Tag Archives: law

SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer

Image result for attorney pro se

For a cartoonist, I turned out to be a fairly decent lawyer. But I didn’t want to represent myself. It took two vicious lawyers to force me into that position.

One of those lawyers was mine.

I’m suing the Times because they repeatedly, knowingly and intentionally defamed me after firing me as a favor to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, a thin-skinned pol I’d criticized in my editorial cartoons. The paper responded by turning California’s “anti-SLAPP” law, designed to protect people like me against corporations like the Times and its parent company Tronc, on its head; this $400 million corporation is accusing me — a five-figure income cartoonist — of oppressing its First Amendment rights by using my vast wealth to intimidate them.

Before my case is allowed to begin in earnest, anti-SLAPP requires a plaintiff (me) to convince a judge that, if everything I allege in my lawsuit turns out to be true, I’d likely win before a trial jury. But anti-SLAPP is as confusing as French grammar, so many judges interpret the law much more harshly than it’s actually written.

All the lawyers I talked to told me that I’d almost certainly win at trial if my case survived anti-SLAPP and made it to a jury. Ironically, getting past anti-SLAPP would be our toughest challenge.

The lawyer who took my case agreed with this assessment. But when oral arguments for the first of the Times’ three anti-SLAPPs against me took place on June 21st in LA Superior Court, his firm inexplicably assigned a junior associate, Class of 2013, to take on Kelli Sager.

Kelli Sager, who represents the Times, is a high-powered attorney with more than three decades of courtroom experience, a senior partner at Davis Tremaine Wright, an international law firm that represents giant corporations.

I liked my junior associate. She’s smart and may someday become a great lawyer. But she was no match for a shark like Kelli Sager. Sager talked over her. My lawyer let Sager get away with one brazen lie after another, either too unprepared or timid to respond. She couldn’t even answer the judge’s simple question to walk him through what happened to prompt my lawsuit.

It was a rout. Sager was eloquent and aggressive. My lawyer couldn’t begin to articulate my case, much less sway the judge. I lost that round.

Determined not to lose the all-important important hearing number two, against the Times and Tronc, I asked my law firm to meet for a strategy session. Bafflingly, they refused to confer or to send a more senior litigator to the next one. Another defeat was guaranteed.

Then my firm fired me — days before that key anti-SLAPP hearing. I had no idea that was even a thing, that that could happen.

I swear — it wasn’t me. I was professional and polite every step of the way. I have no idea why they left me hanging.

Normally in such situations, legal experts told me, the court grants a “continuance,” legalese for a delay, to give me time to look for a new attorney and allow him or her to familiarize themselves with the case. But it helps a lot if the opposing side says they’re OK with it.

A continuance is typically freely granted, even during the most ferocious legal battles. After all, you might be the one with a family emergency or whatever next time.

But Kelli Sager smelled blood. Figuring I’d be easier to defeat without legal representation, she fought ferociously against my requests for a continuance. Thus came about the following absurdity:

I found a new lawyer. But he needed a few weeks to get up to speed. True to her standard scorched-earth approach to litigation, Sager refused to grant me the courtesy of a continuance. So I was forced to rep myself in pro per (that’s what they call pro se in California) on July 14th.

My heart was pounding as I approached the plaintiff’s table, standing parallel to Sager. And I’m an experienced speaker! I’ve held my own on FoxNews. I’ve spoken to audiences of hundreds of people. I’ve hosted talk-radio shows. Yet dropping dead of a heart attack felt like a real possibility. I can’t imagine what this would feel like for someone unaccustomed to arguing in public.

The judge asked me to proceed. I nervously worked from prepared notes, explaining why my case wasn’t a “SLAPP” (a frivolous lawsuit I didn’t intend to win, filed just to harass the Times), that the anti-SLAPP law didn’t apply. I attacked the Times’ argument that their libelous articles were “privileged” (allowed) under anti-SLAPP because they were merely “reporting” on “official police records” about my 2001 jaywalking arrest.

If they’d been “reporting,” the articles would have had to follow the Times’ Ethical Guidelines, which ban anonymous sources, require careful analysis of evidence and calling subjects of criticism for comment. They didn’t come close. These weren’t news stories or even opinion pieces; they were hit jobs.

I explained that the records weren’t official at all, the LAPD denied releasing Beck’s unprovenanced audio, which differed from the official one at LAPD HQ. Much of the discussion was about legal minutiae rather than the broad strokes of what my case is about: I wrote a blog for latimes.com, the Times edited it and posted it, Chief Beck gave the Times a blank audio they said showed I’d lied about what I wrote, I had the audio cleaned up and it showed I’d told the truth, rather than issue a retraction when they found out they were wrong the Times refused to change their behavior and continued to insist I’d lied.

