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Putting the Motorist in the Driver's Seat

'Ticket Assassin' Patrick Mulroy's Web site is loaded with helpful tips for road warriors: how to avoid being stopped by an officer, and if you are, how to contest the citation.

September 06, 2000|MARTIN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Patrick Mulroy has seen the many faces of fury. It's an 18-year-old high school student. It's a 70-year-old retired aerospace engineer. And practically everyone in between.

The indignation that seems to unite people of all ages, classes and races stems not from rising gasoline prices or the plight of the homeless, said Mulroy. It's traffic tickets. As a longtime traffic school instructor in San Diego, Mulroy has witnessed an untold number of tantrums over citations for moving violations. "I can't begin to tell you the amount of anger I've had to deal with," he said.

But now Mulroy is hoping to capitalize on that wellspring of ticket anger. The 36-year-old has left the classroom to become the "Ticket Assassin," with the help of his Web site, http://www.ticketassassin.com.

As the name suggests, the site's purpose is to help motorists "put a hit on" their tickets by understanding key and often little-known passages of the state's motor vehicle code. However, its ultimate mission is not to help guilty drivers weasel out of citations.

Rather, Mulroy wants "to return the state's money-corrupted traffic courts to their legitimate function as courts of justice," he said, noting the cost of running a red light has nearly tripled, to $271, in the last few years.

Ticket Assassin is one of dozens of Web sites dedicated to beating traffic tickets. The sites carry similar information and themes, although they range broadly in their colorfulness. (More than a few place an expletive near the letters DMV.)

Naturally, Department of Motor Vehicles officials are less than enthusiastic about such Web sites. DMV spokesman Evan Nossoff said the sites are usually equal parts legal advice and anger.

"Well, there's nothing illegal about giving advice," Nossoff said. "People take bad advice all the time." But rather than stew about any perceived injustice, Nossoff hopes that motorists use the occasion of a ticket as the impetus for self-reflection. "Sometimes a person doesn't deserve a ticket and they should pursue their rights," he added. "But most of the time, they deserve it and they should think about how to drive more safely."

It's that kind of attitude that drove Mulroy to establish his Web site--and with one notable difference from his online competitors. Users don't have to pay him upfront for the information. It's all on the honor system.

"So far people have been pretty good about it," said Mulroy, whose site asks visitors to send in $20 if they beat the ticket and $10 if they lose. He says he knows there will be people who won't pay. "That's the Web, but we think we have enough good information to jog someone's conscience."

The site has been online only since July, so it's too early to evaluate whether it can become profitable. Numbers so far--about 30 to 40 new visitors daily--suggest Mulroy will be fighting an uphill battle to make money. Mulroy, who needs the site visit numbers to triple or quadruple to turn a profit, said his experiment will last at least for six months.

"Traffic Assassin" is stocked with information that any road warrior might want to know. First, it urges drivers to plead not guilty--by mail--because that's the most convenient and least intimidating way to vindicate your DMV record. (Less than 1% of ticketed drivers contest their citation, according to Mulroy. They can do so by mail or in person.)

Don't ask for an in-court appearance on the hope that the officer won't show up. Your prayers probably won't be answered, said Mulroy. "Officers usually are called to trial on their days off and receive $200-$300 overtime pay for their brief appearance--enough money to buy 720 regular doughnuts or 579 fancy doughnuts (bear claws, apple fritters, eclairs, etc.)," states the site.

For future reference, the site also features information about how to attend traffic school more than once every 18 months, how to avoid being stopped by an officer in the first place and how to help the situation go smoothly if it does occur. Also, there are links to the state Legislature, county traffic courts and the DMV.

While Mulroy dreams of making a full-time living off his Web site, he feels serving as a further check-and-balance to the courts is more important. "So many injustices go on at the lowest levels of the court," said Mulroy, who also teaches English composition at the community college level. "The little guy gets a bad deal."

*

Martin Miller can be reached at martin.miller@latimes.com.

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