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Speaking of QuickBooks…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 2, 2014 in The After-3L Life

…self-employment taxes suck.

Even after tracking every single penny spent by the business, every mile driven, every conceivable deduction — and not even making that much to begin with — I still somehow owe $1,300 in taxes to the federal government :crack:

(North Carolina, by contrast, is giving me a $12 refund.)

I see why small business owners learn to hate the government…

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My (Brief) Thoughts on the Moral Monday Prosecutions

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 5, 2013 in Unsolicited Commentary

For reasons still unknown to me — I’m assuming the resumed trial (and yesterday’s conviction) of NC NAACP chairman Rev. William Barber II — I’ve gotten near-nonstop flak this week over my involvement defending some of the 900+ people arrested by the Government during the Moral Mondays protests at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Which normally wouldn’t be that annoying (I have strongly opinionated friends ;) ), except that this go-round it’s been a bombardment from all over the political spectrum.

My conservative friends had long ago labeled me a pariah for defending “Commies, hippies, and other people who don’t bathe” as one person put it. The very first time I mentioned thinking about helping, one of my good friends from undergrad simply replied “oh you better not!”1

But then this week I’ve also had several liberals asking me “who thought everyone getting arrested was a good idea?” and “what were they thinking?” and “tell me what this all accomplished?” — as if I played any role in the protests themselves or cared an iota about the movement’s success-or-lack-thereof.

A not-uncommon query this week

A not-uncommon query this week

And there’ve even been what I’d consider the apolitical folks, who are just plain flummoxed that people can still be arrested (and convicted! :surprised: ) for things like self-evident political speech, and more flummoxed still that similarly situated protestors could end up with totally different verdicts in their respective cases.

So when I got an email over the listserv earlier today from a well-respected attorney helping with the defense, pontificating over how best to advance the politics of the Moral Mondays protests, I did one of these and typed an almost-ALLCAPS rant in response…

…then I took a few deep breaths, removed the inflammatory stuff,2 and sent the following:

From: T Greg Doucette
To: MM Lawyers Listserv
Date: December 5, 2013 @ 11:21 AM
RE: Update

I’d respectfully argue that whether “a litigious approach [is] the best way” for “helping the advancement of the MM issues” is a minor side issue, because what’s going on with these cases long ago transcended the Moral Monday stuff and is now about the bedrock principles of a free society.

Now I’ll concede up-front that (1) I’m just a baby lawyer and (2) I’m an unabashed Republican who didn’t participate in the Moral Monday protests and agrees with very very (very) few of the items the group was promoting. So take this entire email with several grains of salt as each of you sees fit.

But the whole reason I agreed to take on any of these cases was because it seemed mind-bogglingly outrageous to me that North Carolina taxpayers could be arrested en masse for obvious political speech in the very legislative building paid for by those very taxpayers for the very purpose of hashing out political issues. Even if I wholly disagreed with the content of their speech, I’d never try to have someone locked up over it (if for no other reason than I’d like to have the option of protesting one day when the political pendulum inevitably swings in the other direction).

It’s the kind of shameless abuse of power I (naïvely) figured the government would have stopped doing a long time ago after taking ConLaw in law school. It’s outrageous regardless of which party’s in power. And the Judiciary, at some level, needs to weigh in and remind the Executive Branch that jailing dissidents isn’t how we do business in the United States of America.

Anyhow, please forgive the imperious rant — thanks to everyone for their work so far, keep it up, let me know where us baby lawyers can continue helping, and let’s all pray the judges come to their respective senses on the rest of these cases :)

-T.

That about sums up my thoughts on these prosecutions: they’re an abomination.

Not to mention an audacious choice for a State that every April 12th celebrates the adoption of the Halifax Resolves — the first official action of any of the colonies calling for independence from Britain (talk about a protest!).

And while the initial arrests were wrong, I’d argue the prosecutions are worse; unlike police, District Attorneys are lawyers who (at least theoretically) had to learn about the Constitution and the First Amendment in order to pass the bar exam.

With the guilty convictions racking up, it seems obvious the decisions have already been made at the meat-grinder/District Court level. I just hope the Superior Court — or the appellate courts if it comes to that — correct this particular abuse of power and as a result send a message about future abuses.

Because moreso than global warming or eeeevil 1%ers or any of the other boogeymen the political Left insists will lead to my demise, this is the type of thing that causes me to lose sleep at night.

—===—

From the law:/dev/null “Excellence in Government” archives:

From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:

  1. And then scowled at me when I said it was more a statement than a request for her advice. I’m not renowned for my tactfulness. :beatup: []
  2. The guy had been practicing for 34+ years after all. I respect my elders. :P []

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TDot’s Tips: “Congratulations. Good luck. Don’t f*ck up.” (or, “I passed the bar! Now what??”)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 4, 2013 in TDot's Tips

No, your eyes don’t deceive you — you’re seeing two entries in a one-week period for the first time since I went on a three-posts-in-a-week writing spree way back in January. :D

[Yes, I’m proud of myself. Told y’all I was serious about getting back in the habit of blogging :P ]

Admittedly I’m cheating a smidge on this one (I forewarned you Friday!) since it’s a mostly-copy/paste job of this old TDot’s Tips entry from just after I passed the bar. But I figure it’s a timely rehash since folks got their bar results over the Labor Day weekend, so hopefully you’ll forgive me ;)

So you’ve gone from being a doe-eyed proto-lawyer nurtured in the ivy-covered walls of legal academia for the past three years, and grown into a bona fide at-least-minimally-competent attorney-at-law.1 Now what do you do?

