Legal Advice

At the bar tonight, I was discussing with a friend a few situations in which I retained the unpaid legal counsel of a good college buddy. My bar friend suggested this might make good blog fodder. So here you go.

Situation #1: Endangering the welfare of schoolchildren

This alleged infraction occurred about two years ago when the State of Washington  conjectures that I was speeding through a school zone.

I composed a five-point legal defense involving constitutional and other irregularities, and I proposed this defense to my friend.

His response: “My advice is to pay the ticket, and to slow down in school zones from now on.”

He continued:

I’m no expert on traffic law or Washington law, but your defenses do not
sound compelling and would probably just annoy the judge (and waste a
lot of everyone’s time, especially your own).  Your “visibility”
arguments are not impressive because, first, the officer’s affidavit
states that there were flashing lights and, second, the logical
implication of your argument is that one need not heed traffic laws at
night (or at 8:30 a.m.), and can drive at any speed you wish, because,
really, who can see signs in the dark?  Now if the particular signs that
were in use here were not reflective or were defective under state law,
that might help you.  But that’s unlikely, and you still have the
flashing lights and the bad atmospherics of your zipping through a
school zone at 8:30 a.m. on a Friday.  The rushed commuter speeding
through a school zone is typically not a candidate for a judge’s pity.

As for “the presumption that the registered owner of the car is the
operator of the car,” are you going to contend that someone else was the
driver?  If so, you have an argument.  If you do not dispute that it was
you driving the car, then the presumption is irrelevant.  Forget about
it.

As to whether a school crosswalk was in the wrong place, should you be
permitted to speed through school crosswalks, as children are going to
school, because the crosswalk painter made an error of a few feet?  I
don’t think so.  You have to heed the posted signs and markings, even if
they were done incorrectly.

Now you might be able to argue that the officer mistakenly ticketed you
at a location where there was no 20 MPH speed limit sign, if he put the
camera in the wrong place.  For that you’d just need proof that the
position of your vehicle (beside that pothole) was not within a 20 MPH
zone.  But it sounds like it was within such a zone.

All that said, it may be that merely challenging the ticket will have a
helpful effect for you, in terms of a reduction or dismissal.  Probably
the officer would need to show up at the hearing to testify to the facts
in his affidavit, and you likely could cross-examine him (although
fruitful areas of cross-examinatino would be few).  He might not show up
at all, in which case the ticket might be dismissed.  To know you’d need
to talk to a traffic lawyer, which would cost more than the ticket.  Or
you could just show up at court.  You’ll get laughed at making arguments
about the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments in traffic court, unless you
get the ACLU or somebody to take your case.  If it were me, I’d just pay
the damn ticket and be grateful that your taxes are lower because the
state is aggressively pursuing reckless criminal speeders who endanger
our children in school zones, rather than imposing another latte tax
that would adversely impact citizens like yourself who aspire to be
law-abiding.

Awesome. I did choose the “pay the damn ticket” option.

Situation #2: Dog Walking

We hired a dog walker for Lulu. We’re quite happy with her services. Our dog walker did make us sign a contract, and I consulted my friend to understand the details.

First – this is mostly to satisfy my curiosity since I am going to
sign the contract anyway, but at least I am not trying to get out of a
ticket this time…

What does this mean?

“<dog walker> agrees to provide the services stated in this agreement
in a reliable, caring and trustworthy manner. In consideration of
these services and as an express condition thereof, the client
expressly waives and relinquishes any and all claims against <dog walker>.”

If I am reading this right, she only agrees to provide services in a
reliable, etc manner if I waive claims. So in effect, the first part
of this is just filler to make me feel good?

Yes, I am hiring a dog walker…pathetic, I know.

My friend’s legal interpretation:

It means that even though she says she will be nice, she can hack your
dog to pieces with an axe with no consequence.

She also can rob your house and poison your coffee.

Fortunately none of the above has happened so far.

Situation #3: Whales

Meagan hates when I tell this story since I tend to take forever telling it.

Seven years ago, a group of college buddies decided to head up from Seattle to the San Juan Islands to go kayaking for Summer Solstice.

Early that cloudy Saturday morning, we drove north to Anacortes and took the ferry to San Juan Island. Our guide greeted us in Friday Harbor, and we packed the van and headed to the point of departure.