There’s also the big picture: if a newspaper’s parent company sells its stock to the police, and that newspaper’s publisher is a crony of the police chief who accepts awards from the police union, how can readers trust that newspaper not to suppress criticism of the police? Do Black Lives really Matter if investigations of police brutality don’t always make it to print, if writers and cartoonists have learned they can get fired and libeled if they annoy the cops?

I will soon receive a transcript of the hearing. I will post it at Rall.com.

Sager’s counterargument boiled down to: newspapers can publish anything they want, even lies, because the First Amendment protects free speech — as if libel and defamation law don’t exist.

Her defense for the Times was not that I lied. The audio makes clear that I didn’t. Her defense, the defense for a newspaper, was that the truth doesn’t matter.

Arguments ran over two hours.

On June 21st the judge ruled against my erstwhile lawyer directly from the bench.

On July 14th, I at least gave the judge something to think about. He took the matter “under consideration.”

I await his decision.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: How I Found Out That the Courts Are Off-Limits to the 99%

Image result for court fees expensive            I’m suing the Los Angeles Times. I’m the plaintiff. I’m the one who was wronged. The Times should be defending themselves from my accusations that they fired and libeled me as a favor to a police chief.

But this is America.

Deep-pocketed defendants like the Times — owned by a corporation with the weird name Tronc and a market capitalization in excess of $400 million — are taking advantage of America’s collapsing court system to turn justice on its head. In worn-out Trump-era America, the corruption and confusion that used to be associated with the developing world has been normalized.

If you’re a big business like Tronc, you may be the defendant on paper but you have all the advantages in court. Your money allows you to put the plaintiff on the defense. You’re equal in the eyes of the law — theoretically. But it doesn’t feel like justice when the victim has to defend himself from the criminal. It’s like that song “Lola,” in which the Kinks sang “girls will be boys and boys will be girls”; the courts system is a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.

States like California passed anti-SLAPP laws to defend individuals with modest incomes (like me) against deep-pocketed plaintiffs (like the Times) that file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate and harass their critics. After an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the case freezes until a judge decides whether the case is meritorious. If the judge says it’s frivolous, it’s dismissed and the poor individual defendant gets his or her attorney’s fees paid by the deep-pocked corporation plaintiff.

After I sued them for defamation and wrongful termination, the Times filed three “anti-SLAPP” motions against me. So if the judge decides I don’t have a good case, this middle-class individual plaintiff will have to pay deep-pocketed defendant Tronc’s legal fees. The Troncies want at least $300,000.

Talk about topsy-turvy! The legislature should fix this law but they won’t because there’s zero political movement in that direction. I may be the only journalist to have criticized anti-SLAPP laws in a public forum. Articles about anti-SLAPP feature nothing but praise.

There were three motions. I lost one on June 21st, against the individual Times employees and executives involved in libeling me. (I plan to appeal.) That loss prompted a parting of ways with my attorneys. What followed was a month of representing myself pro se (in California they call it in pro per).

I now have new lawyers, and we’re waiting to hear how I did arguing against ace lawyer Kelli Sager’s anti-SLAPP motions for the Times and Tronc in LA Superior Court on July 14th. It sucked. But representing myself gave me a full-immersion crash course in just how messed up the courts really are.

The big thing I learned was that poor people have zero access to justice.

Nor do the middle class.

After the June 21st debacle, a semi-retired lawyer friend advised me to file a Motion for Reconsideration, a request to the judge to take another look and perhaps realize that he made some mistakes. The law gives you 10 days to file.

My Motion for Reconsideration was one of numerous motions I would have to draft and file myself while pro se. It was incredibly expensive, wildly burdensome and so daunting I bet 99% of people without a lawyer would throw up their hands and give up.

I’m the 1%.

I’m a writer. I went to an Ivy League school; I was a history major so I’m good at research. I used to work at a bank, where I worked on legal documents so I’m familiar with legalese. So I researched what works and doesn’t work in a Motion for Reconsideration. I crafted an argument. I deployed the proper tone using the right words and phrases.

Most people, not having the necessary skills or educational attainment, wouldn’t stand a prayer of writing a legal brief like this motion. Mine may fail — but the judge might read it and take it seriously because it’s written correctly.

I called the court clerk to ask how to file my motion. She was incredibly curt and mean. I’m a New Yorker so I persisted, but I could imagine other callers being put off and forgetting the whole thing.

Schedule a date for your hearing on the court’s website, the clerk told me. Good luck! The site had an outdated interface, was loaded with arcane bureaucratic jargon and a design that’s byzantine and hard to navigate. If English is your second language, forget it.

