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Have your day in court

When Dawn Moffatt ran into the back of a rig during a rainy night 10 years ago, she was lucky to walk away unscathed, at least physically. A careless driving charge with a hefty fine and demerit points had the then-20-year-old worried her insurance would skyrocket. She decided to fight it, hiring a traffic-ticket expert to represent her in court.

The Cambridge, Ont., woman did the right thing, says Jason Baxter, co-owner and general manager of X-Copper Legal Services Professional Organization in Toronto. "Don't just pay your tickets. It's important to fight all charges."

While it may seem simpler to pay up and move on, experts say offenders need to consider the long-term consequences of traffic convictions, including rising insurance premiums, civil actions and even damage to employability (employers may not want to take on the added insurance costs for those who drive as part of their job).

"I was hoping to get the charge dropped -- I felt I could plead bad weather," says Moffatt, who was concerned about the repercussions on her driving record.

Why fight it?
Rightly so, says Brian Lawrie, founder of Toronto-based POINTTS, adding people tend to come to him for three reasons: insurance worries, an issue with the charge itself or seeking information about how the system works.

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A former police officer, Lawrie founded POINTTS in 1984 and the company now has 20 offices in Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba. "I could see the need for this type of service when I was sitting in traffic court myself. You don't need a high-paid lawyer, just someone who knows the fundamentals."

Hiring the right expert
Both Lawrie and Baxter offer free consultations where they review the charges and discuss details.

"We ask a lot of questions, then we are able to determine if we can be of help and give them an estimate," says Lawrie, adding a reputable company will not waste your time or money taking on a case without merit -- it'll tarnish their reputation in the courtroom.

There are a number of companies that offer such services, but it's best to steer clear of anyone who "guarantees" you'll get off. In May 2007, the Law Society of Upper Canada started regulating paralegals and created the "Paralegal's Rules of Conduct," which prohibit guarantees. Prior to May 2008, just about anyone could represent you in court and promise the moon, but now only paralegals and lawyers are allowed. (While individuals can represent themselves in court, Baxter doesn't recommend it because most don't understand court rules and how the system works.)

Choose a reputable organization staffed by licensed paralegals and double check with the Law Society's directory.

Then ask about the process, how long the case might take, the costs involved and whether you'll have to appear in court (many people hire such companies to do the legwork because it's cost-prohibitive to take time off work themselves.)

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-- Posted December 12, 2011
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