I pride myself on having a nearly perfect driving record. The only ticket I have happened seventeen years ago when I got stopped for going 55 in a 45 zone out in the middle of nowhere. Yes I was actually driving 55 mph on a deserted country road. The cop who pulled me over asked me if I knew there were houses on the other side of some trees that I could obviously not see through. I was polite, but he was clearly trying to get me to say something dumb so he could make me look bad at traffic court. I went back later and there was a 45 mph speed limit sign but it was kind of hidden behind brush and some other signs. I wasn’t convinced about the houses, either. Why should the speed limit be 45 mph there when the hidden houses (if they exist) aren’t affected by the traffic?
I say all of this because I know sometimes an innocent driving slip up can lead to a ticket. I’m not perfect, and I know people are human and we make mistakes. Unfortunately for my clients, though, I’m not in charge of traffic court.
Every lawyer who wants to can make a lot of money off of bad drivers. You put an ad in the phone book and there will be no end to it. They will call your office all the time. Unfortunately you can’t charge the $2,000 retainers for most of the cases you bring in. However, handing traffic cases operates on the vending machine theory of law office management. Coke and Pepsi only make a few cents of profit off each can they sell from those machines but they sell a lot of cans. Anybody can make a lot of money if you move enough soda pop, and that’s exactly what traffic cases do.
So what do these bad drivers look like? Surprisingly they take many forms:
The perpetual bike riders
Let me get the easiest one out of the way first. I call them the perpetual bike riders. These are the people who have such poor life skills or whatever that just about as soon as they get their license they get a DUII with the automatic driver’s license suspension. Some states like mine say that your license is suspended for a minimum of, say, three months but the suspension continues until you pay off the fine. The legislature has imposed huge fines for this stuff so whether you say the guy owes the state $2,000 or $200,000 it’s all basically the same and he will never pay it off. Or, he could pay it off but he also has to go to alcohol treatment classes and do other stuff that he just can’t get it together enough to do. You have to go to something like 40 classes in a row without missing a single one or you start over from the beginning. A couple of times around and they just give up.
You will get hired to deal with these the bike riders occasionally, but only in the sense that their suspensions come up when they suddenly have a child custody dispute. Now you suddenly can bill their grandfather a whole lot of money to help them fix the mess their kid got into ten years ago when they were 18 so they can get a parenting plan and bring the grandkids over for weekend visits. You know the ex isn’t going to do it so grandpa has to get the bike rider into a car legally.
I’ve done all kinds of things to clean up their act. One time my investigator was paid $40 an hour to drive the guy back and forth from the alcohol treatment classes and make sure he went to every one. Other times I’ve fought the administrative review of the ticket, lined up a breathalyzer unit, you name it. Grandpa wanted results, not excuses.
The ones who drive anyway
There is a certain class of bad drivers who just accept that they’re suspended or whatnot and keep driving anyway. They view the occasional tow and three-hour booking process as the cost of doing business. They’re not going to stop driving just because the state says they can’t. Don’t they have a constitutional right to drive? I think they usually start off as the perpetual bike riders but now they’re 30 or 40 and grown up a little so they need a job. In order to keep the job they have to show up on time every single day, and the long walk to the bus stop isn’t working for them. So they just drive a cheap car without a license or insurance and figure that they’re going to get caught a few times here and there but it’s basically no big deal.
The first way you’re going to see these folks are when they suddenly get a decent job and have to clean up their past. They can’t get arrested again and lose this great job. You’re going to spend hours calling around to the local municipal courts and running exhaustive searches through the traffic dockets to get the info on all the suspensions. Then you’re going to schedule a bunch of hearings to clear the minor warrants and pay the fines so the court sends the notice to the state that the payment was made to lift the hold on reinstatement. There will be ten or so of these so keep digging. You’re also going to have to spend a lot of time on the phone with the state to check to make sure all the holds were lifted. Good luck, and have fun.
The other way you see them is when the local municipal court Judge finally gets fed up with them and tells them in one of the early hearings that they’re going to get a year in the city jail. Their parents fork over her inheritance to pay you to take care of this stuff so that their daughter doesn’t rot in the county hold with “those other criminals.” The money will run out quickly but don’t even think about putting the screws to their precious little girl so she squeals to Mommy and Daddy to give you more cash. That would be effective but wrong.
The ones who screw up insurance or other dumb stuff
These are the ones I kind of feel really bad about. It’s their own fault, of course, but they just have too much stuff going on with the family business or the kids are getting to be a handful and they forget to pay something. Sometimes they get in a minor fender bender and the other side filed an accident report for no real reason. Two weeks later they get a notice of suspension. Other times they saw some commercial on TV for some out-of-state insurance company and they thought they signed up online to “save $432” a year on their car insurance. The out-of-state company cancelled their current insurance but didn’t know to notify the state of the new policy and they got dinged after running a red light.