====================
STEP 1: GET SWORN IN
====================

Oaths are what us lawyerfolk call Serious Business™. For srs. Meaning you need to take one before we’ll allow a non-lawyer to put their life in your at-least-minimally-competent hands.2

To get that done:

  • Grab your ID card and your pass letter from the NCBLE. You don’t actually need your law license to practice law, you just have to meet the qualifications for doing so: passing the bar exam, passing the MPRE, and passing the character and fitness review.3 So as a threshold issue all you’ll need to get sworn in is your letter from the NCBLE showing you passed, and an ID card proving you are who you say you are. Those, and…
  • Grab -3- copies of your oath. You can find the standard oath at this link hosted by the NCBLE; if you’re not comfortable with the “so help me God” part, they’ve also got an alternative oath available here. Why have three copies you ask? Well one of them is going to get time-stamped and filed with the court wherever you get sworn in, and the second is going to get time-stamped and returned to you so you have a copy for your records. The third is optional — but as a stylistic choice I recommend printing that one on nice paper, signing it in blue ink, framing it, and putting it up somewhere in your office as an ever-present reminder of how amazing you are :angel:
  • Pick your county. Now that you’re certifiably at-least-minimally-competent, you can take the oath in any courthouse in the State. Lots of folks pick the county where they’re from so it’s easily accessible for family friends; others pick the county where they’re planning to practice; others like me go where there’s a friendly judge (see below). Some counties will try to push you into participating in their mass swearing-in ceremonies — for example, Cumberland County had theirs today, Mecklenburg has one on September 26th, and Wake has one on September 23rd — but you’re not obligated to do so if you’ve got folks willing to be flexible. Which brings me to…
  • Pick your judge. You can have any judge you want swear you in (as long as he/she agrees of course). In my case, EIC and I got sworn in together in Wake County by our former 2L AAJ trial team coach, the Honorable Judge Vince Rozier. You can go with a District Court Judge, a Superior Court Judge, or if you’ve got high-end connections you can even get someone from the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court. And if you don’t have someone in mind, it’s a great opportunity to introduce yourself to a judge you’ve never met to see if they’d be open to it.
  • Pick your sponsor. Finally, as a matter of local custom, you’ll want an existing member of the bar to introduce you to the court. This is the person who tells everyone how amazing you are4 and how you’re going to use your law license to fight for truth, justice, the American Way, apple pie, mega-corporations, or whatever else suits your fancy. As an example, EIC and I both picked our 3L TYLA trial team coach (the guy in the bottom picture in this entry from the competition in Memphis).
  • Take the oath. You’ll get introduced to the court by your sponsor, given the oath by the judge, then you and the judge will both sign all the copies of your oath document (ideally in blue ink for the framable copy). Take those oaths to the Clerk of Superior Court’s Civil Division, have them file one and return the other two to you, and you’re officially official!

====================
STEP 2: PAY YOUR TAXES
====================

Being officially official, of course, means you get to pay even more money to various organs of government than you would if you were just some random schmoe trying to start a career.

Specifically, you’ve got a trio to taxes to worry about:

  • Dues to the State Bar. Here in North Carolina, this is a $375.00 fee you have to pay annually to continue practicing law. It’s officially “due” on January 1st each year, but it’s not “late” until July 1st — so basically few first-year lawyers pay it until the summer time.
  • Dues to the District Bar. In addition to your required membership in the State Bar, you’re also required to join a Judicial District Bar here in NC; you can pick from either the District where you live or the one where you work. This is usually $75.00 and whether you get a reprieve before having to pay varies by District. Here in Durham we’re in the 14th Judicial District which, aside from being utterly useless so far as I’ve been able to tell to-date, requires you to pay your District dues before the calendar year is over.
  • My interactions with the Department of Revenue on my "privilege" license/tax

    My interactions with the Department of Revenue on my “privilege” license/tax (click for the full-size version)

    Your privilege license. You’ll generally only need this if you’re practicing law outside of a preexisting firm — basically if you’re going solo, or doing doc review with the inevitable “I’ll only give legal advice to Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving” (otherwise, your employer usually picks up the tab).

    This is a $50-per-year tax levied by the NC Department of Revenue for the “privilege” of being part of certain licensed professions.5 You’ll have to apply and pay for it before you start practicing, otherwise you’ll get hit with a penalty and interest for paying late.

    And honestly you might even get hit with a penalty and interest anyway, just because: that’s the situation I had back in October as part of my long-running “I’m a magnet for every form of government incompetence imaginable” series :crack: Here’s the picture I created for an entry I never wrote. Make sure to appeal in a timely fashion!

