Thursday, December 08, 2011

Ron Paul Blog Posts

Here's a link to a bunch of blog posts about Ron Paul on my Stop Wasting Money blog.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Merit Rating Plan: What is it?

Merit Rating Plan is a common term used by insurance companies and state regulators. In general this is something used by insurance companies to define how they might increase or decrease insurance rates.

In the world of car insurance, a merit rating plan would look at the driving record of the insured. If you have a history of accidents or traffic violations, that would lead to increases in your premiums. If you have a clean record that would then hopefully lead to decreases.

Massachusetts refers to its system as the Merit Rating Board.

Delaware and Pennsylvania use the term for workers compensation: Compensation Rating Bureau for DE and PA.

We have seen the term used in the back of car insurance policies in New York State and it is also important in New York Medical Malpractice Insurance. The term does not appear to be used much in Florida, however.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Traffic Court - Value of a Website

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal article on Angie's List upcoming IPO suggests that the site will be valued at $723 million based on a share price of $13. At this writing the stock is now trading at $16/share, making the company worth nearly $900 million.

You can see by the graphic that Angie's List had 2.1 million unique website visitors in October, and that the site loses an awful lot of money.

What if there was a website that had about 13% of the number of unique visitors, and that website actually was profitable? You would think that website would be worth at least 13% of what Angie's List is worth.

For all you web investors out there buying stock in and Angie's List, may we suggest you consider
While our revenue is much lower, we have a secret trick to earning profits. We spend very little money. And we're happy to sell at a substantial discount off our apparent $100 million valuation. Call me. :-)

To avoid federal persecution, please note that I'm kidding. And just in case, pretend that we've added all kinds of disclosures required by Sarbanes-Oxley, and whatever other SEC regulations there are, just in case.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Web Experiment

A "friend" of mine is doing an experiment. Please check out this blog: Kids Book Ideas.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Traffic Court - The Video

Thanks to my friend Chuck, here's a promo video for our Traffic Court website.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Chatam Town Court - Fake Uniform Traffic Ticket

There is a fake e-mail going around that indicates the recipient has a NY traffic ticket in the town court in "Chatam".

The message is fake and the attachment contains a virus. So don't open it!

A couple of obvious indicators:

1. The town name is Chatham, not Chatam. There is a real Chatham Town Court. They had nothing to do with it so please don't bother them.

2. In NY at least, the police and courts do not serve traffic tickets on people via e-mail. The law requires that such a ticket be served by hand, and it is almost always done by the police officer when they stopped you.

You can read more about this in an advisory from the New York State Police and on Snopes.

Also, click here to see what a real NY speeding ticket looks like, with an explanation of the contents.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Albany Lawyer Is Moving

Yes, the rumors are true. The Albany Lawyer is moving to Florida.

We can be reached by phone at 888-733-5299, or e-mail at We will continue to handle cases in the Albany area and the rest of upstate New York. Our associate, Stacey DeLoach, will open her own firm and we will continue to work together through a reciprocal of-counsel relationship. The local address is:

PO Box 634
Ballston Spa, NY 12020

I passed the Florida Bar Exam in February. I have to take another test in August, submit a ton of paperwork, and hope to be admitted in Florida sometime around the end of this year. I may or may not start taking cases there.

The plan is to continue managing our cases here, and to work on building up our traffic court directory and other websites.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Sources Analytics: Google vs. Yahoo and Bing

Looking at my Google Analytics numbers for the first half of the year, I noticed something about traffic sources. This shows how much traffic came to my sites from various sources, and there is substantial difference between my sites in how much traffic comes from Google, Yahoo and Bing searches.

First, my law firm website:

Nearly 75% of the traffic comes from "organic" searches on Google. The next highest source is "cpc" (cost per click), my advertising on Google AdWords. Then Bing and Yahoo combine for just over 8% of site visits or about one-ninth of the traffic generated by organic Google searches.

Next, our traffic court website:

We don't use AdWords or other advertising to bring traffic to the site. Google is still dominant, with a 68% share. But Bing and Yahoo are much more prominent, with a combined 22% share, nearly triple their share on the law firm site.

I'm not sure how to explain the difference. One theory has to do with how the different search engines view these two sites. At first I thought maybe Bing and Yahoo were ranking my law firm site lower than Google ranks it. But I did some brief searches using my biggest keywords and they actually seem to rank my law firm site better than Google does.

Then it dawned on my to look at the other side of it. Bing and Yahoo rank my court website much better than Google does on searches for court names. So it's not that my law firm site does poorly on Bing and Yahoo, but that they treat my court site well.

Another theory is that SEO for law firms is far more competitive than for court directory websites. Many law firms are trying to get their websites to rank high on searches. On the other hand, search engines seem to give substantial credibility to government websites (i.e. official pages for the courts), which is the main competition for our court website. While the government doesn't actively compete in the SEO game, the search engines' favoritism is dramatic. Maybe the numbers suggest Google gives more weight to government websites than Yahoo and Bing do.

Just to add more information, my next biggest site is my Albany Lawyer blog:

Google has a 71% share and Bing/Yahoo are at about 12% together. And it's nice to see facebook sneaking in there.

And as a final and upbeat note, had 1.75 million visits in the first half of the year, up 60% from the first half of last year. The site is roughly 1/100 the size and profit of LinkedIn, which is supposedly worth $8 billion. That would mean our site is worth $80 million. Any buyers? We'd sell at a substantial discount.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Two Against One: When the Judge is the Second Prosecutor

Sometimes criminal defense attorneys feel like it's two against one. That's when the judge acts as a second prosecutor.

I've been telling people this one story for years and I just stumbled on the transcript. Now I can relate it with the precise words that were used.

First some background. My client was accused of a residential burglary. The homeowner came home and saw the burglar, who fled. She called 911 and gave a description. A key element of the description is that the burglar was wearing a plaid jacket.

Remember the word plaid. It's going to come up again.

It's important because my client was not wearing any plaid when the police jumped him.

So for some detail, the first officer to testify at the suppression hearing said he was in the postal annex parking lot on Old Karner Road when he first saw my client crossing Old Karner into the McDonald's lot. Here's a satellite image:

The postal annex is in the bottom-left corner of the image. The McDonald's building is in the top center. Central Avenue is the very top-right corner. Using the scale in the bottom left corner, the edge of the McDonald's lot is about 200 feet from the driveway into the postal annex.

