar Association has become for speakers. The topic is about starting your own practice.

In all seriousness, I am honored to be listed as a speaker. I'm also excited to speak about the topic. Should be fun. Click the following to see more about: NYSBA CLE programs.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Soares - Why follow the law?

Not too long ago I did a post about David Soares, our local District Attorney. Well, he's in the news again, and this time it's not about steroids.

According to the North Country Gazette, Soares failed to pay his attorney licensing fee to the State Office of Court Administration. I checked on the OCA website today, and it looks like he still hasn't paid up.

To be fair, the ADAs in Albany County (like most counties) treat defendants fairly when they get ticketed in cases of suspensions involving driver licenses, insurance and registration, so at least it's not hypocrisy. And at least one person close to me has blown the attorney registration fee once.


I happened to check the OCA website today (4/10/07) and it does appear that our District Attorney has now cleared things up and paid his fee.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What gives with East Hampton Town Court?

Looking over the court data, it's interesting to see how some courts have a high volume but don't seem to get much attention on our website.

Most notable is East Hampton Town Court, which appears to be the 13th busiest justice court in New York State, has been in our database for a while now, and yet does not make the top 500 pages. There is no interstate highway, and can't have any through traffic because it's at the end of Long Island. That probably explains it.

Similarly, Southampton Town Court is the 3rd busiest in the state, but also does not make our top 500. For some reason these pages are not doing well on Google searches, but it's also likely that they just don't get the volume of through traffic, which I think are the people most likely to look online for court info.

For some reason we didn't have Port Chester Village Court in the database. It's #6 in the state, so I added it today. I also added Hempstead Village Court, which is apparently #1.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Electronic Traffic Tickets - a measure of which courts are busy

When this post was first written, it linked to a page indicating courts where police have issued electronic traffic tickets. Unfortunately it did not give a time frame. Are these numbers for all time? For 2006? We just don't know.

But anyway, the differences can be striking. The Town of Athens had nearly 10,000 tickets, with a population of under 4000 people. The Town of Windham, in the same county, and with a population a bit less than half that of Athens, had 227 tickets. Athens had 50 times as many tickets even though it has only twice the population. More striking for me is the village of Altamont, not far from my home, with only 14 tickets. Altamont has a population a bit higher than Windham. Altamont is also contained within my hometown of Guilderland, with over 30,000 people and over 11,000 tickets. Then there's the city of Amsterdam (New York, of course), with a population of nearly 20,000, and only 196 tickets. The adjacent Town of Amsterdam has a bit under 6,000 residents, and over 1629 e-tickets. Hmm.

My best explanation for these odd numbers starts with interstate highways. Athens has a fairly short stretch of the New York State Thruway (I-87), including a U-turn. Windham is up in the hills and is pretty much not on any path to anywhere other than Windham itself. Ditto for Altamont. Guilderland has a decent stretch of Thruway as well.

One thing to note is that New York State Troopers almost exclusively write e-tickets, while many local police agencies still use handwritten tickets. For an e-ticket, the officer enters the relevant information into a computer in the police car. The computer prints the ticket (and often a supporting deposition), and the officer hands that to the driver. The computer electronically transmits the ticket to the court, and probably to yet another database the government uses to keep track of us. Many of my clients complain that the ticket becomes unreadable. The ticket is printed on thermal paper. They fade easily and in some circumstances large sections will blacken. We see so many of these that we can usually read fax copies of them even when our clients can't read the originals. Also, for some reason the 5s and 6s are difficult to distinguish.

Since the Troopers use e-tickets, it's reasonable to assume that interstate highways would have more e-tickets since Troopers are the ones who police those highways, especially the Thruway where you almost never see any other kind of police.

This doesn't quite fit for Amsterdam. The city does have a short stretch of Thruway (at Exit 27), while the town is on the other side of the river. I'm pretty sure some Troopers write tickets on Route 5 in the town, but you'd still think there would be more on the Thruway at an exit. My only guess here is that maybe the deputies use e-tickets, and don't police the city, while the city police use the handwritten tickets. That might explain it.

The monster courts appear to be both Syracuse City Court (nearly 50,000) and the Nassau County Traffic Bureau (over 80,000). Nassau County's 1st District Court also has 24,000, but it is a heavily populated county and nearly all traffic matters are handled in the Traffic Bureau (the district court probably handles the DWI cases). The Traffic Violations Bureau courts do not seem to be included. I'm guessing that the Syracuse city cops use e-tickets, but that's just a guess.

