(TNS) — Who wouldn’t like the easy convenience of a smartphone app to deal with a traffic ticket?
Traffic ticket lawyers, that’s who.
They call the app unfair competition, saying the business of contesting traffic citations must be handled by licensed pros. But consumer advocates say the ticket firms are just mad the app threatens to take a cut of their profits.
Now, this traffic ticket turf war has escalated up to the Florida Supreme Court. Justices set arguments for March 4 to help them decide whether the app should be allowed or shut down.
All the fuss started after a Coral Gables firm called TIKD started an app and website three years ago.
Motorists in Miami-Dade, Broward and other counties were invited to “spend two minutes or less” taking a photo of the ticket, uploading it, and paying a fee based on the fine amount.
“Get on with other things while TIKD hires a qualified attorney on your behalf to challenge your ticket,” the website explained.
It wasn’t long before traffic-ticket goliath The Ticket Clinic filed an “unlicensed practice of law” complaint with The Florida Bar, charging that TIKD’s founder isn’t a lawyer.
The Bar investigated and agreed TIKD needed to be stopped.
It petitioned the state’s highest court in early 2018, arguing the app advertised its traffic ticket defense as the “equivalent of or a substitute for the services of an attorney.”
Lawyers representing TIKD fired back that its leader, Christopher Riley, “is not, and has never claimed to be, an attorney.”
The company insisted it stays out of the courtroom, paying licensed lawyers to help TIKD’s customers.
“Deploying innovative technology, TIKD provides a consumer-oriented solution to a common problem: resolving traffic tickets,” wrote Christopher M. Kise, a lawyer for the company and Riley.
Earlier this year, TIKD scored a victory when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler issued a report rejecting the Florida Bar’s arguments.
“TIKD furthers the consuming public’s interest by providing a speedy, efficient and relatively painless way to deal with traffic tickets,” Pooler wrote, recommending that the Supreme Court dismiss the claims against TIKD.
The judge explained the app clearly doesn’t tout itself as a provider of legal services.
Pooler called the app convenient, because, “Just looking for an attorney can be confusing and overwhelming. The internet is full of traffic ticket lawyers and some traffic ticket lawyers even send out letters to drivers who have tickets offering representation.”
But lawyers for the Bar responded that the judge got it all wrong, and failed to grasp TIKD’s operations.
Algeisa Vazquez, counsel for the Bar, wrote that the app’s “technology is merely a virtual door to a nonlawyer owned and operated traffic ticket defense law firm.”
For now, however, it appears that TIKD isn’t up and running.
Lawyers for the company and its founder did not respond to emails and a call to their Tallahassee office.
The legal fight continues, though. To help the state Supreme Court sort it out, groups of lawyers and public interest groups have weighed in.
In support of the Florida Bar, The Ticket Clinic joined other traffic ticket attorneys from around the state in sounding an alarm over the app.
They say that allowing TIKD would lead to disaster in the practice of law.
“Anyone will be able to hang up a shingle and sell legal services, even though he or she is not a member of The Florida Bar,” two lawyers wrote on behalf of the ticket attorneys. “In this new world, it will be permissible for legal services to be sold not just by non-lawyers, but also by … disbarred lawyers … individuals with criminal records, and anyone else who desires to do so.”
But TIKD has its backers, too. Two consumer-protection groups joined in a brief filed July 29.
One is Consumers for a Responsive Legal System, a national nonprofit that says it works to “make the civil legal system more affordable, accessible, and accountable to the people.” The other is Center for Public Interest Law, based at the University of San Diego School of Law.
They believe the Florida Bar’s fight against the app comes down to money. The petition to stop TIKD “reflects the legal profession’s fear that this technological revolution will usurp attorneys’ market share and dominance of the legal-services market,” wrote Raoul G. Cantero, a Miami attorney, representing the interest groups.
The consumer groups say the app’s new business model should be embraced by the legal community.
“This innovative approach,” Cantero wrote, “helps address the unmet civil legal needs of many average consumers.”
©2019 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.