So as the officer is coming out toward Old Karner, he testified on direct that he saw my client:

Q (Prosecutor): What if anything did you observe as you proceeded in that direction, Investigator?

A: ... I looked towards Central Avenue and I saw a man .... He was running across Old Karner Road ... westbound towards the lot of McDonald's.

Q: What if anything did you observe about his clothing?

A: His clothing matched the clothing description given on the radio. He was wearing a flannel checkered coat ....

Q: Where did you see this person go?

A: He ran across Old Karner Road. He also, what made him suspicious was as he was running he was scanning left and right, left and right looking in a very furtive manner. He was visibly nervous. ...

Oh where do I begin? For starters, since when is it unusual to look both ways while crossing a street? What's a "furtive" manner? And how was my client visibly nervous from 200 feet away?

Now we'll get into my cross-examination of this officer. Another of the issues in the case was the police did something called a show-up identification. The link is to a blog post I wrote about it at the time.

Q (Me): Do you know who performed the show-up, Officer?

THE COURT: What's the relevance about him knowing?

Notice what's missing? The prosecutor did not object to my question. The judge stopped this line of questioning even though there was no objection. It'll happen again in this story.

On with the cross:

Q: You were describing when you observed -- first saw a gentleman running across Old Karner Road.

A: Yes.

Q: That he was looking back and forth in a furtive manner. What was the distance between yourself and him at that moment?

A: Fifty feet.

Q: And could you describe again what you meant about looking in a furtive manner?

A: His eyes were wide open. He was visibly sweating. His head was jerking back and forth almost 360 degrees as if he was looking to see if anyone was coming after him.

Q: You were able to see that he was visibly sweating from fifty feet while you were inside your vehicle; is that correct?

A: Yes. His face was very red.

Q: You were able to see his eyes were wide even from fifty feet away inside your vehicle?

A: Yes, sir. I could.

The big problem at this point is that it's not fifty feet from where the officer was to where he saw my client. As you can see in the map above, it's 200 feet or more. That's over half a football field. From that distance you can't see whether someone's eyes are unusually wide open or that they're visibly sweating. I should note this is winter and my client is wearing a coat and jeans, so the only place you could see sweat would be on his face. That's a small target at 200 feet.

We're just getting going.

Regarding the plaid jacket vs. checkered coat, I asked the officer about this bit of his grand jury testimony:

Q (from me, quoting from grand jury transcript):
"Question (from grand jury prosecutor): Did you see someone fitting that description?

Answer (from this witness at grand jury): ... I see a man who fits that description exactly running across Karner Road ...."

Were you asked that question and did you give that answer?

A: I'm going to say yes.

Q (me): So he fit the description exactly; is that correct?

A: My opinion is I may have misspoke that day. I would say he matched it very, very closely.

Going on, we get more "help" from the judge:

Q: What was he wearing when you first saw him?

A: He was wearing a flannel checkered jacket, blue jeans and work boots. In my opinion when I first saw him --

THE COURT: You have just answered the question.


Why is the judge stopping the witness?

And a little later, after some more back and forth:

Q: Just to be clear when you testified to the grand jury you said he fit the description exactly and you're testifying now --

THE COURT: It's been asked and answered. I already heard that Mr. Redlich.

Here again, no objection had been made. Why is the judge interfering?

But now we get to one of my favorite moments in my entire career as a trial attorney. The second officer comes up. He's the one who did the Miranda warning. As an initial part of his testimony, the prosecutor has him identify my client as the one he dealt with on the day of the arrest.

Q: Do you see the subject here in the courtroom today?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: Can you point him out for the Court?

[Not reflected on the transcript, the witness points to my client]

THE COURT: What's he wearing? What's the subject wearing?


THE COURT: No. Right now.

THE WITNESS: Right now, black shirt, tee shirt.

THE COURT: Let the record reflect he's identified the defendant.

Just think about what's going on at this moment. Everyone knew before the hearing that the homeowner had indicated the subject was wearing a plaid jacket, and that my client was not wearing plaid when he was arrested. To deal with Fourth Amendment concerns, if my client didn't match the description then the police should not have jumped him. And the suppression hearing is all about the Fourth Amendment.

So obviously, the second officer had been part of some conversations involving the word "plaid" that day. He knew it was an important issue.

The judge, by "helping" the prosecutor and asking what my client was wearing, accidentally exposed the witness' nerves about how they were going to deal with the plaid problem. And I'm getting ready to go out and buy a plaid suit, plaid shirt and plaid tie for the jury trial, as part of a Chewbacca defense.

After direct, I began my cross with how he (improperly) conducted the Miranda warnings. And then I came back to the plaid moment on his direct.

Q: When [prosecutor] was questioning you earlier at a certain point you were asked to identify [client] in the courtroom. Do you recall that?

A: Yes.

Q: And you were asked what he was wearing. You said plaid. Do you remember that?

A: Correct.

Q: Was plaid on your mind for some reason?

A: I misunderstood the question.

Q: Was there anything about that question that led you --

THE COURT: This is argumentative Mr. Redlich. Let's move on.

MR. REDLICH: Your Honor, may I be heard on that?

THE COURT: Was there something you didn't understand about my asking you to move on?

Again, there was no objection from the prosecutor. My question was not argumentative at all. I was trying to explore what the officer was thinking when he mistakenly blurted out plaid.

Here the judge was forcefully protecting the officer from a genuine inquiry leading to how he had obviously been prepped about a key issue.

That's why we sometimes feel the "game" of criminal defense is two against one.

On the bright side, it didn't matter so much on this case. My client was arrested a few days later for another residential burglary. Facing a hostile judge in our case and stronger evidence in the next one, he took a deal. We never got to a result on the suppression hearing. His first parole hearing will be about 10 years from now.

Friday, May 13, 2011

AdWords and the Quality Score Fiction

For those who are involved in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, AdWords is the big player. It is the main advertising avenue for Google.

AdWords advice focuses on something called Quality Score. If you have a good quality score, then your ads get better placement and you pay less. One of the biggest factors in quality score is, supposedly, a high click-through rate (CTR). That's when a high percentage of people click on your ads, through to your website.

Below is a screen shot from one of my ad groups showing the top seven keywords. I've blurred the bids and the cost both to protect my bidding and to minimize offense to the folks at Google.

