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Florida Bar Says Ticket App Practiced Law Without a License

March 2, 2020, 10:53 AM

The app offered to simplify one of the most arduous aspects of commuting in South Florida: disputing traffic tickets.

Drivers just had to upload photos of their tickets, pay a flat fee, and get on with their lives as quickly as the traffic around Miami would allow. The app, TIKD, would find an attorney to take the case to court, and the traffic fines could be reduced or dismissed.

But the startup hit a speed bump when traffic ticket attorneys complained to the Florida Bar that TIKD and its founder, Christopher Riley, were practicing law without a license.

And now the Florida Supreme Court will consider whether TIKD poses a legal risk to its customers or merely represents the evolution of legal technology. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 4.

While other, unrelated apps offering similar services are emerging in the marketplace, TIKD is currently unavailable to drivers in Florida or elsewhere.

“TIKD has temporarily paused its traffic ticket service, pending the outcome of the arguments before the Supreme Court,” Riley said in an email.

A state circuit judge appointed by the state’s highest court to be a referee in the case has recommended dismissing the bar’s claims.

“The fact that TIKD, rather than the customer, pays the attorney does not convert TIKD’s services into the practice of law. It is permissible for a third party to pay an attorney on behalf of a client, if the relationship is disclosed,” Florida 11th Circuit Judge Teresa Pooler wrote in a January 2019 report to the court.

Riley said the company anticipates the state Supreme Court “will uphold the findings of the referee and we look forward to bringing TIKD back in a big way shortly after.”

Lawyers with The Ticket Clinic, a Miami-based law firm specializing in traffic citations, first filed a bar complaint about TIKD in 2017. The firm argued that TIKD had an unfair competitive advantage over members of the bar because its advertising and operations were not governed by bar rules.

Mike Gold, founder of The Ticket Clinic, compared TIKD’s debut in 2016 to the early days of now-ubiquitous apps for such companies as Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc., when they promoted their services even as they repeatedly ran afoul of city codes.

“But this isn’t a ride to the airport. This is a legal issue,” Gold said in an interview.

TIKD’s advertising and online presence aren’t all that different from those of The Ticket Clinic, he said.

“The real problem is there is nobody to regulate them,” Gold said. “I have to submit my advertising to the bar, and they have to approve it first. But these guys don’t.”

TIKD filed a federal antitrust complaint in 2017 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, asserting that the bar was conspiring with The Ticket Clinic to drive TIKD out of business. The lawsuit was dismissed last May.

In filings with the Florida Supreme Court, TIKD compared its contracts with independent law firms to those of a liability insurance carrier that retains and pays attorneys to represent customers who pay premiums.

TIKD’s website and terms of service say the company was neither a law firm nor offering legal advice, according to screenshots submitted with court filings. But the website also cautioned drivers that hiring lawyers on their own could be expensive and a “hassle.”

The company assured drivers its data showed that many tickets challenged in court ended up being reduced or dismissed. It offered refunds if drivers received points on their licenses. Traffic tickets for “moral hazard violations,” such as DUI or excessive speeding, were not accepted.

“Since TIKD handles so many tickets, we know with a pretty high degree of certainty what is going to happen to a particular type of ticket, and therefore how much it’s going to cost us. Because our costs are lower than the average fine amount we’re able to cover the cost of the attorney for you,” the website said, according to court documents.

That website content is no longer available online because TIKD has suspended its services.

In Miami-Dade County in 2018, there were over 430,000 non-criminal moving violations, such as improper lane change or running a red light, according to the most recent data available from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. There also were over 205,000 non-moving infractions, such as improper parking, seat belt violations or expired tags.

TIKD’s business model doesn’t fit the current regulatory framework, according to a supportive amicus brief filed by Consumers for a Responsive Legal System, which has advocated for online legal referral companies, and the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego School of Law.

The bar fears technologies like TIKD will cut into attorneys’ bottom lines, the groups said, noting that regulators also initially hesitated to accept payment of legal fees by credit card until that innovation became commonplace for other businesses.

The bar doesn’t comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Francine Walker said.

TIKD’s technology “should be encouraged by the bar as a logical expansion of access to justice in the modern age,” attorneys for the company said in court filings.

TIKD was operating in the Miami and Tampa metro areas, four Maryland counties, two California counties, and Washington, D.C., when the Florida Bar challenged its operations.

The case is The Florida Bar vs. TIKD LLC, Fla., SC18-149

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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