Lawyers Troll Traffic Tix for Clients

Get a traffic ticket in New Jersey and the next thing you receive may be a letter from a lawyer offering his or her services. Lawyers are trolling traffic records and sending solicitation letters to ticketed drivers, and now state legislators have introduced a bill that would criminalize the practice, according to a report today from NorthJersey.com. Meanwhile, some police chiefs are taking matters into their own hands, blacking out large portions of accident reports. State Sen. Joseph Vitale says the practice is “ambulance chasing by another name” and “degrades the profession.”

Two problems with these responses, of course. One is that the First Amendment protects lawyers in sending out these letters. The other is that these traffic reports are public records open to lawyers and anyone else, and the police have no right to redact them. Even when it comes to traffic-ticket trolling, taste can’t trump the law.

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  • This is not new. In 1999, while coming home from a combined ABA meeting and vacation, I picked up a speeding ticket in North Carolina. I received several solicitations from N.C. practitioners to represent me.

    Instead, I paid the ticket and wrote it off as a CLE expense. After all, the officer did provide me with a concise, but direct, lecture on various aspects of the motor vehicle laws in North Carolina.

  • Not sure what is so objectionable about lawyers informing potential clients that they have a right to be represented by counsel should they choose to challenge their traffic ticket in court. My guess is that these state legislators and police chiefs are afraid that should more citizens challenge their tickets, this would create more work for police officers who would have to appear in court (i.e., drive up costs) while possibly result in fewer people opting to pay their fines and head to traffic school (i.e., reduce revenues). Legislators passing dubious laws when more pressing problems exist really degrades the profession, if we count politics as a profession.

  • One of the cases I had my Con Law class read last night was Florida Bar v. Went For It, Inc. (1995). The Florida Bar had forbidden lawyers from contacting (directly or through lawyer-referral agencies) potential clients in personal injury or wrongful death cases. The Supreme Court upheld the regulation against a First Amendment challenge.