Convicted Murderer Teaches Himself the Law, Obtains a New Trial and Acquittal

DSC00275_1Rodell Sanders is yet another victim of a corrupt criminal justice system in America. In 1993 he was a member of a gang called the Gangster Disciples in Chicago, Illinois. In December 1993 a carjacking took place resulting in a robbery and the murder of Philip Atkins, the male driver of the vehicle. His female companion, Stacy Armstrong, was also gunned down and left for dead, but she gained consciousness and managed to drag herself to a neighbor who called 911.

Stacy Armstrong was shown a photo line-up of possible suspects, one of whom was Rodell Sanders. Despite Ms. Armstrong’s description of her attacker as a 6 foot tall, slender, medium-skinned black man, she identified Rodell Sanders as her attacker. He was a hefty 180 pounds and 5 feet 8 inches. The Chicago police arrested Mr. Sanders and another gang associate of his, Germaine Haslett.

Haslett was persuaded by the police to finger Sanders as the guiding mind in the robbery, murder and attempted murder in exchange for a five year sentence. The police knew that Haslett was fully involved in the crimes but were anxious to turn Rodell Sanders into a gang informant with the threat of a lengthy jail term. Sanders refused their plea bargain of 23 years imprisonment and plead not guilty at trial.

Rodell Sanders knew he was being set up as he had a confirmed alibi supported by affidavits of associates who were with him at a party the night of the crimes. He hired a private detective to interview Haslett to determine why Haslett was lying about him. The detective taped a conversation where Haslett admitted that Sanders was not involved at all but that he was pressured by the police to testify against Sanders.

One of the questions put to Haslett by the private eye was “whether the police had urged him to lie on Rodell Sanders and place him at the scene of the crime?” Haslett answered in the affirmative.

Unfortunately, Sander’s lawyer did not call the private detective to testify and did not cross-examine Haslett about his lies. With the eye witness testimony of Ms. Armstrong and Haslett’s corroborative testimony, Sanders was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison. His appeal of the convictions also failed.

But he knew he was innocent and dedicated himself to learning the law, asking his family to save up some money so he could purchase the legal textbooks he needed to turn his case around. Rather than hanging out with his fellow inmates, he spent eight hours a day, seven days a week pouring over the law. He said he did it for his wife and children and because he did not want to die an innocent man in jail.

By 2003 Rodell Sanders was in a position to file a petition to the court alleging incompetent trial counsel in his bid for a new trial. He was successful in a 2006 hearing and a new trial was ordered, but not before the State filed an appeal, losing it, but delaying a new trial until 2010.

At his new trial, the jurors voted 11 to 1 for a guilty verdict, however, without unanimity it was a hung jury. He had a second trial this week where the jury deliberated for only five hours before acquitting him of all charges. He left prison last week, age 49, after serving twenty years on trumped-up charges.

Mr. Sanders has launched a civil suit against police and the justice authorities for their role in the nightmare he has endured.

As always, I wonder how the State, once in possession of the facts involving a rogue police officer, recanted testimony, and bogus eye witness identification, can be so arrogant as to appeal every court decision favourable to Mr. Sanders. Truly disgusting!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

A Snake in a Suit

10950859361151CDPNew Jersey lawyer Paul Bergrin spent five years working for the “good guys” as a prosecutor in Newark, New Jersey. That is one of the reasons his slide into the ranks of the worst criminals is so astounding.

Bergrin then took up a career as a criminal defence lawyer and was hailed as an aggressive and brash advocate who acted for gang members and drug dealers. His clients also included Oscar-nominated actress/singer Queen Latifah and rapper L’il Kim.

Bergrin gained a reputation as someone who would do whatever it took to get a client acquitted. His reputation first took a hit when he was arrested for running a brothel called NY Confidential whose owner, his former client Jason Itzler, had been incarcerated for money laundering, among other offences.

This brothel gained notoriety with the revelation that New York attorney-general Eliot Spitzer was a frequent flyer of their $1,000.00 per hour services.

If felony charges had been pursued Mr. Bergrin could have served as many as 25 years in prison, however, the matter was heard as a misdemeanor and he received three years probation and a $50,000.00 fine.