In my experience, 5% is a pretty good CTR. Here, four of the top seven have CTR over 10%. Despite that, the quality scores are very low. As Google describes it: "On this scale, 1 is the lowest rating, while 10 is the highest. 1-4 corresponds with Poor, 5-7 with OK, and 8-10 with Great."

So my keyword with an amazing 14% CTR has a quality score of 4 out of 10, which, in Google's description is "poor."

For those who are really into this, the shot is taken with the date range set to "all time". I've been running this campaign for about 2 months. I don't have a past bad history with the relevant keywords. To the extent that I have a history with related keywords, it's a good history. The landing page is highly relevant. The keywords are all "phrase-match" and the search term report shows more than half the clicks were "exact match", and all of those had even higher CTR.

I'm very fond of AdWords and I'll keep using it, but we're not getting the whole story about quality score.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Misinformation about DWI: Posters and BAC Calculators

I was in a local court last night and saw this poster, which is misleading about NY's DWI laws.

The poster is also available online as a pdf: Leandra's Law Poster

Here's the relevant quote:

... anyone in New York State convicted of drunken driving (even first-time offenders) will be required to install at their own expense an ignition interlock device on any vehicle they operate.

First, the use of "drunken driving" is imprecise, and is not the one used in the law. The main offense, DWI, means "driving while intoxicated." It is true that convictions for DWI (or the higher BAC offense of Aggravated DWI) now require the ignition interlock device.

But there is also a lesser offense called DWAI, for "driving while ability impaired by alcohol". Many people think of this offense as also being a form of "drunken driving." The device is not required by law for DWAI (though judges may require it). Notice that at the bottom of the poster, it uses the web address:

There is also a DWAI Drugs offense where the driver is accused of being impaired by drugs, rather than alcohol. Since it is part of the same statute as regular DWI (VTL 1192) some people think of this offense as a form of drunken driving. The ignition interlock device is not required for DWAI Drugs either.

Another problem is the "on any vehicle they operate" language. In at least some early versions of how this law was supposed to be applied, it covered any vehicle the offender has access to, such as a spouse's car, or perhaps a car owned by a child who lives in the home. From what I'm hearing, this is still unsettled and could be very problematic.

My biggest beef with DWI misinformation is the BAC calculators promoted by the government. Here's the Erie County Stop DWI calculator. I put in 3 beers for a male weight 200 pounds over 3 hours, and it shows a BAC of 0.02.

With 6 drinks over 5 hours, it shows 0.05 - legal in NY.

Then it says In New York State you would be arrested for 'Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI)'. That's a bit inaccurate. First, they don't do the supposedly reliable test of your BAC until after you've been arrested. Second, while you might well be charged with DWAI for a BAC of 0.05, most defense lawyers would get that dismissed pretty quickly. A BAC of 0.05 is legal in New York State - see my 2009 blog post on DWI, DWAI, Aggravated DWI and Plea Bargaining.

Here's what a smart calculator would say:
If you've had one drink in the past 8 hours, and you get pulled over, you are at high risk for being arrested for DWI. You are also at high risk of an erroneous breath test showing you to have a high BAC, and then being charged with a DWI offense.

It is misleading to tell someone they can have 5 drinks over 5 hours and they're okay to drive. The calculators also fail to deal with physiological reasons why alcohol might not hit your system for a period of time, throwing off the calculation.

The poster is also a great example of how ineffective government is at communicating with people. I work in this field and this is the first time I've seen the poster. I was unaware of the website. The vast majority of NY residents (not to mention drivers from other states) are far less likely than me to have seen this. Makes you wonder how much money they wasted on the poster and website.

Monday, April 25, 2011

SEO for Lawyers?

As an attorney with a website, I get deluged with "experts" who want to help me with my SEO - search engine optimization. Here's excerpts from an e-mail I got today (in italics), with my comments (in regular font):

Hi Warren. I called your office today after seeing your PPC ad on the internet.

We did not get a call. For those who don't know, PPC means Pay-Per-Click - usually ads on Google.

We ... put your practice ahead of your competition ... for just about any way someone can type in a search for your practice areas. Our clients are found organically hundreds of ways right out of the gate. Eventually most are found over a thousand different ways.

I edited out some of the gobbledygook and it still looks like gobbledygook.

Two major things set us apart from any SEO or advertising company with which you’ve spoken or worked. For starters, we only work with a few lawyers per market for particular practice areas.

So you only work with a couple of my competitors? Wonderful.

Second, we have the only automated SEO content manager in the world. When Google makes a change to its rules, we update our content manager and all our clients (we have about 1,300 nationwide) are updated simultaneously.

In other words, they spam Google efficiently.

Please call when you have a few minutes and we’ll see if we are a good fit.

I was going to reply but hit the spam button instead. Here's what I was going to say:

"You have a page titled Search Engine Optimization For Law Firms, so I searched for that phrase. Your website wasn't on the first page. It wasn't on the second page. If you're so good at SEO, you would be on the first page."

Sometimes the e-mail solicitation will say something like: You don't rank on the first page for "new york city personal injury lawyer". Yeah, but I'm not in New York City. I wish these jerks would actually research us before they spam us. But that's life on the internet.

There are some excellent people out there doing SEO work, for lawyers and for other businesses. They don't get their clients through spam e-mails. If you want someone to help you with your SEO, do a search for SEO along with a relevant phrase based on topic ("for lawyers") or geography ("albany ny") or both. Whoever ranks high is probably good at it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Involuntary Commitment vs. Arrest: NY Mental Hygiene Law Article 9

I was stunned by a recent experience with the involuntary commitment process. No, for those who think I'm crazy, I was not the one committed. I got a call from a close friend who had been taken to an emergency room against his will.

As Wikipedia puts it: "Involuntary commitment is the practice of placing a person to [sic] a psychiatric hospital or ward against his or her will ...."

My friend had been communicating with a mental health professional. He mentioned suicide, but had never harmed himself, made no mention of a plan, and closed the message with: "But I have to go to work. I'll call you later." Hardly seems like an emergency to me though of course I'm no expert.

Pursuant to NY Mental Hygiene Law § 9.27, an ambulance appeared at his home and took him to an emergency room. His room was strikingly uncomfortable due to the removal of any object he might use to kill himself. While there he was lied to repeatedly by the staff. They lied to me too. They threatened him, and me. They intimidated him and discouraged him from exercising his right to a hearing. They disregarded the laws requiring them to give him proper notice of his rights.

