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 LewRockwell.com. 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.