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By Jordan W. Charness

I get a lot of phone calls from people who read this column and want to ask me for my advice. If I am available I try to answer if it’s something simple and quick but sometimes the situations are much too complicated to give an easy response over the phone. Sending me an e-mail will sometimes get a response, but more often will lead to a topic for one of these columns.

Usually, I’m very happy to receive your feedback and comments and see what your questions are so I know what’s on your mind and how to structure future columns. There is, however, one type of phone call that I get way too often. These are what I call “After-The-Fact Calls.”

Let’s take one that I received from Neil on Thursday. Neil is one of those people who thinks they can do everything and do it well. Being a lawyer is not necessarily one of those things that you can just fake, but since most people represent themselves in traffic court, it’s no surprise that many people feel that they can easily handle something as simple as a ticket for running a stop sign all by themselves.

And that’s what Neil thought. He called me on Thursday to say that he was in court on Wednesday to explain to the judge what had happened to him and why he was sure he did not deserve the ticket. The judge ruled against him; now he was angry with the judge and the system and with me for some reason, even though I had never spoken to him before.

Here’s his story:

Several months ago he was stuck in somewhat slow-moving traffic as he approached an intersection with a stop sign. The four cars ahead of him each stopped and looked both ways to make sure that it was safe to proceed across the intersection. In each case, Neil moved up one car length.

The car ahead of him was a Smart Car, one of those two-seaters that is really, really short in length. The Smart Car came to a full stop. Neil stopped behind him and looked both ways. Since he was only a short way from the stop sign and could see traffic on both sides, he figured that he had stopped enough. After all he had already stopped four times when each of the other cars ahead of him came to their full stops. Neil just went through the intersection and the police gave him a ticket for failing to stop at the stop sign.

Neal explained all this to the judge who was less than impressed. He reminded Neil that he had an obligation to stop at the stop sign, at the line. According to law you cannot stop behind the line or ahead of it and consider that you have stopped at a stop sign in the eyes of the law. Neil lost and was found guilty.

When Neil called me he still felt that he was right and wanted me to tell him so, or something. Actually, I’m not quite sure what the purpose of his call was, after-the-fact. And, in any case, I had to agree with Judge because, according to the law, Neil had not stopped properly at the stop sign.

Next week we will look into appealing a traffic ticket when you really think that you are right and the judge got it wrong.

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