Friday, December 04, 2009

Adrian Peterson: Speeding and Knowing Your Speed

The hot traffic court story of the week is Vikings running back Adrian Peterson ticketed for going 109 mph in a 55 zone. See the story on ESPN.

My favorite quote from the story is this from Peterson: I need to be more aware of the speed I was going ....

I should add this to my speeding ticket excuses post, because I've heard it before. "I didn't realize I was going that fast."

Maybe this excuse makes sense when you're ticketed for 80 in a 55. But if you're going over 100 mph, you really should know. I had one guy ticketed for ... I'm not kidding ... 125 mph. He said he didn't realize he was going that fast.

Look, if you're going to drive at speeds that high, please be aware of what you're doing. While it may be dangerous to drive at such speeds in general, it's definitely more dangerous if you're not paying attention.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Adsense Ads and Bounce Rate

Do AdSense ads increase the bounce rate?

I've heard concerns about AdSense making a site look spammy in the past, and saw the idea mentioned in this discussion about link building and advertising.

The concern some in the SEO community have is that webmasters will not want to link to sites that have ads on them. There are varied reasons discussed in the above forum. One that stands out to me looks like a myth:

keep in mind ... bounce rate and ... the presence of adsense ads. ... some users ... hit the back button on some sites with adsense.

That's an interesting theory. Bounce rate refers to the percentage of users who leave a site right after landing on it, as opposed to those who visit other pages of the site. Some people think a high bounce rate is a bad thing.

Well, I checked this theory on my Traffic Court website. We have AdSense ads in most states but not all.

Let's start with New York - it's our original and biggest state, and we generally do not use Google ads on the NY pages of the site. I ran Analytics for a set period of time. See the image below - I use the Content by Title display and have my page titles set up so that this is a good (though not perfect) way of catching all pages from a particular state.

The bounce rate for NY for this period was about 67%.

Similarly we have little or no Google ads in New Jersey, and the bounce rate is about 69%:

Now let's look at two states that do have a lot of Google ads. First, Texas:

The bounce rate for Texas is actually lower - 65%. And let's check California also:

The bounce rate for California is lower still, at 64%.

Since the page title method is imperfect, I also looked at the Analytics Map Overlay to compare bounce rates for visitors from different states. This is another imperfect measure, but it may be helpful. Click on the image to enlarge if you can't read it.

Again, NY and NJ, which have almost no AdSense ads, have higher bounce rates than visitors coming from other states that do have AdSense ads - here California and Pennsylvania.

Based on these results, it would seem that the presence of AdSense ads has a minimal impact on bounce rate, and if anything it lowers it.

I'd love to read comments from others about this. What do you think about the impact of AdSense ads on bounce rate? Can you supply any numbers from your own web stats that would shed more light?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Traffic Lawyer Directory Statistics

Noticed an interesting set of statistics about our directory of traffic lawyers just now.

The image below shows the number of visits to the various pages within the directory. Click on the image to enlarge it. The stats are for the last October 21 to November 20.

Most interesting numbers:
a. 11,424 total pageviews and 7737 unique pageviews. As a rough guess, it looks like maybe 5000 people a month use the lawyer directory.
b. Nassau County District Court must be very busy. There were 175 unique pageviews for the lawyers page for that court.
c. Same for the Rancho Cucamonga Court - a Superior Court in San Bernardino County, California -- 131 unique pageviews.
d. The dropoff from those two courts is big. The Jersey City Court at 81 unique and Nassau County Traffic Court at 71 unique views. You can see that in the second image.
e. After the top, there's a strong middle class. Lots of courts getting lots of views. Among the top 25 are three courts in the Albany area with over 30 unique views each.

And the next image is specific to courts only. Again, click to enlarge:

Some observations:

1. County pages, in general, get more traffic than court pages.

The lawyer directory does not contain many court pages. The site is set up so that a court page is created only when a lawyer indicates in their profile that they handle that particular court. And yes, there is a reason I set it up that way.

You can see that "241 page titles were viewed" in the stats for courts. That probably means lawyers have indicated those 241 courts in their profiles, and maybe a few more that just didn't get any views.

Similarly, counties only appear in the directory when a lawyer has indicated she handles cases in that county.

2. There's a lot of people looking for lawyers on our site. I'm surprised more lawyers haven't signed up for the directory. With all the web sites out there drilling lawyers for big money to be on their sites, you'd think a free opportunity would be attractive.

You lawyers know which courts are busy in your area. Sign up for the site and list yourself for the busy courts around you. We have one lawyer in all of Pennsylvania, and the state is one of the top states on our site. No one has listed themselves in the Philadelphia area even though two of those court pages get a lot of visits.

Lawyers can register on the traffic lawyers registration page.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Texas speeding and traffic fines and points

Searching the web for something else, we came across the image below. It describes the fine and point schedule for Texas traffic tickets. If you click on it, it should enlarge.

Looks like on the high end, it's almost $500 for a very high speed in a work zone with workers present. On the low end, a low speed is $158.

As for points, most violations appear to be either zero or two points. If you have a low enough speed (like 71 in a 65), that's no points. And they have a surcharge if you get 6 or more points, starting at $100.

Altogether the fine and point system seems both simpler and gentler than here. In NY a high speed (31+ over) has a fine up to $85, plus an assessment of $450 or more.

This is also useful information for Texas drivers who get NY tickets. When we negotiate deals for you, we know what deals will give you points and what won't.

We finished our Texas Traffic Court directory a while ago. Some of the busiest courts we see from our site are:

Houston Municipal Court
Humble Municipal Court
Pasadena Municipal Court
San Antonio Municipal Court

Out-of-state tickets and Massachussetts drivers

Prospective clients frequently ask how their NY ticket will affect them in their home state. Since it's next door, we get this question a lot from Massachusetts drivers. One of the best places to get the answer to this question is your state's DMV. In Massachusetts it is known as the RMV - Registry of Motor Vehicles.

This post is about Massachusetts, but for a more general discussion, see my Do Points Transfer post.

The RMV says that out-of-state tickets will count against you. It's in Chapter 2 of the RMV Drivers Manual (a pdf file). Here are some quotes from that:

Out-of-State Violations
Certain traffic offenses you have committed in other states will be placed on your driving record and treated by the RMV as if they had occurred in Massachusetts.
... [O]ut-of-state violations count toward possible license suspension and automobile insurance surcharges. ...
[T]hese offenses will be treated as if they occurred in [MA] if they are a “like” offense. ... RMV will look at what conduct the other state's law prohibits ....
RMV [will] apply Massachusetts license suspension rules to any [such] out-of-state violations ....

A lot of states follow this approach. One reason to hire our firm is that we look at your state's rules to see what reductions would have the lowest impact in your home state. Then we use that information in negotiating a deal for you. This is important. One of the most common reductions for simple tickets in NY is actually worse than a low speed for drivers in some states, such as NJ and FL.

For those interested in MA, see my post about Massachusetts Traffic Court.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NY Tickets and NJ Insurance

We spoke recently with a NJ insurance agent. He had received a ticket in NY which was an 1110a. This was a "road-side writedown" where the cop was giving him a break from a speed.

The agent told us that an 1110a would increase insurance rates by as much $900 per year for three years. He said he wished the cop had written him for a low speed because ...

NJ insurance companies treat a first-time low speed essentially as a free pass. While it does count for points on a NJ record, it does not impact insurance rates.

The agent said that for anything out-of-state 15 mph or above, even though it's only 2 points, the insurance companies do raise rates based on the speed and not just the points. He also verified that the 2-point deal we get for NJ clients in NY does not count for points in NJ and does not affect insurance rates.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Supreme Court on the DWI Exception to the Constitution

The Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal on a drunk driving case that was dismissed. Virginia's highest court threw out the conviction in Harris v. Commonwealth (a pdf file). It found that the stop was unconstitutional - based only on an anonymous tip.

Chief Justice Roberts (and Justice Scalia) felt the Court should have reviewed the case. Below are some excerpts of Roberts' opinion). His writing is in italics and mine is in plain text. Citations are generally omitted.