But his troubles were far from over. In 2009 Bergrin was charged with conspiracy to murder, witness intimidation and faced RICO charges for racketeering and belonging to a criminal organization. RICO legislation was originally enacted in the US to cripple the Mafia. The RICO charges were later dismissed by a trial judge, but reinstated once the Court of Appeal had its say.

Bergrin’s alleged defence tactics were far from the norm and included the provision of sexual services, courtesy of his brothel, to influence jail guards, police officers and informants. Even more unusual was the sudden death of persons who were witnesses in cases where he was defending the accused.

It was discovered that in eight Superior Court cases, witnesses were murdered or paid to give false evidence. One case involved the slaying of a FBI informant and in another, Bergrin hired a hit man to take out a witness against his client. With one dead witness, the only other witness recanted and Bergrin’s client walked away from capital murder charges.

When Bergrin attempted to get bail the State played tapes of conversations that Bergrin had with the alleged hit man, an undercover officer. He was denied bail.

Life has changed for Paul Bergrin. He was in solitary confinement for six months and remains in jail awaiting his trial. He no longer wears the stylish suits he was known for and I am sure he misses his beachside home.

Truly, a snake in a suit.

UPDATE:

On March 18, 2013, a jury convicted attorney Bergrin of all 23 counts on which he was tried, including conspiracy to murder a witness and other racketeering, cocaine and prostitution offenses.

The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, announced the verdict saying: “Bergrin’s conduct was a stunning violation of his role as an officer of the court and a betrayal of his roots as a member of law enforcement. Today, the jury returned the verdict compelled by the evidence and imposed the justice he deserved. We take no joy from his tragic fall, but I am extremely proud of the work done by those in my office and agents from the FBI, IRS and DEA that led to this just result.”

Bergrin received a life sentence on Sept. 23, 2013.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED- THE SERIES: ALAN EAGLESON

_DSC4179 - Version 2Alan Eagleson graduated from the University of Toronto’s Law School and was a prominent Toronto lawyer and Member of Parliament in Ontario before he began his lengthy career as agent, promoter and hockey guru extraordinaire.

His accomplishments in the world of hockey were pivotal to the growth and stature of professional hockey and its players. It was Eagleson’s impetus to form a union for players that birthed the National Hockey League Player’s Association in 1967.

He became the NHLPA’s first executive director and held that position for 25 years. By 1979, Eagleson was providing financial services to some of hockey’s biggest stars, encouraging them to invest wisely in order to retire financially secure.

It was Eagleson’s foray into internatonal hockey, notably the 1972 match between Russia and Canada, that cemented his now international reputation. His esteem, in his clients’ eyes, was multiplied when he took on one of the off-ice hockey officials in the 1972 game insisting that the referees had missed a Canadian goal.

As matters escalated, soldiers of Russia’s Red Army began to converge around Mr. Eagleson. Canadian fans jumped from the bleachers to intervene on Eagleson’s behalf. After this confrontation he turned on his heels and “fingered” the Soviet hockey fans as he walked back to the bench.

As Eagleson’s power base grew, suspicions arose as to the inner workings of the NHLPA and several American sports journalists began investigating Eagleson and the NHLPA in 1989/1990. By this time, Eagleson was a living legend in Canada and vague allegations of mismanagement were ignored by Canadian journalists, many of whom owed favors to Eagleson. This year also saw Eagleson obtain the Order of Canada and admission into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The beginning of Eagelson’s demise occurred when evidence revealed that he had been playing around with player’s pension funds such that when Bobby Orr retired he was almost bankrupt, with significant unexpected tax liabilities.

Even more egregious was Eagelson’s skimming of funds from international games, money that was used to provide a lavish lifestyle for Eagleson. The players were told that their salary from international play would be deposited to their pension accounts. Instead, Eagelson embezzled the money for his own use.

Eagleson also defrauded injured players who sought to rely on their insurance funds when their playing days were over. He charged extraordinary fees alleging that it was only through his negotiation with insurers that the players received their settlements. None of it was true.

Eventually in 1993 Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper ran with the story and began their own inquiries. In 1994 Eagleson was indicted in the United States for racketeering, obstruction of justice, embezzlement and fraud.

It was only after one of Eagleson’s clients wrote a book outlining his criminal conduct that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began their own investigation and in 1996 Eagleson was charged with eight counts of fraud and theft.

