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Working with Your Lawyer to Get the Best Results (and to Avoid Mistakes!)

Revised 11 March 2017

Sometimes people call and say that five or six (or ten!) years ago they got a ticket in Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill. They say they hired a lawyer to take care of it. Now they are unable to renew their license because of the ticket they thought the lawyer they had hired all those years ago had resolved it.  They then hire me to reopen the case and take care of it. How might we might prevent these problems?

Help Head Off a Problem

Even though lawyers are expected to represent their clients competently and reliably, Rule 1 is that it is still your case. Please don’t hire a lawyer and then forget about it. Follow up. Let’s take the example of a traffic case like the one above. After your court date give your lawyer a day or two to contact you with the results, but if you don’t hear from them within three or four days, call or email your lawyer.  If it turns your your lawyer missed the court date, it’s easy to fix the problem so early in the process.

 Most lawyers are glad for such follow-up. It helps prevent a minor mistake like a missed court date from snowballing into something much more serious, like a license revocation (a consequence that will leave the lawyer scrambling to clean up).

This advice is similar to what many medical groups advise to avoid medical errors. An excellent article by Debra Wood, RN of Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center urged patients to not just let things be done to them, but to take an active role to make sure they are getting the right medicines and procedures. “How can you avoid a medical mistake? ‘Patients are the center of the health care team,’ says Cathy Barry-Ipema, spokesperson for the Joint Commission . . . . You need to be an active participant. You need to be informed, and if something does not seem right, ask . . . .”

That same principle applies to your legal case.

Plan B

Now suppose you have not followed up and your lawyer has missed your court date.  Sticking with our traffic example, several weeks after your missed court date, you get a letter from DMV saying that you missed your court date and that if you don’t take care of the case by such-and-such a date, your license will be revoked.   You think, “Hey, I hired a lawyer to resolve that for me!”  What should you do?   Call (or email) your lawyer now!! Here’s a suggested script:  “Good morning, Ms. Florrick,* I got a letter from DMV today saying that my license is scheduled for revocation because I didn’t go to court last month. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the case I hired you for.  Would you check on that for me?  Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.”

When attorney Florrick hears that message, she’s going to go into high gear to straighten this out before the suspension date listed in your DMV letter.   And because you called her as soon as you discovered her mistake, it may be possible to correct this without incurring late fees or other penalties.

Even if you find it hard to deliver such a civil phone message as the one I described above (i.e.,  your phone message is more like, “Ms. Florrick!! I hired you to take care of that case for me, and DMV now says you didn’t. What kind of sloppy operation are you running?) it’s still better to call your lawyer than to just ignore the problem.  Why?  Remember Rule 1.

And believe it or not, Lawyer Florrick would rather hear from you, whether or not your message is polite,  than for her mistake to snowball and cause a missed court date to become a suspended driver’s license.

Kjd

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*The names used in this post are totally random and have no connection to any person, real or fictional!!

 

 

 

Durham City Code Violations

Updated Jan. 9, 2016

Another tool we might use to avoid insurance and driver’s license points, at least in Durham,  is the “City Code Violation.”  Here’s how it works.  When you get a ticket the officer charges you under the North Carolina General Statutes. Many cities, including Durham, have city traffic laws that track some of the State traffic statutes.   When the D.A. agrees to re-charge you under one of these city laws instead of under the state statute, no insurance or license points result — the charges don’t even show up on your record.

About the only downside of a city code violation is you have to pay the fine and court costs that same day (unlike in most traffic cases, in which you have up to 40 days after court to pay).

Think a city code violation might be what you need?  Give me a call!  919-683-2175

“Oops! I missed my court date.”

Revised 6 February 2014 

Missing a court date can be frustrating.  I’d be happy to help you out!  Give me a call at 919-683-2175

If you forgot to go to traffic court last week (or last month, or last year, or five years ago), I probably can help you avoid some or all of the consequences.

The first situation I will discuss is the very-recently-missed court date.  By “recent” I mean within the past 20 days.  If it has been 20 days or less since you missed your court date, I can ask for a new court date.  Then, on that new date, I handle the case in the normal fashion, and you probably will have avoided the consequences of missing your court date.

If your missed court date was more than 20 days ago, the clerk of court will notify the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV).  DMV then will send you a letter stating that  unless you take care of the ticket by such-and-such a date, your license will be suspended. In that situation, you will need to get a new court date and resolve the ticket before the suspension date listed on DMV’s letter.

An unpleasant consequence that  kicks in after 20 days is the failure-to-appear (“FTA”) fee.  Unless you have a really good excuse for missing your court date and then not resolving it within the first 20 days, the court adds a $200 late fee to your court costs.  (That’s  harsh,  especially since until a few years ago the FTA fee was only $50. . . .)  In any case, we sometimes can get the court to forgive the late fee, but you do need to have a good excuse — more than it just slipped your mind.

Sometimes people will call me, often from another state, saying that they went to their local DMV to get their license renewed and were told that their license was suspended because of an unresolved ticket in North Carolina from two — or ten! — years ago.  In that situation, the process is basically the same. I file a motion to reopen the old case, and we work out a plea reduction if possible, and enter the plea.  You then pay the fine and court costs (including the $200 late fee in almost all of those cases).

In many old cases there is one more step before you are “cleared” to renew your license.  North Carolina DMV may charge a fee  to remove you from the national database of persons who are blocked from getting a license because of unresolved tickets.  Click here to read my post about that.

So, it’s a good idea to take care of your ticket on your court date.  But everybody makes mistakes, and if you’ve  missed your court date, there are ways to straighten things out.