Saturday, July 14, 2007

Noxious Liquids

I used to have a part-time gig working for the taxi drivers union. My friend's wife's Dad was the founder and President of the union. The union provided health insurance to the drivers, and represented them in contract negotiations with the City. They also offered the members a "legal plan". The main benefit of the legal plan was a free lawyer for traffic court. Actually, a law firm represented the union, and part of their retainer agreement required them to provide lawyers for traffic court. Sometimes the firm just couldn't make all the traffic court appearances. When that happened, yours truly got the call.

I used to mostly go to "Manhattan South" (down by Astor Place.....terrible parking, but a big Starbucks across the street) or "Manhattan North" (126th Street in Harlem....parking not too bad, but no Starbucks). Most of the cases were red-light tickets (there's a surprise). I got pretty good at them, topping out at winning 75% of the time. The way I learned to do it was watching lawyers who went to traffic court every day, and if they were nice, asking for some advice. Most were nice, and after a few visits, I knew how to do it.'s not what this post is about, but I will tell you how I used to win many of the cases. The easiest ones were when the officer didn't show, but that didn't happen too much. Traffic officers have their regular court days, it's part of the job. Any tickets where people plead not guilty get a date that is that officers day. The really good traffic cops were hard to beat, and my 25% losers were with them. They would lay out the case perfectly, and if it ever came down to credibility (drivers word versus the cop, the driver is dead meat). As one of the regulars told me, you NEVER want a traffic case to hinge on credibility.

The way to win, is to know when the officer has left out some element of the "prima facie case". This would be because either the ticket, or the officers testimony, was lacking an essential element of a case. I had a little mental, time, where officer was, light in working order before and after, vehicle kept in continuous view, things like that. Officers who are not strictly traffic guys, cops doing their work who pull someone over and give a ticket, would frequently fill out the ticket wrong OR not testify to the required elements. If they left one out, the Judge would ask them "is there anything else?", and if they couldn't think of anything else, I'd make a motion to dismiss and Beldar Conehead Singh could go on his merry way.

Unfortunately, the union president called me in one day and said, "I'm sorry, but we can't pay you to go to traffic court any more."

Being a stellar businessman I replied "But I can't do it for free."

He said "Of course not, what happened is we need our union law firm to cover ALL the traffic court stuff, and we don't have it in the budget to pay you for the extras, THEY have to get their own people. But don't worry, YOU are gonna do the ECB cases".

I knew that ECB stood for Environmental Control Board, but I didn't see what that had to do with the taxi union.

I said "What are the ECB cases?"

"Well, those are mostly noxious liquids cases."

And so, I got to make the call that every young lawyer dreams about....

"Hi Mom, guess what? I'm starting a new thing, I represent peeing cab drivers."

Actually, there were two main kinds of noxious liquids cases. I called them either "containers" or "squirters". Containers were when a driver poured a "noxious liquid" from a container, usually a coffee cup, into the street. I sometimes wondered how the officer KNEW it was a noxious liquid and not just cold coffee. I also wondered what the officers told THEIR mothers about their job.

A squirter ticket was when the officer actually saw the driver delivering his noxious liquid streetward. Those were difficult to defend, especially if the driver insisted that he didn't do it. I mean, what could you say......I was just.......resting......or something.

I did the noxious liquids cases for about two months. Actually, it was kind of fun. The main reason I stopped was that ECB was somewhere mid-town, and you couldn't park. It was worth doing it, just to be able to tell you about it fifteen years later.

Thanks for listening.

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