They come rushing into your office in a panic. These are generally decent people who just have too much going on or they made some kind of simple mistake. They’ve never been arrested or had any trouble in their lives until now and they have visions of the Motor Vehicles Division sending them to prison. Every time I see one of these I think of Johnny Fever running from the phone cops on that episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. You can watch the classic episode by clicking here. I loved that show.
I admit that I sometimes overcharge these folks to fix their simple problem. Don’t judge me! I charge what the market can bear, and the market is never wrong. Am I right? Besides, I tell myself that they want to pay me a lot for the peace of mind knowing that I really fixed the problem for good. Those phone cops are chasing them in their nightmares. I don’t have any obligation to tell them how to make the simple call and fix it themselves.
KThe ones who get hit with some other thing and get a suspension
There are a surprising number of people who get hit with a drivers license suspension for non-driving reasons. Many states are now imposing fines and suspensions for all kinds of things like failing to pay child support, forgetting to go to court for a minor ticket, not getting an exhaust inspection report, or a whole list of other things. One of my favorites was the guy whose doctor accidentally sent in an epilepsy report on him when it should have been for some other patient. They’re almost always regular, decent people but just have this other problem suddenly crop up and they get a drivers license suspension order in the mail.
These people make you some good money because you get to take care of two things. Before you can fix the suspension you have to deal with the child support problem or whatever it is. If you’re lucky, the problem will be something like a minor turn signal ticket they got on a fishing trip in the far corner of the state. They’re going to pay you to file paperwork to set a hearing, move for an order to release the warrant, get permission for them to appear by phone, and then have you drive out there in person to make the appearance and pay their ticket so you can send the receipt to the state to clear the suspension. It’s almost like taking candy from a baby.
Oh, um, please don’t tell your state legislator that these kinds of suspensions are so highly effective at clearing stuff up. If they figure it out, they’re going to start suspending our drivers licenses for every single little thing to get us to mow our lawns, stand in line quietly, and smile.
The life-long jail ticket
Of all the types of bad drivers I’ve discussed so far, this one is my all time favorite. I saved them for last because I want to savor this.
You see, if you are lucky you are only going to meet one of these people a year, but oh my how fun it is. They’re going to be in a complete tizzy, a total snit. They just got pulled over last night for their first traffic ticket in maybe 20 years and they got arrested! How dare that cop take them in without some warning that they had a warrant from when they went to college in another state. That was years ago! They completely forgot about that old parking ticket anyway. And to add to salt to the wound, the cop didn’t even give them a ticket for the turn signal infraction that was the reason they got pulled over in the first place!
It was outrageous how they were chained to a bench during booking. Then they took his mug shot like a common criminal. A mug shot! Oh, the indignity of it all. He had to take a shower when he got home because he smelled like the jail. Did you know he actually had to call his wife to come sign him out?!? He will be frothing at the mouth at this point. They actually put him in a holding cell with criminals, for Pete’s sake. It was absolutely ridiculous, he will say with a lot of emphasis.
I’m not proud of it, but sometimes I prod them a little so I can charge them more. I ask if they were read their Miranda rights. They probably weren’t so the guy is going to get really incensed at the complete violation of his rights. He’s going to want me to file a motion to suppress or something like that. Most people think the cops are required to read you your Miranda rights but it’s not true. They only have to if they want to interrogate you and then later use your statements against you. Cops don’t care what you say when they’re clearing a simple traffic warrant.
Then I bring up the fact that until he pays me a lot of money to clear up the traffic case in that other state, he’s going to keep getting arrested and spending the night in jail and having his car towed. His eyes will literally pop out of his head when you bring this up. I tell him that he really shouldn’t drive at all until I can get this fixed. In fact, maybe he should just lie low and hide until I give him the all clear signal. Of course I have to charge our firm’s large expedite fee to move everything else off my schedule for the next couple of days, but look, I will take care of this.
Alright, I say when I’ve had my fun, I have to get started right now because our state sent a teletype warrant extradition confirmation request out to the other state. Whatever that is. But I tell them that it means the local cops are going to know about the warrant and try to arrest you and ship you there, which could take weeks or months. They can hold you for up to 60 days to get a Governor’s warrant. That part is actually true but extremely unlikely.
Can you see the grin on my face as I type this up? These guys fall for this every time. Most states don’t bother paying to extradite for anything less than a serious felony charge like manslaughter or rape. They won’t care two licks about a puny municipal warrant for not paying a $62 ticket. The cop must have been really bored last night to arrest him in the first place.
I don’t tell that to these guys, though. I get them to whip out their credit card and I’m off and running. I had one hide under a blanket in the back seat while his wife drove him home. I’m guilty of really playing it up sometimes. We had her pull up out back and we hustled him out the door under my navy blue sports jacket like it was some perp walk on prime time TV.
Sometimes I go a little too far but so what? What are you going to do, sue me?