Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent lawsuit filed by Startup app TIKD Services against The Florida Bar and the Ticket Clinic law firm for, inter alia, antitrust violations and the Bar’s Motion to Disqualify its former president, Ramón A. Abadin from representing TIKD, claiming that he was privy to privileged and confidential communications and information related to the matter. The case is TIKD Services LLC, v. The Florida Bar, et al., Case No. 1:17-cv-24103-MGC (U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida-Miami Division).
The owner of the company, Chris Riley, says he got the idea for TIKD after he received a speeding ticket in Miami and had to pay a lawyer and was assessed fines and costs. He then came up with an app to help motorists challenge their tickets without having to go to court. The app permits the ticketed person to upload a photo of the ticket and pay a fixed amount. TIKD then retains an attorney to represent that person and, if he or she is ultimately is assessed with points against his or her license, TIKD refunds the payment and also pays the cost of the ticket. The TIKD business model is based on the fact that contested traffic tickets are often dismissed or a lower fine is assessed and, since TIKD deals in volume, it can charge a lower price than a lawyer who is separately retained by an individual.
The Florida Bar issued a staff opinion finding that lawyers who work with TIKD and similar programs could be in violation of various Florida Bar ethics rules, including fee splitting and interference with the lawyer’s independent professional judgment. TIKD states that its services fully comply with Florida Bar ethics rules and that lawyers who represent the individuals receive a flat fee and are independent practitioners “over whom TIKD does not exercise any direction or control.”
TIKD subsequently filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging conspiracy, restraint of trade, tortious interference with business relationships, and antitrust violations. The lawyers representing TIKD include Ramón A. Abadin, a recent former President of the Florida Bar. The defendants include, among others, The Florida Bar and attorney Mark S. Good, who founded The Ticket Clinic; which has offices in Florida, Georgia and California.
According to the federal lawsuit, The Florida Bar advised TIKD that it was opening an unlicensed practice of law investigation into the company’s activities after the company was featured in a Miami Herald story. A few months later, attorneys with The Ticket Clinic, a Miami law firm that handles traffic tickets, threatened to report two of TIKD’s lawyers to the Bar if they continued to work with TIKD. Litigation was later filed and the parties reached a settlement last August; however, TIKD alleges that the Bar and the Miami lawyer firm continued a “concerted effort” to put it out of business and that Ticket Clinic lawyers continued filing “baseless ethics complaints” against attorneys represent TIKD customers.
On December 1, 2017, The Florida Bar filed a Motion to Disqualify Ramón A. Abadin alleging that, during his 2015-16 term as president, he “was provided attorney-client and attorney work-product communications and advice about and involving the specific antitrust issues and allegations asserted in this action”, including an amicus brief that was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case of North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, 135 S. Ct. 1101 (2015). In that opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the N.C. dental board did not have state action immunity because its decisions were final and not subject to review. The Florida Bar joined in an amicus brief in that case arguing state action immunity should apply.
Bottom line: This appears to be the one of the first cases filed in Florida which directly alleges that The Florida Bar’s procedures violate the Sherman Antitrust Act based upon the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission. As an added element of intrigue, the Bar’s very recent former president was among the lawyers filing the complaint and the Bar has filed a motion to disqualify him from the matter.
Stay tuned…and be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150
Clearwater, Florida 33761
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670