[T]he Virginia Supreme Court overturned the conviction. It concluded that because the officer had failed to independently verify that Harris was driving dangerously, the stop violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

I am not sure that the Fourth Amendment requires such independent corroboration before the police can act, at least in the special context of anonymous tips reporting drunk driving.

The "special context" is troubling. It fits with criticism I've read in the past of a DUI exception to the Constitution (usually credited to California DUI lawyer Lawrence Taylor), as well as similar concerns about a "drug war" exception for drug cases.

In Florida v. J. L. ... we explained that anonymous tips, in the absence of additional corroboration, typically lack the “indicia of reliability” needed to justify a stop under the reasonable suspicion standard. ... But it is not clear that J. L. applies to anonymous tips reporting drunk or erratic driving. J. L. itself suggested that the Fourth Amendment analysis might be different in other situations.
There is no question that drunk driving is a serious and potentially deadly crime, as our cases have repeatedly emphasized. ... The imminence of the danger posed by drunk drivers exceeds that at issue in other types of cases.

With all due respect to Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia, this argument is just plain rubbish. I'd buy the argument if there was a tip about a terrorist with a nuclear weapon in his car, but taking it to the level of drunk drivers is going way too far.

Roberts' concern about the danger of the drunk driver was resolved in this case - the driver was stopped and taken off the road that night. Once they were in Court, the imminent danger was gone.

Perhaps a more moderate step here would be for Congress to legislate civil immunity for police making stops of suspected drunk drivers. Of course, that would prevent innocent people from suing to enforce their own constitutional rights. But it appears Roberts and Scalia don't care about that.

The conflict is clear and the stakes are high. The effect of the rule below will be to grant drunk drivers “one free swerve” before they can legally be pulled over by police. It will be difficult for an officer to explain to the family of a motorist killed by that swerve that the police had a tip that the driver of the other car was drunk, but that they were powerless to pull him over, even for a quick check.

Nice emotional touch. I'm waiting for the day when Roberts and Scalia explain their rules to the families of innocent defendants abused by cops and prosecutors.

Courts sometimes have to balance competing interests. Roberts and Scalia apparently feel that protecting the public from drunk drivers is more important than protecting people from police abuse. But the language of the Fourth Amendment is clear. It doesn't mention any exceptions, not even for the perceived terrorists - Indians and British loyalists - of that period in our history. Conservatives are supposed to let legislatures do the balancing. So much for Scalia supporting the text of the Constitution.

Drunk driving is a real problem. Eviscerating the Constitution is not the best solution. I've proposed other ideas in the past on my Stop Wasting Money blog. Mass transit is my favorite, but there's more.

To see the opinion, also in pdf: Virginia v. Harris

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Speeding Ticket Story: A Tough Situation

Most of our speeding ticket cases are straightforward. We get hired, get all the information in order, contact the court and prosecutor, negotiate a reduction to something less, and let the client know the result and what they need to do. There's more to it than that, but that's the essence.

Every once in a while we get a client who needs a trial. This story is an example of that.

I'll call her Marina - not her real name. In her late 20s, she is a fashion designer in Manhattan. Marina also has at least one bad habit - she likes to drive fast.

She called us for a high speed - 92 in a 55 - an 8-point speed. But that's not the worst of it. She already had one speeding conviction within the last 18 months, along with a 3-point moving violation. Marina also had another high speed pending, in New York City. The location matters, because in the NYC traffic courts there are generally no deals. So there was a high likelihood that Marina would have a second speeding conviction within 18 months. In our case, if we could not get it out of speeding, she'd have a third speed and her license would be revoked.

The location of our ticket also mattered. In this particular court, the judge is known for being difficult. Not that he's unpleasant, but he rejects deals he doesn't like. And he doesn't like high speeds. This was also in a county where the deputy sheriffs prosecute their own tickets - the DA will normally not negotiate these tickets. It gets even worse. The deputy who wrote the ticket sees himself as Super Deputy. Please note he is not the same as the one in my previous blog post, Supercop. He's also much more pleasant and friendly than that guy.

Putting this all together, we knew it was likely we'd have to do a trial. We charged Marina significantly more than our usual fee. She didn't hesitate.

I showed up for the trial date. Super Deputy was late, giving me hope that he wouldn't show and we'd get a dismissal. He was teasing me. When he did show up, he would only offer a 6-point speed. The points would suspend Marina's license, but worse, the third speed would mean revocation. I suggested a 5-point violation for passing a stopped school bus. She's still get suspended, but that's a lot better than a revocation. No deal. Super Deputy used a typical excuse - the judge won't go for it. Right.

So I got ready for a trial. But the judge would not let us go forward because Marina wasn't there. So the trial was adjourned.

I had a great conversation with Super Deputy before I left. He seemed very prepared for trial, more so than most cops I've seen. On the bright side, he had been accepted into a job in a nearby city police department - with significantly better pay. He was waiting for the next opening, but that would be months away. Would the case be adjourned long enough that he'd be gone?

No such luck. When we showed up for the next date, which had been adjourned a few months, he was still a deputy. With the rough economy, the city had a hiring freeze.

We waited for a couple hours while the rest of the traffic cases were resolved, then started the trial. Super Deputy did not handle it well. I made appropriate objections to a number of things he did and said, and he got rattled. At one point I made an objection (hearsay I think), and he said: "Your honor, I don't know what defense counsel wants me to do."

The Assistant DA stuck around to watch. After Super Deputy got completely rattled, he finally offered to step in and conduct the prosecution. We went outside to chat, and he agreed to reduce to the school bus violation.

Walking out, I asked Marina if she understood what happened. Her response: "You just saved my ass."

As we walked out of the building, there was a guy out front with an umbrella who greeted Marina. He waited while we had a last bit of conversation, then escorted her to a $100,000 Mercedes. She got in the back and he got into the driver's seat. She had a driver ... from Manhattan. I'm wondering if the car ride up and back cost more than my fee.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Ghost of Altamont

Halloween is coming up, so it's time for a ghost story:

Friday, October 09, 2009

DWI Story: Listening to the Radio While Intoxicated

For a new kick, I'm starting a series of stories about past cases I've handled. This one's a DWI story, from a few years ago. As part of my pattern for stories about cases, some elements will be fictionalized mainly to protect the client. In this case there was a trial, so the truth is really a matter of public record, though practically it would be difficult to find the record if you don't know where to look.

Client was accused of DWI. His BAC (blood-alcohol content) was reported to be 0.32, four times the legal limit. This occurred before the Aggravated DWI law, so it was only the regular DWI charges under 1192(2) and 1192(3). Due to the high BAC, the prosecutor would not agree to a reduction to DWAI. I would not have recommended my client take that deal, but he would have if it had been offered because he did not want the fight.

I would not have recommended it because he was not guilty. The client had an argument with his teen daughter. She wanted him to drive him somewhere. He refused because he was too drunk. To get away from the argument, he went out to the parking lot, got in his car, started it, and turned on the radio. He did not move the car. He was not going anywhere in the car and hadn't driven it in hours. At the time the police arrived, his wife was sitting in the back seat with the door open.

A neighbor heard the argument and called the police. An officer arrived at the scene, and went to the apartment. The daughter answered the door and said there was no problem. Asked where her parents were, she said they were outside.

The officer then went outside, met up with another officer arriving at the scene, and they went over to the client's car. Seeing that the car was running and that he was intoxicated (we did not dispute that), they arrested him for DWI. Yes, my client was arrested for listening to the radio while intoxicated.

So we fought the case. The first major step was the suppression hearing. This is where the prosecution has to show that the stop and arrest were proper. If not, the evidence is suppressed, and that makes it hard to prove anything.

The big issue is whether the police had "reasonable suspicion" for the stop. Well, actually, there's even the question of whether this was a stop. The car wasn't moving.

The police clearly had a reason to come to the door of the apartment - a civilian complaint. But once they talked to the daughter, who said everything was fine, what was the reason for approaching a car sitting in a parking lot? Now I guess if it wasn't a traffic stop, then maybe you don't need reasonable suspicion for a stop. But if it's not a stop, then how can you say the defendant was driving?