There are a few other tax-related items to worry about if you’re planning to open your own firm, but that’s beyond the scope of this entry — for this one I only care about making sure you can practice law without getting thrown in jail for being a tax delinquent.6

I do however, totally coincidentally, have this entry on the cost of going solo where I mention some of that stuff ;)

====================
STEP 3: GO BACK TO SCHOOL
====================

You didn’t think you were done with classes just because you finished law school, did you?

Now that you’re a lawyer, you’ll have the joy of getting at least 12 hours’ worth of Continuing Legal Education classes every single year for the rest of your practicing life, starting January 1st.

And, just for you as a newbie, there’s a special epically-long CLE called the “New Admittee Professionalism Program” (NAPP) that you’ll need to complete within the first 18 months of practice. Expect to spend $200.00 and two days of your life on that one.

Luckily a good chunk of the material is actually quite useful ( :surprised: ), so I’d recommend knocking it out sooner rather than later. You can find more information about NAPP on the North Carolina Bar Association’s CLE website, and information on CLE obligations in general at the State Bar’s CLE website.

*****

And that’s it! There’s a bunch of other stuff you should do of course — buy malpractice insurance, join some of the voluntary bar associations, sit and observe other lawyers as time permits — but that’s for another blog entry :)

So in the words of one of my mentors after hearing I passed the bar exam: “Congratulations. Good luck. Don’t f*ck up.”

Good night y’all!

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. *CONGRATULATIONS* by the way! :D []
  2. Random aside: I have no doubt you’re better than minimally competent. At the same time though, isn’t it a little bit scary that minimal competence is all we’re expected by law to provide? More importantly: makes you wonder if the AMA and state licensing boards for physicians use the same minimal competence view of things… :beatup: []
  3. As crazy as it sounds, the NCBLE is the fastest in the nation on delivering bar results but slower than a herd of disabled geriatric snails crawling through peanut butter when it comes to sending out licenses. :crack: You’ll likely get your bar card from the State Bar before your license arrives. The license will be worth the wait though. []
  4. Because no one believes you when you say it yourself. Trust me. ;) []
  5. It’s analogous to City/County-level privilege licenses charged for every other business. []
  6. Just kidding, we don’t have debtor prisons anymore thank goodness. Otherwise I’d have been rotting away in one for a loooooong time… :beatup: []

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3

Trapped

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 25, 2012 in Fail

“I must be, like, a malfunction magnet.

Because your sh*t keeps malfuntioning around me.”

Some of you might recognize the quote.1 I got to live it earlier today :beatup:

After NC State‘s 3-point loss to Kansas on Friday night and some sleep + work + exploration yesterday, 雅雅 and I did some final roaming around of St. Louis before I headed home to Durham (I’m currently writing this from the massive Hartfield-Jackson Airport in ATL waiting for my connecting flight). I like checking out national monuments so I wanted to visit the Gateway Arch. And when I found out you can go inside to the top, naturally I wanted to do that too.

The experience got old after the first 2 hours… :mad:

If you’ve never visited the Arch, basically there are tiny orb-shaped trams that travel to the top every 10 minutes. You buy a ticket, climb down some stairs, enter the tram and take a roughly 4-minute ride to the top. You then get out, climb up some stairs, and walk into the archway itself where there are small angular windows you can peer out of to get a view of the neighboring area.

Panorama view from the west-facing side of the Gateway Arch

The view is cool — I took plenty of pictures for future panorama-making :D — but it’s also brief (and cramped). Most of the folks who take a tram up take the next tram down 10 minutes later, after jostling and pushing past each other for the length of the archway. Check out this blog entry from Quirky Travel Guy for a run-down of the experience.

And that jostle+push+ride-down-10-minutes-later was our plan. We made our way to the other side, “signed in” for the next tram ride down, directed to go down the stairs to our specific pod number, and waited…

…and waited…

…and waited…

…and waited…

…and waited some more.

After well over an hour went by, an announcement was made that the ground control folks downstairs had decided they wouldn’t be running any trams on either side of the Arch with no explanation as to why :crack:

We were all told to come back up the stairs to what was now an even more-crowded Archway with about 120 people stuffed into it. Then instructed by the Park Ranger to go to the other side of the Arch for the next tram on that side (which would have made us last in line and heading down 2-3 trams later). As we start jostling in that direction and people are clearly getting irate, we’re then told to turn around and go back to the side we were originally on. And told to “sign in” again. And sent back down the stairs for the next tram.

Two hours in the Arch, but another state crossed off the list!

Where we waited for another 45 minutes :beatup:

Luckily I’m not claustrophobic, but standing awkwardly in a cramped stairwell for over two hours isn’t exactly what I envision doing when I think about visiting national monuments. Eventually a tram finally showed up, 雅雅 and I got back onto solid ground, and I decided I won’t be re-visiting the Gateway Arch any time soon ;)

But at least I got to check off another state on my “Have to Visit All 50 Before I Die” list? :spin:

That’s it for tonight, about to board the flight for Durham.2 Have a great night y’all!

