When Surrogacy and Adoption Goes Wrong

DSC00258_1Several months ago we read about a couple from Australia who hired a Thai surrogate so she could bear the child they always wanted. During month three of the surrogate’s pregnancy the couple were informed that the 21 year-old surrogate was having twins, one of whom tested positive for Down’s syndrome. According to the surrogate, the parents-to-be implored her to have an abortion but she refused.

When the twins were born the agency who arranged the surrogacy delivered the “healthy” twin girl to the couple, leaving behind the baby boy who also had a congenital heart defect. Once the rejection of this little boy went viral, kind people around the world began donating monies, more than $150,000, to the surrogate mother who vowed to keep the baby and was surprised and heartened by the generosity of strangers.

The Australian couple were vilified and attempted to tell their side of the story, which was that they prayed fervently for their baby’s boy health when the twins were born two months premature, but were told the baby boy would not survive more than a day.

The media storm accelerated when it was publicly revealed that the biological father, an Australian, was a convicted pedophile and his Asian wife was aware of his sordid past. At the same time, the media released information that more than 65 babies born of surrogates in Thailand for gay couples from Israel were in the hands of Thai social services, because the Israeli government refused to grant immigration visas to the children.

These stories and others tell of the difficulties experienced by adoptive parents, surrogate mothers, and other players in the world of assisted reproduction and adoption.

A new story out of New York sheds further light on the frailties of international adoption. In the case of Matter of Adoption of Child A and Child C, a Long Island couple adopted two children from Russia in 2008. The children were described as “healthy and socially well-adjusted siblings”, but their adoptive parents had reason to doubt what they had been told when both children began to exhibit serious mental health problems. The couple also learned that the children were not related and both had been victims of sexual abuse. This truth began to explain the children’s bizarre behaviour including their threats to kill the parents.

Nassau County Judge Edward McCarty III will hear the parent’s application to void the adoption which will be heard in open court although the names of the parents and the children will be sealed. Judge McCarty explained that he wanted the proceedings to be public because 18 Russian children who were adopted by American families died violently in the last 20 years, most of them only residing in the US for six months.

The Long Island children, who are 12 and 14 years-old, are presently in state mental health facilities.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Family Law Lies Endanger “Save China’s Tigers” Charity

10950859361151CDPStuart Bray met his wife Li Quan in 1990 and quickly embraced her passion to save China’s tigers and to develop a breeding program to reintroduce China’s tigers back to their wild reserves.

Each of them invested huge sums of money, time, and energy into their joint charity called “Save China’s Tigers” which was established in the United Kingdom in 2000.

Mr. Bray had a successful career in finance and banking before leaving the Deutsche Bank with a libel judgment in his favour for $20 million pounds. Ms. Quan and Mr. Bray began living together in 1997 and married in 2001.

Regrettably, the couple’s marriage floundered, in part because they could not agree about future policy for their tiger project. Ms. Quan commenced divorce proceedings in the divorce capital of Europe, London, England, and was removed from the directorship of the charity.

She alleged in Court that the millions of dollars held by the charity had been used by her husband as the family’s personal piggy bank and the estimated $25 million pounds remaining should be divided between them equally. The couple has few assets apart from the funds held by Save China’s Tigers.

At the outset, the Court noted that the determination of this preliminary issue would have a profound effect on Ms. Quan’s claims.

Judge Sir Paul Coleridge of London’s Family Division of the High Court found that Ms. Quan was bent on revenge, noting that she had gone so far as to say that if she could not lead the charity, she would rather destroy it. The Court heard that since the separation Ms. Quan has established a charity in competition with Save China’s Tigers.

However, the Court found there was no evidence of “past, present, or future benefit to the parties”, soundly rejecting Ms. Quan’s allegations. Justice Coleridge said her evidence was “fabricated to assist her case”.

Mr. Bray’s testimony was found to bear “all the conventional hallmarks of honesty and accuracy”.

Disappointed with the result, Ms. Quan remarked that she would appeal the decision.

Sir Paul Coleridge is a renowned jurist who recently retired from the English bench.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

How Family Law Court Costs Escalate…

_DSC4851One of the main reasons the middle class is abandoning family courts in droves is because of the bank-draining costs of litigation. While it may appear straight forward to bring a claim for parenting or child support, there are a myriad of legal skirmishes that accompany these claims, that are difficult to predict, and hence, make it impossible to estimate the amount of legal fees for any particular court case.

Typical preliminary court applications that may unpredictably drive up court costs include a challenge to a court’s jurisdiction to even hear and adjudicate a particular case, or a motion to remove a party’s lawyer based on an alleged conflict of interest, before a case gets started.

A wealthy Malaysian couple provide an excellent example of jurisdictional litigation. Dr. Khoo Kay Penn, the multi-millionaire majority shareholder of Welsh textile and fashion company, Laura Ashley, and owner of ten upscale hotels, married former beauty queen Pauline Chai in 1970, a union that produced five children.

The couple have multiple homes located in England, Canada, Australia and Kuala Lumpur. Shortly before the parties separated, they began living primarily in their United Kingdom home, worth a staggering $30,000,000, where they raise alpacas and llamas on a 1,000 acre country estate that has two man-made lakes.

Six months after separation Ms. Chai, age 68, filed a divorce petition in England. British law provides that a party may bring divorce proceedings in England if they have resided in the country for six months, a requirement satisfied by Ms. Chai.

It cannot be a coincidence that England is reputed to be the divorce capital of Europe and a venue that is highly sought after by women seeking a generous property division.

Dr. Khoo Kay Penn, age 74, resisted his wife’s British claims arguing that a court in Malaysia was the proper court to deal with their divorce as they were citizens of Malaysian, not Britain.

Their preliminary battle to determine which court has jurisdiction has already cost them approximately $2 million dollars, an amount one judge of the British court described as “eye-watering”. Mr. Justice Holman also questioned why the couple, who allegedly pay no tax in the United Kingdom, have “squeezed out” more important cases, while paying only a fraction of what it costs to staff and run a tax-payer funded court room.

At a recent ten-day hearing, Dr. Khoo Kay Penn argued that his wife was “forum-shopping” and her status in England was based on a visitor’s visa. However, Ms. Chai emerged the victor, after compiling a mountain of evidence including the fact that her collection of 1,000 pairs of shoes was housed in her English home and not in Malaysia or Australia.

Mr. Justice Bodey accepted that Ms. Chai intended to remain in the United Kingdom and would pay the required $1 million dollar fee to obtain permanent legal status in England. He doubted that Ms. Chai had a 1,000 pair of shoes, but on that point, I certainly believe her!

So on to the real dispute? Not so fast…Dr. Khoon Kay Penn will undoubtedly appeal the jurisdictional decision, and who knows how many other pre-trial battles will yet emerge.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Nevada Media Tells Tale of Vancouver Same-Sex Divorce Debacle

GEO CASUAL Television station KLAS Las Vegas featured a story last evening that told of a “divorce debacle” in our British Columbia Supreme Court.

Earlier this year I was retained by a woman in Nevada who, like many others, took advantage of Canada’s same-sex marriage laws. Vivian and her same-sex partner were married in Whistler, British Columbia in 2004, returning to their home state of Nevada, where both were accomplished professional women.

Along the way, Vivian’s partner adopted two children to whom Vivian played an equal mothering role during their marriage. Regrettably, their relationship broke down and Vivian quickly realized that she had no “legal” status with regards to her partner’s children, a most discomforting reality considering the equal role she had played in the children’s lives.

At the time of the separation of Vivian and her partner, same-sex marriage was not legal in Nevada and neither was there any legal provision for same-sex divorce.(Note:same-sex marriage is now legal in Nevada)

In August of 2013 the Canadian government became aware that many same-sex couples who married in Canada could not be divorced in their home countries, and so, a law was quickly passed that enabled same-sex couples to apply for a divorce in Canada in cases where both parties consented, or where a judge of the home country made an order that one of the parties was unreasonably withholding their consent.

Several months later Vivian was shocked when she received a copy of a divorce order made by a Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Vancouver. She had not been notified that a divorce proceeding had been initiated and completed in Vancouver.

The pronouncement of a divorce was significant with respect to Vivian’s chances of maintaining a parental role with the children and as well, sadly, her ex-partner was terminally ill, which had serious ramifications with respect to estate matters.

Would Vivian become a widow or was she a divorcee, with no legal rights?

It was about this time that Vivian retained me to assist her to determine how her partner was able to obtain a divorce order in Vancouver with no notice to her.

The divorce file in the Vancouver courthouse told the story. Vivian’s ex had filed the proper paperwork, which included a court order from the Las Vegas Justice Court, pronounced by Judge Melanie Andress-Tobiasson. This order declared that Vivian had unreasonably withheld her consent to a divorce. The problem was that Vivian was never informed, notified, or served with any divorce application.

Instead her ex-partner, who happened to be a lawyer in Las Vegas, appeared before Judge Andress-Tobiasson with no application, no motion, no paperwork of any kind, and obtained the order she sought. More significantly, the judge had no jurisdiction over family law cases!

Vivian contacted the Chief Justice of the Nevada Court who immediately voided the Nevada order and also ensured the order was declared void back to the time the Vancouver court made the divorce order.

Nonetheless, the divorce order is still in effect until a hearing can be set down in Vancouver to expose the unethical process and persuade the judge who made the divorce order to rescind it.

