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Traffic Court Clinic Provides Free Representation for Motorists, Real-World Experience for Students

2L Julia Yu, Britney Finley, Coleen Cusack, 2L Nate Jenkins

“Case dismissed!”

Those words are music to the ears of San Diego State University senior Britney Finley as she stands in traffic court before Commissioner Corrine Miesfeld. Next to Finley is a team from California Western’s Traffic Court Clinic, there to defend her. 

Since the police officer who wrote her a speeding ticket hasn’t shown up in court, Finley’s case is automatically dismissed. However, had the officer shown up, 2L Julia Yu has a defense prepared to the speeding charge—a technical defense based on whether the section of road where Finley was allegedly speeding had undergone an engineering survey that justified the speed limit.

Not every case is won so easily, but appearances like this are valuable for clinic students like Yu.

“This is real-world experience, with a real judge and real clients,” she says.

The clinic, directed by Adjunct Professor Coleen M. Cusack, gives students real-world court experience as well as free legal representation to drivers who appear in traffic court.

Motorists are represented for no charge by law students who are certified by the State Bar, undergo extensive training, and are supervised by a licensed attorney,” says Cusack. “If the motorists are unable to take off work to appear in court, the clinic can even handle the appearance in their absence.”

How many of us have wished we had a lawyer at our side when we appeared in traffic court?

Finley says she was much more confident in court with Yu and Cusack beside her.

“You guys have a great program,” Finley told them after her case was dismissed. 

In operation for only eight months, the clinic has secured many successful outcomes for clients and triumphs for students. Approximately half of the 70 cases are dismissed because the officer does not appear. Of the remaining cases, the clinic wins more than it loses, including fine reductions, community service, or traffic school for clients.  

The Traffic Court Clinic is much more than a learning opportunity for the students—it offers a real and tangible benefit to the community. Even though motorists have the right to an attorney, few are able to afford one. Many traffic defendants feel powerless when they are alone against a judge and police officer.

“Our clinic and its students help to equalize this imbalance and in so doing, provide more fair proceedings for the person charged,” says Cusack. “I have enjoyed watching the students grow and learn; entering the class with fear and trepidation and then watching their confidence develop.”

Nothing builds a traffic clinic student’s confidence like hearing the court commissioner say: “case dismissed.”

Visit the Traffic Court Clinic website for more information.