Eagleson managed to avoid extradition to face the US charges for three years, using his considerable clout with Canadian authorities. He later plead guilty to three counts of mail fraud in a Boston court and was fined $700,000.00

Eagleson was charged with eight counts of fraud and embezzlement by the RCMP and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. His disbarment followed, together with the withdrawal of his Order of Canada and his removal from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

To the surprise of many Americans, Eagleson was pardoned in Canada in 2005. Canadian pardons are a dime a dozen, since the central criteria is to “keep your nose clean” for five years.

Just another tale of greed that ruined Eagleson’s reputation and his life. The question is: Why do the most successful fall prey to this avarice?

“Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it, it is never enough.”
Janwilliam van de Wetering, Dutch writer

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Why I Support Canada’s Proposed New Law on Prostitution

BarristerOn Tuesday I will make submissions to the House of Commons Justice Committee on Canada’s new prostitution laws, which passed second reading several weeks ago, and will surely become the law of the land, perhaps with some amendments.

As many of you know, I was counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in Attorney General v. Bedford and one of the few voices in the Supreme Court of Canada that urged that prostitution not be legalized.

Of course, we all know that the law criminalizing activities related to prostitution was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada last December, thus opening the door for our federal government to create new law, taking into account the necessity for it to pass constitutional muster.

The new law does just that. It decriminalizes prostitution for the women and girls that trade in sexual services, but makes it illegal to purchase sex in Canada, thus targeting customers (johns) and those who seek to exploit (pimps) the mostly female, often aboriginal victims of the sex trade. It permits the selling of sexual services so long as it is not conducted in the vicinity of children 18 or under. It also forbids the advertisement of sexual services.

The basis of my objections to the legalization of prostitution is founded on one of Canada’s underlying principles, that respect for the human dignity of each person is foundational to our society, a dignity whose inherent value was confirmed by our highest court in the Rodriguez case (euthanasia) and finds expression in the 1949 United Nations Protocol on the trafficking of humans, a convention signed by Canada which provides:

“Prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of a person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.”

The view that prostitution subordinates and victimizes women and girls is not particularly popular, but I have seen it first hand when I lived on Granville Street in the early 1970’s and in Vancouver’s west end in the 80’s. The image of a “happy hooker” is a Madison Avenue gimmick that has no basis in reality.

When my husband, Doug, ran the Vancouver Vice Squad, I saw again the squalor and exploitation of young, addicted woman, both tragic and poignant.

To those who say that legalization is the only answer, one only has to look at those countries who have based their social policy on sex work as a legitimate job with benefits paid and tax collected.

Perhaps the best example that the harms inherent in prostitution are not alleviated by legalization is the State of Victoria in Australia where prostitution was legalized in the 1990’s.

It was said that legalizing sex work would assist in eradicating the criminal element, guard against unregulated expansion, and combat violence against prostitutes.

How wrong they were…violence was not eliminated, street prostitution was not curtailed as they naively expected, working conditions were no safer than before, prostitution escalated and turning sex work into a legitimate business opportunity for women and girls did not dignify or professionalize prostitutes.

Instead there occurred massive expansion, particularly in the illegal sector with unlicensed brothels. Women were not empowered to become self- sufficient entrepreneurs, as they could not compete with the businessmen who took over the brothel business. Street prostitution was not eliminated as street workers had a host of social problems including addictions, mental illness, and an inability to be hired by legal brothels because of their lifestyles.

Canada’s new prostitution bill addresses many of the safety concerns identified by the Supreme Court of Canada, but more than that, the tenor of the law does not accede to the notion that prostitution is acceptable and legitimate in a free and democratic society.

In my view, prostitution not only harms the women and girls involved but also undermines the social fabric of Canada. It is too easy not to try to provide a way out for our mothers, sisters and aunts who are trapped in this degrading practice. It is a basic issue of human rights.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED- The Series: Roy Cohn

10950859361151CDP

Roy Cohn was a Jewish lawyer from the Bronx who gained fame and later notoriety as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy in his investigation into Communist activities in the 1950′s. Son of a judge and graduate of Columbia Law School at the age of twenty, Cohn had to wait until he was twenty-one to begin his legal career as a prosecutor in the Department of Justice offices in Manhattan.