Eventually I found the place to reserve a hearing date — where I learned about the $540 filing fee.

Payable only by credit card.

No debit cards.

No Amex.

Protracted litigation against a well-funded adversary like the Times/Tronc could easily require dozens of $540 filing fees. The poor need not apply. Most Americans don’t have that kind of money. And what about people who scrape up the dough but don’t have plastic?

$10 would be too much. $540 is frigging obscene.

I paid the fee, printed out the receipt as required, stapled it to the back of my multiple required copies of the motion and went to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to file it. As I waited in Room 102 to have my motions stamped by a clerk, I studied the many working-class people waiting in the same line.

Here too, there is no consideration for the people. The clerk’s office is open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30. Most people work during those hours. Gotta file something? You have to take time off. Parking? Expensive and far away.

I have a dream.

I dream of a court system dedicated to equal justice before the law — where anyone can file a motion, where there are no filing fees, where the courthouse is open on weekends, where you can file motions by uploading them online and there’s free parking for citizens conducting business in the people’s house.

But Tronc wouldn’t like that system.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Sue the SOBs? It’s Harder Than You Think

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Are you one of those Americans who say it’s too easy to file a lawsuit? As I can tell you from personal experience, it’s anything but. The canard that U.S. courts are jammed up by litigious jerks is based on anecdotes spread by corporate propaganda.

We do need “tort reform” — but we should make it easier to sue, not harder.

What about all those “frivolous lawsuits” you’re always hearing about? You hear about them because deep-pocketed corporations run TV ads complaining that they’re being victimized by predatory trial lawyers. The truth is, big companies don’t want to be held accountable in the courts for their misdeeds.
What most people don’t know is that judges are good at ferreting out frivolous lawsuits before they get very far. If you get sued, the first thing your defense lawyer will do is file a “motion for summary judgment” — a request that the judge throw out the case because it’s weak. Between this and other methods of winnowing out bad cases, at least 95% of civil claims never make it to trial.

The dirty secret is that American courts have created so many hurdles to sue that it’s become daunting for all but the most determined plaintiffs to pursue justice. My case against The Los Angeles Times illustrates how hard it is for an individual to sue a large entity.

The Times fired me as its editorial cartoonist in July 2015, apparently as a favor to LAPD’s police chief, whom I had mocked in my cartoons.

Neither I nor Times readers were aware that there was a conflict of interest between the paper and the fuzz: the LAPD’s union pension fund was a major shareholder of the Times’ parent company.

It ought to be illegal for a government agency or an entity associated with a government agency to buy stock in a media company — but it isn’t.

The Times published an article accusing me of having lied in a blog post. I was able to show that I’d told the truth. But after I sent the Times the exonerating evidence — which attracted worldwide media attention and calls for my reinstatement — instead of issuing a retraction and giving me back my job, Times executives doubled down, publishing a second piece reaffirming the first one. In March 2016, I filed suit in LA Superior Court against the Times for defamation, wrongful termination, blacklisting and other charges.

As I expected, the Times’ defense attorney filed a motion to dismiss my case on the grounds that it was not meritorious. The judge denied.

After that, California’s legal and financial hurdles became nearly insurmountable.
When free speech groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation get behind something, I’m usually all for it. The First Amendment is my religion. But speech advocates’ support for a federal anti-SLAPP law is wrong — and terrible for freedom of expression. Perhaps they haven’t thought this all the way through.

Twenty-eight states and D.C. have passed anti-SLAPP laws. On paper, they sound great. A “SLAPP” (strategic lawsuit against public participation) is a lawsuit the plaintiff doesn’t think he’ll actually win. The purpose of a SLAPP is to harass you by forcing you to hire a lawyer and tie you up in court. It’s an intimidation tactic sometimes used by big companies to silence individual whistleblowers and critics. Is the problem really widespread? No one knows. No one has done a serious study.

If you get sued in a state with an anti-SLAPP statute, your anti-SLAPP motion is a powerful tool. Discovery (depositions, subpoenaing of evidence) halts. If the judge rules in the defendant’s favor that a suit is frivolous, the case gets tossed and the plaintiff pays the defendant’s attorney fees. This is supposed to make jerky plaintiffs think twice before filing a SLAPP.

There are two big problems with this theory.

First, anti-SLAPP isn’t likely to deter frivolous SLAPPs filed by wealthy companies and individuals. Wealthy entities have more than enough money to litigate anti-SLAPP and to absorb the potential awarding of attorney’s fees to defendants. In fact, proponents have never come up with any statistical evidence that anti-SLAPP laws deter frivolous lawsuits.