—===—

From the law:/dev/null “Excellence in Government” archives:

  1. From one of my Top 10 Favoritest Movies Evah. Yes, I’m a bit of a nerd — you should have noticed that from the title of the blog… ;) []
  2. Where I’ll turn 31 years old at some point mid-flight… :) []

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6

F*cked by Government Incompetence

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 6, 2012 in Fail

Let me start by apologizing for the profane title. We try to keep things family-friendly here but I truly couldn’t think of a sufficiently cathartic alternative title this time without dropping at least one F-bomb. :beatup:

Long-time readers of law:/dev/null know that Big Guv’mint and I aren’t exactly BFFs.  My love and support for education notwithstanding, I seem to be a magnet for every other buffoon making a living off the taxpayers’ dimes.

There was the whole conducting-a-levy-after-it-was-released debacle with the IRS during 1L year. The NC DMV conceding they improperly revoked my license the following summer.  My Post Office Box getting carpet-bombed by duplicate deferment notices a couple weeks after that.

I’ve even had the “joy” of a TSA crotch grab because apparently my cross necklace is terrorist-y…1

In each of those cases, though, an apologist for Big Guv’mint could at least make a non-frivolous argument that I bore at least some responsibility for other’s failures. I could have paid my taxes as they were due instead of trying to get back into college, could have called the NC DMV instead of assuming they updated my address when they sent my new license to it, and could have remembered to take off my suicide bomber bling in the airport.

This isn’t one of those times. :mad:

Let’s begin at the beginning: today did not start off well.  My car wouldn’t start despite a fresh battery installed just last week (driving car maintenance costs during 3L year to the $2K mark) so I once again headed to the repair shop. The repair guys still didn’t know for sure what was wrong, but ~$515 worth of repairs later they assured me everything would work this time.

So now being flat broke and not knowing how April’s rent is going to get paid, I decided to bite the bullet and call Sallie Mae to apply for one of their bar prep study loans. I give the agent my information, have him submit the preliminary app… and get told I can’t be approved for a loan. Which was mighty odd when I’ve been busting my butt to get my credit into the “as good as you can get without having a mortgage” zone, on top of me just disclosing my entire financial life to the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners at the beginning of January.  If something was wrong, I should have known it.

A new addition to my credit report, courtesy of Big Guv'mint's incompetence

Panicked now that I have absolutely no clue how I’m going to cover rent for April — or May or June or July or August — I log onto the Equifax website to check my credit report.

And see this.

That reads “150 days past due”.

As of February 2012.

On a student loan issued in August 2011.

Now those of you who are good at math might notice there’s a 6-month gap between August to February. Roughly 180 days give or take. As few as 155 if you’re going from August 31st to February 1st. Meaning whatever the hell happened with this thing, I’ve supposedly been “delinquent” since the day it was issued. No in-school deferment. Not even a grace period. Nothing.

At this point I briefly stop being concerned about the Sallie Mae app and start being terrified about my bar application itself. The NCBLE likes getting everything about your life and I had just told them in January I was current on everything. Now I’m listed as 5 months late. A pretty big omission that can’t be good for the whole “character and fitness” thing.

Luckily I’m ever-so-slightly OCD when it comes to legal and financial documents, so I’ve got a copy of every single thing I sent to the State Bar. I pull it out, flip to one of the appendices — and sure enough, even the Federal Direct Loan website had me listed as being current on everything :crack:

Big Guv'mint says nothing is due... but I'm apparently 150 days late on it anyway

It’s a bit hard to see because this is a copy-of-a-copy, but you can clearly make out “Next Due Date: 07/14/2013”, “Pay This Amount:  $0.00”, and the timestamp when it was printed out — 01/03/2012, when I would have been 120 days late according to the Department of Education’s report to the credit bureau.

Staring at physical evidence that something was/is amiss, I transition from being worried to being furious. I call the DOE’s 800-number and get to spend the next 30 minutes of my life talking with one of their agents.

He first tells me I owe ~$300ish dollars on March 14th (next week). He then tells me I’m on the verge of defaulting because I’m 150 days late and they report things to the credit bureaus at 90 days. Trying to contain my rage I politely reiterate that I’m still in school, don’t graduate until May, and am entitled by law to an in-school deferment.

Then I get put on hold :beatup:

About 5 minutes later he gets back on the line, tells me he’s going to flag my account as being in forbearance so it doesn’t become even further past due, and will “submit some paperwork” to correct the deferment issue.

And then adds “There might be a little smudge on your credit report. If that becomes an issue, call back and we’ll try to fix it.”

(1) “If”?
(2) “Call back”??
(3)Try“???

I got off the phone before I said something I’d regret. Then filed a credit report dispute with Equifax and took the dog out so I could decompress a bit.

Since Big Guv’mint’s got sovereign immunity — and I don’t have a property interest in a prospective loan, or other damages to bring me under the Tort Claims Act — there’s not much I can do in terms of legal recourse. And at this point, thanks to the DOE, I now have an oncoming financial train wreck bearing down on me that has to take priority.

But damn this is ridiculous. Completely, totally, inexplicably ridiculous.

This wasn’t some loan issued before they nationalized the student loan industry, converting something from my private lender to my public one and something getting lost en route. It wasn’t the first public loan issued to me, where maybe someone somewhere at some point might have been unsure of how the process worked. No: it’s the last loan of at least 13 of them issued under the Direct Loan program.