In the meantime, Vivian’s ex-partner died, and Vivian is now in court in Las Vegas battling for access to the two children, who are in the primary care of her ex’s new partner.

Judge Gloria O’Malley, presiding over the custody hearing, referred to the divorce debacle saying:

“The order was problematic in numerous respects…The Court is not comfortable with the process used to obtain the ex parte order from Justice Court…there was no due process to Vivian. She didn’t have an opportunity to be heard. She didn’t have an opportunity to present her position”.

Judge Andress-Tobiasson is being sued personally in federal court by Vivian for civil rights violations. As for “judicial immunity”, because the judge had no jurisdiction to make the order, arguably she cannot avail herself of the immunity protection.

It is also likely that judicial discipline proceedings may follow.

Vivian believes that “a huge favour was called in. It’s classic cronyism, corruption, and a back-room deal”. I agree with her, and thought this kind of justice only occurred in countries like Russia and Zimbabwe!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

ANOTHER WRONGFUL CONVICTION: IVAN HENRY “INNOCENCE ON TRIAL” by JOAN MCEWEN

BarristerI admit it…I’m a crime junkie. I’ve read every true crime book written by Ann Rule and Jack Olsen. I’m also a big fan of America’s Most Wanted, and I frequently peruse the FBI Most Wanted List. Don’t hate me when I tell you that I follow the executions in the States, even though I’m against capital punishment.

Having established my credentials to review Vancouver lawyer Joan McEwen’s new book “Innocence on Trial: The Framing of Ivan Henry” Heritage House Publishing 2014, I should also add that I’m a criminology graduate and have been married to a police officer for almost three decades.

Beginning with Steven Truscott and on to David Milgaard, Guy Morin, Romeo Phillion, Michael Morton and so many others, I have been horrified by the number of men who have languished in prison for crimes they did not commit, both in Canada and the United States.

But Joan McEwen’s story of the persecution of Ivan Henry brings it all home, right to our doorstep in Vancouver British Columbia, where a down-on-his-luck ex-con, father to two young daughters, found himself ensnared in a nightmare that still has not ended, after serving 27 years in prison.

Ivan Henry, age 35, was in an on-again/off-again relationship with ex- wife Jessie, a drug addict, when he was detained by the Vancouver Police Department as a burglary suspect. What he didn’t know was that the police were really after him for fifteen sexual assaults attributed to a sex offender the police called the “rip-off rapist”, based on the offender’s pretense that he was looking for someone who had stolen from him. Henry’s record contained one hit for attempted rape, a charge he pled guilty to on the advice of his lawyer when he lived in Winnipeg.

He denied being involved in any sexual offences and offered to take a polygraph test. The police declined his offer, but were adamant that he participate in a line-up. When he resisted, three “lean and mean” uniformed officers grabbed him and maneuvered him into a line with an assortment of their dark-haired colleagues, wrapping themselves around him, while holding his head of red hair in a vise-grip.

The photo of that line-up became a crucial part of Henry’s case and it was later revealed to be a “trophy”, retained by the trial judge, Mr. Justice Bouck, who proudly displayed it in the Judge’s Lounge in the courthouse at 800 Smithe Street, Vancouver. Cheap laughs…

Henry was immature and ornery, and too foolish to realize he was in water over his head when, after a preliminary hearing before His Honour Wallace Craig, he was committed to trial for ten counts of rape. Before his 1983 jury trial began Henry fired his legal aid lawyer. When offered the services of legal star, Richard Peck as trial counsel, Henry declined, believing the system was rigged and that Peck was just another player in the grand conspiracy against him.

How difficult could it be? There was no evidence against him: no hair, fibre, DNA , confession, or eye witnesses, and he had an alibi for many of the times he was alleged to be in flagrante delicto.
His trial tactics were unconventional, to say the least. Because he knew he had not assaulted any of the parade of women who identified him as their rapist, some of whom said they recognized his voice, he argued they were all liars…making it all up.

Before the trial completed Henry came to the realization that while he could handle the facts, he needed a lawyer to help him with the law. When he asked Mr. Justice Bouck to allow him to obtain a lawyer for that purpose, Bouck J. said:

“You should have thought of that before…I said you should have a lawyer. You turned it down. You elected to represent yourself. You take the chances…We’ve given you a copy of Martin’s Criminal Code.”

After ten hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Ivan Henry on all ten counts, whereafter Crown Counsel Mike Luchenko announced the Crown was seeking a dangerous offender designation. As night follows day, Henry was “bitched”, the expression used to describe criminals found to be “habitual” or dangerous offenders.

Henry poured over law books in preparation for his appeal but could not afford the thousands of dollars required for the court transcripts. Eventually he appeared before British Columbia’s Court of Appeal on a motion to dismiss the appeal for want of prosecution, brought by appellate crown Al Stewart, later Mr. Justice Stewart. Of course, the
Crown won and Henry was banished to purgatory. Later his leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was also rebuked.

Ms. McEwen’s carefully researched story reveals indifference, betrayal, class discrimination, and worst of all, a cast of characters who didn’t give a damn about Ivan Henry. He was just the usual collateral damage in the state’s zeal to close the books on a series of assaults that continued after Henry was locked away.

As the truth spills out, we learn that Ivan Henry’s ex-wife, sold him down the river, a la Judas Iscariot, in exchange for a few pieces of silver and gold, that ended up in her arm.

The unfortunate women who were victimized by a rapist, were then victims of a justice system that wasn’t really interested in the truth, for if it had been, they could have seen it staring in their face.

It is difficult to say who comes off worse in this sordid tale. Based on Ms. McEwen’s careful narrative, it must be a tie between Crown Counsel Mike Luchenko and trial judge Mr. Justice Bouck, both of whom deserve censure for the roles they played. By 1983, it was no secret that eyewitness testimony was unreliable and could never, by itself, be the foundation for a life sentence. But that’s what happened.

Years later, when one of the heroines of this story, Crown Counsel, Jean Connor , voiced her suspicions to the Attorney-General, concerning the convictions of Ivan Henry, McEwen reports that Mr. Luchenko tried, undeservingly, to take credit for an eleventh hour redemption.

With twists and turns galore, and an unvarnished glimpse of Canada’s brutal prison system, Ms. McEwen’s book is a compelling must-read for anyone who still believes justice should be blind, and that it is better that ten guilty men go free than to have one innocent man suffer.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Airhead Reality Star Chastised by Divorce Court Judge

GEO CASUALNothing irks me more than women who have no  obvious intelligence or talent,  other than to parade around in their underwear on the set of a reality TV show. Case in point? Bethany Frankel.

She started her television career as one of two finalists on Martha Stewart’s short-lived TV show “The Apprentice”, a spin-off from Donald Trump’s hit show. She then appeared on the Real Housewives of New York City, a reality TV franchise I have never watched, with the exception of the Real Housewives of Vancouver with its irrepressible star, Jody Claman.

To her credit, Ms. Frankel created a beverage company called “Skinnygirl Cocktails”, and later sold it for millions of dollars. I tasted the mojito version once and pronounced it light but adequate.

She’s been married twice: the first marriage lasting a year and the second lasting two years. It was while she was in divorce court this week that her silly behaviour came to the attention of the judge.

Bethany had  earlier posted a photo of herself on instagram where she posed in her four-year-old daughter’s pink  Hello Kitty pyjamas, very proud of the fact that she could fit into them! The photo went viral.

Justice Ellen Gesmer admonished Ms. Frankel, by telling her lawyer “no more pyjamas!”. When her counsel explained  to the judge that it was simply a joke, she replied “It’s not a joke, her child is not a joke.”

With today’s inane celebrity culture, Ms. Frankel has managed to accumulate $55 million dollars in assets, property that her estranged spouse, Jason Hoppy, is hoping to share with her.

Happily for this little family, the parties have agreed to share custody of Brynn, now the fight is just over money, of which Ms. Frankel has lots!

Ever Hear of “Divorce Trolling”? Me Neither.

10950859361151CDPApparently “divorce trolling” has gotten so bad in the State of Michigan that a new law has been proposed to outlaw the practice, a bill sponsored by Michigan Republican Senator Rick Jones.

You ask “what is divorce trolling?” Good question. According to Senator Jones:

“When a woman is a victim of domestic violence and decides to file for divorce from her abusive husband, she should not have to worry about a trolling attorney tipping off her husband before she has time to protect herself and the children by taking actions like moving into a shelter house or getting a personal protection order.”

The proposed law will make it unlawful for a person to intentionally contact an individual that the person knows to be a party to a divorce action filed with a court, or an immediate family member of that individual with a direct solicitation to provide  a legal service until the expiration of 14 days after the date the proof of service is filed with the Court.

A first violation of this law is punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, but if you get caught a second time or more, you’re looking at possible imprisonment and a fine of not more than $5,000.

I can only guess that divorce lawyers in Michigan are desperately in search of clients. Here in Vancouver it takes weeks to get an appointment with a top lawyer and even then, they may not want your case.

The good senator, a former sheriff, wants to make sure that women and children who flee a violent relationship aren’t further bugged by lawyers during this emotional time. Hard to believe that legislators in Michigan have nothing better to do than enact unenforceable laws.

I can picture it now…a sleazy lawyer lounging in  a criminal courtroom, jotting down names of domestic violence victims so he/she can run to a telephone to offer legal services to their spouse? Ya think?