I am sure our guide was worried about what she was in for right from the start. The cloudy weather had turned to a slight drizzle, but we were in good spirits nonetheless. Our lawyer friend was sitting in the front seat, and started chatting up our guide.

“What’s the forecast for today?”

“Hard to say, but hopefully it should be clearing up.”

Some time passes.

“What’s the whale forecast for today?”

“We’ve been seeing whales most days this week.”

“Do whales seek shelter in the rain?”

Oh boy.

Our guide, taking things in stride, stated that the whales weren’t too bothered by the weather and there was still a good chance we’d see the orcas.

A little more time passes, and, shortly before we arrived, our guide handed us a legal release form.  One of us asked our legal friend: “As our attorney, do you recommend that we sign this document?”

He responded: “It’s unconscionable contract of adhesion – just sign it.”

“What’s an unconscionable contract of adhesion?”

“Well, let’s put it like this. Two months ago, we decided, ‘Hey, let’s go kayaking in the San Juans for Summer Solstice.’ So, we organize the trip, some people fly in from out of town, they take our credit cards, the trip is paid for. We drive two hours from Seattle, hop on a ferry, and arrive on the island. They pick us up in a van. We’re mere moments away from kayaking and a cute girl hands you a piece of paper which effectively means ‘Sign this in order to go kayaking.’”

“What are you going to do? Not sign it? I highly doubt it. It’s an unconscionable contract of adhesion, just sign it. It’s legally worthless.”

And then our lawyer pauses as he turns to our driver/guide.

“No offense.”

And that was the start of our epic whaling adventure. We had a great time, despite repeated admonitions to some in our group not to go chasing the orcas from their kayaks. Our guide seemed to warm to our group, despite our shenanigans. At the end of the day, we headed for the ferry and made the return voyage to Seattle.

Until relatively recently, that was the whole story.

Situation #4: Lawyers and Doctors

And then, there was a med school party. I think the email that I sent to the crew entitled “The funniest thing happened the other night” tells the story best.

I was at a small party on Friday night with some of Meagan’s med school friends.

Before dinner, Meagan and some of the med school crew was at a
“Medical Malpractice” mixer sponsored by the first year law school
class to “socialize” with the med school class. Sketchy. Anyway, we
were chatting about that, and discussing legal stuff, and somehow,
software user licenses came up – Meagan asked “are those things even
enforceable? you just download a piece of software and click a button
that says yes”. This reminded me of our kayaking excursion from
several years back when <our lawyer friend> was discussing unconscionable
contracts of adhesion.

So I started telling that story (it’s one of my favorites), talking
about whales seeking shelter in the rain, etc and us asking <lawyer>
what he thought about the release form.

Meanwhile, <Meagan’s friend> is in the other room, overhearing bits of the story,
but apparently not the important ones – she just heard that we had
gone kayaking in the San Juans. She said that she used to give
kayaking tours on San Juan Island. She asked if I remembered who our
tour company was. I didn’t and then she mentioned a few, and when she
said <kayaking company>, I said, that’s the one. She then asked if we
remembered who our tour guide was. I said I didn’t remember her name,
but it was a nice girl from Vermont – as I was saying this, I was
suddenly remembering that <Meagan’s friend> was from Vermont, had spent some time in the Northwest before med school doing outdoorsy stuff, and started
thinking that she bore a pretty good resemblance to our tour guide.
She asked whether we were that large group of people with the two who
kept on chasing the Orcas! I was like, yup, that would be us, and
reconfirmed it when retelling the parts about <lawyer> being in the
front seat.

Anyway, apparently we were her first solo trip and remembers us well
and thought we were a fun group, despite the challenges we presented. Anytime a subsequent group asked about the contract,
she would say “well, on my first trip, there was a lawyer sitting in
the front seat…”.

I still can’t believe the coincidence and thought you guys would get a
kick out of the story.

Maybe writing this story down will mean that I don’t have to tell it quite so often, but somehow I doubt it.

In the time since these incidents have happened, I keep a keen eye for photo traffic cameras (but apparently not for state troopers on I-90), our dog hasn’t been hacked to pieces, and I read release forms a little more carefully (most ski and bike operations are actually pretty good at giving you enough time to opt out, avoiding the “unconscionable contract of adhesion” problem).

But it’s likely a good thing that I keep my friend’s email address handy.

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