The Ticket Clinic Accused Of Selling Bogus Driving School Diplomas

With a confident grin, Mark Gold strides into a Broward County courtroom and waltzes up to a podium. Dressed in a dark suit and silver striped tie, the five-foot-five attorney tells Chief Magistrate Brenda Di Ioia that his client, a man caught speeding in his mother’s 1995 Saturn, will not quietly pay his fine.

“Entering a plea of not guilty, ready for trial,” says Gold, the charismatic 61-year-old founder of the Miami-based Ticket Clinic, a huge traffic law firm famed for its incessant advertising.

The graying lawyer furrows his brow and begins questioning his client, a squirrelly-looking guy named Matthew who was pulled over on the way to the dog groomer. But Gold has a trump card: The officer stopped both Matthew and another driver at the same time.

“Did he have an opportunity to operate his speed-measuring device, his radar, his laser, on that person, signal him over, and then do the same to you?” Gold asks.

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Matthew says. “It’s like the magic bullet in the Kennedy assassination. I don’t see how he could.”

Di Ioia finds Matthew not guilty, and Gold and his client burst out of the courthouse, high-fiving as if they’ve just beaten a life sentence. “Yeah!” Gold exclaims, clenching his fist like he’s Johnnie Cochran at O.J.’s acquittal.

The case, which was televised in a 2009 episode of truTV’s Speeders Fight Back, was yet another victory for Gold’s company, which claims a 97 percent success rate. The firm helped pioneer the high-volume, heavy-advertising approach to fighting traffic tickets — a niche hardly any lawyer would touch when Gold started out in the late ’80s. The Ticket Clinic now employs 300 people and has 26 locations in Florida and ten in California.

“I actually created the entire industry,” Gold boasts. “No one has been able to imitate what we do.”

By commercializing the craft, lawyers like Gold say they’ve allowed drivers of all incomes and education levels to fight unfair tickets and DUI arrests. Gold’s company has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against policies that hit drivers’ pocketbooks, such as red-light cameras. “We are the firm at the forefront of traffic law, fighting what we perceive as illegal or unjust laws,” Gold says.

But the Ticket Clinic’s explosive growth, amid a lack of oversight both at the state level and within the firm, has also made it ripe for abuses.

The FDLE is now investigating allegations that the company’s supervisors took money in exchange for falsified traffic school certificates. A former employee has filed a whistleblower lawsuit over those same claims, saying he warned Gold of the problems and was ignored. Other employees who spoke to New Times describe a hostile work environment that led to abusive treatment and a culture of fear. And outside critics say the company has used its big profits to try to tilt judicial races in favor of judges friendlier to traffic scofflaws.

“I have a great firm. We do a great job for people,” Gold says, dismissing claims of impropriety. “I take every employee’s allegations very seriously… As far as I know, the majority of our employees are really happy.”

But the clinic’s founder has also earned a personal reputation for questionable behavior. In recent years, Gold has waged a legal war against a strip club over a $19,000 tab, been arrested for domestic violence — a charge that was later dropped — and disciplined by the Florida Bar for some of his business practices.

“Mark thinks he’s invincible,” says Nieves Arango, a former legal assistant with the Ticket Clinic. “He thinks he’s above the law, that everything he does is OK and that everybody should sit back and accept it.”

Gold disagrees with such critiques and says providing the best service to clients is what wakes him up every morning. “There’s not a lot of lawyers that will get out of bed for $69.95,” he says. “People love us. We do a really good job.”

 

Source:  Miami New Times

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