Second, the intent of anti-SLAPP laws — to protect the little guy from the big guys — is constitutionally prohibited. You can’t grant rights to some defendants but not others; there are plaintiffs and defendants, period. So there’s nothing to prevent a rich megacorporation from using anti-SLAPP against Joe Schmoe.

Which is how the LA Times, the fourth largest newspaper in the U.S. and part of a $512 million media conglomerate, was allowed to file an anti-SLAPP motion against a $300/week cartoonist. In other words, the Times censored my cartoons and tried to ruin my journalistic career for their owners, the police. Then they accused me of violating their First Amendment rights!

Starting with their anti-SLAPP motion, Times’ lawyers have unleashed a barrage of tactics to delay my suit and harass me. And it’s worked — for nearly a year, I haven’t been able to question Times editors or LAPD officials under oath or subpoena documents that would help me build my case — or my defense to the anti-SLAPP motion. I’ll get my case before a jury in 2018 or 2019 — if I’m lucky.

Or I’ll be broke.

Three days of anti-SLAPP hearings in Rall v. Los Angeles Times begin February 28th in LA Superior Court. My attorneys spent many hours preparing our opposition to that motion. Legal fees aren’t cheap, so the expense of defending against an anti-SLAPP filing before the case even begins is enough to deter some plaintiffs from filing valid lawsuits.

If the judge rules for the Times, I’ll be ordered to pay the Times their legal fees. The Times told the court their bills would be at least $300,000. If she rules for me, the Times can and probably will appeal to the Court of Appeals. That means more work for me and my lawyers and months, maybe another year, of delay — and justice delayed is justice denied. If the appellate court agrees with the Times, my case gets thrown out and I’ll have to pay the Times’ bills — which by then will be significantly higher.

I know I’m right. And I think the law is on my side. But by filing a lawsuit in an anti-SLAPP state, I’m risking bankruptcy. How many would-be plaintiffs get scared away from pursuing their legitimate claims? How many defendants get away with illegal behavior by abusing anti-SLAPP laws?

Anti-SLAPP opens the door to unfair defense tactics. LA Times lawyers invoked an obscure California statute to require me, as a non-California resident, to post a cash bond to guarantee the Times’ legal bills if they win on anti-SLAPP. They asked for $300,000; the judge knocked it down to $75,000. Just to keep my case going — before it begins, really — 75 grand was the cost of entry.

Thanks to concerned readers who gave to my GoFundMe campaign, I raised the $75,000. After I turned over the money to a bond company who filed it with the court (more fees there), the Times tried to get the case thrown out on the ground that the form hadn’t been filled out perfectly.

Still think it’s too easy to sue?

There’s hope for change. In 2015 Washington State became the first state to find its anti-SLAPP statute unconstitutional because it denies plaintiffs their fundamental right to a trial by jury. Anti-SLAPP, the Washington Supreme Court ruled, “seeks to protect one group of citizen’s constitutional rights of expression and petition — by cutting off another group’s constitutional rights of petition and jury trial.” Minnesota and D.C. may do the same.

Congress should pass a federal law about this — one that bans anti-SLAPP laws.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Corporations Are Abusing anti-SLAPP Laws to Screw Over Workers

“It’s a sadly familiar sight in courthouses around the country: A deep-pocketed corporation, developer or government official files a lawsuit whose real purpose is to silence a critic, punish a whistleblower or win a commercial dispute.”

Sounds awful, right?

Fortunately, according to The Los Angeles Times editorial board, “That’s why California enacted a law in 1992 to give people a preemptive legal strike against frivolous lawsuits that seek to muzzle them on public issues.” According to the Digital Media Law Project, 28 states, D.C., and one U.S. territory have enacted these so-called “anti-SLAPP statutes.” (SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” A classic example was when the cattle industry sued Oprah for dissing beef.)

At first glance, anti-SLAPP seems like a good solution to a serious problem.

In theory.

In the real world, however, well-meaning legislators have created a monster. In the hands of clever corporate lawyers, anti-SLAPP laws have become a loophole to libel laws and a catchall defense for disgusting behavior. What started as a good idea has become a menace to free speech, the ability to protect one’s reputation, and the right to redress in a court of law.

As I’ve discovered personally over the last year, California’s anti-SLAPP statute is at least as likely to be used by “a deep-pocketed corporation” against a “critic” as the way the legislature originally intended, which is to say the other way around.

In July 2015 The Los Angeles Times — yes, the same paper that published the above editorial — fired me as its staff editorial cartoonist. It has since come out that they did so as a favor to Charlie Beck, the $297,000-a-year chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Beck’s feelings were hurt because of the cartoons that I drew about him.

The cops weren’t satisfied with merely having me fired. They wanted me destroyed. So the Times also published a pair of articles that falsely portrayed me as a liar and a fabulist — death to a journalist’s reputation.