And the best they can tell me is “If us screwing up becomes an issue for you and you can’t pay your bills as a result, call back to wait 30 minutes and then we’ll try to correct our failures.” :mad:

I pray I can stay healthy for awhile, because with my track record God only knows what’s going to happen when these clowns take over my healthcare system…

  1. The full-body scanner showed I had nothing else on me except for the chain around my neck — why do you need to follow up with groping my genitals? :roll: []

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3

222 years of inflation

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 6, 2010 in The 2L Life

Earlier today I bought my textbooks for the upcoming semester, including my book for ConLaw I — Chemerinsky’s Constitutional Law 3rd Edition casebook.

Lugging this thing to class is cruel and unusual punishment...

Now I’m not exactly as smart as our Founding Fathers, but I have to imagine even they would think this is a little excessive :beatup:

On the left: my pocket Constitution, in 10pt font, roughly 3.25″ wide by 6.25″ tall, including a Foreword, the Declaration of Independence, an Index, and a list of “Dates to Remember” relating to the Constitution’s creation and ratification, spanning a svelte 46 pages.

On the right: Chemerinsky’s casebook, also in 10pt font, roughly 7.25″ wide by 10″ tall, without any of the pocket Constitution’s “extras” yet spanning… 1,825 pages :surprised:

Can you picture how long it would have taken for the Founders to hand-write and then typeset something this huge back around 1788 when the Constitution took effect?

And how much bigger is this thing going to be 50ish years from now? :crack:

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2

Reason #1,516,398 why the federal government is broke

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 20, 2010 in Fail

Even though I can’t seem to get mail from the NC DMV, one thing I’ve noticed over the past few days is a string of letters from the federal government about my student loans.

I got all of these today, and that’s on top of 4-5 I got last week.

8 separate letters... saying the same thing :crack:

Did they say anything interesting? Billing notices maybe? The semi-annual notices on how much interest has accrued, perhaps?

Of course not :beatup:

Each letter just noted that one particular student loan or another had been deferred since I’m still in school.  “But TDot,” you ask, “do you really have 12 different student loan accounts with the federal government?” No I don’t… most of the letters were duplicates of each other. In the stack in this photo, these are all deferment notices for just two accounts, with only the date stamps being different between them.

I wasn’t a fan of the Three Stooges1 deciding to nationalize the student loan industry, but I was willing to accept it because the corporate welfare model that was in place before nationalization wasn’t exactly working either.

But can anyone explain to me how, while the bank financing my pre-nationalization student loans can send me a consolidated statement listing all of my deferred accounts in a single letter, the federal government feels compelled to send me individualized letters in quadruplicate? :roll:

I’d switch to totally online statements, but given my less-than-stellar experiences with the federal government I prefer having physical documentation on file. Still, it can’t cost that much to upgrade a database compared to the cost of printing / folding / stuffing / mailing to millions of students receiving nationalized student loans millions upon millions of letters notifying them those loans have been deferred…

Sorry for the rant, just getting really irritated at government these past few days :mad:

Hope to have something law-related to write about soon :) Until then, have a great night! :D

  1. My shorthand reference for Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi. I haven’t decided yet which one is Larry, Curly, and Moe… []

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8

Dear NC DMV: #dobetter

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 18, 2010 in Fail

Having all-but-decided to go down the criminal prosecution path after I graduate from NCCU Law, you can imagine my surprise when I found out last week that I’ve apparently been a criminal myself for the past 4-5 months :eek:

First, three items of background:

(1) Back in undergrad at N.C. State I had a PO Box that I used for all of my mail, so nothing got lost while I changed residence halls over the last four years. Then in August when I moved to Durham I got a new license with my new address, and submitted a forwarding order to the postal service to forward my mail. The USPS has done so without incident since I moved.

(2) I have no criminal record at all, and my driving record is almost spotless. My last motor vehicle infraction was five years ago, when (during a 3am McDonald’s run while studying for a Calculus III exam) I ran a stop sign at a 3-way intersection that had been installed only moments before.1

(3) Back in February I had a 4-day lapse in my auto insurance coverage. The catalyst was innocuous enough — amid mailing off about a dozen things, I forgot to put a stamp on the envelope to the Farm Bureau :beatup:  The letter got returned to me, I realized what happened, then called the insurance office and had them do a payment via phone. With the premium paid my insurance was back in effect, but still had a lapse spanning that weekend through the morning following my phone call.

Like most states North Carolina requires drivers to maintain liability insurance in order to operate a motor vehicle. If insurance coverage lapses at any time, the insurance company is obligated to notify the Division of Motor Vehicles. I’ve since learned that the DMV then (purportedly) notifies the driver that a lapse was reported and the driver is required to pay a fine or have their registration revoked.

That notification is where things start to tick me off… because I got none :mad:

I had no clue there was even an issue with my vehicle registration until I went online to renew my tags before my mini-vacation to Virginia Beach. After clicking the submit button to renew, I got an error notice that renewal wasn’t possible. But the error had no mention of revoked plates: instead it said I couldn’t renew until my car was re-inspected, part of a law change last year where car inspections now take place the same month as registration renewals.

So I went and got the car inspected the day before I left, enjoyed myself on the break, and came back on Monday. I waited the week to make sure the mechanic had plenty of time to update whatever database the state uses to monitor inspections. Then the following Sunday — a week ago today — I went online to again try and renew my registration.