Cohn worked on the Alger Hiss trial, an American lawyer, accused of being a Soviet spy, and was on the team of prosecutors who obtained espionage convictions and the death penalty for Soviet spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in 1951. Cohn often told others that it was his cross-examination of Ethel Rosenberg’s brother that sealed the convictions. He also bragged that it was his personal recommendation to the judge that the death penalty be imposed on the Rosenberg’s.

In 1954 Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Investigation chose Roy Cohn over Robert Kennedy to act as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy, the decision apparently made to avert any accusations of anti-Semitism. Several years later McCarthy and Cohn were investigated for the zeal they employed in the McCarthy hearings, including their condemnation of both communist sympathizers and homosexuals. Cohn bore the brunt of the criticism, while McCarthy’s career lay in shambles.

Cohn left the Department of Justice and went into private practice for thirty years, acting for high-profile clients such as Donald Trump, Mafia figures Tony Salerno and John Gotti, Studio 54 owner Steven Rubell, the Roman Catholic Diocese in New York and the New York Yankees Baseball Club.

In the 1970′s and 80′s, federal investigators charged Cohn with professional misconduct, perjury, witness tampering and financial improprieties involving city contracts and private investments, but he was never convicted.

However, in 1986 a five member panel of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division disbarred Roy Cohn for unethical conduct, misappropriation of client funds and pressuring a client to amend his will. The “will” incident happened in 1975 when Cohn attended upon a dying, comatose, multimillionaire client in hospital; lifted his hand, placed a pen in it and had him make a mark on a will that benefitted Cohn and his client’s granddaughter.

The official stripping of his license to practice law occurred in the last month of Cohn’s life in August 1986 at the age of 59. Mr. Cohn was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 but kept his illness a secret. It was reported that Mr. Cohn’s goal was to die completely impecunious, owing money to the U.S. tax authorities. He apparently succeeded.

Roy Cohn’s life and legacy survives in today’s popular culture. In the award winning “Angels in America”, written by Tony Kushner, Cohn was played by actor Al Pacino as a hypocrite haunted by the image of Ethel Rosenberg as he lays dying from AIDS. Characters modeled after Roy Cohn have also appeared in The Simpson’s, The X-Files, a Kurt Vonnegut novel and a song written by New Yorker, Billy Joel.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee

Cases of Coerced Confessions: Barry Beach

_DSC4851I recently read about Barry Beach, a man from Montana, who was convicted of the 1979 murder of 17-year-old Kimberly Nees, an outstanding young woman who was about to embark on her first year of university, until she was found in the Poplar River, bludgeoned to death.

Barry was like many young adults in the 70’s, dabbling in drugs and looking for his place in the world. During the Kimberly Nees murder investigation Barry was interviewed by the police, but nothing came of it.

He ended up in Louisiana at about the time that two young women were discovered murdered in their homes. One of the police investigators heard a rumour that Barry had been questioned in a murder in Montana and decided to bring him in for questioning, but not before the police contacted the Montana authorities to get the details of the Montana murder.

Barry was interrogated for many hours, a young man away from home and feeling very afraid of the situation he was in. Towards the end of the interrogation the lead investigators brought in their “closer”, a police officer with a reputation for closing cases, usually through confessions.

Ultimately, Barry confessed to the murder of Kimberly Nees and was extradited back to Montana where he was tried, convicted and sentenced to 100 years in prison with no possibility of parole.

Ms. Nees had been beaten in her own vehicle, a crime scene that contained multiple unidentified prints, including a palm print in blood, finger prints in the car, and foot prints leading away from the vehicle to the Poplar River where her body was dumped.

No physical evidence and no DNA linked Barry to the crime, the only evidence was the confession of the frightened 18-year-old who had been threatened by Louisiana police that he would end up in dying in “old sparky”, Louisiana’s electric chair.

Criminologists have studied the phenomenon of false confessions, particularly those made by young people, and have been persuaded they are more common than once thought.

Barry protested his innocence and undertook multiple appeals, but the trial verdict stood, until “Centurion Ministries”, an innocence project organization, took up his case and secured his freedom in 2011. He was released from prison and became a well-functioning member of society, but his new life was short-lived. In 2013 the Montana Supreme Court overruled the judge who set him free and he returned to prison to serve out his sentence.