In other words, it was a lot like a criminal prosecution.

From a defense lawyer's perspective, some contrasts between arrest and involuntary commitment stood out to me.

If you're suspected of murdering someone, the police are not supposed to arrest you unless they have probable cause. If, on the other hand, someone thinks you might be a risk of serious harm to yourself, the standard is lower. In fact, it's not even clear what the standard is.

If you are arrested, the police are required to bring you before a "neutral magistrate" (a judge usually) within 24 hours, whether or not you request to see a judge. If you are subjected to involuntary commitment, there's a variety of time periods that might apply if you request a hearing. If you don't request a hearing, it could be a long time. For example, under § 9.39 they can hold you for up to 48 hours on an emergency admission. Then, if they decide to keep holding you, you can request a hearing - in writing - and the hearing should be held within five days. So that's a total of seven days. And again, in a criminal case they have to give you a hearing. It doesn't matter if you ask for it.

Everyone has heard of the Miranda warning. When arrested, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law, but your silence cannot be used against you. The police are also required to give you that warning, and they're further required to make an effort to make sure you understand it. If they fail to warn you properly, any subsequent evidence obtained from you cannot be used against you and you might have a civil rights lawsuit (though it's usually not worth anything).

If you are committed against your will, you do not get read a Miranda warning and you do not have the same right to remain silent. The hospital is required to provide you with written notice of your rights and to post them conspicuously. In practice if they do so the notice is buried among other papers and there is no requirement that they make sure you understand your rights. If you choose to remain silent, your silence will be deemed a lack of cooperation with their evaluation and treatment, and will be used against you in any hearing. My friend did not receive any written notice. When I visited the rights were not posted anywhere I'd call conspicuous - I couldn't find them and I looked for them. There were places where things were posted conspicuously and the relevant rights were not there.

If you are arrested you have the right to an attorney. If you can't afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. You are notified of this as part of the Miranda warning. Once you request an attorney, they can't question you without your attorney present.

In involuntary commitment, there is no clear right to an attorney. There are some requirements that the Mental Hygiene Legal Service be notified and they will serve, in a sense, as your public defender. In practice you don't get to see them for a while.

I tried to assist my friend. Hospital staff limited my access to him. They refused to allow me to be present while he was questioned.

When my friend submitted his written request for a hearing, one of the hospital psychiatrists got right in his face and yelled at him. This treatment was not therapeutic.

I fully appreciate the feeling many have that we need to protect those with mental health problems, even from themselves. Similarly, there is a demand to protect the rest of us from them. William Galston argues that in The New Republic, arguing: the law should no longer require, as a condition of involuntary incarceration, that seriously disturbed individuals constitute a danger to themselves or others, let alone a “substantial” or “imminent” danger, as many states do.

Apparently Mr. Galston feels the laws are too lenient on those with mental health problems. The problem with his logic, as with many who cry out for tougher crime laws, is that it ignores the rights of the innocent. My friend was not a danger to anyone. Yes he has a mental health problem. But the hard truth is that mental health problems are commonplace. Galston's approach would take us down a very slippery slope.

We are already too far down that path. It is idiotic that those suspected of being a danger to themselves have less rights than those suspected of actually harming others. Yes it is important to make an effort to protect people with dangerous mental health problems. But it is more important that we ensure this is not abused. Anyone subject to involuntary commitment should have at least the same rights as an arrestee.

And thanks to Winston's comment on facebook, there's another point. When the mental health professional pulls the involuntary commitment trigger, it inherently damages the relationship. That may be necessary at times. But if the process thereafter is unfair, it further damages the relationship between the patient and the entire mental health profession. Future care for this person will be far more difficult.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Zillow Showcase Ads: Are their numbers fudged?

In putting our house on the market (Guilderland House for Sale), I posted information on a number of real estate websites. My first choice was Zillow, because I like the site myself, including the Zillow iPhone app.

One of the things I decided to try on Zillow is Zillow Showcase Ads. I was reviewing the numbers today and found something disturbing.

Zillow says that my showcase ad has had twenty clicks. But I'm not seeing these results on the other end:

Per Google Analytics, I've only had four visits from Zillow at all, and only two of them came from Zillow ads.

Is Zillow fudging the numbers for its Zillow Showcase Ads? Please post comments. I'm interested to see what others have experienced.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Certificate of Relief from Disabilities

Our firm played a small part in the case of Figel v. Dwyer. We were hired as local counsel by Attorney John S. Chambers. He handles pistol licensing cases in NYC. He did all the paperwork, taking my suggestions into account, and we appeared in front of Judge Dwyer in Bethlehem Town Court. We were trying to get a "certificate of relief from disabilities" from a very old conviction so that the client could get a pistol license - which had already been approved by the NYPD. Our work on the case was back in 2008.

Judge Dwyer denied our motion. I should note that he is one of my favorite judges and is generally well liked by lawyers. He's just a really good guy.

But with that said, he was wrong in this case. Mr. Chambers then filed an "Article 78" proceeding which went to Judge O'Connor (also a judge I like very much - and a classmate from law school). We did not participate in that or the appeal that followed. Chambers won the case on appeal and after getting the case kicked back to him, Judge Dwyer did the right thing and issued the certificate.

I was reading through our e-mails from back in 2008 and noticed that I had made a specific suggestion about the paperwork that would put the case in better position if an appeal or Article 78 became necessary. I can't say for sure that it made the difference, but I'm pretty sure it helped.

Congratulations to Mr. Chambers for a job well done.

Judges Who Understand

It's been a rough morning. A small child woke us up repeatedly last night. I had (and have) a dull headache and mild nausea.

I did manage to get to Court on time, stopping at the office to pick up the file, where I noticed that certain documents were missing. I had just discussed these last night with the client but for whatever reason the client did not get them to us.

When I went in front of the judge, he asked - "do you have a waiver"? My client was not there - with good reason - but the waiver was one of the missing documents.

And this is why lawyers appreciate judges who understand. We're not always at our best. We're not always having a good day. Our office staff sometimes makes minor mistakes, and we do too. This morning's judge is a working lawyer who has probably been there.

He didn't know the specifics about the reasons or my morning, but maybe he could see it on my face. He understood. He smiled. He knows we'll get those things done and he gave us time to do it.

Thanks Judge.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Selling Your House: Hire an agent?

We decided to sell our house ourselves (Guilderland Real Estate). We did think about hiring a real estate agent, and I talked to a friend who is one before making the decision.

There are some key issues in making this kind of decision. First you have to consider yourself, and second you have to consider the agent.

I'm motivated by what I saw yesterday, so I'll address the second one first. Agents are not always great.

We went to see some open houses just to see what else was on the market, and to see the information sheets they were handing out.

For the first open house, the newspaper listing for it had the street name incorrect. I went to the listing on the agent's website and the directions to the house were also wrong. I figured out where the house actually was, and at least from the outside it appeared to be overpriced.

The second open house was better. We arrived shortly before it ended. The only problem was that the agent had run out of information sheets. But she was there and she was helpful.

The third open house - we arrived early. Three other cars showed up around the time it was supposed to open. The agent was late.

Now that's unusual. From past experience I'd say most agents do better than what we saw yesterday, but just keep in mind that they're not perfect. The home owner has more incentive to get things right.

Another way of looking at this - in some situations people say you should have a driver. Princess Di had a driver. It doesn't always work out well.

But that brings me back to the first issue - knowing yourself. The big question here is whether you're really capable of selling your house yourself.

1. Can you be objective about pricing?

Our neighbor paid $369K a few years ago for a smaller house on a smaller lot. So our house must be worth over $400K, right?

I started out that way, but taking a thorough look at what's on the market now, it was apparent to us that our house is not worth that much. The market has changed. I see a lot of sellers who haven't accepted reality. If you can't deal with that, an agent may help you by presenting you with evidence.

At the same time you might also underestimate the value or have difficult deciding what to do about a low-ball offer. A good agent will help with that. Negotiation is a part of our work, so we think we can handle that.

2. Can you stage your house?

I'm a slob. I've gotten better over the years, but I still tend toward messy. A messy house is a turn-off to buyers.

Fortunately my wife is neat and she has a good sense for setting up our house to be attractive to buyers. She's done lots of little things and a few big things. Most of all she's gotten me to be neater.

If you're not good at that, you may need an agent to help you stage your house.

3. Can you step back?

When buyers come to your house, they don't want you following them around. You need to let them look around. Desperate sellers in particular have trouble with this. And some people are emotional about leaving their house.

An agent will generally be unemotional and professional. If you can't do that, you probably need an agent.

I have some emotions about our house. We've lived here for 11 years and raised our kids here for their whole lives. We have wonderful neighbors. It's a great house. But we will remain professional when showing it.

4. Do you know how to advertise?

A huge advantage for most agents is that they have built-in systems for advertising. Their brokerage buys ads weekly in the newspaper. They have preferential access to some real estate websites, especially

In my case I have been advertising my law practice on the internet for close to eight years. In some ways I know what I'm doing better than most agents. And in some ways not. But I've figured some of it out and we are at least on the major websites.

One key here is that many buyers are working with agents. Many sellers do not want to compensate agents (commissions can be very expensive). But that means a big chunk of the market will not know about your house. In my opinion a seller has to compensate buyers' agents. We decided to pay 3% to buyers' agents. That may be slightly higher than normal but we think it's worth it.

I'm interested in hearing what others think. Please post comments.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Guilderland Real Estate

Update: This house was sold in July of 2011.
Looking for Guilderland real estate?

Guilderland Real Estate

Yes, the Albany Lawyer is selling his house. Where will he go? Time will tell. We're thinking about an undisclosed location with Dick Cheney. But I'm not going hunting with him.

The house is at: 6946 Suzanne Court.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Police: The Good Guys?

Police are not always the good guys. This is just stunning.

I routinely encounter prosecutors insisting on confiscating items from defendants, though nothing as bad as this one. For some reason they seem to like my clients' laptops though.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New point violations - cell phones and texting

Just read that cell phone violations will now count for 2 points on a NY driving record. The recent texting law also carries 2 points.

Also, there is a new law this year requiring cars to "move over" when passing an emergency vehicle on the side of the road. Read more at the Utica Observer Dispatch.

You can also read about the cell phone points change on the Times Union. Please note that I disagree with so many things in the article I actually sent an e-mail to the reporter. Here were my comments:

1. Cell phones on the road are not a "deadly epidemic". Traffic deaths are down dramatically over the years: USA Today.

Considering that 20 years ago cell phones were almost non-existent and now are everywhere, the idea that they're a deadly epidemic should mean a lot more deaths, not less.

2. Points are not an incentive to drivers before they get the ticket. Most have no idea what the points are until after. The point system is also idiotic. Example:

Points for going 76 in a 65: 4 points
Points for running a red light: 3 points

Most people would agree that running a red light is more dangerous than going 76 in a 65.

3. Repeat offenders will still get reductions on cell phone tickets. I represent many drivers, some with clean records and others with horrendous records. Sometimes the record doesn't matter at all, and sometimes the clean record means a better deal, but I get reductions on almost every case, probably 99% or more.

4. Following on that, this line is utter nonsense:
"After a driver pleads down once ... the driver stands little chance of avoiding the points for a second offense."

If you plead a cell phone ticket down to a parking ticket, the parking ticket doesn't show up on a driving record. So neither the prosecutor not the judge will know about it. Even if it happened in the same court, they still probably wouldn't notice.

5. A cell phone ticket should not increase insurance premiums if it's the only thing on your record. Insurance Law § 2335 sets the rules on what tickets can raise rates. It could raise rates if you had something else on your record, but that gets complicated to explain.

6. You get your license suspended if you get 11 points in 18 months, but if you take defensive driving that knocks off 4 points (but only for that specific purpose). So it's rare to see a suspension for less than 15 points (you get notice of the suspension before it kicks in, so you can usually take the class in time). You can also get revoked if you get three speeding convictions (or two work-zone speeding convictions) in 18 months. Revoked is worse than suspended in a couple ways.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Courts and the Super Bowl effect

How does the Super Bowl affect web traffic? The picture below shows web traffic by hour on our traffic court website. The blue line is for this Sunday and the green line is for the previous Sunday. Traffic did drop noticeably during the game, but not by nearly as much as I would have expected. It was about a 20-30% drop. I checked last year and the numbers were similar.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Traffic Court - Growth Continues

Our Traffic Court website continues rapid growth. The image below shows we had nearly 300,000 visits in January, compared to 170,000 the year before. That is 74% growth. Going back to January of 2007, we had 19,000 visits.

Other milestones in January include 70,000 visits in a week. That happened twice. We had only done 60,000 once before. We also had our first day with over 14,000 visits and that happened six times. But even more outstanding, we had a day with over 16,000 visits, and darn close to 17,000.

Top 10 courts for the month include some regulars from California, Ohio and New Jersey along with a busy court in Nassau County NY:

1. Moreno Valley Superior Court
2. Rancho Cucamonga Superior Court
3. Temecula Superior Court
4. Berea Municipal Court
5. Jersey City Municipal Court
6. San Bernardino Superior Court
7. Victorville Superior Court
8. Nassau County District Court
9. Parma Municipal Court
10. Indio Superior Court

Another amazing detail is the breadth of the site. The top 2 pages were viewed over 3000 times, while over 1000 pages were visited at least 100 times each.

Revenue on the site is also growing and we are close to making some changes in the site's internal search engine and in our traffic lawyer directory.

Hopefully we will find more attorney advertisers. If you're a traffic or criminal lawyer in Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, Connecticut or Massachusetts, each state gets over 10,000 visits a month and there's plenty of opportunity. We give free trials so you have nothing to lose.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

FAQ for Lawyers: Questions Lawyers Should Ask

Usually an FAQ (frequently asked questions) has responses to questions regular people ask. Our law firm website has faqs for speeding tickets, DUI, personal injury and criminal law.

But today I'm writing an FAQ from a different angle. These are questions I frequently ask people who call our law firm. From a law practice management perspective, I find these questions, and the answers they prompt, helpful.

Are you thinking of hiring a lawyer to help with that?

This is the most important question I ask, from a law practice management perspective. We get many calls from people who are not interested in hiring a lawyer. From a business perspective, those calls are a waste of time for us.

There are a few different ways people respond to this question:

Of course. That's why I called you.

This is obviously my favorite answer. Now we can get right into the meat of what the problem is, what we do for clients in cases like this, how much it costs, and why we might or might not be the right law firm for this person.

No, I was trying to reach ....

We get this a lot. The caller is actually trying to reach someone else, like a public defender, a prosecutor, or a court. Asking the question early in the call saves us both a lot of time.

I just have a question.

This is often a call for free advice. We are not a free advice line. That's an awfully difficult way to make a living. It also takes time away from us doing work for the people who paid us.

The answer dodges the question, so I respond in a way that redirects back to the important point: Does your question relate to whether you might hire a lawyer?

I do appreciate that the legal system is complex and that regular people (i.e. non-lawyers) have a lot of questions. Unfortunately, as someone who runs a business, I don't have time to answer all such questions. It's not just the one person who's asking a question at this moment - on a bad day we get ten calls like this. I choose to help the people who pay me for my time.

One of my favorites is when the caller offers to pay me to sit down with them for an hour and explain to them how to do it themselves, typically on a speeding ticket. Apparently my three years of law school and 17 years of experience can be explained in one hour.

Even on a speeding ticket, there is no simple recipe for what to do. There are too many things that can happen, especially if you're going to do a trial.

We charge $X to handle a case like that. Is that a dealbreaker?

Some callers are interested in hiring the cheapest lawyer they can find. That's not us. A good example is callers from Florida and Texas on speeding tickets. Lawyers there handle tickets for very low fees, typically less than $100 and I've heard them go as low as $50. Our lowest fee for a speeding ticket is $500. For felonies we charge a minimum of $5000 and often more, so people looking for a $500 felony lawyer or a $50 traffic lawyer don't need to waste their time (or mine).

Have you spoken to any other lawyers yet?

I should ask this one more often. Some callers already have a lawyer or have shopped their case to others. If other lawyers didn't want the case, they probably had a good reason. Be careful. And if they already have a lawyer and are having problems with that lawyer, the odds are they're going to have problems with you too.

Here are some questions specific to criminal cases:

Where were you born?

This is mainly a question in criminal cases, but may apply in other areas. It is critical because criminal cases can lead to immigration consequences. Asking their immigration status does not always get you a clear answer. But if they were born outside the US, you know you have to look into it.

A related question in traffic cases is where the client is licensed. The impact of a NY ticket (or DWI) on drivers from other states can be quite different from the impact on a NY driver and it's important to know that so that you do what's in the client's best interest.

What will the police say that you did?

In some cases the question is not what the police will say, but what the tickets say. I'll ask what the person is accused of and they will say something like this:
Well, they said I did X but what really happened was ...

I stop them. For a variety of reasons, I don't necessarily want the client's story first. People want to tell their story, but I'd like to know the accusations first and we can address any defenses or explanations after we've got that settled.

Is he/she out on bail?

This is both a business and legal question. On the business end, if they can't afford bail there's a good chance they can't afford me. Second, from a legal perspective I really need to talk to the client, so the business end of the conversation needs to address whether the caller wants to pay for a jail visit.

And some personal injury questions:

What did they do wrong?

One of the essential questions in a personal injury case is whether someone else is responsible. While there are strict liability cases (where someone is responsible regardless of whether they did something wrong), most of our cases require negligence. This comes up often in slip-and-fall cases. Someone will call after they fell somewhere - for some reason it's usually supermarket parking lots. If the store didn't do anything wrong, then let's not waste everyone's time and money.

Please describe your injuries.

The other side of a personal injury case is the injuries. In car accident cases the injuries have to rise to a certain level or the case is worth nothing. This is a detailed question and you have to ask all kinds of ways. Ask about how it feels. Ask what doctors they've seen and what they've told the patient and did for them. What scans or procedures have been done.

If their neck hurts and they haven't been to a doctor yet, it's probably not a case. In some places lawyers might sign the person up as a client and send them to a doctor who will diagnose something to create a case. Our friends at the personal injury practice of Dewey Cheatham and Howe have that covered. But that's not our style. If you spend time on the bad ones, you won't have enough time for the good ones.

Those are some questions we ask people frequently. We'd love to hear other questions lawyers like to ask callers, so please post comments!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Real World Bar Exam Questions

As I continue studying for the Florida Bar Exam, I keep coming across questions that are very rare in the real world. Few lawyers will ever deal with a separation of powers question, for example.

Here are some questions that (maybe) should be on bar exams:

1. Ethics: A client walks into your office to pay you $100 he owes you. He slaps down a $100 bill on your desk, says "here's your money you greedy bastard," and walks out. As you pick up the money, you realize that it's actually two $100 bills stuck together. You should:

a. Rush out after the client and hand him the extra $100.
b. Mail the client a check for $100 along with a letter explaining the circumstances.
c. Share the bonus money with your partner.
d. Don't tell your partner and pocket the extra $100.

2. Ethics: You realize that you accidentally wrote a check from your escrow account that should have come from your regular firm checking account. You should:

a. Replace the money immediately, and report your error to any affected clients as well as the ethics committee.
b. Replace the money when you think your escrow account might be close to a zero balance to avoid having the error reported to the ethics committee.
c. Replace the money immediately and don't tell anyone.
d. Take the rest of the money out of your escrow account and retire to Panama.

3. Law Practice Management: A prospective client called. You listened for a few minutes and then explained your fee structure for the case, including that you require $1000 up front. She explains that she is having financial difficulty right now and asks if you do payment plans. You should:

a. Give her a discount and let her make small monthly payments.
b. Give her the phone number for legal aid.
c. Hang up the phone.
d. Tell her to go to hell and then hang up the phone.

4. Criminal: You are a prosecutor conducting a trial. The arresting officer just told one of the biggest whopping lies you've ever heard and you know he's lying. You should:

a. Report the lie to the judge and the defense attorney forthwith.
b. Wait a few minutes, then act like you've got an important phone call and request an adjournment. Come back in and offer the defense lawyer a great deal because you've got to get to work on a bigger case.
c. Ignore the lie and go forward as if it was the truth.
d. Prep the other officers with the same lie.

5. Litigation: The judge is giving you a really hard time about a case, pushing you to complete discovery in a timely manner and otherwise harassing you. You should:

a. Get everything done quickly so you don't piss off the judge any more.
b. Take your time because that judge will probably retire soon and you'll get more time from the next one.
c. Call opposing counsel and see if he'll collude with you on further delays.
d. Bring your hot paralegal to the next conference to distract the judge.

6. Traffic: You secured a great deal for your speeding ticket client, getting his 120 mph speed reduced to a parking ticket. Unfortunately the client hasn't paid the $100 fine and the judge is about to reopen the case. You have already tried to communicate with the client by phone, e-mail and mail twice each. You should:

a. Search public records to see if the client moved or to locate family in a concerted effort to advise the client of the situation.
b. Pay the fine to protect the client's interest and continue to make efforts to locate him.
c. Fake a death certificate for your client and mail it to the Court.
d. Close the file.

7. Appellate: A trial judge just reversed your $1 million verdict. The appellate court has extremely complicated rules about how to file and "perfect" your appeal. You should:

a. Hire one of the many companies that barraged your office with brochures and packets describing their appellate preparation services.
b. Hand the case off to an appellate attorney who is familiar with this particular appellate court.
c. Hire one of the many out-of-work law graduates who are waiting for their bar results to do the work, pay them little or nothing and tell them that the experience will be great on their resume (hey, it's probably true).
d. Slap something together and don't worry about all those requirements, because all courts decide cases on the merits rather than the quality of the papers.

8. Torts: You've been contacted by a prospective client who has what sounds like a great medical malpractice case. You are a real estate attorney and have never done a med-mal case before. You should:

a. Refer the case to an experienced malpractice attorney in exchange for 10% of the fee.
b. Refer the case to your friend the car accident lawyer in exchange for 33% of the fee.
c. Take the case, making sure your legal malpractice insurance is up-to-date, and study hard to get yourself up to speed on how to handle a case like this.
d. Take the case and negotiate with the med-mal insurer directly so you get the full 33% fee, which will be a lot more for you even if you only get half the settlement a competent lawyer would recover.

9. Divorce: Despite telling yourself you'd never take a divorce case, a client came along and paid you a $25,000 retainer up front at a time when you really needed the money. Two years have gone by. The retainer is now exhausted, the client hasn't paid anything in over a year and she now owes you $50,000. She calls your cell phone three times a day about stupid things like who is going to get the Vanilla Ice CD. You should:

a. Make a motion to the Court to be relieved as counsel due to non-payment of fees.
b. Retire to Panama, making sure to change your cell phone number.
c. Work out a settlement with the husband's attorney and force your client to sign off on it.
d. Offer to let the client pay off the money owed the old fashioned way.

10. Law Practice Management: You've just opened your own office and after two weeks you realize that people won't just call you out of the blue and that you have to drum up business. You have $50,000 to spend. You should:

a. Take out full-page color ads in each of the area Yellow Pages at a cost of $50K for the first year.
b. Spend $50K on a mix of broadcast and cable TV.
c. Spend $50K on the strong radio stations that target your ideal demographic audience.
d. Pay back $50K of your student loans and find a job doing something outside law.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Insurance Companies: A Personal Injury Lawyer's Opinion

With 15 years of experience in personal injury cases, I have some strong opinions about insurance companies. Most of my experience has been with car accidents, so I'll focus on that but some of the companies also cover homeowners or other types of insurance. And my opinions will center on how the companies are toward their customers, not towards plaintiffs or plaintiff attorneys.

First of all, I worked for Allstate in the late 1990s. At the time I generally had a good feeling about the company. They were tough on weak plaintiff cases but generally fair on severe injuries. As an in-house lawyer, I worked closely with the claim reps and claims managers - the Allstate staff who investigated claims and made the decisions about whether to pay and if so how much. They had a lot of experience and knowledge and were just good people. I didn't always agree with them but they had reasons for their decisions.

Their work environment was in transition. In the good old days, they'd go out into the field, like to the scene of the accident. But when I got there Allstate was changing things on them, chaining them to their computers and reducing their ability to get their hands on the meat of the cases. This helped them handle a higher volume (thus saving money) but it reduced quality. It also made the job less pleasant and accelerated retirement. That further reduced quality by removing the best staff. Some of the newer reps were good, but still didn't have the same level of experience.

Allstate was, and is, facing pressure from the newer low-cost insurers like Geico and Progressive. On the other end was the longstanding competition from State Farm, which had better numbers in customer retention.

Allstate and State Farm are so large that they're under constant pressure to keep their existing customers and bring in new ones to replace the ones they lose, while keeping costs down. I think those pressures make it very difficult to provide the best service and be fair to their customers.

At the bottom of my list is Geico. In my experience they are too aggressive on cutting costs. I've seen them refuse to pay medical bills for their customers that obviously should be paid (and I've heard complaints from doctors about Progressive doing the same). One property damage claim stands out in my mind. Our client had Geico and was hit by a State Farm driver. Her car was totaled. Geico told her that her car was worth $5000. I checked with State Farm first, and they offered our client $6500. So maybe Geico saves 15% on the price, but they screwed our client for 30% when it came time to pay a claim.

I've also seen Geico refuse to pay plaintiff claims in a way that puts the Geico customer in jeopardy. When you cause an accident and the person is really hurt, your insurance company's job is to protect you. The worst example is the case we had where our client suffered an amputation after being hit by a Geico-insured driver. We asked for the $25K policy and they refused to pay - on an amputation! In the end we went to trial and the Geico customer faced a judgment of millions of dollars filed against him - when Geico had a chance to settle the case for $25K.

I never saw an amputation when I was at Allstate. They were smart enough to pay a claim like that before anyone had to sue.

It can make sense for an insurance company to refuse to pay a claim, or even for them to hold off on settling because they're investigating something. But when all the facts are in, it's time to settle. Even though I like State Farm, they failed in this one on that same case where they were good on the property damage. Their customer was clearly at fault and our client had to undergo two shoulder surgeries. And there we were, a week before trial and they still hadn't offered a penny. This wasted everyone's time and money, and put their customer in jeopardy.

During my time I've seen that some insurers are just better all around. Good examples are Travelers, Hartford, Nationwide, and Amica (our insurance company). These companies seem to work with their customers very well, and in particular they don't do frivolous denials. I remember when we chose Amica. I was reading insurance industry numbers that showed Amica's "complaint ratio" was dramatically lower than State Farm and Allstate. I can't say they're perfect, but we've been happy with them.

One of the underlying lessons is simple: You get what you pay for. If someone's advertising that their product or service is cheap, then it probably is. I'm not a cheap lawyer and I'm happy about it. We lose some potential clients who are looking for the cheapest lawyer they can find. We do the job right and provide good service. That's what I want to do for my clients, and that's what I want my insurance company to do for me.

One other thing - don't be cheap yourself. Make sure you have enough coverage. It's rare but I've seen cases where wealthy people didn't have enough insurance. That can dramatically change your financial circumstances and even drive you into bankruptcy. Getting $100K in coverage doesn't cost that much. And an umbrella policy (usually covering up to $1 million) isn't much more. If you're not sure, go through an agent. They'll help you make the right choice.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Marana Municipal Court, Jared Lee Loughner and Diversion

Reports indicate that Jared Loughner's case in Marana Municipal Court was resolved through a diversion program. There's no link on the Court's official website about diversion, but it is just northwest of Tucson, and the city of Tucson's site has more about their own diversion program: Tucson Diversion Program.

In my last post about Loughner, I mentioned a concern that drug court diversion programs here in New York focus on substance abuse and may fail to address larger mental health concerns. For the Tucson program at least, this might be true. From that site:

"Participants cited with substance abuse charges attend substance abuse counseling."

And reinforcing that:

"You will be evaluated for the need and type of counseling appropriate to your offense."

In the mental health community, counseling is chosen appropriate to your mental health needs. In the so-called criminal justice system, counseling is chosen appropriate to the offense.

How about this quote:

"Treatment or education to deter offenders from committing further criminal acts."

Since when is treatment or counseling designed to deter?

I also like this quote:

"The Prosecutor’s Office determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis."

Because prosecutors, you see, are the most qualified to determine who needs mental health treatment. Okay, sarcasm off.

I have to give credit to the New York State Legislature for our new Judicial Diversion statute (Article 216 of the CPL). They took that power away from prosecutors and required a mental health evaluation upon request from the defense. In New York, "Drug Court" is available only on the prosecutor's consent. But a judge can order diversion over the prosecutor's objection.

Hopefully, the fact that Loughner's diversion failed to address his obvious mental health problems will lead these programs, and our courts, to a broader focus.

Update: A writer on Huffington Post also mentioned diversion about Loughner and the Columbine shooters.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Jared Loughner, Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System

I just read an article in the Arizona Daily Star about Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter.

The article indicates that Loughner completed "diversion programs" after minor criminal charges. This is just another example of how our so-called criminal justice system fails to deal with mental health problems.

We have a relevant case pending right now. We applied for the new Judicial Diversion program for drug felonies in New York. The normal approach is that the Court orders an evaluation.

We like to go a step ahead of that, and apparently a step beyond. Before seeking diversion we have our client get a thorough mental health evaluation from a trusted professional. The psychologist we send people to is a respected professor. He does a complete evaluation and provides us with a detailed report, addressing the total mental health picture as well as the specific legal questions we ask him.

In our pending case, the Court did not accept our psychologist's report as sufficient and ordered an evaluation from the court's own staff. I have that evaluation. While I agree with its ultimate conclusion (that our client should be admitted to the diversion program), I find the overall quality of the report disturbing.

The evaluator is a social worker with far less education and training than a psychologist. He filled out a boilerplate questionnaire with very short handwritten answers - rarely full sentences and often one word. There was no discussion, no analysis of our client, his life, the incident that led to his arrest, etc.

Relevant to Jared Loughner, what stands out is that the court evaluation only addressed the substance use/abuse issues and did not address other mental health concerns. Our psychologist identified a number of other DSM-IV diagnostic codes, and the major concern was not substance abuse but rather a severe form of a fairly common mental health problem. According to our psychologist this is the underlying cause of most of our client's other problems (including the recently developed substance abuse, a collapse in school grades and family issues).

Did that happen with Loughner in Tucson? Did the diversion programs ignore other mental health problems and address only substance abuse? I'm not sure if we'll ever know, but I know it happens here.

Mental health problems are one of the biggest causes of crime. We see it a lot in our DWI cases and petit larceny (shoplifting) too. The criminal justice system should pay more attention to overall mental health problems. Let's hope the Jared Loughner story pushes in that direction.