One thing that's interesting about all this is the disparity in revenue. Imagine how much the Town of Athens must collect from all of those traffic tickets. If the town only makes $10 per ticket, that's $100K in revenue. And if they average $50, well that's $500K, over $100 per resident. By eyeballing the numbers I'm guessing that more than half the courts get less than 100 tickets, while a very small number of them have more than 5000.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Town Court site keeps doing well ... Athens falloff

Our traffic court website continues to do well. Weekly traffic is rapidly approaching 6000 visitors. Before last week the site never had two days in a row with more than 1000 visitors (Mondays are usually the biggest day of the week). The last two weeks we've had three days in a row of 1000 visitors, and Thursday was over 970. The site has over 1000 courts now and we have all or most of the courts in 52 counties in New York (out of 62) plus 4 counties in New Jersey. Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are coming soon.

We continue to get feedback. Most of it is positive, but occasionally court staff will complain about a perceived unfavorable comment. It seems that the larger purpose we're striving for with the site (making better information available about traffic courts - apparently something that thousands of people are looking for) is far less important than the innocuous comment that could be read the wrong way.

A number of the courts continue to get a lot of visits. Guilderland Town Court continues to be the top individual court. It was the first one in the directory and for a long time the town website did not have a page about the court. But others are gaining. Albany Traffic Court (i.e. Albany City Court - Traffic Part) is right behind, with only one less visitor in the last two weeks. Rotterdam and the various New York City traffic courts also draw a lot of traffic.

Visits to the section on New Jersey traffic courts are also growing, though that's less than 10% of the visits at this point.

One court that used to do well has declined. Athens Town Court used to be one of the busier pages, but now that particular page doesn't even seem to show up on a web search, with the page for Greene County courts showing low on the first page. The Athens court gets a lot of speeding tickets from the Thruway. Despite having only a mile and a half of Thruway in the town, there is apparently one U-turn that is heavily used by the Troopers for catching speeders. I assume the reduced placement on searches is a temporary thing.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A trial lawyer moment ...

I had a trial recently, and there was one short bit of the trial that really stood out. I was cross-examining the principal witness for the prosecution, the following exchange occurred - note that Q is a question from me, and A is an Answer from the witness ...

Q. Okay. So, it's your position that she does not
know how to spell her own last name? Is that what you're
telling this Judge?

A. It could have been a trick, just like everything

Q. I see. Okay, let's talk about tricks, turning
tricks. Isn't it true, Ms. [name omitted], that you were arrested
last year for prostitution?

Well before trial I had become aware of the witness' criminal history, including a prostitution charge. I was planning at some point to attack her credibility on this issue, and then she handed me that moment on a silver platter. In my memory of this moment I paused and looked up at the sky (through the ceiling of course) and thanked god for this moment - which is really unusual since I'm pretty close to being an atheist. Somehow it doesn't read as good in the transcript as it was in person.

There was another good moment in the trial ...

Q. You didn't want the people you were asking for a
loan to know about your financial situation, correct?

A. If you have ever done a loan, they want a
fifty-fifty debt to income ratio. There's no one in this
world -- I'll say there's very, very few people that I do
business with that can reflect a fifty-fifty debt to income

Q. Aren't you telling the Judge that your purpose in
having Ms. [Defendant] register the vehicle in her name, as you
claim, this was to deceive the Small Business Administration
so you could get a loan?

[objection overruled]

A. Yes

Q. It was a lie?

A. Yes. If that's how you want to see it. I don't
believe you're in my business.

The witness actually admitted that her scheme was a lie. So I've got her admitting to prostitution and to lying. Now how often in life do you get to call someone a lying whore and be accurate?

I should add a further caveat here that prostitution should not be illegal, but that goes with my whole nutty libertarian thing.

I am wondering what business she's referring to ... the business where it's apparently okay to purposely deceive federal agencies for financial gain. I thought that was, in the popular misperception of our profession, exactly what some lawyers do (i.e. tax lawyers, not us criminal defense and personal injury lawyers - we're the good guys :-) ).

Or maybe she meant the prostitution business?

Friday, March 02, 2007

The best feeling - when you get your client out of jail

I got a call from one of the attorneys who works with me here in my Albany office. We have a client who has been in jail for over a month on a probation violation. He had just been in Court (at my request) to see the judge and is now going over to the jail to pick our client up.

For me, this is one of the most satisfying events I get to experience as a lawyer. I've gotten 5-digit fees on a few occasions and you would think that would be more satisfying, but it doesn't come close.

It even feels good when the client is guilty and you think he might belong in jail, but in today's case it feels quite a bit better because we both feel that this client does not belong in jail.