So I sued the Times for wrongful termination, blacklisting, retaliation and defamation, as well as other claims.

Initially I had trouble finding a lawyer willing to represent me on the defamation claim. California’s anti-SLAPP statute, attorneys told me, have gutted the practice of defamation law in the Golden State. Fortunately for me, as several of the state’s leading experts on defamation law told me, Times management’s behavior was so outrageous, reprehensible and ongoing that I stood a better chance of getting over the anti-SLAPP hurdle than most plaintiffs.

As most of the attorneys I consulted had predicted, one of the first things that the Times did was file an anti-SLAPP motion against me. So much for anti-SLAPP being used against “a deep-pocketed corporation…whose real purpose is to silence a critic.” The Times is owned by Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing), a $499 million mega-corporation. The Times paid me $300 a week.

Until that pretrial anti-SLAPP motion is decided, I can’t engage in “discovery,” the process of gathering information through subpoenas and depositions essential to forming a case. As Vikram David Amar writes, “oftentimes a plaintiff who may have a valid claim will not be able to prevail because s/he will not have had enough of an opportunity to gather the evidence (through legal discovery devices like depositions and document requests) needed to prove the case.”

Because of anti-SLAPP, I must convince a judge that I am likely to prevail at an eventual trial — before the first juror has been chosen or any evidence has been discovered.

If the judge decides that I will probably lose my case, I will have to pay all of the Times’ legal fees. According to papers that the defendants filed, they expect that to amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The case would be dismissed. I would go bankrupt.

Even if I convince the judge that I’ll win, my tormentors at the Times then get a second shot at destroying my financial well-being: they can go to the Court of Appeals. By that time, of course, their legal bills will be even higher. And it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that those fees will be highly padded. Many judges take defendants at their word when it comes to the validity of legal invoices.

We’re not done.

I live in New York. As an out-of-state plaintiff, California Code 1030 provides a defendant the right to move that I be required to post a bond in order to guarantee the payment of the Times’ attorney fees should they prevail on their anti-SLAPP motion. “The Times will defend itself vigorously against Mr. Rall’s claims,” a Times spokesperson said when I sued. They sure are. They filed a motion asking the judge to require me to post a whopping $300,000 bond.

The judge knocked it down to $75,000. Unlike criminal bonds that can be purchased for 10%, however, this civil bond must be 100% collateralized. In other words, I have to come up with $75,000 in “pay to play” money by Thursday, August 18, or my case will automatically be dismissed.

And you thought this was a free country.

Happily, there are signs that anti-SLAPP madness is finally coming to an end. Setting an important precedent, Justice Vance Raye of the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento denied an anti-SLAPP motion filed by UC Davis against a former employee who claims she was fired for whistleblowing.

“The cure [anti-SLAPP] has become the disease,” wrote Raye. UC’s argument was “ at odds with the purpose of the anti-SLAPP law, which was designed to ferret out meritless lawsuits intended to quell the free exercise of First Amendment rights, not to burden victims of discrimination and retaliation with an earlier and heavier burden of proof than other civil litigants and dissuade the exercise of their right to petition for fear of an onerous attorney fee award.”

Raye’s ruling is a good start. But what’s needed is for the 28 state legislatures in anti-SLAPP states to reform the law.

If you like to read more about the case and/or contribute to my fundraiser – I am not going down without a fight – please click here or go directly to http://gofundme.com/tedrall

(Ted Rall is the author of the graphic biography “Trump: A Graphic Biography.”)

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Breaking Modern Essay: How One Speeding Ticket Can Ruin Your Life

This essay originally appeared at BreakingModern.com:

There once was a time during the 1980s when you could find a parking ticket on your windshield, crumple it up and drive off as if it had never existed. Nothing would happen. Usually. It was worth the risk.

But that time is no more.

I am often asked, to my considerable surprise, by seemingly intelligent people — people who don’t eat their own boogers, people who are capable of holding gainful employment — whether they can blow off and get away with a ticket.

My answer? NO! You cannot!

There are three relatively recent reforms in how municipalities handle petty offenses which make ignoring a parking or desk-appearance ticket (more on this later) a Bad Idea. They include rapidly escalating costs (for example, $75 if you pay within 10 days, $120 within 20 days, $200 within 30, and so on). There now are computer-linked “reciprocity” systems between cities and states (if you get a ticket while driving a rental car in California, they’ll know it was you — and you get slammed with a fine and points on your license back home in Texas). And they also include  computer-issued arrest warrants if you fail to pay or appear in court.

