Saturday, January 28, 2006

Sprint cell phone service fails

A problem started with my cell phone tonight. Since my cell is very important to my business, a problem with it is very disturbing.

Warning: This is going to be a long story, and I'm going to say some negative things about Sprint and their cell phone service, though I will probably be polite.

Around 9:45 pm, my cell phone rang. It was a wrong number, a girl trying to reach Matt. She called again. And again. And a fourth time. At some point she told me the number she was trying to call. I tried calling that number (another number in the 518 area code, starting with the same two digits, but otherwise different) from our home phone. My cell phone rang, indicating that a call was coming in from my home phone.

Between 9:45 and 11 I got about 10 phone calls for Matt, a few of which just went into my voicemail because by then I was calling Sprint customer service.

My call log shows I first dialed Sprint at 10:11 am. The short story is that I spent about 3 hours on the phone with Sprint, ending about 5-10 minutes ago as I type this, and the problem is still not resolved.

On my first call to customer service, I discussed the situation with a representative. She was not helpful and I asked to speak to her manager. She put me on hold, for 5-10 minutes, and then the phone went dead. She, or the system, hung up on me.

I called again. I had a similar conversation with the next rep. Instead of customer service, she put me through to technical support. I give her credit because she stayed on the line until I got through to tech support.

To be clear at this point, some of the Sprint employees I dealt with made a good effort. They either did not have the tools to deal with this problem, or did not have the training.

It should also be noted that the problem I'm having is actually the minor one. My phone still works and I still get calls intended for me. Our friend Matt, whose calls are being forwarded to me, is not getting any incoming calls. And while I initially thought Matt had mistakenly forwarded his calls to my number, apparently this is something Sprint did, not Matt.

Anyway, I got on the line with tech support. Keep in mind this is now the second level up of customer service I was dealing with. We'll go higher later.

This level of tech support was completely unhelpful. They were basically clueless as to what the problem was. They did offer to change my phone number, which is completely unacceptable. The rep was talking me through editing my phone's settings, but he obviously had the wrong manual, as my phone screen did not show what he was talking about. I spoke with his supervisor who was also not helpful.

The clueless rep, who again was making a good effort but just didn't have the right tools or training, offered to put me through to "Advanced Technical Support." Okay, so we're going to level three. He put me on hold to transfer me, and before he did so he said there would be some wait and apologized with such sincerity that I feared something unpleasant was coming. That was correct.

I don't know how long I waited, but it had to be at least a half-hour. Maybe more. I should mention here that during this process, our 11-month-old daughter woke up and would not go back to sleep. So I'm holding daughter, often in both arms, and holding our cordless home phone between my cheek and shoulder. For a long, long time. This was not comfortable. I was able to vary how I held the baby and the phone somewhat, but it wasn't easy. My daughter was fussy too.

As a brief aside, the baby seemed mesmerized for a while by a basketball game on ESPN. And weirdly, while watching a comedian on the Tonight Show, she seemed to be laughing at his jokes. Her giggles were right after the punch lines. Maybe I was hallucinating by this point.

Anyway, after a painfully long wait, I was connected to a rep with Advanced Technical Support (ATS). She was pleasant, and seemed to be trying her best. She did seem to have the right manual for my phone. And I got the general impression that she mostly knew what she was doing.

I should have mentioned earlier that one of the settings on my phone seems to be the problem. There's a setting on my phone (a Palm Treo 650) labelled "MIN". You enter the following code into the Phone app: ##551951#
When you hit the last #, the phone goes into a screen labeled "Activating Your Phone".

There are two entries that can be edited. One is "Mobile Number". That setting was correct. The next setting is called "MIN", and the number was the same as the phone number for our friend Matt. Aha! Or so you might think, but apparently you'd be wrong. The first Tech Support rep thought that what I was seeing as MIN should have read MSID. ATS rep said they're the same thing. I have no idea who's right. I'm betting on ATS rep, but maybe the answer's neither.