This time I got a second error notifying me that renewal was not possible, but this time the error noted it was not possible because my plates had been revoked… the very first indication I got that I’d basically been illegally driving around for 4 months on a revoked registration :crack:

It particularly frosted my Wheaties because I had just done a boatload of legal research on driving privileges for one of my final exam questions in my Race and the Law class a couple weeks ago. Although driving is a privilege and not a fundamental right, once something like a vehicle registration is conferred it creates a property interest that can’t be taken away without due process.  The due process standard is fairly low nationwide but always includes some level of notice prior to the revocation. And here I was being “notified” by an error generated by an automated registration renewal system, with no opportunity to contest the revocation before it happened. :roll:

The particular section of the law I had allegedly violated, N.C. Gen. Stat. §20-311, reads as follows:

(a) Action. – When the Division receives evidence, by a notice of termination of a motor vehicle liability policy or otherwise, that the owner of a motor vehicle registered or required to be registered in this State does not have financial responsibility for the operation of the vehicle, the Division shall send the owner a letter. The letter shall notify the owner of the evidence and inform the owner that the owner shall respond to the letter within 10 days of the date on the letter and explain how the owner has met the duty to have continuous financial responsibility for the vehicle. Based on the owner’s response, the Division shall take the appropriate action listed:
     (1) Division correction. – If the owner responds within the required time and the response establishes that the owner has not had a lapse in financial responsibility, the Division shall correct its records.
     (2) Penalty only. – If the owner responds within the required time and the response establishes all of the following, the Division shall assess the owner a penalty in the amount set in subsection (b) of this section:
          a. The owner had a lapse in financial responsibility, but the owner now has financial responsibility.
          b. The vehicle was not involved in an accident during the lapse in financial responsibility.
          c. The owner did not operate the vehicle during the lapse with knowledge that the owner had no financial responsibility for the vehicle.
     (3) Penalty and revocation. – If the owner responds within the required time and the response establishes any of the following, the Division shall assess the owner a penalty in the amount set in subsection (b) of this section and revoke the registration of the owner’s vehicle for the period set in subsection (c) of this section:
          a. The owner had a lapse in financial responsibility and still does not have financial responsibility.
          b. The owner now has financial responsibility even though the owner had a lapse, but the vehicle was involved in an accident during the lapse, the owner operated the vehicle during the lapse with knowledge that the owner had no financial responsibility for the vehicle, or both.
     (4) Revocation pending response. – If the owner does not respond within the required time, the Division shall revoke the registration of the owner’s vehicle for the period set in subsection (c) of this section. When the owner responds, the Division shall take the appropriate action listed in subdivisions (1) through (3) of this subsection as if the response had been timely.
(b) Penalty Amount.  [… table outlining penalty amounts …]
(c) Revocation Period. – The revocation period for a revocation based on a response that establishes that a vehicle owner does not have financial responsibility is indefinite and ends when the owner obtains financial responsibility or transfers the vehicle to an owner who has financial responsibility. The revocation period for a revocation based on a response that establishes the occurrence of an accident during a lapse in financial responsibility or the knowing operation of a vehicle without financial responsibility is 30 days. The revocation period for a revocation based on failure of a vehicle owner to respond is indefinite and ends when the owner responds.

Various emphases added by me.

With the statutory language in front of me, I called the DMV on Monday as soon as the office opened. The lady I spoke to told me the DMV had sent me notice. Five notices, in fact: she claimed the DMV mailed four separate letters, and a postcard to boot.

When I told her I hadn’t received any of them, she asked for my address which I provided. She then told me the DMV had been sending notices to my old PO Box in Raleigh, and that the confusion was my fault for not updating my mailing address.

The situation and her attitude made me want to reach through the phone and strangle someone. I figured my mailing address would have been updated when I got my new license back in August. But, even assuming the DMV didn’t use my new residence as my new mailing address and it was my fault for not updating them accordingly, that means the USPS would have had to not forward five separate mailings spanning over a month… even though they’ve successfully forwarded all of my other correspondence without a problem.

Even if I thought the USPS was the single most incompetent government enterprise to exist (I don’t), the idea that they selectively didn’t forward material from one particular correspondent on five separate occasions is just preposterous in its implausibility. The far more likely scenario, to my enfeebled mind at least, is that the NC DMV never actually sent the notices or has “Do Not Forward” printed across the front of the envelopes.

Anyhow, trying to contain my total disbelief and figure out how to get my registration renewed, I’m told by the bureaucrat that I’d have to contact my insurance company, have them send a Form FS-1 to the DMV notifying them I had active insurance (bear in mind I’ve been regularly paying my premiums since the 4-day lapse 5 months ago), then call back 2-3 days later to request a hearing on the revocation. I mention the statutory language to her, and she repeats that I need to have the Form FS-1 sent in and call back to demand an administrative hearing.