You won’t even know they’re looking for you until a cop stops you for something else down the road and runs your ID. Then it’s all over. And it gets worse …

Beer, Bench Warrant and Busted!

“A single beer put Patrick Lamson-Hall behind bars for 27 hours,” reported The New York Daily News. “The New York University grad student was slapped with a summons and a court date for drinking a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon on a West Village stoop.”

Turns out the 25-year-old Oregon native forgot about both until a pair of cops stopped him — it was months later — for riding his bike on a Brooklyn sidewalk. Within minutes, Lamson-Hall was placed in handcuffs, tossed into a squad car and taken to the 79th Precinct in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He was busted on a bench warrant over his failure to appear in court.

“I assumed they’d have me pay a ticket for the open container,’ said Lamson-Hall afterward. ‘It didn’t occur to me that I was going to  spend the night in jail.’”

Lamson-Hall’s experience is hardly rare. One million New Yorkers — that’s one out of eight city residents — have outstanding warrants for similar “desk-appearance tickets” for offenses like littering or failing to clean their dog’s poo. The vast majority probably have no idea the cops are looking for them.

“Even if you feel that you were in the right, even if you feel that the summons is ridiculous, you need to come to court to resolve it because there are real consequences if you don’t,” says David Bookstaver, a spokesman for New York’s court system. Which brings us to:

The Opposite of Bliss

A parking ticket, a moving violation like a speeding ticket or a desk-appearance ticket for a petty crime (like, soon in New York City, for smoking pot on the street), make sure you make that ticket a top priority in your life.

Ignoring tickets has quite literally ruined countless lives. Some people have even lost their cars and become homeless as a result.

Like in the movie The Terminator, the justice system will not stop, ever, until you pay, show up, or get exonerated.

Put that ticket on your fridge. Read it carefully. Deal with it first thing.

Do You Need to Show Up? Probably, Yeah

There are two kinds of tickets: those that require you to show up in court and those that can be mailed in. Generally, bigger offenses, like driving 20 mph or faster above the speed limit, do require a court appearance. Minor ones, not so much. So read your ticket carefully to see if you need to show up.

If you have a scheduled court date, but can’t make it, you can usually have the date postponed. Call the court or check their website to learn the procedure for requesting a delay, or “continuance.” Living far away isn’t an excuse not to attend. I once had to fly from New York to central Nevada to attend to a speeding violation. This sucked. But it was what it was.

Before we continue with what to do when you get a ticket, however, let’s go back to something you should know before you get one:

Rule Zero: Shut Up! This Cop is Not Your Friend

Citizens and residents of the United States — and tourists, too— have the right not to incriminate themselves. When a cop confronts or pulls you over, he or she is trained to try to get you to incriminate yourself. When a policeman asks: “Do you know how fast you were going?” or “Do you know why I pulled you over?” he or she wants you to admit you were speeding or whatever.

The authorities will use your casual comments and answers in court if you decide to challenge your ticket.

So say nothing. The truth is, you don’t even know why you were stopped. How could you? You don’t know how fast you were going. Speedometers aren’t precise; you can’t read the officer’s mind. Shut up. Use non-committal answers, like “I see.” If asked how fast you think you were going, feel free to claim you were going the legal limit. It’s not even illegal to lie to a cop in this situation and it sure can’t hurt.

Be polite. Keep your interior lights on and your hands on the wheel to avoid freaking out the officer. There’s no point arguing. If the cop asks you whether he or she may “just take a look” inside your vehicle, your answer should always, always be no.

Even if your car is clean, there is no advantage — none, nada — to cooperating.

Be nice. Sometimes that makes all the difference.

Okay, as you were:

Should You Just Pay the Fine?

It’s tempting to send in your check and be done with it. Assuming you pay on time, the court will be satisfied. Regardless, if you decide to do this, be careful. I once got arrested on a desk warrant after Long Island Expressway police failed to credit me for payment for a speeding violation. Now I carry copies of my canceled checks in the glove compartment along with my auto registration! Live and learn.

Parking tickets should be paid promptly in order to avoid escalating fines or even nastier sanctions such as getting your car towed away or clamped by “the Denver boot.” Parking fines are typically relatively low, so it may not be worth it to take time off from your job or to hire a lawyer to try to get them reduced or thrown out.

What if You Really Are Innocent?

Well, that’s an exception. It happens. I got a parking ticket once in Washington, D.C. Neither I nor my car were even there at the time, however. I appealed by mail, presenting proof I was in New York that day and that the model of car wasn’t mine. (The traffic agent probably miswrote the license plate number.) But whatever. I won.

Why You Going to Court is Your Best Chance of Getting Off

If you’ve got several previous tickets and the time to spare, you can get real money knocked off by dressing decently and spending an hour or two in court. I recently got tickets totaling $240 for parking down to $100 just by showing up and explaining that I was confused by new parking regulations.

If you can afford it, moving violations should always be challenged in court, ideally by hiring a lawyer who specializes in traffic tickets in the relevant municipality. Mail appeals tend to be less successful. That’s because the days of getting a speeding ticket, paying it off and forgetting about it are long gone.

Worse, most states now have quietly passed draconian penalties for moving violations i.e. New York State’s “Driver Responsibility Assessment Law.” What this means is that you don’t just pay the fine listed on the ticket. Instead, you pay hundreds of dollars more, even if your license is from another state!

In Virginia, perhaps the most notorious state for this in the Union, speeding is often charged as “reckless driving,” punishable by a year in prison and a $2,500 fine, not to mention a criminal record that’ll follow you mercilessly for the rest of your miserable life.

And then the extra bill arrives in the mail, often months after you plead guilty.

It Doesn’t Take Much to Get Your License Suspended. Get a Lawyer

These days, it doesn’t take much to get your license suspended. In New York, for example, a speeding violation of 20 mph or higher over the limit — say, 76 in a 55 — gets you six points on your license. If you get a second six-point violation within 18 months, they take away your driving privileges. And some auto insurers will jack up your premiums to reflect your need for speed.

In the long run, a lawyer will be cheaper than trusting your fate to the tender mercies of the judiciary.

Most lawyers will charge you less to represent you than you’d pay in fines in the aggregate. You won’t have to show up in court, which means saved personal days.

How can a lawyer help you after you’ve been nabbed with a ticket for something you actually are guilty of? Easy. Lawyers use several tricks to reduce your exposure. They may negotiate your ticket down to a minor offense, like a parking violation, that carries a lesser fine and/or no points. They might schedule your court hearing for a time when your police officer is on vacation, ensuring your case gets thrown out. (That trick, a relic from the old days, still works. Waiting for the cop to not appear in court.)

Or they repeatedly plead for a continuance until the 18-month period when you’re just one ticket away from suspension passes (the clock starts ticking on the day of the alleged offense).

Can’t Afford a Lawyer? How to Act Like One …

If you can’t afford a lawyer — I advise you to beg, steal or borrow to pay one, but anyway — use the lawyerly trick of delaying your court date as long as possible. After your delays run out, show up in court yourself; some judges will reward your deference.

Ask if you can take traffic school to get your points eliminated.

And for God’s sake, drive cautiously. Don’t get another ticket until the passage of 18 months erases the points on your driving record.

Similarly, a desk-appearance ticket is a serious matter. If you’re found guilty, you could wind up with a misdemeanor — yes, a real criminal record! Again, if you have the money, hire a lawyer to work his or her magic. If you’re broke, show up. If you lose, pay right away.

What Happens if You Don’t Pay?

This is not an option. Stop thinking like that! You are going to pay. The only question is when — now or later — and how much — a little or a lot.

Pay later, and you will pay a lot.

This is NOT one of those happy aspects of life that rewards procrastination.

If your failure to appear in court results in your arrest, you could be in for a singularly unpleasant experience, one that could even cost you your job or your life. A former roommate of mine got busted buying a small quantity of pot from an undercover narcotics agent in lower Manhattan. It was noon; he was at lunch. When he wasn’t back at his desk at 1 p.m., his boss was worried. When he didn’t show up for three days (long waits to be processed through the system aren’t rare, especially when there’s a holiday), he became angry — and he fired him.

Then there’s the public beer/bike on the sidewalk guy I mentioned up top. He spent a night in jail — one night in a solitary jail cell with no windows, no water and a broken toilet. Cops refused to let him make a phone call before vanishing for hours.

You Probably Won’t Get Beaten Up in Lock-Up, But …

Yeah. I know. The Constitution is there to protect you. But in the real world, the Constitution often ends the second handcuffs hit your wrists. You’re probably not going to get raped or beaten in the lock-up, but if you need your meds to stay healthy — an asthma inhaler, say — you’re in deep doo doo if they throw you in jail. Standard procedure is to confiscate your drugs and ignore you when you complain.

This can kill people. Not that all authorities care. It’s procedure, like I said.

Even if the state doesn’t get all medieval on you, fines for non-payment are going to pile up exponentially. And thanks to sophisticated license-plate scanning machines that collect hundreds of millions of images per year for collection into a national database out of George Orwell’s worst nightmares, it’s only a matter of time before you get stopped and arrested … or have your car confiscated.

It ain’t fair. It ain’t right. But when you get a ticket, the last thing you want to do is ignore it.