With the support of Montana’s governor and many other respected, high-profile individuals he applied to the Montana Pardon and Parole Board for clemency and his release, having served thirty years of his sentence. In June of 2014 the Board refused his application and he remains in prison.

Jim McCloskey, the director of Centurion Ministries is convinced, after 14 years of investigating Mr. Beach’s case, that he is the victim of a perverted miscarriage of justice.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Lawyers Behaving Badly

49afd8240a58bf0fb97d4a86105572c1I’ve been told that sociopaths have three favorite occupations: practicing law, running large companies/CEO’s or holding government office/politicians! It’s a joke, but I’m sure more than a few people would agree. This week two “bad” lawyer articles came to my attention, thus my title “Lawyers Behaving Badly”.

The first is Fort Wayne Indiana lawyer James Allen Hanson, age 41, who in a fit of pique penned a Facebook message to the ex- husband of his matrimonial client, Nachole Mevis. Hanson was acting for her in respect of her divorce and in regards to an assault charge she faced where her former husband was the victim. It’s not clear why Mr. Hanson was so riled up, although media reports indicate his client was in jail for domestic assault. The message he sent read:

“You pissed off the wrong attorney. You want to beat up women and then play games with the legal system…well then you will get exactly what you deserve. After I get Nachole out of jail. I’m going to gather all the relevant evidence and then I’m going to anal rape you so hard your teeth come loose. I tried working with you with respect. Now I’m going to treat you like the pond scum you are. Watch your ass you little (expletive). I’ve got you in my sights now.”

Ms. Mevis’ former spouse, Chad Vice, contacted the police and attorney Jim Hanson was arrested and charged with felony intimidation, admitting that he sent the message to Mr. Vice while protesting that Mr. Vice gave as good as he got.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia Pennsylvania another lawyer came off the rails. Francis Malofiy brought a copyright infringement lawsuit against pop star, Usher, and nineteen other defendants in regards to Usher’s song, “Bad Girl”. In the course of representing his client, Dan Marino, Mr. Malofiy was described by trial judge Paul S. Diamond as “a paradigm of bad faith and intentional misconduct”, an unflattering portrait that was close to an understatement.

In a pretrial discovery/deposition of a certain witness, attorney Malofiy was deliberately abusive and obstructionist, making lengthy, baseless objections. He was also rude and sexist. In one exchange with defendant’s counsel he said “Don’t be a girl about this..” Opposing counsel responded “I would appreciate you not referring to me as a girl, which you have done repeatedly on the record and off the record.”

He continued to volley insulting and intimidating comments including:

“Counsel you’re defending thieves and you’re acting like somebody who should be hanging out with them at this point”

“You coached him to hell and the Judge came out and slammed you. Slammed you!”

“You’re like a little kid with your little mouth”

During one deposition Mr. Malofiy’s behavior prompted this response from the deponent:

“And for the record I’d like to say that I feel menaced and threatened by Mr. Malifiy and his continual outbursts and seemingly anger-driven conduct today.”

In a written submission to the court Mr. Malofiy addressed his argument “Response in Opposition Re: Joint Motion for Sanctions by Moving Defendants Who are Cry Babies.” The content of the argument included such brilliant points as “this is hogwash and claptrap”; “defence counsel are lying through their teeth”; “defence counsel is bizarre, off-kilter, absurd and professional complainers”.

Even worse than Malofiy’s abusive tongue, however, was his conduct in misleading an unrepresented defendant to believe he was merely a witness and was not being sued, behavior which drew the court’s most rigorous criticism. Mr. Malofiy defended himself by saying that he was a relatively unexperienced lawyer who needed a mentor to help him, protestations that were met with disdain from the court, who sanctioned him, leaving more stringent discipline, including disbarment, to be determined.

Two more reasons why lawyers are often branded as bullies!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Wife/Mother Uses 357 Magnum to Settle Scores

_DSC4179 - Version 2Linda Cooney is a woman with a 357 caliber Magnum revolver and a penchant for shooting it. To date she has shot and killed her husband, James Cooney, an event that occurred 23 years ago, and most recently in 2011, her son, Kevin Cooney, who is alive but a quadriplegic.

