A Coral Gables tech startup that allows drivers to fight their traffic tickets from their smartphones says the Florida Bar and The Ticket Clinic are conspiring to drive it out of business. TIKD has taken its fight to federal court, filing suit against both the state Bar and the private ticket-defense law firm.
Earlier this year, TIKD launched its tech-enabled service and says it has served more than 5,000 people. TIKD is not a law firm, but instead uses independent lawyers to resolve the tickets at a cost that is 15 to 20 percent less than the ticket fee. Since then, founder and CEO Christopher Riley said, The Ticket Clinic has been thwarting its efforts to build a business at every turn.
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In addition to filing complaints with the Florida Bar claiming that TIKD is practicing law without a license, The Ticket Clinic has filed grievances against lawyers who have represented a TIKD customer, threatening to have them disbarred, the lawsuit said. The actions have caused TIKD to pull out of 14 counties in Florida, and resulted in at least $3.8 million in lost revenue, Riley estimates.
“We are confident that the lawsuit has absolutely no merit,” said Mark S. Gold, CEO of The Ticket Clinic. Gold said The Ticket Clinic has 28 offices in Florida, 15 offices in California, and its 40 full-time attorneys have resolved more than 5 million cases.
The Florida Bar has abetted the anti-competitive conduct by dragging out its investigation, now going on for 10 months, into the allegations that seek to stop TIKD from doing business in the state, TIKD said in its suit. “The Florida Bar, through its agents, engaged in a concerted effort to exclude TIKD from the Relevant Market by enabling and reinforcing the Ticket Clinic’s anti-competitive propaganda campaign,” the suit said.
“Obviously Chris Riley is acting out of desperation, hoping to stop the inevitable injunction that we expect to come done from the Bar at any moment,” Gold said. “Regardless of the spin his PR company puts on it, in my opinion, Riley and TIKD are violating the law, specifically, the unlicensed practice of law. Not only is that a Bar violation, it is a crime, under Florida Statute 454.23, which prohibits the unlicensed practice of law, which constitutes a felony of the third degree. Given the attention he has drawn to himself, I’m surprised he hasn’t been arrested yet.”
The Florida Bar has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Representing TIKD is Ramón Abadin, a recent past president of the Florida Bar. Abadin and Riley, in an interview Thursday, said the lawsuits were a last resort because TIKD had repeatedly tried to meet with the Florida Bar and has been shut out.
“The Bar, which I know well, says it wants to protect the public and that is good, the public needs protection, but not in this case,” said Abadin, partner at Sedgwick LLP. “It doesn’t seem that this model does anything but help the public, help lawyers, and facilitate a transaction that is more difficult than it should be, and that’s what Chris has come up with. We are hopeful at some point to get to a resolution but are prepared and highly confident we will prevail in federal court.
“As we move into the technology world, the providers of services need to engage that technology,” he continued. “And the Bar unfortunately doesn’t see it that way. These rules are from the 1950s. The rules have a basicly good premise – they just have to be adapted to the digital age.”
In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida this week, TIKD is seeking damages of more than $11.4 million, a temporary and permanent injunction of anti-competitive practices and a jury trial.
“Very quickly we were in 18 counties in the state,” Riley said. “Today we are operating in four counties in the state [Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Pinellas], our access to the marketplace has been severely restricted, it has impaired our ability to expand throughout the state, it’s raised our costs and occupied my time as well as others. This lawsuit is an effort to force this behavior to stop and to recover the damages that have been caused to us through both of their actions, which has been substantial,” said Riley, a tech entrepreneur who also is an executive in an energy business.
Despite difficulties in Florida, Riley said TIKD’s national expansion is on track and no issues with Bars have surfaced in other states.
“This is a national company,” Riley said. “We’ve been fighting these battles in Florida but simultaneously we have been executing our national rollout and that has been going very well. Today, in addition to Florida, we operate in Georgia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and California and will continue to aggressively roll out across the country.”
Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.