For all of our readers with a lead foot, today Latwin discusses speeding tickets.
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By Joe Latwin
Reader Ellie asks, “I am not sure if there was ever an article addressing a dispute between a Rye resident and a small business in the area”. Dear Ellie, I refer you to Holding Court: Civil Cases in Rye – Small Claims and Commercial Claims (February 7, 2023) and Holding Court: Civil Cases in Rye – Monetary Damages & Landlord-Tenant (January 31, 2023) for articles about the Rye City Court’s civil jurisdiction. But let’s take a closer look.
First a word of caution. Would you consider doing surgery on yourself? How about wiring the electrical service for your house? Probably not, unless you are trying to recreate a Three Stooges movie. Trying cases can be equally difficult. Remember the quote attributed to Abe Lincoln, a noted trial lawyer himself, but first actually attributed to William De Britaine in his 1682 book “Humane Prudence, Or, the Art by Which a Man May Raise Himself and Fortune to Grandeur”, in essence, “A man who represents himself, has a fool for a lawyer.” Benjamin Franklin, on the TV show “Bewitched” (a highly respected legal authority) added “and a jackass for client.”
A brilliant, handsome and modest Rye judge (guess who) wrote:
“This appears to be yet another example that Small Claims is often a snare for the unwary. Perhaps beguiled by televised simulated court programming, the public are misled into the belief that in a 22-minute segment, if you tell your story and it seems unfair, then you will prevail. Here, the plaintiff appears to have done extensive research. He intelligently presented his arguments. However, his unfamiliarity with the laws of evidence and what and how to frame and prove his case was his downfall. Unfamiliarity with what the law required to sustain the burden of proof and the need for witnesses or sufficient evidence in admissible form to prove the case creates false expectations that reduce the chances of a settlement and may result in falling short of the desired outcome at trial. If you don’t know what you need to prove and what evidence is needed to prove it, you are working blindfolded and as likely to have success hitting your target as would a blindfolded archer. To avoid the expenses of an attorney with training and knowledge of the law and how to prove the required facts, he lost his claim. This is unfortunate and unjust.”
The problem is one of economics. If your claim is for $5,000, how much time can your attorney spend on your case. If your attorney charges a modest $200 per hour, the legal fees will equal the recovery at 25 hours. At a minimum, there will be a preliminary court conference, gathering of evidence, preparation of witnesses and documents for trial, and a trial (if no settlement) – that’s already a bunch of hours. If the case is about your dry cleaner losing your $200 dress, how can an attorney afford to handle your case at all, let alone well? You are probably on your own.
Of course, I have a practical solution! Do what my wife did; marry a lawyer! By the way, as a retired judge, I am allowed to solemnize marriages.