In the early 1990’s Linda and James Cooney were involved in what is described as a “high-conflict” divorce, rife with disputes over parenting time, contempt citations, and financial issues. Mr. Cooney was a Florida probate and tax lawyer who met Linda when she worked as a legal secretary. They married in 1979 and separated in 1987.

The court ordered Mr. Cooney to pay his wife three years of alimony and when the order expired, Ms. Cooney brought an application for continued spousal support and an order to move with their two young sons to California. Mr. Cooney opposed both motions and brought a cross application to remove custody of the children from his ex-wife on account of her “psychological instability”. He relied on examples of his ex-wife’s harassing, out-of-control behavior during the divorce proceedings and allegations in a lawsuit brought against her by a former boyfriend, who was also a lawyer. That suit settled when she accused the boyfriend of giving her herpes.

On the day of his death, James Cooney arrived at his wife’s home to pick up his sons Kevin, age 10 and Christopher, age 8, for a visit. Earlier that day Mr. Cooney had obtained a court order compelling Ms. Cooney to attend for a psychiatric assessment. Ms. Cooney’s lawyer told the jury that she shot her husband in self-defence when he attacked her with an eight inch kitchen knife.

When the police asked 11-year-old Kevin Cooney whether he saw something in his father’s hands, he said he did not. But later at the jury trial, he said he saw a “shiny object”. Court pundits say that the police investigation and evidence collection was shoddy, and Linda Cooney was acquitted, without even taking the witness stand in her own defence.

James Cooney’s family could not locate his will, however, his million dollar estate did not go to Ms. Cooney, but to his sons, although she was now their sole guardian.

Fast forward to 2011 when Linda Cooney again picked up her 357 and shot her son Kevin. Her lawyers say that she shot in self-defence when her 6’7″ son, who worked as a bouncer and doorman on the Las Vegas strip, punched her repeatedly after arguing about Kevin’s choice in girlfriends. An ongoing feud about girlfriend Karina Taylor developed after Linda Cooney called Ms. Taylor a “whore, a stripper and a skank” and advised her employer she was laundering money and selling drugs, all apparently untrue.

This time around Kevin will again play an essential role in his mother’s prosecution. He is reportedly not talking to police or cooperating with the state, although in an earlier statement he confirmed the shooting was an accident.

Meanwhile Linda Cooney has been in custody since February 2014 after her conviction for assaulting Ms. Taylor when she visited Kevin Cooney in the hospital during his recovery.

James Cooney’s family was shattered by the outcome of their son’s case and will likely be incredulous if Linda Cooney escapes justice twice, however, if Kevin testifies in her favour, that is the likely result.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Victim’s Voices to be Heard in Canadian Courts

_DSC4179 - Version 2Cretins, crooks, and convicts beware… the days of focusing on your hurts, habits and hang-ups will soon be superseded by a new Bill of Rights for victims, courtesy of Bill C-32, the Conservative government’s fulfillment of its election promise to recognize the forgotten victims of your crimes.

With the passing of this new law, victims will be empowered to ask questions and get answers about their offender’s history, bail conditions, plea bargains, parole terms, and other assorted procedures that to date have forced victims to strain to look inside the halls of justice, from a vantage point obscured by savvy defence lawyers and complacent prosecutors.

Case in point: an Ontario mother’s son was stabbed eighteen times with a penknife, suffering a horrible demise. His mother counted on Canada’s justice system to punish the offender in a manner commensurate with the brutality of the crime. When she learned, after the fact, about the plea deal that saw a reduced charge with a lenient prison term she and her family felt as if their son’s death was nothing more than an inconvenience, a second victimization.

The high-profile sentencing of pedophile Graham James to a mere two-year jail term rightly astonished his victims, adult survivors of James’ sick sexual proclivities. Thankfully, the Manitoba Court of Appeal righted the wrong by increasing his sentence to five years, still not enough for a man who repeatedly victimized young hockey players.

The proposed legislation also provides that where a victim loses his or her life, surviving family members and conjugal partners will have the ability to exercise the rights that would have been available to the victim, had he or she survived. Of course, family members charged and convicted of interfamilial homicide would not enjoy these rights.