The ATS rep had me try something. I think I dialed *720, and then hit the dial (or send) button. This apparently disables all call forwarding, both from and to your phone. Then she wanted to test it, but said she couldn't dial his number because it was after 9 pm. After a brief conversation, I asked her ... "You're saying YOU can't call him, right?"
"Um, yes"
"But you can't stop me from calling him, right?"
"I guess I can't".
"Hold on"

So I tried Matt's number, from my wife's cell (since I'm on my landline and need to see if my cell rings - amazing that I've got 3 different phones - what a world). My phone rang, showing a call from my wife's cell.

So *720 didn't fix it.

For the next half hour or so, ATS rep tried a few different things. I don't know what she was doing. She said she was trying things and working with others around her, but nothing worked.

So now she was going to contact the "Help Desk". That would be level 4, as best I can figure it. So I'm on hold for a while as she's doing that. She comes back (we're almost at the end of the story, by the way), and tells me that she's submitted a "ticket" to the Help Desk, and they should be able to resolve the problem within 36 hours.

36 hours? She said it would probably be quicker, but she had to say 36 hours. Again, keep in mind that my only problem is a few extra calls. I'm still getting the calls intended for me. Poor Matt over there's getting nothing.

I questioned her about my MIN being the same as Matt's cell phone number. She said my MIN was correct. But isn't that an awfully big coincidence, I asked. I mean, the odds of two 10 digit numbers being the same - it's gotta be something like a billion to one.

That's pretty much the story. 3 hours in the hell of Sprint customer service.

If I didn't hate Verizon so much, I'd consider switching because their network and customer service are probably better. This is a tangent, but I've missed so much sleep I can miss a little more. My previous cell phone account was with Verizon Wireless. I switched to Sprint because I wanted the Treo 600. Also, Sprint was less money for more minutes, but the Treo was the big reason. When I switched, I had a billing dispute with Verizon. I offered to pay what I felt I owed ($300 out of the $470 they wanted). No deal. I refused to pay. I sent a few letters too.

They eventually put my account into collection. For many people this might have been disturbing. Since I'm a lawyer, I found it amusing. I'd get threatening calls from debt collectors. I'd laugh at them and tell them not to call again. Then the account would get passed to a new debt collection agency. I'd laugh and direct them not to call. Before the 4th debt collector called, I happened to have run my credit report (for no particular reason). I saw that Verizon had marked my account as "writeoff". That means they had no expectation of collecting. So when the 4th guy calls I laugh even harder and tell him I know that Verizon's written off the account. And don't call me again.

They still call once in a while. Last time my father-in-law picked up and he took a message. He was very concerned. The caller said this was very serious. Uh oh. I didn't know it was serious. :-)

So basically, Sprint is incompetent, and Verizon is evil. And there are no good choices out there.

Keep in mind that I was basically happy with both for most of the time I've been with them. And Verizon's customer service was usually good, except for the last billing problem. And Sprint's service works pretty darn well most of the time.

It's getting late. I guess I should go to bed. Poor Matt.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Criminal Defense and good prosecutors

I'm often critical of prosecutors, so I feel a special duty to comment when I see one who understands.

I just had a young client with a minor drug misdemeanor. The typical reduction would be to a lesser drug charge - a violation. But with a young client, you need to be concerned about the prospect for financial aid in the future.

Federal law makes anyone with any drug conviction ineligible for financial aid. Period. Forever. Rapist? Still eligible. Marijuana violation? Sorry, you're out. The law is not always rational.

I explained this to the young ADA, someone who has been pleasant and thoughtful in the past as well. Initially she felt that my client would be okay with youthful offender (YO) status on the misdemeanor, but it's not clear (not to me at least) that YO protects you when it comes to the feds.

After some discussion and thought, she agreed to take it out of drugs -- we reduced it to a DisCon -- disorderly conduct violation. Client had a drug evaluation and will do treatment according to the recommendation.