I contact my insurance agent and the Form FS-1 is faxed to the DMV less than an hour later. I call the DMV back the next morning en route to my Medicaid mediation, talk to a different bureaucrat who verifies the FS-1 has been received, and again mention the plain language of the N.C. General Statutes that my revocation should end and I be allowed to pay my civil penalty and move on with my life. The second bureaucrat asks if I’d like to demand a hearing (I do) and then tells me I’ll receive a notice in 2-3 weeks scheduling a hearing date 2-3 weeks after that. She then tells me that if I need to operate the motor vehicle I should go buy a temporary 30-day tag.

"Dear TDot: You were right. Oops. Sincerely, NCDMV"

Terrified something could happen and I get pulled over in an unlicensed vehicle, I go to the DMV in between the two Medicaid hearings and drop $63 on a 30-day tag as instructed. I then spend the rest of the week waiting for a letter telling me when my hearing will take place.

I got the letter on Saturday, which I took the liberty of scanning in for y’all to read if you’re interested.

Essentially the DMV agrees that the statutory language I pointed out to them was right, and in fact I don’t need a hearing at all. I just have to pay the civil penalty and move on with my life… the exact same thing I was trying to do on the phone with the apparently-less-than-competent DMV personnel. :mad:

Now I have no objection at all to being required to pay a civil penalty for the insurance lapse. We live in a society where people get penalized for their carelessness to teach them a lesson; I was careless in not putting a stamp on the envelope, I’m fine being penalized for it, and it won’t happen again.

But I’ve got serious reservations with:

  • Not getting an indication about the plate revocation the first time I attempted to renew my plates online, instead only being notified that I needed to get my car inspected. Solely because of the DMV’s negligently-coded website I drove in a vehicle with revoked plates across two separate states spanning five separate days; had I known the plates were revoked, 雅雅 and I could have just taken her car. It’s only by the grace of God that I didn’t get pulled over or in a car accident that would have had far broader repercussions.
  • My registration being revoked in the first place without any kind of notice at all whatsoever from the DMV. The notion that the USPS selectively failed to forward 4 separate letters and a postcard spanning several weeks — when they’ve forwarded all of my other bills and other correspondence without an issue — is simply too implausible to be believed.
  • The DMV arguing the lack of notice is my own fault for not updating them with my new mailing address… when they got my new mailing address on my new license I obtained in August. If a driver with a mostly-unblemished record hasn’t responded to numerous notices purportedly sent to a (older) mailing address, doesn’t it make sense to send at least one of the notices to the person’s (newer) address on their license?
  • Being told by two separate bureaucrats that I’d need to demand a hearing to review the revocation, despite the plain language of the statute I provided to them indicating no such hearing was needed.
  • Being given a series of hoops to jump through before I could even demand the hearing I didn’t need.
  • Having to spend $60+ on a 30-day temporary tag that I only had to buy because the NC DMV apparently doesn’t know the laws it operates under. Had I gotten a notification in the mail before the revocation, or a notice on the website when I attempted to renew my registration on July 1, or an acknowledgement that the revocation was temporary when I talked to a live bureaucrat on July 12, or even gotten the letter they sent on or before July 15, I would have had enough time to renew my registration without the wasted money and time spent buying the temporary tag.

Unfortunately the N.C. General Assembly has already adjourned for the year, because otherwise I’d be in downtown Raleigh raising hell that this level of pervasive, multi-faceted incompetence is allowed to take place in a government agency. This isn’t like a private marketplace where I can switch vendors if the one I’m using turns out to be incompetent — I have no choice but to register my vehicle with the NC DMV if I want to live and drive in North Carolina. So I expect better of a monopolistic enterprise funded by my tax dollars.

With service like this, it’s no wonder so many North Carolinians end up in court

Do better, N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles. Do better.

  1. The infraction was sufficiently comedic that the judge laughed when I appeared in court for the offense a few weeks later :beatup: []

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Fabulous Fed Fun…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 9, 2009 in Fail

One of my classmates in undergrad was a British exchange student, and he seemed to derive great pleasure in referring to me as a “queer bird” whenever we talked about politics (you have to imagine it being said in a thick British accent for full effect).

I’m a registered Republican, once-upon-a-time the youngest elected Vice Chairman in the history of the Wake County GOP… only to get thrown out of the party by the same folks 2 years later for being “too liberal,” then spending most of the years since electing / working for / working with Democrats with whom I agree on almost nothing.1  My political views would generally be considered libertarian — quasi-neocon on taxes, firearms and national defense, with a “leave me the @#$% alone” philosophy on social issues like gay marriage and abortion — but unlike most big-L Libertarians I’m totally comfortable with the government taking on certain obligations (e.g. education) and even have a positive opinion of most government agencies like the US Postal Service.

And, as irony would have it, the IRS.

It’s not that I particularly like them, but I recognize the jobs they do are necessary for any complex, functional nation-state.  And — having worked for a handful of state agencies myself — I know most of the positions are filled by individuals who are individually rational and competent, even if the bureaucratic mosaic they compose lends itself to some of the most profound idiocy imaginable.

So today really shouldn’t have been a surprise to me.  But oohhhh it was…

Let me first give you some background on me. I’ve mentioned in a couple posts already that I’m a former college dropout:  I started as a freshman at N.C. State University in August 1998 and by June 2000 was essentially thrown out because I couldn’t pay off my bill.2

So there I am at 19, a bundle of freshly minted fail, loading trucks from 3am-8am at UPS to make ends meet.  I eventually get a low-paying gig as a file clerk at a law firm, which leads to a slightly less low-paying gig as a paralegal, and so on.  Over the next few years I compile a pretty banging résumé and some crazy war stories, but realize I make a laughable salary, my life isn’t really going anywhere sans college degree, and I’m basically just treading water.

But I owe N.C. State $16K+ before they’ll let me re-enroll.

Determined not to waste my life doing nothing, I decide to take a gamble:  I intentionally underpay my income taxes for the FY2003 and FY2004 tax years, and offer up the money “saved” as a down payment to N.C. State  to convince them to let me pay off the balance in $550/mo increments from when I came back until I graduated.  I still filled out my tax returns fully and on time, and expected to pay the taxes owed along with the applicable penalties and interest once I had a degree and started making real money — even with those penalties and interest, a few thousand dollars is nothing insurmountable.

In one of those res ipsa loquitur moments of my life, the plan worked.  I came back to NC State in August 2005, had the full $16K I owed them paid off just over a year later,3 set up a payment plan with the IRS to repay the back taxes, and graduated this past June with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science before heading off to the North Carolina Central University School of Law.  Things seemed to be going pretty doggone well compared to only a few years prior when I was working 60+ hour weeks between 2 jobs for a paycheck that barely covered the bills.

Fast forward to last Monday when I missed my classes.  I not only owe the IRS $0.00, but have ample documentation that I owe them $0.00 because I’m a packrat and generally don’t throw away financial records (I’ve even got bank statements from my first savings account my grandmother opened for me in the early 1990s.  I’m that bad.).  I check my PO Box in Raleigh — the staff there being one of the main reasons I like the Postal Service :) — and see a notice that the IRS is going to levy my bank account for $611.51.  I drive in-person to the IRS office in Durham to get the situation handled… only to find the office inexplicably closed until 1pm when its posted hours are 8am-5pm Monday-Friday.

So after missing Civil Procedure and spending the afternoon killing time, I go back around 12:30pm where a line is starting to queue up.  The office opens with an impressive -1- employee working in a space roughly the size of a few law school classrooms stacked together.  I wait about 2 hours before getting seen.  Explain my situation.  Get a cordial response.  The IRS agent is understanding and gives me 2 copies of a Form 668-D indicating the levy is released, telling me to keep a copy for myself and give the other to my bank.  I then drive straight to my local branch, see a customer service rep there, hand them the levy release, and they mail it off to the bank’s legal order processing folks in New York.

This is all 2 Mondays ago.  August 31st.  So I log into my account today to find… a $611.51 tax levy debited, with an extra $100.00 “legal processing fee” thrown in for the hell of it.

I call the bank, who tells me to call the IRS.

I call the IRS, who tells me to call the bank.

I call a different person at the bank, who forwards me to a 3rd person’s voicemail because she has no clue wtf is going on.  I’m sufficiently pissed off at this point that my ears burn and my face looks like a tomato.

After Torts, I drive in-person to the bank branch and politely ask them to contact the legal processing folks in New York to figure out the situation.  The people in NY have no record of the levy release, even though they got other mail from that same branch office mailed that same day.  Why no record of the release?  Because the IRS sent them the levy notice Friday 09/04/09 — aka an entire workweek after my in-person meeting with them — so when the bank’s people would have received my little piece of mail some time around the Wednesday or Thursday prior, there was no levy in their system for the release to affect.

I’ll sidestep my annoyance at the bank — yeah they should probably have done a better job at data entry, but they’ve been good to me on a host of issues for years now (including a crazy identity theft incident that turned into a total cluster@#$%).  But the IRS… the glorious and amazing IRS… somehow sent an erroneous levy notice days after the branch office gave me a release and documented in their little national database that I owed $0.00.

I could understand a screw-up of this magnitude back in the era when everything was documented on ledger sheets and networked computers didn’t exist.  But if I can access an account by my Social Security Number on IRS.gov, there’s no reason for less-than-realtime updates from a branch office — and at the very least that same branch office providing a release form should tip off whatever office is issuing levies that… well… there’s no grounds for the levy.

So now I get to wait 48 hours or so for the bank to credit my account the $611.51 the government essentially stole from me, and will likely have to fill out an IRS Form 8546 to get reimbursed at some point for the bank’s $100.00 legal order processing fee caused by the government’s incompetence.  Not to mention the hours wasted on the phone and in person trying to get things fixed when I probably should have been studying CivPro.

And bear in mind I’m pretty damn lucky in this situation — my tuition refund covers my expenses for the entire semester, so I can afford to be short $700 for a couple months.  Imagine if I was regular taxpayer providing for a family and living paycheck-to-paycheck…

Anyhow, sorry for the rant.  I had some legit law-related stuff to blog about but really just needed to get that off my chest.  Back to normal posting tomorrow :)

Have a great night everybody! :D

  1. Political types refer to it as “seeking retribution” ;) []
  2. The whole situation was a *lot* more convoluted and wtf-able than that, but I need a few drinks to retell it with adequate exasperation :) []
  3. Thanks to my already impoverished grandparents moving heaven and Earth to make sure I graduated — I <3 you Nan and Pops!! []

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