With the new law, victim impact statements must be considered by sentencing judges and the ramifications of the victim’s physical, emotional, psychological, and financial scars will play a more central role. As well, under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights specialized bodies will be established to review complaints from victims or their families whose rights under the legislation have been breached. Financial restitution will also be available.

Quite properly, the rights granted will not be permitted to impede or interfere with police investigations or prosecutorial discretion, nor can they be used to create excessive delay. Indeed, the new Bill of Rights will not give victims of crime any status as parties or interveners in criminal law proceedings. These rights are designed to address victim’s concerns without overburdening the justice system.

Of course, not everyone is happy with the proposed law. Not surprisingly, several criminal defence lawyers oppose the bill, including Toronto’s always colourful Clayton Ruby who said the law was a “mess of porridge”, nothing more than a political ploy to sucker victims of crime.

Other naysayers include the John Howard Society, whose mandate is to advocate for offenders, particularly upon their release from prison. Meanwhile the Assembly of First Nations have complained they were not consulted, a startling proposition if it is accurate, considering the rampant victimization of aboriginal girls and women post- Willie Pickton.

While the bill may not go far enough for some, it is Canada’s first recognition that victims of crime deserve courtesy, respect, and compassion.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Terror in the Home: The Scourge of Domestic Violence

_DSC4179 - Version 2 A pair of tragic events has sadly reminded me of the scourge of domestic violence in our society. As a young woman I found myself in a relationship where the sudden, unexplained rage of my partner exploded in punches to my head, several times occurring while I was sleeping. These frightening events were always followed by tearful apologies and my departure from the relationship. However, time after time, the purplish bruises healed and I returned and forgave him, only to have the cycle repeat itself.

Sonia Cella is another survivor of domestic abuse, her secret revealed this week when her estranged husband, Andre Richard, age 44, attacked her and her 14-year-old daughter with a hammer after lighting the family home in Langley, British Columbia on fire. Thankfully, she escaped the blaze with her two children, her home destroyed.

Records show that Mr. Richard was charged with assault in 2009 and in February 2014, charges still before the court, and was subject to a restraining order, barring him from contact with his wife. I understand why the recent charges are pending, but can’t imagine why an assault in 2009 has not been adjudicated, some four years or more after the event.

The media reports that Ms. Cella’s ordeal this week was precipitated by her filing divorce documents in court, a step which all too commonly triggers threats of retaliation, and in some cases, leads to violence, even murder.

Across the country in Ottawa, a mother of five was beaten in her home on the same day as the B.C. incident, by her husband wielding a baseball bat. She fled the home and was found bleeding in her driveway, with her husband standing beside her, his weapon discarded. Shocked neighbours called 911.

Police officers located the bat and arrested Chris Hoare, age 44, for the attempted murder of his wife. As news of the attack spread, Hoare’s business colleagues couldn’t believe that the former president of the Ottawa Real Estate Board could have lashed out with such violence.

Early reports indicate the couple were having financial trouble, not unlike many middle-class families who creatively stretch their pay check under difficult circumstances.

But divorce and financial issues plague families all the time, so why did these two men respond with a hammer, a baseball bat, and arson?

Harvard law graduate Teresa Ou conducted research for a thesis titled “Are Abusive Men Different? Can We Predict Their Behavior?” She discovered that convicted abusers often seemed proud when they talked about kicking, slapping or biting their wives or girlfriends. Others completely denied being batterers, despite being arrested for assault.

She concluded that abusers were more anxious, irritable, moody, defensive and self-centred than the control group of non-abusers. They were also more stubborn, demanding, argumentative, suspicious and aggressive, characteristics that lead to a propensity for sudden outbursts of anger.

Yes, up to 50% of Canadian women over the age of 16 have suffered from some sort of domestic abuse. They are only too familiar with police intervention, covered bruises, overnights in tacky motels or crouched low in corners of their home to escape their attackers.

Even more frightening is that an estimated 362,000 Canadian children witnessed or experienced domestic violence in 2006, according to a UNICEF/United Nations report.

Is it any wonder that young children exposed to violence often become trapped in cycles of abuse themselves? As parents, relatives, and friends it is up to each one of us to do our part to educate and intervene.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang