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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A LAWYER ANSWERS JUDGE SCHWARTZ

Starting on July 1, the shadowy and murky world of traffic attorneys became subject of blog discussion, fueled primarily by Judge Shelly Schwartz's criticisms of the ticket firms and their use of contract lawyers in court. Yesterday we printed Schwartz's primary complaints. We had earlier received an email from an attorney who wanted a front page blog response. Before we get to that, we re-print one comment yesterday that appears to be a knowledgeable criticism of Judge Schwartz (he is of course invited to respond):

In driver license cases, most judges in the building impose the standard $358 court costs. Shelly adds $525 for a total of $883, plus $250-$500 fines plus court costs plus high risk 30-hour traffic school in companion infractions even when they are non-moving such as no license plate or license not carriend or exhibited. That's unconscionable and hurts mainly the poor pro se defendants because the represented defendants will not plead guilty at arraignment as the unrepresented usually do. Those defendants could pay outstanding tickets and reinstate their licenses with far less money than it takes to pay Shelly's fines.

An attorney who hovers on the edge of this miasma has asked to respond:

Judge Schwartz:
You are correct and you are incorrect and here's the inside scoop.

First: I am not a traffic lawyer. I am one step up the ladder. I have a primarily misdemeanor and felony business. I handle the county court cases the traffic firms don't (DUI, Reckless, LSA) and the felony cases they can't.

The traffic business evolved from the work of one attorney, and then another, and then another, until there were dozens of firms competing for the same $69.00 ticket. How lucrative can it be? One well known firm had 20,000 OPEN cases when I saw their audit in the end of 2008. You do the math.

Here's what happens: Client's get tickets. They don't want to go to court. They don't want to even go to the lawyer's office. If they do answer an advertisement they received, they end up in one of a half dozen or so satellite offices the large traffic firm has (or on the phone with them). It is true that the client is then seen (or spoken to) by an experienced secretary who will give them the parameters of the case- what the possible sentences are and help them fill out a plea of absentia if they never want to appear in court. Most offices have one lawyer on the premises most of the time to handle more detailed questions.

I think Judge Schwartz would agree 99% of those cases go smoothly in court.

Here's the other 1-2%. The client is a problem client. Wants a jury trial before the Supreme Court on the running a stop sign. Being a problem client, they only want to pay $49.00 to have a team of top lawyers represent them.

I would suggest that the fault here is mostly the clients'. You get what you pay for. My firm will handle their stop sign case, but its going to cost almost a thousand dollars to have my assistant go to the scene with them, get pictures, do a diagram, and have me show up to try it.

So back to the 99% of the cases. When the ticket firms get the infraction case, they need to have every court and every ticket calendar in Dade and Broward covered. Do they employ dozens of attorneys to do this? Of course not. It's not economically feasible.

Once the ticket firms sprung up, the next economic necessity were the coverage or contract lawyers. They are a firmless group of nomads who get paid per case- usually ten bucks or so. They make camp in a courtroom or a small courthouse and they cover all the cases firm A has on the calendar.

But the analysis is not done. Because let's say firm A employs attorney X and Firm B employs attorney Y at the same courthouse. or courtrooms. Being of the same nomadic family, X and Y get together every morning and see what cases their firms have. Then X goes to courtroom 1 and Y goes to courtroom 2 and they cover the business for the traffic firms and X and Y work out what they're due and bill their respective firms.

That's a simplified explanation of what happens among dozens of ticket firms and dozens of nomadic ticket lawyers every morning.

And it works. The ticket lawyers do a good job. They spot the incorrectly written tickets. They know the cops who have faulty speed radars, and when they can't win, they argue for decent results. Occasionally the problem client shows up and what Judge Schwartz is writing about occurs.

But here's the problem Judge Schwartz does not recognize- The practice of law has evolved from the time he had his shingle out. Like it or not. The police write hundreds of thousands of tickets because their departments and municipalities make money. The ticket firms spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on mailing and marketing. The ticket lawyers, with virtually no overhead or headaches are driving Mercedes and feeding their families. In his day, I am sure people laid a couple of grand on Shelly to show up in County Court and handle their kid's careless driving. But today they can get virtually the same defense, by an experienced lawyer who does a hundred Careless Drivings month, for $150.00 or so. They have the choice to hire me or hire the ticket firms, but usually the issue comes down to money.

It is admittedly "drive -thru McDonalds" type of law. But it has to be that way. The numbers (tickets, clients, firms, lawyers) are way too high and the economics of the market place have created this environment. It will never be like it was in the days Judge Schwartz fondly remembers. The economics of law has evolved.

Judge Schwartz is wrong, and the clients are wrong, if they expect to pay $69.00 and get a high priced individually tailored legal defense. The client needs to know they get what they pay for. When I see my GP doctor, he has his Physician's Assistant spend 20 minutes with me, then he comes in for 3 minutes , tells me to eat less, lower my cholesterol and blood pressure, writes the scripts and leaves. If I want more personal service than my insurance will pay for, I am free to spend 5K a year on a "concierge medical practice." Until then, I get what I pay for. Why should a client spending $69.00 on a ticket expect anything different?

Remember-these are civil INFRACTIONS not criminal cases. But the practice has spread to criminal cases. Those ticket firms are my bread and butter. They spend on advertising and when the DUI or Reckless comes in they hire me- at my price (somewhat reduced for their volume.) I meet the client. I open a file. We prepare the defense and I am entirely responsible for what happens.

Let me close by asking Judge Schwartz this- is what the ticket firms do any different then if Exxon-Mobile hires a Greenberg Traurig Partner who promptly puts two dozen first and second year associates to start discovery? The CEO of Exxon-Mobile doesn't know the second year associate taking a depo on his company's behalf, but the work gets done.

What Judge Schwartz fails to acknowledge (and he knows this because he sees the numbers) is that no lawyer can survive on hanging out a shingle. and waiting for the odd thousand dollar LSA to wander in while a firm that is advertising gets 200 LSAs at 250 per a month. He doesn't like what he sees. It's not what he did when he was practicing (and doing a very fine job) but the law hasn't changed- just the business of law.

Hang in there Shelly and let these guys do what they do. You're fighting a battle you can't win. In my opinion it's not a battle you should win. The marketplace evolved this system as an efficient capitalistic response to the vast numbers of infractions the police write.

We all luv ya.

A Lawyer.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Judges could shut down this whole factory by requiring lawyers who appear to file notices of appearance, although I guess you could sit there and fill out form NOA's. Some asshole judge in Florida did that, may still do it.

Also, I think Shelly's point is that any lawyer who appears on a case should have some, not a lot, some, basic knowledge of the client or case. For $69, that's agreeably impossible.

It's a business shelly, he's right, get used to it.

Anonymous said...

For those of you who are talking about Judge Barzee "falling on the sword", I have a few comments:

I am a defense attorney and I am a good one. I care about my cases, I care about my reputation as a lawyer among the clients as well as the legal community.

For the "trialmaster" (who seems to spend most of his time touting his record and supposed ability) to say that to fall on the sword is the highest calling and that the judge "saw through" what he was trying to do when he did it is a disgrace. The person who mentioned "true believer" is absolutely right.

Being a "true believer" whether it is on the state side or the defense side, is NOT a compliment. You must either prosecute your case or defend you client to the very best of your ability, within the parameters of the law and ethics, and WITH YOUR EYES OPEN. Cops are not always the good guys, defendants are not always guilty, and defendants are not always misunderstood souls.

If you "fall on the sword" for your client simply because you lost a case, a count, or a motion without an actual reason for doing it, you are a disgrace and a joke to the profession.

I would (and have) openly admit a mistake to a client, a judge, or another lawyer and I know for a fact that I am respected for that. I would NEVER "fall on the sword" just to get a win.

If Judge Barzee did that, she was wrong and her judgment should be in question. If she was, in fact, incompetent as a lawyer - especially over something as seemingly elementary as what is being reported - she has no business on the state bench much less the federal one.

One last thing - if anyone truly believes that her brother raised enough money to be minutely noticed by Washington, you clearly do not know politics. People who raise real money for politicians are billionaires. I have been involved in local and federal political campaigns for many years. Believe me, no one in DC would remember me after it's all said and done. No one owes Brother Bill a favor - he is simply a supporter of the Democratic party - as are masses of others.

Anonymous said...

Personally Shelly is a great guy. However having observed his behavior on the bench, I don't question his motives, but his approach. He can be unmercifully abusive to litigants. I have seen him so overbearing it is difficult to watch.

His fine and cost judgments leave people in tears and wondering how they are going to make the payments and still pay for the essentials of life.

He is not wrong about how the practice of law in his court is less than professional and in some cases out and out violations of the code of professional responsibility, but that does not justify his own temper tantrums. He should be leading the way. If you are going to cast the first stone make sure you are without sin.

Anonymous said...

As a former ASA and now private practitioner who had until now, no clue what goes on with the ticket practices, I must say...That was the best and most informative response ever written on this blog!

I am now better informed as I hope Judge Schwartz is.

CAPTAIN said...

Dear Judge Schwartz:

Please, please take the cap lock off and type with small letters.

Cap Out ....

Anonymous said...

Are there people on this blog, practicing lawyers, with Bar cards, who actually think the trialmaster is anything more than a ficticious character for the purposes of getting idiots to respond?

Geez.

Anonymous said...

Barzee did not "fall on the sword" in any derogatory sense of that phrase.

I agree that a lawyer has a duty to be honest in regard to what happened previously in a case. But to suggest she was somehow dishonest because the client's motion was ultimately denied is foolish.

Check the record before suggesting something like that. Insinuating that she was dishonest shows you to be completely uninformed. Barzee did not fill out an affidavit or testify at a hearing. Get your facts straight.

Anonymous said...

The moral of the story is:

¡NO PAGUES ESE TICKET!™

Anonymous said...

jusge barzee fabulous. she is smart hot and fair. she was second chair in the ramirez case behind mr. spock who thought at the time that he was the smartest vulkin on earth. he was wrong. barzee should be given close consideration but in the end, judge scola will get the tap//

the ultimate

Anonymous said...

"the law hasn't changed- just the business of law"

ARE YOU FRICKING KIDDING ME? That has to be the most ignorant comment on this blog. Don't forget that the rules of ethical practice haven't changed and the Florida Supreme Court would take a dim view of what you suggest is now just business as usual.

Anonymous said...

11:22:

I have no idea what she did or did not do. I am responding to those who believe Falling on the Sword is something to be revered for.

As for Judge Barzee, she seems to be intelligent. That being said, in this situation, she APPEARS to have either been dishonest or incompetent. Either way, it's not good.

Anonymous said...

I briefly worked for a guy who figured if Joe Attorney was charging $1000 for a case, he'd charge $300 or $400 and get five times the volume. He was right, but the files got very little attention and corners were cut. Plus a lot of clients were difficult to deal with. Realizing that I'd eventually probably seriously screw up a case and get in trouble with the Bar, I quickly left. The fact that I was expected to work very long hours for relatively low pay also figured into the equation. The attorney I worked for is now suspended (for the second time).

When you hire a low-cost lawyer, you get what you pay for.

As to the problem clients, just don't take them. The few extra bucks you earn from them is never worth the crap you go through.

Anonymous said...

While the response was well written and very informative as to the inner workings of the traffic system, it only reinforces what Judge Schwartz was saying: that the quality of legal representation has been watered down to whatever $69 bucks will get you.

The "you get what you paid for" attitude of civil infractions lawyers has now seeped into the county court where people are charged with criminal traffic misdemeanors. Judge Schwartz has just now called them out on it as they are not providing any legal representation whatsoever. It is evident because although the response was true, one would never say that in open court, nor would it ever be a defense to inadequate representation in front of the Bar.

Could you imagine saying "Judge so and so, you are wrong, and my clients are wrong, if they expect to pay $69.00 and get a high priced individually tailored legal defense. The client needs to know they get what they pay for. Sorry but that's the economics of the law these days."

Good for you, Judge Schwartz.

Anonymous said...

After seeing all this, I sure am glad I didn't have any cases in 1-2 today.

Any juicy tidbits from the courtroom?

Anonymous said...

dude, if you pay $69 for a lawyer, you don't want clarence darrow! you want someone to fix the problem cheaply, which is what most traffic lawyers do. There is nothing wrong with that. And no i am not a traffic lawyer. Hate any state court work, traffic or otherwise! But I appreciate lawyers who do, like those ticket lawyers slammed by Judge Schwartz, who should shut his pie hole and just do his job.

The Rosetta Stone said...

Transfer Shelly back to Hialeah Branch Court. He can then blow his top with the assistance of the interpreter.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe the quality of representation has suffered by the process described by the response posted. In fact, for the most part, I think it's probably better.
When my boss sends me in to traffic court to handle a ticket 'as a favor to an important client', it amazes me how these ticket attorneys handle so many cases and make all sorts of motions and get lots of cases dismissed and fines reduced, etc. Thankfully, the last time I went in, one of the ticket lawyers was nice enough to tell me what to ask the officer about his radar unit. The officer didn't have the right information and the case was dismissed.

the trialmaster said...

the trialmaster is very very real. He has won several mulit milliion dollar verdicts in both state and federal ct, in and outside floria. He also has won several first degree murder cases as well as large drug/money laundering cases in state and federal ct, in florida and other states.the trialmaster does not do traffic cases and has no input on this topic involving the ultimate bottomfeeders. the $69 dollar attorney. vomit.

Anonymous said...

myspa ceba r isno tworking. nOR iSmY cA PSlOC K bU TTON. jUD GE p LEA SEhELP mE.

Anonymous said...

Do traffic ticket attorneys make a lot of money? Yes. Did trial lawyers go to law school to do what traffic ticket attorneys do? No. Is what traffic ticket attorneys do challenging? No. Can you train a chimpanzee to do what traffic ticket attorneys do? Yes.

Police officer not here? Move to dismiss. Unlawful Speed case and officer doesn't have his/her calibration? Move to dismiss. Accident case and civilian witness present? No contest. Careless Driving case without further explanation? Move to dismiss under Robinson.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard Schwartz yell at new prosecutors for not certifing jal on multiple DWLS defendants? 'You're killing people state!!' Shelly gives it both ways, and it's usually deserved. In my time there, I did about 75 bench trials with him, his sentences are the same as his pleas but he's tough on the State. More Not Guiltys than most Judges. More defendants go get valid DLs in his courtroom than any other in the County as well, and they do it without a lawyer. Keep going Judge.

The Rankmaster said...

The Rankmaster beat the Trialmaster once. The Rankmaster also challenged the Trialmaster to a competition, but the Trialmaster failed to appear.

For those keeping score the Rankmaster is up 2-0 against the Trialmaster.

The Rankmaster decided to rank some traffic attorneys today, but couldn't figure out the difference between the actual and coverage attorneys so decided against it.

Top resisting without violence attorneys however, is a list that must be seen to believed.

1. David Markus - you haven't seen a resisting trial until you've seen Markus in action.
2. Larry Hanfield
3. That female PD in front of Judge Arzola
4. Roy Black
5. The male PD in front of Judge Miller
6. Rump - his cross lacks a tad
7. Some intern I saw in front of Judge Bloom
8. Mark Eiglarsh
9. Bill Tunkey
10. Michael Mirer

And coming in at 103, yes 103 - the Trialmaster

Anonymous said...

Impeach Shelly and his pink sports coat! Also, those who have allowed him to perpetuate his rancor from the bench. All must go!

Anonymous said...

Is Judge Scwhartz in the DROP program and thus not running in 2012? Or is he just not running?

Anonymous said...

1:22

Okay, let me get this straight. You don't know what she did or did not do, yet you still disparage her. So, anytime a client gets a sentence they don't like and chooses to file a post conviction motion, the lawyer was either incompetent or dishonest? Remember...she did not file any affidavits, the motion, or testify, and the motion was denied. Seems to me that since thr motion was denied, thw judge found her to have been competent. And, since she did not write or testify to anything she could not have been dishonest.

Anonymous said...

If judge Schwartz has a problem with an attorney he should talk to the attorney and leave the blog for gossip and innuendo.
Why bother posting it here for him to open himself up to all sorts of hatred?
If, as he claims, these attorneys know who they are, then why bother aggravating all the attorneys who are hard working and try to do the right thing for their clients? The ones who he's having problems with are probably of the mentality that they aren't even bothered by what he writes.
Sh*t, almost late for sounding....

Anonymous said...

Mary didn't testify at the hearing. Only Rueben Cahn did.

Anonymous said...

Dear Trialmaster,

The real masters don't have to rattle off their "accomplishments." The real beasts are the ones that, when they get to the end zone, act like they have been there before (i.e. Emmitt Smith). And...genius...use spell check, which is available in all states, including "Floria."...you douche.

Anonymous said...

8:26 -

You are a moron. You must be one of those people who think "falling on the sword" is noble. Maybe you should take it up with the Daily Business Review.

Anonymous said...

!! no pagues ese ticket !!

Anonymous said...

I agree with most said here:

1. Shelly is a good guy and out of court is everyone's buddy but, in court he drives us nuts with his long speaches and overkill on real small cases.
2. His fines are too high.
3. The last time a judge was so nuts on the bench he was Harvey Baxter.
4. The people get what they pay for and for $69.00 they should not expect much.
5. As lawyers we do not appreciate Shelly's antics.

Anonymous said...

OMG. Did anyone read the article on JR from the REGB?

http://www.miamiherald.com/460/story/1130248.html

Excuse me if I am wrong, but is this not a clear sign of theft? The article is very clear on how JR gets clients. Folks, he wears a Bailiff's uniform and thus must be soliciting.

This blog has exposed theft before. I love JR, but cannot stand my taxes being used to make suits.