I should also give the judge credit -- we have butted heads on one or two occasions. He's very tough, and has a stern demeanor in the courtroom. But he's also very smart, both in general and when it comes to understanding criminal law. On the latter he's way ahead of me (and maybe on the former), but he's been doing this a lot longer. In this case he understood the financial aid concern right away, and approved the deal.

Maybe I'll get in trouble with the other criminal defense lawyers for saying nice things about a prosecutor??

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Speeding tickets and insurance

People often ask me how their speeding ticket will affect their insurance rates. There is actually a specific provision of the law, Insurance Law § 2335, that addresses one portion of that question, and I've pasted the text at the bottom of this post.

Other parts of the law allow for insurance companies to establish what's called a "merit rating plan". Each company has their own plan, and it's awfully hard to find out the details of the plan. I would think I'm pretty sophisticated (having worked for an insurance company), but I haven't been able to figure it out with my policy.

§ 2335 prohibits them from raising your rates for traffic infractions, unless blah blah blah. If you read the text, it reads like that and you'll scratch your head for a while trying to figure it out. I think I understand it, but who knows.

Getting to the details, essentially I read it as saying that:
They can't raise your rates for getting a traffic ticket, unless
1. The relevant violation(s) occurred within 3 years before the date 4 months before your policy period starts.
-- If I read that right, you can get any ticket less than 4 months before your policy period starts, and they can't raise your rates until the next year.
-- Note that it's the date of the violation, not of the conviction, that matters. I think. It says "apply to a conviction for a violation that occurred ...". Presumably that means it's when the violation occurred, not when the conviction occurred. So the longer you stall your ticket, the less impact it will have on your insurance?

2. (1) says a speeding ticket for 15 or less over the limit (i.e. 70 in a 55; 80 in a 65) cannot affect your insurance.

-- What if you get two speeding tickets of 15 or less? As I read this, it still shouldn't affect your rates.

3. After a long list of other items, (14) says "two or more moving violations of any other provision ..."

-- Well, speeding is not an "other" provision. It's one of the provisions in the list, so two speeding tickets of 15 or less shouldn't affect your rates.

4. What if you get one other moving violation (the typical reduction is an 1110(a) - failure to obey a traffic control device - a 2-pointer), and you get a speed of 15 or less?

-- As I read this, it still should not affect your rates. You've got one "other" moving violation (the 1110(a)), and one speed, which is not an "other".

So if you're a speeding ticket lawyer, and you have the opportunity to plead your client down from a 6-point speed to an 1110(a), should you do so, or should you go for a 3-point speed?

-- By the logic above, if you want to protect your client's rates, you should ask for the 3-point speed.

Now reality sets in. First, the insurance companies may not follow the law. If they don't, it's going to cost your client a lot more to challenge the insurance company in Court. You can complain to the Insurance Department, but will they even understand the issue?

And of course your client will probably think that getting 2 points is better than 3. How do you address this situation? Ideally you discuss it with your client.

Above I mentioned that 2 speeding tickets should not affect rates (if they follow the law). But remember that a speed might be either 3 or 4 points. Let's take the 3-pointer (which is for speeds of 1-10 mph over the limit). The 2 tickets add up to six points. That means DMV will hit your client with the new Drivers Responsibility Assessment, costing an additional $300. Or if you get two 4-pointers, the fines are higher (max $355 each, up from about $200 for the 3-pointer), and now the assessment is $450.

Also keep in mind that 3 speeds in 18 months means you lose your license. So yes, you can get three 3-point speeds and only have 9 points, and theoretically your rates won't go up, but your license will be suspended or revoked.

The statute itself is below.

Insurance Law § 2335 -- Motor vehicle liability insurance rates -- prohibition of surcharges for certain traffic infractions

No insurer authorized to transact or transacting business in this state, or controlling or controlled by or under common control by or with an insurer authorized to transact or transacting business in this state, which sells a policy providing motor vehicle liability insurance coverage in this state shall increase the policy premium in connection with the insurance permitted or required by this chapter solely because the insured or any other person who customarily operates an automobile covered by the policy:

(a) has been found guilty of a traffic infraction under any of the provisions of the vehicle and traffic law provided, however, that this provision shall not apply to a conviction for a violation which occurred during the thirty-six month period ending on the last day of the fourth month preceding the month of the effective date of the policy if such conviction consisted of:

(1) operating a motor vehicle at a speed of more than fifteen miles per hour in excess of the legal limit;

(2) operating a motor vehicle in excess of the speed limit, or in a reckless manner, where injury or death results therefrom;

(3) operating a motor vehicle in excess of the speed limit, or reckless driving, or any combination thereof, on three or more occasions;

(4) operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated or impaired by the consumption of alcohol;

(5) operating a motor vehicle while impaired by the use of a drug, within the meaning of section one thousand one hundred ninety-two of the vehicle and traffic law;

(6) homicide or assault arising out of the use or operation of a motor vehicle, or criminal negligence in the use or operation of a motor vehicle resulting in the injury or death of another person, or use or operation of a motor vehicle directly or indirectly in the commission of a felony;

(7) operating a motor vehicle while seeking to avoid apprehension or arrest by a law enforcement officer;

(8) filing or attempting to file a false or fraudulent automobile insurance claim, or knowingly aiding or abetting in the filing or attempted filing of any such claim;

(9) leaving the scene of an incident without reporting;

(10) filing a false document with the department of motor vehicles, or using a license or registration obtained by filing a false document with the department of motor vehicles;

(11) operating a motor vehicle in a race or speed test;

(12) knowingly permitting or authorizing an unlicensed driver to operate a motor vehicle insured under the policy;

(13) operating a motor vehicle insured under the policy without a valid license or registration in effect, except when the person convicted had possessed a valid license or registration which had expired and was subsequently renewed, or during a period of revocation or suspension thereof, or in violation of the limitations applicable to a license issued pursuant to article twenty-one or article twenty-one-a of the vehicle and traffic law; or

(14) two or more moving violations of any other provision of the vehicle and traffic law;

(b) has had a temporary suspension of a driver's license pending a hearing, prosecution or investigation or an indefinite suspension of a driver's license which is issued because of the failure of the person suspended to perform an act, which suspension will be terminated by the performance of the act by the person suspended, or has had more than one such temporary or indefinite suspension arising out of the same incident issued against him or her, provided that the foregoing provisions of this section shall not apply if such suspension or suspensions has or have not been terminated on or before the effective date of the policy; or

(c) with respect to a non-commercial private passenger automobile insurance policy, has had an accident while operating a commercial vehicle in the course of employment and in the discharge of the employee's duties at the time of the accident, unless the accident is determined to have been caused by the intentional action or gross negligence of the insured.

Lawyers and SEO

I did a post a while back about Lawyers and SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Basically, SEO involves doing things that help a website rank well on search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN. Currently I do well on a variety of keywords on all the search engines. I do surprisingly well on Yahoo and MSN for keywords where I probably shouldn't do that well. For example, if you search Yahoo for speeding tickets, you'll see that I (at least at the moment) rank #1 in the world. Search MSN for DWI and I also rank #1 in the world.

I think that works for speeding tickets because that term has relatively little competition. Terms like personal injury and lawyer are much more competitive, so I don't rank as well on that. I still do well when such terms are combined with local place name keywords, such as Albany Lawyer (#7 and #8 on Google) or Albany NY Lawyer (#1 and #2 on Google).

When you look at the broader market, you see a number of companies trying to do well on search engines for the big law-related keywords. I'll focus on Google since it accounts for roughly half of all web searches.

Search for lawyer and comes up #1. is owned by Martindale-Hubbell, which comes up as #3 and #4., the biggest competitor overall, ranks #5. is also the top sponsored link, with next. I just noticed that the ad says "Attorneys in Maryland", which is probably not the best ad title for that search, but that's a different subject.

You wouldn't think this would be that different, but search for lawyers (instead of the singular lawyer), and now FindLaw has vaulted to #2.

Now search for attorney, and FindLaw is #1, Martindale is #2, and is not in the top 10. and make their money by getting attorneys to pay them to be listed in their directories. Martindale has been doing this for years in its print directory. I suspect they are spending $1 million plus per year on SEO, and also on the sponsored links.

Search for "personal injury" or "personal injury lawyers" and you get a whole new set of competitors. And another group for "dui" or "dwi". There's some who do well on regular "organic" listings (the ones you don't pay Google for), and others who are paying a lot to do well on the sponsored links. The ones at the top are probably paying in the ballpark of $20 per click.

The companies that do this call me, maybe once a week, to sell me a listing on their sites. Usually their prices are outrageous. I am actually listed on one of them, because their fee is reasonable. Through Google Analytics I'm able to track how many clicks I get from this site, and the cost per click is comparable to what I'm paying for clicks in my own PPC campaign. It's not a tremendous bargain, but reasonable. It costs far more per click than my average overall, and maybe a little more than the typical DWI or DUI click, but it's cheaper than the cost to be the top sponsored link on the keyword DUI.

I suspect that in the long run lawyers running their own PPC campaigns will outbid these guys and their PPC campaigns. But it's going to be tough for any law firm to maintain a high ranking on organic searches for terms without place names (my success on Yahoo and MSN will probably not last). It is said that 80% of clicks are on organic listings, and that users do not want to click on the paid links. That will probably change too. We think our site is relevant to what you're searching for, and we feel so strongly about it that we're willing to pay Google if you click on our ad. For now it seems that many advertisers are inefficient in their advertising, using keywords that really aren't appropriate for what they do. Over time this should get more efficient and users will find the paid links to be more useful.

I find it much more cost-effective to manage my own web presence, but that may be too difficult for most lawyers. I put an awful lot of time into this, and I have about 30 years of experience programming computers (since the late 70s on the Commodore 4K Pet). I've been writing my own websites for about 5 or 6 years. And I have learned enough to realize that at a certain point, I have hire other people to do things to make my web presence stronger. So I hired a graphic designer who made my website look professional. I worked with a programmer to create a dynamic version of my main law firm website. Now I'm working with a programmer to create a more general law-related website that will both enhance my site's ranking and allow me to sell listings to lawyers.

Deep down I wonder if I should really be a lawyer or if I should migrate to designing and managing websites for lawyers, or creating legal content on the web and selling listings and links from such sites. I love the work of being a lawyer - the wonderful feeling I get when I actually help someone. I also like working with the web.

For now, the web stuff is both a key aspect of my business (managing my firm website) and a hobby (creating legal content on the web). And then there's my interest in screenwriting and making movies, but that's for another day. :-)

Free legal advice

One of the things you encounter when you start your own law practice is the caller looking for free advice. This happened yesterday, and I probably get a call like this once or twice a week.

Someone calls up with what sounds like a simple question. Yesterday's was: "Hi. I got a ticket in Pennsylvania, and I have a New York drivers license. Will the ticket affect me in NY?"

I started with a simple disclaimer -- "Since you haven't hired me as your lawyer, and since I don't know all the details of the situation, you shouldn't rely on my answer, but ..."

And then I gave the simple answer -- "New York State, in general, does not recognize out of state tickets. It should have no effect on your license."

Then I closed with another variation of the disclaimer.

But the simple questions are often not so simple. The caller wasn't satisfied with my answer - even though I think it was pretty clear. So he asked me a follow-up question which really was the same question.

My response: "Would you like to hire me as your lawyer?"

Caller: "Um."

Me: "Would you like to hire me for a simple consultation?"

Caller: "How much is that?"

Me: "$100 for a half-hour."

Caller: "I'll call back".

I think somewhere in the call I mentioned that he should check with the DMV, as they're the official source for how NY deals with out-of-state tickets.

A variation of this is when someone calls up and asks about a speeding ticket case. I quote them my price for handling it, and then they ask what they should do if they go themselves.

At that point I offer to have them come to my office for a half-hour consultation. One interesting point here is that I don't know what a non-lawyer should do on a traffic ticket. I've never gone to traffic court as a non-lawyer. I have handled my own tickets, but (knock on wood) I haven't had any in quite a long time, and even when I did, I was a lawyer. Not even sure I did it right then.

My general impression is that in some courts you'll do fine by yourself, and in other courts you'll do much better with a lawyer.

I like to have a little fun with these calls sometimes. Yesterday I had another caller who had a speeding ticket somewhere, and asked if she could handle it herself. Noting that this is politically incorrect, I said that my impression was that many cops will give a good deal to young women with large breasts.

Caller: "Well, I am young ..."

I didn't realize how funny that was until just now. She didn't hire me, so I guess ...

So far I probably sound mean-spirited and maybe arrogant. Probably true, but this comes back to the economics of running a law practice. My time is not free. The time I spend on a call with a person looking for free advice can, and should, be spent working on a case where someone is paying me. I'm running a business, not a free help desk.

On a related note, people should realize that a lawyer billing $200/hour does not take home $200/hour. That $200/hour goes to pay various expenses, and we have a lot of time we either can't bill for or can't collect for. I usually get paid up front, so collection is not an issue for me. My take-home pay is probably working out to somewhere around $30/hour for all the time I work. That's not terrible, of course. But it doesn't make me stinking rich either. I suspect it will go up over the next couple of years (okay, I sure hope so), but that's another thing. There's no guarantees.

As for mean-spirited and/or arrogant lawyers, the best blog out there on this is the Anonymous Lawyer Blog.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Winter in upstate NY

Home with our young daughter today. Went out to run an errand. On the way out, going downhill, I passed a $50K Lexus that was trying to go uphill. It was half off the road. There's a trend in modern cars, especially luxury cars, for "performance" tires. Typically that means larger wheels and a higher aspect ratio (If your car has 225/60-15 tires, they're 225 mm wide, on 15" wheels, and 60 is the aspect ratio, a measure of the distance from the rim to the road compared to the overall diameter of the tire. If you see a car where there's a lot of wheel and the tire looks like a rubber band on the wheel, that is a low aspect ratio, high performance tire. Very good on summer roads. Bad in the winter. They ride up like a surfboard.

I'm not a tire expert, but that's what I hear and what I've read.

My car's like a snowmobile. I have an Audi A4 with all-wheel drive, and winter tires on it. When I bought it there was a performance package option with 17" wheels and special tires. It explicitly said you shouldn't run these tires in winter. I stuck with the 15" wheels and all-season tires. This year I decided it was time to go with winter tires, and there is a big difference.

I was just thinking when I passed the Lexus that they could have spent another $500 or so on winter tires, and not had that problem. If you're driving a car that expensive, you can afford the snows.

If things go well, maybe this spring I'll buy 17" wheels and summer tires, but I'm keeping the 15s for the winter. :-)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

An evil corporation

Can't believe I haven't blogged about this before. I have a case where my clients were ripped off by their mortgage company. This company, with a history of ripping off their customers, getting sued, and paying very large settlements to federal agencies, is about as evil a company as I've ever seen. It specializes in "subprime lending", what many people call predatory lending.

Their modus operandi is finding vulnerable people - with poor credit history, bad financial judgment, low to moderate incomes, and selling them expensive loans. They do things like mailing live checks, saying they know how tough things are at Christmastime, so here's $3K to help you through the season. The fine print mentions that the interest rate is 29.9%.

29.9% !!!!!

Yeah, that's a good deal. Awful nice of that sweet company to help out poor souls with some extra cash for Christmas. In three years you'll have paid them back double what they lent you.

So in our case, the evil corporation had been milking these folks for several years already. Next they suckered them into a refinancing. Pitched it to them as an "On Us Refinance". You might think that means no costs, but apparently not.

During the transaction the company diverted $11K into a credit life insurance policy, then canceled it. By doing so, clients' first mortgage was not paid off in full. Of course clients did not hire an attorney for the refinancing. You shouldn't have to really. This isn't supposed to happen in a refi.

How can you refinance your own customer's mortgage, and not pay off the original mortgage? It just doesn't make any sense.

But we're not done.

When my clients got their mortgage bills, they flipped. They called. They wrote letters. The bank blew them off. Clients complained to the Banking Dept. and the Attorney General. Bank lied to them. Still I can't believe Eliot Spitzer missed a chance to go after a corporation.

Finally the clients came to me, about the 6th lawyer they visited. I had simple advice. Stop paying the old mortgage. You don't owe it. It's not valid.

The bank will threaten you. Ignore the threat. At some point they'll commence a foreclosure, and we'll counterclaim.

The clients listened, but they didn't believe the bank would actually go through with it. These clients are really good people, so trusting. That's why the bank was playing them all these years.

The bank threatened foreclosure. Before they actually commenced they had received four letters from me. They ignored all of them and went ahead.

My clients were devastated. No matter how much I reassured them that everything would be okay, they were still shocked, depressed, angry, outraged, you name it.

Well, we served an Answer with Counterclaims. That seemed to wake the bank up, briefly. I got a call from a lawyer in their main office in Dallas. He tried to sweet talk me, but in the end the paperwork he sent did not fit with his oral proposal. Clients were so angry it didn't matter. Then the bank started delaying.

The case started in April of 2004. It's now getting close to February of 2006. We are getting moving a bit now. The bank says they're withdrawing the foreclosure and satisfying the old mortgage, but they haven't done it yet. They've also moved to compel us into arbitration. I think they're going to lose that motion.

I cross-moved to compel them to provide us with documents, produce witnesses, and also to sanction them for filing a frivolous action, along with other misconduct. Supposed to discuss this with the judge on 2/1/06, but I bet they'll ask for more time.

We'll see how this one goes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Criminal Justice and the media in the Capital Region

I just had a very interesting experience. I was interviewed by Ernie Tetrault for a program that airs on Schenectady public access cable (channel 16) and apparently also on UPN 4.

Ernie is a long-time news anchor for WRGB, CBS channel 6. I think he's either retired or semi-retired from WRGB now, but he is still active. He's the kind of guy you just can't help but like.

He has become involved, along with a few others in the area media (such as Carl Strock), in a group that is taking a critical look at the area's criminal justice system. Mostly they seem focused on Rensselaer District Attorney Trish DeAngelis, who has gotten a lot of bad press in the last couple years.

Ernie noticed my blog (I still can't believe people read this :-) ) and e-mailed me. We had lunch with Mary Carroll, whose husband is one of the people they consider to have been railroaded by DeAngelis. I should note here that I graduated law school with Trish, and while we're not close, I do consider her a friend. I have no personal experience with her as a DA. I have a case going with her office at the moment, but it's not a high-profile case and she has not been personally involved.

The group is called Justice Now, and it's website is One of the things they're doing is an interview show. So when we had lunch, Ernie invited me to interview on the show.

The interview was a pleasant experience. It's hard to have a conversation with him and not enjoy it. That's probably why he's such a good interviewer. He makes the interviewee comfortable.

We talked about speeding tickets, DWI and other aspects of being a lawyer in the Albany Schenectady area.

Afterward, he invited me to become an interviewer on the show. So now I've got all sorts of ideas running through my head about who I could interview and what I would interview them about.

Another nice part of the experience was the guy running the equipment -- Todd Wilson. He was also very nice, and he has an interesting web business selling cigars. It's always interesting to talk to another person who does business on the web.

Daniel Cady - more coming

I added a few more of Daniel Cady's letters today. Doing his early writing to Peter Smith. The recent entries show some heavy sarcasm, particularly about James Monroe, the NY legislature, etc.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

PWT - Practicing (Law) while tired

With all the talk about drunk driving, I thought today's experience is an interesting reflection. Our 11-month old has not been sleeping well. Last night was particularly bad, and I ended up with about 2 hours sleep. But I had an early conference with our area's most feared judge (he was pleasant today), so I had to go to work.

The conference went well, but it was very difficult to get work done when I got back to the office. When you're that tired, it's just hard to get focused. I did get going in the late afternoon, but then I was needed at home.

The reality of practicing law when you have two young kids is that you have times when you're tired and it's just hard to get things done. Then your desk starts to pile up. Hopefully you catch up on the weekend. In this particular case, I had 2 trials recently and that kept me away from the office for 3 solid days, plus I had 1 or 2 other days away from the office. It gets tough.

I've been thinking about hiring some help (or getting my wife - a lawyer - to spend some time in the office). Today I got an e-mail from some paralegal service in India. Hmm. Maybe I'll outsource some work to India. We'll see. So far I'm actually impressed. It's just very hard to find good people, and my experience so far with people from India - either here or there - is that they're hungry so they do good work.

Maybe the real reason for all the outsourcing we see is that Americans are just getting too soft. It's so easy to be an American. We have no appreciation for how difficult life is in other countries. Our poor people have 100 channels of cable TV, clean water, and access to great medical care. The bottom 10% in the US have it better than 98% of the rest of the world (not including Europe, Japan, and a few other spots.

Anyway, my rambling point (I really am tired) is that practicing law while tired is a little similar to driving while intoxicated. You don't do your best. But usually the lawyer thing is not so dangerous. It would be worse if I was handling a trial while tired. But even then I think we do okay.

Maybe I should do a post about BWT -- blogging while tired.

Good night.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

DUI Update

In a recent post I discussed two DWI cases I've been handling. In the first, a DWAI with a 0.07 BAC, the ADA has agreed to take this one "out of alcohol". My client will plead to a fairly severe speeding ticket to resolve the case. We had a strong case because my client had passed 4 of 6 field sobriety tests, and the Trooper apparently made some other mistakes with his paperwork.

In the second, my client's car broke down near his home. He walked home. A neighbor saw him and called the police. The police went into his home and arrested him. He blew a .24 BAC. There was a substantial gap in time between when he got out of his car and when they got to him in his apartment - enough time for him to have consumed a substantial amount of alcohol, and thereby making the breath test's validity dubious.

We just had the suppression hearing on that. I discovered a very serious problem for the prosecution. According to the Supreme Court (in Payton v. NY and Welsh v. Wisconsin), police cannot arrest someone in their home without both probable cause and "exigent circumstances".

There is a case in our local NY appellate court, People v. Odenweller, that pushed beyond what the Supremes allowed, but still didn't go as far as would be required in our case. Welsh v. Wisconsin allowed a DWI arrest where the police had been in "hot pursuit" of the defendant when he ran into his home. In Odenweller, the Court extended this to "lukewarm pursuit". They pretty much made that one up, but even so, the facts of our case are much more favorable to us.

Most attorneys feel that local judges will bend over backward to favor the prosecution and the police. This case will require serious bending, and would likely be overturned on appeal. I'd take this one up to the Supreme Court if I had to.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Busy lawyer

Now I'm getting busy. On one day a couple of weeks ago I was in Troy City Court at 8:30 am, Albany City Court (Criminal) at 9:30, had a mediation at 11 am, met a client in the office at 2:30, and went to another traffic court (dwi) at 4 pm. The next day I was in two courts, and the day after that I was in three courts.

Tomorrow I'm starting a personal injury trial, and at 6:30 pm, I'm meeting a client for a DWI case. Trial should wrap up the next day, and I'm meeting a prospective personal injury client at 7:30 pm. And the next day I have some depositions in the morning and then traffic court at 6 pm. Finally, on Friday I'm having a cardiac stress test, which seems appropriate. :-)

The reality of being a lawyer -- no one cries for us. In my case, no one should. I love all of the above. It's the paperwork that gets to me. I think a lot of trial lawyers feel the same. Instead of sitting at a computer or settling disputes between secretaries, we'd rather be in a courthouse hanging around with other trial lawyers, chewing the fat and telling war stories, talking to juries, cross-examining a doctor, and rolling dice on the gamble that is personal injury law (or criminal law, etc.).