But before we get to that, there was another problem. The time for the hearing arrived and there was no police officer. After about 15 minutes the prosecutor said he was on his way. He showed up a half-hour later in an undershirt and gym shorts, looking like he'd just woken up. The hearing went ahead. The officer - I'll call him Officer A - testified that he arrived, went to the apartment, talked to the girl, and Officer B arrived as A was walking out to the parking lot.

After the hearing I argued that it was either a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion, or if it wasn't a stop that he wasn't driving and then the arrest was without probable cause. Some judges find such logic irrelevant to their main job of doing whatever the prosecutor and police want, so suppression was denied. I'm being a little cynical on that. I like this judge very much for a variety of reasons, but I did not agree with the decision.

So we went to trial. It'd take too long to tell the whole trial story, so I'll just hit some highlights. First, my associate knew one of the jurors - said that the juror got hammered at a wedding and then drove home. That's the kind of juror the defense wants. The juror did disclose that he knew my associate.

Second, Officer B testified that he went to the apartment, talked to the girl, and Officer A arrived as B was walking out to the parking lot. They did not get their stories straight. Also, B testified that my client was walking out as he was walking to the apartment. One juror later told me that he thought it was significant B did not notice the client was intoxicated while passing him in the hallway. I didn't see that as important, but that's one of the things about juries - you never know what will grab their attention.

Third, my client and his wife testified well. The prosecutor's cross-examination did not go well. This is a very difficult thing for a prosecutor in a criminal case. They have no idea what the defendant will say and have difficulty preparing.

In a civil case, like our personal injury cases, both sides testify at a deposition well before trial. So the lawyers all know what everyone's story is. When you cross-examine someone, you know the answers to your questions before you ask them. There's a "rule" about cross - never ask a question if you don't know the answer. Much tougher for a prosecutor who doesn't know the defendant's story.

Two or three times during cross, the prosecutor asked what he thought was a winning question and each time the client nailed the answer. He'd explain what happened and the jurors nodded their heads like what he'd said made perfect sense (because he did make perfect sense - helps to have a good client).

Throughout the trial I focused on one thing with the jury - my client was accused of DRIVING while intoxicated. He wasn't driving. It is true that under NY law judges say you can technically be guilty. Judges are one thing, but it's pretty heavy lifting for a prosecutor to sell that one to a jury.

The jury came back with "not guilty" pretty quickly.

I just remembered one of the funnier moments in the trial. During jury selection there was an older man with a strong European accent. The prosecutor started asking him questions and the man said: "You're not going to like me. He (pointing at me) gonna like me." He went on to explain that he did not like the DWI laws. The prosecutor asked if he drinks and drives. "Of course." He provided details too. Asked about the holidays, he said: "I go to family. I have 5 or 6 drinks, put the kids in the car, and drive home. No problem." I wish I could remember that better because there was more and it was hilarious. The whole courtroom was laughing. The prosecutor decided to exclude him from the jury. I consented.

Oh, and one more detail. I was a little worried about one thing. I like trials where the jury is likely to identify with my client. Here it was an all-white and mostly blue-collar jury. My client was foreign, from a continent that is often accused of stealing blue-collar jobs, and he had a strong accent. I'm pleased to report the jury seemed to have no problem identifying with him.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Wedding Photo Story

Yes, the Albany Lawyer has a wedding photo story. This has been one of my favorite stories for the past six years, and I finally get to tell it. Some details have been changed to protect the innocent and perhaps the guilty too.

Back in 2003 there was a wedding. A friend of mine was starting his photography business. The bride was an acquaintance and asked him to help. New to the business, he offered to do it for a ridiculously low price (under $500) with only $200 up front. If you've heard the phrase "you get what you pay for", you've got some idea where this story is going.

My buddy did a pretty good job. But he was new to the business remember, and he did make one significant mistake. Not only did his camera battery die, but he had no backup. He got almost everything and took some great photos, but he did miss some bits at the very end of the reception.

The happy couple wasn't happy about that. The groom decided to take an aggressive approach to the situation, using harsh language, and maybe some threats and other kinds of intimidation. Perhaps this was genuine anger, or perhaps it was an attempt to extract a better bargain from my hapless amigo. He also stopped the check for the balance that was owed (or not owed if you take his side).

Well that didn't work. Turns out my friend has some gumption. Having failed at straight-up crass behavior, the groom turned to one of his wedding guests who also happens to be ... a lawyer. We'll call the lawyer Junior.

So Junior disregards Lincoln's famous advice that lawyers should discourage litigation. He sues my buddy on behalf of the bride and groom for $15,000.

$15,000? But they only lost $200. Over the course of the case Junior was never able to explain how he could possibly get any more than $200. Not to me, not to the judge in a conference, etc.

Before I get to the rest of the story, I have to ask (and answer): Why would Junior sue for $15K when the law says $200?

I see two possibilities. First, maybe Junior's not very bright. This is plausible. I'm pretty sure he had little experience with contract disputes. I didn't see much to disprove this theory, but on the other hand I didn't see enough to be sure.

Second, maybe it was deliberate, with the purpose of scaring my friend the wedding photographer. It was working until my friend came to me with the lawsuit shortly after I'd opened my own practice. And so I had my first pro bono case.

I quickly concocted a strategy, reviewed it with my client, and faithfully followed it to the very end. The strategy: Do as little as possible. The rationale was simple - any amount of work done would cost more (in terms of filing fees and attorney time) than the $200 my client might have owed the blissful twosome. Keep in mind that when you take an outside-the-box approach like this, you have to make sure your client's on board.

I prepared and served a short Answer. For non-lawyers, that's the response to the lawsuit. Then, I did nothing and waited.

Apparently Junior had more important things on his plate than a $200 civil case, so he didn't do much of anything either for some time. Eventually he got around to serving discovery demands. This is when one side asks the other to provide documents, evidence, and more.

I put the demands in the file, and waited ... and waited some more. Junior probably sent me a letter somewhere in there and I put that in the file too. And waited.

If I remember correctly, at some point the Court scheduled a conference. I told the judge the case was a waste of time but didn't say much else. Junior didn't have much to say either, other than his dissatisfaction with my non-response. So the judge told Junior to make a motion.

It took him a little while, but he did make a motion for an order of preclusion. I did not oppose the motion. The judge signed the order.

If you're wondering why I didn't respond to his demands, it's because an order of preclusion is the standard remedy - it precludes us from offering evidence regarding the things demanded. We didn't have any particular evidence and didn't intend to prove anything anyway - it's Junior's job to prove his case.

In other words, a few years have gone by and Junior has managed to win a meaningless motion. And what does he do now that he's won the motion? Nothing. For a year and a half, nothing happens.

Then that there judge schedules another darn conference. I made an oral motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute. The motion was denied, conditional on them filing a "Note of Issue" by X date, when we'd have another appearance. A note of issue is required before the Court will schedule a trial, and there's a filing fee of $70 or so. Junior wasn't sure if his client would pay the fee.

I called the Court the day before X to check and the note of issue hadn't been filed yet. So I go to Court ready to ask the Judge to dismiss. Oops ... Junior had filed it that morning, rendering the appearance unnecessary - without letting me know. So I wasted a trip to Court. Thanks Junior. I'm going to remember that one.

Now the judge schedules another conference so we can set a trial date and/or see if we can settle this thing. At the conference the judge finally asks Junior how he can get more than $200 on a case like this. The answer was less than compelling, though I think he mentioned the Rocanova case which has to do with punitive damages between an insurance company and a customer. Not even close Junior.

Meanwhile, I demonstrated a bit of pique and the judge told me not to make this a pissing contest. I told him it already was a pissing contest. Fortunately the judge has known me for a while and tolerated my attitude.

As for settlement, they wanted not only their $200, but also all the negatives. The judge seemed to agree with me that they couldn't win the negatives at trial, but he asked me to check with my client anyway. The client rejected it. So we finally had a trial date ...

It was nearly six years after the suit was filed. In the meantime my client had moved to a distant state. He's not coming for the trial. If they did actually win at trial and get a decision for $200, they'd have a heck of a time collecting. That's one reason delaying a case is not good for the plaintiff.

So I showed up for trial. My client also found a friend who had been at the wedding. She showed up as a witness ready to testify about what a good job he'd done, and how minimal the problem was. Junior showed up too.

Fortunately for us, the bride and groom did not show up. Junior had to explain the efforts he'd made to get them there, in the process revealing that he'd never talked with the bride. Um ... that's one of your clients there buddy boy. It's also possible, per the witness, that the bride is no longer with the groom. Six years is a long time.

The judge finally dismisses the case.

I'm quite pleased with the strategy. Aside from a few trips to Court there was very little work involved. The paper file is smaller than some of our traffic cases. And, of course, the case is resolved. A happy client means a happy lawyer. Plus I've got this wedding photo story I can tell.

As for Junior, well, I hope he learned something from all this.

Albany Lawyer Ages

I guess it had to happen after I turned 40 a few years ago. I'm really starting to notice the aging process.


We attended an intern's "Kegs on a Deck" party. Some attendees did "keg stands". This is a handstand (supported by others) on top of a keg while drinking from the tap. I did not do a keg stand but I did eat three chili dogs - which is probably worse. They did taste really good though.

I'm getting used to MRI machines. Had my carotid scanned today. Here's a tip by the way. It helps to find something to do while you're inside the donut so that you don't feel trapped. I think about my breathing and, thanks to all the Tai Chi and Qi Gong, visualize the chi flowing around my body. I also twiddled my fingers, and got a surprising amount of entertainment value out of that. I'm still laughing about my brain MRI result - negative.

I'm getting used to having my prostate checked too. That ain't right. On the plus side, it apparently shrank since the last one.

My body is deteriorating. I've had this chronic lumbar spasm for more than a year. Fortunately it's been better lately. I've had bad knees and ankles for a long time and recently noticed significant atrophy on one side at the knee. We'll see what my favorite orthopedist has to say in a couple days. A few weeks ago I played basketball with a friend. My heel still hurts from it. One more thing to discuss with the doctor.

I'm finally going to start taking a baby aspirin regularly, and am even thinking about whether to start taking a statin. I have never taken any medication on a consistent basis and have been reluctant to change that. If I overcome that reluctance, is that a sign of maturity or giving up? I posted a poll on Facebook about statins: Statin Poll.

I have life insurance. Not just one, but two policies. My wife still tells me I'm worth more alive. I'm pretty sure she means it.

I used to have nightmares where I was attacked. Being an outrageous optimist, I always won. But growing up has changed me. Now in my nightmares my kids are attacked. The optimism still prevails - I always save them. Maybe when I'm older they'll save themselves.

I bought a PlayStation (PS3) for my birthday a couple years ago, but I almost never play the games. A friend suggested a game for me - Kill Zone or something like that. It arrived a couple months ago and I still haven't opened the package.

During college I lifeguarded at pools in the summer. I was bored and wanted to do things. Now I am very busy with two businesses, politics, and family stuff. For vacations I sit by a pool and don't want to leave.

I'm older than some of the judges I see in Court.

I was going to buy a Porsche 911 and chose a Honda Accord instead because it's more practical.

Winter used to be fun. Now it bothers me.

Maybe the funniest thing is when I complain to people in their 70s. Apparently I don't know the half of it. But hopefully I'll find out.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Good Lawyer: Why Experience Matters

A conversation with a law student led to something coalescing in my mind about good lawyers. Experience matters when you hire a lawyer. I'm biased, but I think trial experience is critical. Of course it's most important when you need a trial lawyer. Even for other kinds of law, it can still matter. A good lawyer has to understand what happens when something goes to court.

When a new case comes in, a lot of lawyers just think about how they're going to settle. For criminal cases they think about how to get a good deal from the prosecutor. For personal injury they think about how to persuade the insurance company.

That kind of thinking may be fine for some cases, but you never know when the deal won't happen. What do you do for your client then?

When I get contacted about a new case, I start thinking right away about how I would present that case to a jury and how a jury would look at it. And right from the beginning I talk to the client about the whole process. That way the client knows what to expect and they're not surprised when it takes time.

There's some game theory in being a trial lawyer. It's not only how I'm going to present my case to a jury. It's often more about how the other side will present theirs, with some interaction between how you'd react to their story and their reaction to yours, etc.

In my criminal defense cases, sometimes you see a case where you know the prosecutor is going to have a tough time selling a jury on their story. One of my trials involved a DWI where the guy was sitting in his apartment parking lot listening to the radio with the engine running. Yes, technically under NY law, a judge might not dismiss it. But how does the prosecutor explain it to the jury? I know how I explained my side: "My client is charged with DRIVING while intoxicated. He wasn't DRIVING!"

The prosecutor in that case never figured out how to sell it (because it's an awfully hard sell) and the jury said "not guilty" - faster than usual. That case should have settled. My client, whose BAC was 0.32 (four times the legal limit - that's close to dead), would have taken a reduction to DWAI. But they wouldn't agree because his BAC was so high. How many lawyers would have taken that case expecting to settle and then not known what to do when the prosecutor said no? Many of them would have told the client to plead guilty to a DWI.

We have a case going right now where our disabled client was injured when someone else slammed a car door on him. It's a "good injury". I figured it would settle quick and easy. But the insurer made a lowball offer. There are plenty of lawyers who would sit on the case for three years, hoping the offer would get better, because they don't like filing suit. Or they'd tell their client to take the crappy offer. We sued it. If they're going to make an offer that low, there's no point in waiting.

Going beyond litigation, trial experience matters in other areas too. Suppose you need a lawyer to write a contract. What would a good lawyer think about when working on the contract language? It should be this: What will this language do in court if there's a problem? A lawyer with no court experience will have trouble answering that question. Maybe they read what appellate courts have said about similar situations (which is important too), but that's not the same as being in the trenches.

Whether it's contracts, wills, corporate formation, lobbying and more, it all comes down to how it will play in court if something blows up. It could even be tax shelters - how many UBS clients are wondering why their lawyers didn't tell them the bank could make a deal with the feds? A good lawyer thinks about those things in the course of their work, and explains it all to their clients.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Joel Dykstra

Interesting website I happened upon - it's about a guy from South Dakota who ran for the US Senate: Joel Dykstra. Love the name - we were big Lenny Dykstra fans back in the 90s when he played for the Mets.

The two are probably not related, though the name suggests they have Dutch ancestry. Lenny has had some issues recently but we're still rooting for him. Meanwhile, Joel Dykstra is apparently still serving in the state legislature despite his Senate loss. Now he has a legacy campaign website.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

San Bernardino Superior Court

Not sure why, but it seems like a lot of people are searching for the San Bernardino Superior Court. Maybe it's because of the corruption scandal in the Assessor's office: LA Times story. But we think they just write a lot of speeding tickets in the traffic court. Maybe that's a revenue measure?

For more info on the topic, see California speeding tickets and California Traffic Courts.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

NY DWI, Crawford and Melendez-Diaz

It looks like NY DWI cases will become more interesting in light of Melendez-Diaz (129 S.Ct. 2527), which just came down from the Supreme Court in late June. That case follows on the 2004 Crawford (541 US 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354) decision on the Confrontation Clause in the Sixth Amendment.

The defendant in a criminal case has the right to confront his accusers. Melendez-Diaz holds that lab technicians who certify things like the nature and quantity of a substance (cocaine in the case) are subject to Crawford. The prosecution merely offered a certificate from the lab without bringing the actual technician. Since the defense did not have the opportunity to confront and cross-examine these witnesses, the evidence should not have been allowed and the conviction was reversed.

This matters for DWI cases in New York. It is routine for the prosecution to rely on certificates to prove that the breath test device (commonly called a breathalyzer but in NY most police use a "Datamaster") is reliable. This includes not only calibration of the device, but also of the "reference solution." Per Melendez-Diaz, the prosecution will now have to bring in the individual who did these calibrations, so the defendant can cross-examine that person.

For those who might argue that this doesn't apply to this kind of DWI evidence, Justice Scalia's opinion squarely addresses this (129 S.Ct. at 2533):
As the dissent notes, three state supreme court decisions from the early 20th century denied confrontation with respect to certificates of analysis regarding a substance's alcohol content. ... But other state courts in the same era reached the opposite conclusion.

Thus, in rejecting the dissent's arguments, Scalia specifically noted the situation with certificates regarding alcohol tests -- this is exactly what the reference sample is, and is also analogous to the calibration of the device. DWI defense lawyers should be ready to argue Melendez-Diaz in suppression hearings and at trial. This should really come up in a pre-trial Ayala hearing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Do Points Transfer? Out-of-state tickets are not that simple ...

If you have a ticket in New York, please check out our New York Traffic Lawyer page.
This is one of the most common questions we get: Do points transfer? Or: "Will the points transfer to my home state?"

The short and misleading answer is No. The points themselves do not transfer to other states.

So what does happen? In most situations, the state where you got the ticket will report any conviction to your home state. Your home state might then assign points to the violation according to its own rules.

Example: You are an Ontario driver and you get a speeding ticket in New York State, for going 85 mph in a 65 mph zone.

If you plead guilty or are convicted at trial of the 85/65, it will count for 4 points against you in NY. NY will report to Ontario. Ontario will count it against you per the Ontario system. 20 mph over the limit is about 32 km over the limit. In Ontario, 31-45 km over is 4 points.

If it had been 80/65, then it would still be 4 points in NY, but only 3 points in Ontario.

If your lawyer (yes, that's a hint) gets the ticket reduced to something less, there's a good chance it won't count for points against you in Ontario. A speed of 15 km (9 mph) or less in Ontario is no points, even though it would be 3 points in NY.

Different states handle tickets from other places differently. Quebec and Ontario recognize NY tickets and maybe tickets from a couple other states. Most other Canadian provinces do not recognize NY tickets. Maybe BC recognizes WA tickets?

New Jersey recognizes out-of-state tickets, and they generally count for 2 points there, no matter how many points they are in the state where you got the ticket. Could be a 3-point or 11-point speed in NY? Either way, 2 points in NJ. Your lawyer (again, a hint) may be able to get you a deal to something that doesn't count for points in NJ.

NY generally does not recognize out-of-state speeding tickets. I've been told it does recognize tickets from Quebec and Ontario. We have seen a Quebec speeding ticket on a NY driving record and we have seen out-of-state DUIs as well.

Florida recognizes out-of-state tickets. One common deal NY lawyers get for drivers is actually more points in FL than a low speed. So make sure you ask the lawyer you call what deal they think they can get for you in NY and how it will affect you in FL.

North Carolina is one of the trickiest. A speeding ticket that might be considered minor in NY could get you suspended in NC. Watch out! Virginia can also be difficult.

Every state is different and there can be many complications. So you might want to discuss this with a lawyer in the state where you got the ticket, and maybe with a lawyer in your home state as well.

And don't ask: "Do the points transfer?" It's not the right question. You should ask: "How will this affect me in my home state?"

Update: See new post on Out of state tickets for Maine drivers.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Short URLs

Making life easier for phone calls with clients. We registered a new domain name: It's quicker to tell them that than And the domain just redirects to our traffic page.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Garage Party - A Fun Way to Reduce DWI

We had a garage party last night. With all the DWI cases I handle where people had a few drinks and then drove home, this idea came to me. Wouldn't it be nice if you could go somewhere, have a few drinks, and not worry about driving home?

There's more to this. First, one of the motivators was that we now have a refrigerator in our garage. We bought new appliances. While we got rid of the others, we kept the fridge. Inspired by that Heineken commercial (see below - might be the Dutch or German version), I bought a lot of beer to fill the fridge.

Well, it turns out I don't drink that much beer. So what do you do when you have a fridge in your garage full of beer? Aha! You have a garage party. Now this is not the same as a Harley Davidson garage party.

Basically, we invited the neighbors over (so no one will be driving home). And we had a lot of beer, along with some other drinks.

It really went well. People brought their kids and the kids played together. The new neighbors got to meet the old neighbors. In today's world where we're all chasing our kids from soccer games to Tae Kwon Do, we don't get to talk to our neighbors much. This gave us all a chance to catch up.

Having the party in the garage means your house doesn't get messed up. Since the weather was pretty nice, the party expanded onto the driveway and the kids played there and in the yard. And if it had rained, the garage would have provided shelter. We parked our cars in the street before the party started.

Our neighbors brought over some desserts and a couple other goodies too.

My ulterior motive to reduce the amount of alcohol in the house had mixed results. A lot of my beer was consumed, but a couple people brought more over. I put out two bottles of wine, but neighbors brought three more. And we never opened any of the wine.

Most important, everyone seemed to have a good time.

So do your part to reduce DWI in your neighborhood. Invite the neighbors over for a garage party.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Guest Blogger

Happy to have a guest blogger on our blog. My associate David Cooper is now contributing. His first blog post is on suspended licenses.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Suspended License: Why you should care and act quickly

Why should you care? If you are driving in New York State and you have forgotten to answer a ticket or never heard back from the court you may be suspended. If your license or privilege to drive (for out-of-state drivers) in New York is suspended and you are stopped while driving in New York, there is a very good chance you will be charged with a crime, known as Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in the Third Degree (AUO 3rd). This is a misdemeanor (worse than a violation, but a lot better than a felony).

Have you moved recently or live out of state? A large number of people that have moved or live in Quebec or Ontario may not know they are suspended. The address that New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (“NYSDMV”) uses is the address at the time the ticket was issued. In addition, NYSDMV computer typically have problems sending suspension notices to Canada, since it only accepts five-digit zip codes, not Canadian postal codes.

It is almost summertime and many people are traveling into New York. If you are not sure what happened with an old ticket, you may want to follow up. If you are a Canadian citizen you may have trouble getting across the New York border. You may be able to resolve this with the help of NYSDMV . If you prefer, our firm may be able to help.

Remember you do not want to just plead guilty to a bunch of tickets that you forgot about. You have to first find out what the ticket or tickets were for. If you rush to plead guilty on speeding ticket for 86 in 65. You will not only be responsible for the fine, but also the driver responsibility assessment, which is an additional $300 in this case (as of June 2009). Also, if you are convicted of three speeds or two work-zone speeds in 18 months in New York State, your license or privilege to drive in the State of New York will be revoked.

Finally, an added incentive to act now is the fee to lift the suspension(s) is going up from the current $35 per suspension to $70 per suspension on July 6, 2009.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why shouldn't I hire a lawyer to beat my ticket?

Saw something on the web that got me laughing. Back in '05 I did a post about lawyer marketing on the web. I critiqued some websites that claimed to help people with their tickets.

Well, someone from speedticketbeaters -dot- com tried to post a comment on that old blog post. I don't allow these sites to promote themselves through my blog. But it was funny. The comment asserted, among other things, that "traffic lawyers don't know anything about traffic law." This is quite similar to something on the site, which I quote below with more critique:

Why shouldn't I hire a lawyer to beat my ticket?
Here's several of many reasons:

"Several of many"??

Lawyers do not study traffic law in law school ....

I don't remember much traffic law in law school. But traffic cases in most of New York are handled in local criminal courts. Law school did cover Constitutional Law, Procedure, Evidence, Criminal Law. Along with a few other topics, those classes are quite relevant to traffic law. In addition, some of us actually learn more after law school. I've had over 40 jury trials. Maybe I learned something along the way.

... all [lawyers] ever ... do is plea bargain your ticket down to a lower fine. That is not winning, and still costs you big money in insurance ... and ... fines!

We do usually plea bargain. Our focus is not just the fine though. Most of our clients are concerned about the points and insurance impact. Many of them ask if we can get them a deal where they pay a higher fine so they can get less points - but it generally doesn't work that way.

And plea bargaining is not all we ever do. Our office has done several speeding ticket trials, and we win about half of them. We occasionally get tickets dismissed before trial too. But the strategy of fighting tickets is risky, and in most cases our clients prefer the safer option of a deal that protects their license and insurance.

Lawyers charge a fortune [and] ... do ... mediocre work ... on speeding tickets. ... Lawyers call us ... asking us to teach THEM ....

You'd think if they say we charge so much, they'd have the decency to publish their fees. They don't. They do at one point criticize other websites who charge only $50 as too cheap. There are places (like Florida and Texas) where lawyers don't charge much more than that.

There most certainly are some lawyers who do mediocre work. But most of the lawyers I see handling traffic cases do a good job for their clients. And if there are lawyers calling these guys for instruction, they strangely are not identified on the site.

One thing about hiring a lawyer - at least with most NY lawyers, we put our names and addresses on our websites. You know who we are. On this particular website there is no information identifying who really runs the site.

Another detail: It is true that in cases where the cop doesn't show up for trial, the case will sometimes be dismissed. But they usually do show up (I'd say about 95% of the time) and even when they don't, some judges won't dismiss the case.

There's also the nightmare scenario. Under NY law you can get up to 15 days in jail for speeding. You go without a lawyer to the wrong court with the wrong judge with the wrong set of facts, and then you don't handle things well, ... you might not be going home that night. It's pretty rare, but I remember one young woman who walked out of Court after the deal didn't go through, and was brought back in wearing handcuffs. I know of a couple judges who put people in jail for high speeds too.

These incidents are very rare, and not something I'd want my clients worried about. But if something does go wrong, do you really want to rely on a questionable website? You might feel more comfortable with a lawyer.

Drunk Driving articles in the Wall Street Journal

Two good articles in the Wall Street Journal this week.

Yesterday there was a discussion of drunk driver data by The Numbers Guy - Carl Bialik. It talks about statistics on the risks of driving at varying blood-alcohol content (BAC) levels. Bialik briefly mentions flaws in breath testing. Hopefully he'll do a more complete discussion in the future.

The day before there was an article, Drunk Driving Foes Split, about how infighting between MADD and another group about when ignition interlock devices should be made mandatory - for drivers caught over 0.08, or at 0.15 and above.

Drunk driving deaths have remained steady for about 15 years, even though there are more DUI patrols and harsher penalties. It thus appears that the extra enforcement isn't doing much.

I talked about this in the past on my other blog about how our drunk driving laws waste money.

If we really want to reduce drunk driving deaths there are better options: Increasing mass transit; changing zoning codes that keep bars away from homes and require them to have ample parking; and focusing enforcement on dangerous areas (like where pedestrians are close to cars) instead of interstate highways.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

County Court update

A new milestone for our court directory - we now have 6000 courts in our database - see below.

There's about 1500 in NY; 240 in CA; about 200 in the New England states (MA, CT, RI, VT and NH - we haven't done Maine yet); 600 in NJ; 168 in FL; GA has 500 and we're still adding more; 132 in Illinois; nearly 300 between MD, VA and DC; 220 in NC; roughly 600 apiece in Ohio and PA; and there's more.

Texas might become the biggest. We're closing in on 1000 courts there, and we have a long way to go. The state has about 250 counties. NY, by comparison, has 62.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

New York Speeding Ticket - Piece by Piece

We added a new page to our website with a breakdown of a typical New York speeding ticket. Please post any comments or suggestions on this blog post.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Lawyer Websites and Spelling

I was just looking at a lawyer website and it had some animated graphics. Below is an image I clipped from the animation.

Maybe it's just me, but I think clients are a bit less likely to hire a lawyer who spells poorly. Click on the image below and it should enlarge a bit and be easier to read. The key words should be "traffic" and "rights".

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Advanta and Credit Card Woes

We've been using an Advanta MasterCard for our business for several years now. So today I get an e-mail that they're canceling all their credit card accounts - in four days. Thanks for giving me time to get a new card.

Apparently we have not been like their typical customer. We paid our bills on time consistently. This article in Consumerist says that they had a 20% default rate. Hmm ... maybe we should not pay that last bill. - Nah.

So I started shopping for a new credit card for our firm. Having been a PayPal customer for about six years, I figured they would know me well enough. Nope. See below:

Don't be misled by the "You're approved" at the top. The message says that they're denying me a credit card, but approving me for a whopping $500 credit line.

I understand that the economy is tightening and credit markets are tough, but if I can't get credit then this doesn't make a lot of sense. The only major debt we have left is on our house, and we have well over 50% equity. We have been perfect on our credit card bills and car payments for years. We also have strong revenue, and PayPal should know since that's how most people pay us.

Maybe the economy is in deeper trouble than I thought.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dyslexic SEO with Flash

If you don't find this funny, you don't get SEO.

And if that doesn't persuade you, this is from one of their sites:

Apparently optimizing for misspellings. Or Mineloa is an fff'ing long Hawaiian island.

On the bright side, the lawyer probably ended up paying them $19.99.

Seriously, today's keyword is proofreading!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Traffic Court: New Milestones

New milestones for our traffic court website. As shown below, over 150K visits in the last 31 days, and over 130K unique visitors.

For those unfamiliar with our stats, the peaks are Mondays and the valleys are weekends.

Moreno Valley Court in California is the busiest on the site, with over 1400 pageviews in that 31-day stretch. They must write a lot of tickets out there.

I just looked back and we had about 95,000 visits in December. So the growth is pretty good.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GPS, Privacy, and the NY Court of Appeals

Great decision by the New York Court of Appeals, in the case of People v. Weaver. Police, without a warrant, placed a GPS tracking device on the underside of the defendant's car - for 65 days. They later used the GPS evidence against him in a criminal trial where he was convicted.

The Court of Appeals, in a 4-3 decision, reversed the conviction and held:
Under our State Constitution, in the absence of exigent circumstances, the installation and use of a GPS device to monitor an individual's whereabouts requires a warrant supported by probable cause.

The three dissenting judges stated:
Because no one invaded defendant's privacy here, his motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the GPS device should be denied.

In the spirit of the idea of using eminent domain to take Justice Souter's house after Kelo, I hereby offer to pay for the installation of such devices on the cars of the three dissenting judges, and of District Attorney David Soares whose office argued against this appeal. Since they think it's not an invasion of privacy, they really shouldn't mind.

By the way, great job on the appeal by my friends Matt Hug and Trey Smith. Kudos also to the 4 judges who did the right thing, and to Chief Judge Lippman for a well-written decision. Here's my favorite part:

One need only consider what the police may learn, practically effortlessly, from planting a single device. The whole of a person's progress through the world, into both public and private spatial spheres, can be charted and recorded over lengthy periods possibly limited only by the need to change the transmitting unit's batteries. Disclosed in the data retrieved from the transmitting unit, nearly instantaneously with the press of a button on the highly portable receiving unit, will be trips the indisputably private nature of which takes little imagination to conjure: trips to the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the by-the-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, synagogue or church, the gay bar and on and on. What the technology yields and records with breathtaking quality and quantity, is a highly detailed profile, not simply of where we go, but by easy inference, of our associations — political, religious, amicable and amorous, to name only a few — and of the pattern of our professional and avocational pursuits.

Oh, and also credit to Justice Leslie Stein, the lone judge on the Appellate Division on the correct side, and the reason this case got to the Court of Appeals.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Me, Rudy Giuliani, and some other guy

Here's a picture for ya!

I'm kidding about the "some other guy" in the title. That's Peter King, a congressman thought to be a candidate for US Senate in 2010.

The Rudy thing is funny. I have been critical in the past of him: Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul. I've never quite figured out why he's a hero for 9/11. He showed up and made a speech or two.

If he had recognized that the buildings were unstable and ordered the firemen out, saving lives, that might make him a hero. If he had anticipated some kind of terrorist attack, had a team study likely targets, determined the WTC vulnerability and taken steps in advance to shore up the towers or plans for dealing with an attack, then that might make him a hero. But showing up and making a few speeches? That's not heroic. The firemen were the heroes, and some cops too.

I'm not the first to question his hero status. See the discussion in Wikipedia. And there's Blue Collar Politics.

And of course, he was an aggressive prosecutor. That Wikipedia page covers some of the concerns.

But the most important thing -- I actually look good in this picture. I'm not photogenic but this one came out okay. I also like how my gray striped suit contrasts with their dark suits.

The photo part of the event was funny. It was the Albany County Republican Lincoln-Reagan Dinner. We paid a lot of money and went up to a room where many people stood in line waiting for their chance to be photo'd with Giuliani and King, along with about 5 seconds of conversation.

Overall the event was great. I actually liked Rudy's speech. He had some funny lines -- the Yankees did really well while he was Mayor, and not so great since he left. He jokingly claimed credit for their success. Food was good - the Desmond always does a good job. Lots of great people at the event too. The Albany County GOP did a solid job on it - kudos to John Graziano (the Chair), Dan Farrell (he did a lot of the work), and whoever else was involved.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hate Lawyers?

Just stumbled on an article by Andrew Fischer on It's one of those "hate lawyers" stories. Normally I like what I see on that site, and I'd probably agree with a lot of Fischer's other articles, but I have to rip this one apart. Quotes from the article are in italics.

I had three college chums who ... decided to become lawyers simply because it was a way to "make a good living." This says a lot: they had no interest in law whatsoever, no craving for "justice" in either a practical or abstract sense – just a desire to make money. ... Like it or not – and I didn't – my friends were motivated solely by a desire to obtain massive amounts of legal tender. Thirty-odd years later, there's no doubt that they've achieved their goal.

This will be a continuing theme in my critique, but Mr. Fischer seems to be out of touch with the world. First, plenty of college students consider income potential when choosing a career path. Not to mention that there's a lot of 22-year-olds who don't know what they wanna be when they grow up yet. And there are lots of other ways to make a good living. Does Fischer hate actuaries, plastic surgeons and chiropractors?

Second, I've met many law students and lawyers who are not focused on money. This is a good thing, because ...

Third: Getting a law degree is no guarantee of riches. Lots of lawyers struggle. I remember doing a trial years ago. A prospective juror made a nasty comment about lawyers. The lawyer on the other side and I were talking afterward and he said: "If only we made as much money as they think we make." Some lawyers do well, and some don't.

Well, Mr. Fischer actually went to law school himself:

I quickly discovered that my fellow law students were far more interested in becoming lawyers than I was. ... As had been the case with my buddies, their motivation was a craving for "career" rather than justice. I recall being shocked when I ... found that the most important things on Earth to some of my fellow "justice-seekers" [on a questionnaire] were happiness and friendship, as opposed to what I'd selected from the list: truth and wisdom. (Justice was a close third.)

Um ... Mr. Fischer ... You went to law school but you weren't interested in becoming a lawyer?

And ... oh my ... some of the students felt that happiness and friendship were very important? Those bastards! I also love the irony that these other students are rotten because they didn't put justice first ... and Fischer put that third himself. Nice to wear your hypocrisy on your sleeve.

I politely declined to participate when called upon in contracts class. ... I immediately found myself in a petty power struggle with my arrogant and condescending professor, and facing swift expulsion from his little kingdom. Apparently "academic freedom" applied to the faculty but not the students, since my professor was permitted to expel me from his course for any violation of his rules, no matter how absurd.

I'm just picturing how it must go in med school when a student refuses to follow a professor's direction. I've actually represented med students and residents who crossed faculty members. It ain't pretty.

The dean was obviously nothing but a political animal, a glad-handing prevaricator who smiled out of every corner and cranny of his mouth. My professor was a pompous jerk who was concerned about absolutely nothing but winning our altercation. My other professors couldn't have cared less about the entire brouhaha. "These are people I'm supposed to look up to?" I thought. "This is what it means to be a lawyer?"

Aside from the excessive caricaturing, that is what it means to get through law school. Being a lawyer is something entirely different. If you had been paying attention, you would have noticed that most of your law professors were not working as lawyers. They were teachers. And most probably wrote articles too. Some of them worked as lawyers at some point in their lives, but few did that for long.

Being a lawyer is fundamentally about something that never occurred to Mr. Fischer. We help people. They come to us with problems and sometimes we can make things better for them.

Maybe it's something simple like a speeding ticket; they've been accused of a crime; they just found out their spouse is having an affair; they're having problems paying their mortgage and are about to lose their house; they were hurt in an accident, can't work, and are having trouble paying their bills; they want to open a business and can't figure out the town zoning code; they're being audited; they need a visa so they can stay in the US and keep working; they want to buy a house and don't want to get screwed in the transaction; the DMV wants to take their drivers license away for no good reason; the government wants to take their house by eminent domain to put up a shopping mall; ...

There are so many problems people have that lead them to seek legal counsel. Ultimately that's what we do. Lawyers help people.

Are we rewarded for it? Most of us get paid, some of us well, others not nearly enough. Last time I checked, most people work for money. Every time I go to doctors they expect to be paid. I pay them happily. I value their help. Most of our clients seem to value what we do for them.

While I'm doing well financially and I appreciate the money, the real satisfaction comes when you've helped someone. My favorite moments as a lawyer have been when I get a client out of jail. The best day of my career was when I got two clients out of jail on the same day. They didn't teach that to Mr. Fischer in law school. Or maybe he wasn't paying attention.

There is a reason why people hate lawyers. In much of what we do, there's a lawyer on the other side. Our clients tend not to like that other lawyer. That lawyer's client tends to dislike us. It's natural - we're on opposing sides. The victim in a criminal case might hate the defense lawyer. The defendant sure isn't going to like the prosecutor. In half the relationships between lawyers and non-lawyers, the non-lawyer has good reason to dislike the lawyer.

Imagine if it worked like that with doctors. One doctor tries to heal you while the other tries to make you sicker. How popular would doctors be then?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

NY, DWI, Ignition Interlock, and MADD

Great story on Capital News 9 last night. The NY State Assembly has a bill (A-7196) that would require ignition interlock devices for everyone convicted of DWI. Specifics from the bill are below.

In the News 9 story, Laura Dean-Mooney of MADD said: "If there are detectable levels of alcohol, their car simply will not start." So in other words, if you have any alcohol on your breath whatsoever, even if you're not impaired, your car will not start. Now some of you are thinking that this is only for people who have been convicted of DWI. Rest assured that MADD will not stop there. As Dean-Mooney put it:

This ... is a good start, but she hopes technology similar to the device could come to be ... in all cars ... that will ultimately eliminate drunk driving.

Let's be clear folks - MADD wants to put devices in your cars that will require you to blow into a device, and if it shows detectable levels of alcohol, your car won't start. Their goal is to do this for everyone.

Keep in mind that breath tests are unreliable. See my recent post on breath test videos. You won't be able to drive if you had a glass of wine with dinner. Cough syrup could be a problem. And if you had some bread, well your car still might not start.

But let's get to the substance of the bill. It would create a new Section 1198 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law (repealing the current version). First, it expands the ignition interlock program to DWAI. The current 1198 does not permit courts to impose the device on a DWAI offender. The new bill doesn't mandate ignition interlock for a DWAI offender, but it does make it an option for the judge (1198(2)(B)). It's not hard to imagine some prosecutors (cough ... Soares ... cough cough) requiring the device for any DWAI plea bargains.

For DWI, there is an interesting trade-off. 1198(2)(E) mandates a sentence of "conditional discharge" and probation for a first DWI offense, with the ignition interlock device a condition. Apparently this means you can't get jail time for a first DWI offense (currently up to a year under 1193), as a conditional discharge usually means no imprisonment. But you can still get 15 days on a DWAI.

The BAC involved determines how long you have to use the device per (E)(1). For BACs from 0.08 to 0.11, it would be three months; from .12 to .17 it's six months; and for .18 and up it's a year. The period starts when you first get a conditional or restored license to drive. It's not clear how this would apply to a "common law DWI" conviction under 1192(3) where there is no BAC.

For a second offense, under (E)(2), you don't get the discharge, and probation is mandatory with three years of the device, though here the three years seems to start at sentencing. For a third offense it's 5 years. For the 4th offense it's required for 10 years to life.

One interesting detail: With DWI it usually matters how long ago your previous conviction was, but not with this bill. If you had a DWI more than 10 years ago, a new offense is not treated as a second offense. But for purposes of the ignition interlock device it now will be.

The bill also adds a $50 surcharge to which will fund the ignition interlock program. I knew they'd find another way to raise taxes.

Oh, by the way, I've seen estimates that renting an ignition interlock device costs up to $100/month. The Sens-O-Lock is $95/month plus taxes and other costs if it's for less than a year. So add another $1200 to the cost of a DWI conviction.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Albany Lawyer Gets Rear-Ended

There's some kind of irony or poetic justice in this. I got rear-ended yesterday. Stopped at a traffic light, and an SUV behind me bumped my car. Even though my kids were in the car, it's easy to laugh about it because the damage seems so minimal. There's a crack in the top of the rear bumper. That's the only visible damage.

I'm going to get it checked out. Bumpers have something inside to absorb the damage of a hit. That is an important feature of your car, and it may be impaired by a minor collision. But you can't see it. Getting it checked out, and fixed if damaged, will protect you the next time.

And please people - be aware of following too close (i.e. tailgating). I did a blog post on that a few years ago. It's the most common cause of accidents and it's so easy to avoid. Just follow a little further back and slow down a little sooner.

The poetic justice or irony, by the way, is that I'm a car accident lawyer and traffic lawyer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nicole Black: On the Cutting Edge

For those who are interested in following lawyers on the cutting edge of technology, Nicole Black is it. In addition to being a well respected criminal defense lawyer, she is a whiz at various technology issues. Her main website is Nicole Black, Esq., and she is also one of the most followed lawyers on Twitter: Niki Black - Twitter. On top of that she has at least a couple blogs. All recommended reading.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Traffic Court News

So here's the latest with our directory of traffic courts. For starters, the directory now covers all or part of 19 states, the District of Columbia, and even a few in Toronto. We've completed Illinois and North Carolina, and are almost done with Maryland and Georgia. We're making progress on Texas again (it's a really big state). We're now over 140,000 visits and 125K unique users a month.

The biggest news is our successful mailing to the courts themselves. We sent postcards to approximately 5000 courts, asking them to notify us if they see any problems with how we listed them. We received over 300 responses. The mailing wasn't cheap, and making the corrections took quite a few hours, but it was worth it to make the directory more accurate.

The traffic lawyer article directory is in its early stages. There are only 45 articles but they are getting read. Below is an image of the top 10 most read articles:

Most of the articles have been read more than 100 times. That's a good sign.

The traffic lawyers club now has over 100 registered attorney members. We are working on some efforts to spread the word about it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Google Similar Images: Andrew Cuomo and ... is that Jamie Lynn Spears?

Saw Google Similar Images mentioned on Twitter. Was goofing around. Disappointed that there were none for my images. But here's the link to what happens with an Andrew Cuomo photo. Image below in case the results change.

And while I'm disappointed that I'm not famous enough to merit similar image treatment, neither does Kirsten Gillibrand, and she's a US Senator.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Phil Steck

--Update: New letter at the bottom--
I got a letter from Phil Steck. An image is below and I think if you click on it you get a bigger version.

I love this line: "Please cease and desist from using without my permission."

Mr. Steck - I don't need your permission. You let your own domain name lapse. I'm just recycling your waste. And you had plenty of notice of this kind of thing: All Over Albany told you so over a year ago.

I did send him an e-mail offering to post a link to his firm website, if he asks nicely. No response so far.

I also provided him with web stats showing that the site is not promoting my law firm business. The sad truth is that very few people are looking for Phil Steck on the internet. Even Phil himself didn't notice until the reporter called him - Times Union.

I wrote a blog post about the legal issues not too long ago, related to Ken Runion and the Lanham Act (cybersquatting) that Steck mentions.

The text of my e-mail is below the letter.

Mr. Steck,

Thanks for your letter. I am not using your name to promote my law business. I'm not sure why you think otherwise. My primary purpose is for political speech about you, especially since I think it's likely you will run for office again.

If I were using it for my law business, it would be horribly ineffective. My law firm site has been visited nearly 19,000 times since mid-February when I acquired control of the domain name. Only 8 of those visits have come from (see the attached report), and none of these visits generated any business. Of course, most of the 8 visits were probably you, the TU reporter, and maybe me and a couple of my friends. As best I can tell the 8 visits came from 5 different computers. Another report (attached) shows that the 3 visits yesterday came from your firm.

You claim I'm violating a number of laws, such as the Lanham Act, "state unfair competition law," and "legal rules of ethics." I disagree, but am willing to review any cases, statutes or rules if you want to provide more specific information.

Please let me know if you want any more information on web traffic to I'd be happy to provide you with reports. I've also attached a general report showing traffic for the past 2 1/2 months. I'm providing these reports to save you the expense of litigation. I thought you should know any damages would be trivial. You would get this information in discovery anyway.

You may want to consider a different approach. Instead of a threatening letter, you could try nicely asking me to do something I might be willing to do, such as add a link on the site to your firm's website. While I disagree with you strongly on some policy issues, I do have a great deal of respect for you as an attorney.


Update - Got a new letter from Mr. Steck. See below. I went ahead and posted links to his law firm even though he didn't ask nicely.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bad web marketing: Fidelity HR/Payroll

Something caught my eye yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. It was an ad for Fidelity's HR/Payroll service. We use an online payroll service now. I'm happy with it, but I've always liked Fidelity and figured it might be a better option because of the potential linkage with retirement accounts.

The ad referenced a website:

It's an attractive website, but it defies some commonly accepted principles of web marketing. The main content of the site is some very slow "videos."

I think it's supposed to provide an overview of the service. After looking at it, I have no idea why I'd choose Fidelity over my current provider. I couldn't find any information on pricing, which is one of the first questions on the mind of most prospective customers. But it also failed to show me the benefit I expected - linkage to retirement accounts.

The main flaw is that the site focuses on these videos. Looking at the page source, they appear to be running Flash through Javascript. Most web users are looking for text content. You can dress it up in pretty design, but we want to read more information. And we want interactivity. Where are the links to more information?

Of course there is a web form for the user to give them information. That's backwards. I came to your website to get more information from you. They do provide a phone number. I called - a bit after 7 am in the morning. They have a very pleasant recording with a woman's voice telling me that I called outside their business hours (which, of course, were not listed on the site) but my call is very important to them.

Instead of me clicking for more information, Fidelity got one final click - me hanging up the phone. That's bad web marketing.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ian Tomlinson: Are Police The Good Guys?

Troubling story from London:

So often today police are offered as the solution to this problem or the other. Could be drugs, DWI, prostitution or the latest - sexting. We need to remember that police are far from perfect. This video is a reminder.

With drugs, we keep arresting more and more people, and stuffing our prisons, despite overwhelming evidence that treatment is more effective. Not to mention lengthy history showing prohibitions don't work. With DWI, we ignore mass transit even though heavy police enforcement obviously hasn't stopped drunk driving. We've turned cops on the highways into revenue agents.

As for the Ian Tomlinson incident: If a black guy in the US had done this to a cop, and the cop died shortly thereafter of a heart attack, the black guy would have been charged with murder and no one would be asking if the incident could have caused the heart attack.

And this is not just about the one cop who hit and shoved Tomlinson. Watch the video again. How many officers watched it and did nothing? The assailant still hasn't been arrested, now more than a week later. In the way blacks are treated in America, the cop who did it is a murderer, and all the cops on the video are accomplices as members of his gang.

I actually represented a defendant in a vaguely similar case - a "gang assault." My client was an innocent bystander. The only witness to his conduct said that he pulled one of the assailants off the victim. But my client was charged with gang assault along with the other two assailants. The charge was eventually dismissed by a sensible prosecutor (there was no corroboration of the co-defendants' testimony, which was, by the way, horribly inconsistent).

Police are absolutely necessary in some situations. But we have to recognize that they are a blunt tool. Complex problems are often made worse by throwing more police at them. The main focus of police should be on violent crimes and property crimes.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Red Light Cameras Increase Accidents

In a previous post I mentioned that New York was set to add speed cameras to our highways. That has apparently disappeared from the budget.

The budget does have a substantial increase in red light cameras. They say it's not for the revenue but rather for safety. Right. Check out this Corpus Christi article on red light cameras. The National Motorists Association has a great page on it too.

It's not about safety folks. It's about the money. That's why it's in the budget bill.

Two thoughts:

1. Beware politicians who talk about being tough on crime. They're talking about you, your children, your friends, and others you care about. We've always been tough on murderers and rapists.

2. Beware politicians who use police and courts for revenue. Courts should be about justice. Police should serve and protect. Instead we've turned our police into trolls under bridges.