Want to fight a traffic ticket with your phone? Lawyers want to stop you

A Coral Gables tech startup launched a service that offered drivers an easy way to get their minor traffic tickets dismissed with less hassle – and no points on their record. Just upload the ticket through its web app, founder and CEO Christopher Riley said, and TIKD would take it from there.

But a brick-and-mortar competitor claims that TIKD has run a legal red light. The Florida Bar is in the early stages of a lengthy process that possibly could put the brakes on the app in Florida.

The charge: that TIKD is practicing law without a license.

TIKD says it’s not practicing law in disclaimers on its website, but the Florida Bar isn’t so sure. It is considering whether to go forward with litigation against the startup, which is not owned or run by lawyers.

Ted Hollander, an attorney with The Ticket Clinic, filed the initial Florida Bar complaint on the heels of dueling lawsuits between TIKD and the Ticket Clinic that were settled and withdrawn. TIKD had claimed Ticket Clinic was obstructing its business by threatening lawyers; Ticket Clinic, a 30-year-old law firm that specializes in traffic tickets and has offices across the state, said TIKD was violating Florida Bar rules and misleading consumers.

The Florida Bar is exploring the matter. First, a standing committee within the Bar needs to approve proceeding with the litigation, a process that could take months, said Jacquelyn Plasner Needelman, counsel for the the Florida Bar’s Unlicensed Practice of Law Department. If approved, a petition could then be filed in the Florida Supreme Court by the Florida Bar. The case could be resolved or could go to trial; there are a lot of unknowns. “This is at the beginning of the process,” she said.

“The process takes time, but I am confident that the Bar will take the necessary steps to end this service. The Bar rules are in place to protect the public and to entrust licensed attorneys with ethical and moral responsibility,” Hollander said.

In the meantime, for consumers who like the idea of using technology to help rid their life of a traffic ticket, TIKD is open for business as usual, said Riley. TIKD charges the consumer a fee of 15 to 30 percent below the ticket fine and uses a network of vetted independent lawyers to handle the ticket cases; if the driver loses, TIKD will pay the fines and refund the fees, it says.

As for the long term, the jury is still out as the Florida Bar explores the situation. Riley said he has assembled a legal team to fight, if it comes to that. “This product helps people and is not a violation,” he said.

More than 3,000 consumers have used the service since it launched in the Miami area early this year, according to TIKD. Along with markets around Florida, including Orlando and the Tampa Bay area, TIKD recently launched in Atlanta and the Baltimore/Washington metro areas.

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