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Archival War

FDR asked Congress for a formal Declaration of War against Germany and Japan. Subsequent presidents asked Congress for various forms of legal justifications to attack other nation-states. Now Obama is further eroding Congress’ right to declare war by relying on obselete and irrelevant authorizations for old conflicts.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Professionals Behaving Badly

http://www.davidicke.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/predator-2-missiles-firing.jpg

The Drone Memo’s Hack Author Should Be In Prison. Instead, He’ll Be a Judge.

Conservatives say, and this is one of their more successful memes, that poor people are immoral. The proles have sex and kids out of wedlock and expect us (i.e., upstanding middle- and upper-class patriots) to pay for them. They steal Medicare and cheat on welfare. They don’t follow The Rules (rules written by, let’s just say, not them). Which makes them Bad.

This was always hogwash, of course. Though it is true that poverty causes people to do bad things, class and morals are uncorrelated. But who’s worse, the poor thief or the wealthy person who refuses to pay him a living wage?

America’s professional class has traditionally enjoyed a privileged position at the top of middlebrow America’s aspirational hierarchy. At the core of our admiration for doctors, lawyers and bankers was the presumption that these learned men and women adhered to strict codes of ethics. Doctors healed, lawyers respected the law and bankers didn’t steal.

When they did, there’d be hell to pay, not least from their brethren.

Evidence abounded that the clay content in the professional class’ metaphorical feet was no lower than anybody else’s. Thanks to recent developments, not least since 2008’s save-the-banks-not-the-people orgy of featherbedding at taxpayer expense, the fiction that we should look up to the technocracy is dying fast.

Not only are some physicians crapping on their Hippocratic oath by carrying out executions of prisoners and participating in the horrific torture of innocent concentration camp inmates, the associations charged with enforcing professional ethics sit on their old-boys-club hands. Big-time judges, depicted in movies as moral giants who love to get medieval on evil dirtbags whether in the mafia or the CIA, act like wimps instead, grumbling under their mint-flossed breath as they sign off on the federally-funded insertion of needles into innocent men’s penises.

Thurgood wept.

I got to thinking about the fall of the professional class after hearing that the White House has finally relented in its incessant stonewalling on the Drone Memo. Finally, we peons will get a peek at a legal opinion that the White House uses to justify using drones to blow up anyone, anywhere, including American citizens on American soil, for any reason the President deems fit.

When the news broke, I tweeted: “This should be interesting.”

I’m a cartoonist, but I can’t imagine any reading of the Constitution — left, right, in Swahili — that allows the president to circumvent due process and habeas corpus. I can’t see how Obama can get around Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333, even after Bush amended it. Political assassinations are clearly proscribed: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” (Yes, even bin Laden.)

I have no doubt that David Barron, who is a professor at the very fancy Harvard Law School and held the impressive title of Former Acting Chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and who furthermore is President Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, did his very bestest with his mad legal skillz to come up with a “kill ’em all, let Obama sort ’em out” memo he could be proud of.

Still, this topic prompts two questions:

What kind of human being would accept such an assignment? Did anyone check for a belly button?

How badly would such a person have to mangle the English language, logic, Constitutional law and legal precedent, in order to extract the justification for mass murder he was asked to produce?

I haven’t seen the drone memo, but Senator Rand Paul has. Whatever legal hocus-pocus Barron deployed didn’t convince Paul. “There is no legal precedent for killing American citizens not directly involved in combat and any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such power to a president is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court,” Paul said in a statement.

I’ll bet my next couple of paychecks that Paul is correct — and that Barron’s sophistry wouldn’t withstand a serious court challenge, not even before a panel of a dozen Antonin Scalias. After all, we’ve been here before.

Shortly after 9/11, Dick Cheney and his cadre of neo-con fanatics ordered the White House Office of Legal Counsel, the same entity behind Barron’s drone memo, to come up with a legal justification to give Bush legal cover for torturing suspected terrorists. When they emerged, the Torture Memos were roundly derided by legal experts as substandard, twisted and perverse readings of the Constitution, treaty obligations and case law. Read them. You’ll see.

In 2010, the Justice Department decided not to file charges against Torture Memo authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee on the grounds that the two men weren’t evil — just dumb. (Can’t they be both?) The Torture Memos, they ruled, were shoddy. That, I’m as sure as I can be about something I haven’t seen yet, will be the case with the drone memo.

As with Yoo and Bybee, both of whom went on to prosper in the legal profession rather than warm the prison cells they both richly deserve, Barron probably won’t lose anything as the result of his work on the drone memo. He’ll be a federal judge.

Yet another heavy stone on the grave of America’s once-vaunted professional class.

(Ted Rall, staff cartoonist and writer for Pando Daily, is author of “Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the New Middle East.” Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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