Attorney Uses Forged Power of Attorney to “Pull the Plug” on Her Wealthy Father

Elder abuse is a world-wide phenomenon that has only recently received the attention and research dollars that it deserves. For our senior citizens who are victims of caregivers or family members, the emotional and physical damage and financial exploitation is often hidden behind closed doors.

Such is the case in an elder abuse case in Missouri that has been exposed by authorities who have charged Kansas City lawyer, Susan (Liz) Elizabeth Van Note, age 44, with first degree murder and felony forgery.

Liz Van Note’s 67-year-old father and his long-time girlfriend, who he intended to marry, were attacked by an intruder in their Ozarks vacation home. Mr. Van Note’s girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, age 59, did not survive her gunshot wounds and died at the scene.

Mr. Van Note survived and was transported to hospital, but died four days later, after his only child, Liz, gave his medical team a durable power of health care attorney, that authorized her to determine whether or not to “pull the plug”. She decided that life support should be terminated. With the death of her father and his fiance, Liz Van Note became the beneficiary of his multi-million dollar estate.

Authorities later determined that the power of attorney was a forgery.

A September 2012 criminal indictment against Ms. Van Note says that she “knowingly caused the death of William Van Note by shooting him… either acting alone or by knowingly acting together with or aiding another or others” and used a forged power of attorney to deny him potentially life-saving treatment. No charges have yet been brought against her in respect of the death of Sharon Dickson.

Two high school friends of Ms. Van Note’s have also been charged with felony forgery and second degree murder. Desre and Stacy Dory also plead not guilty.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Van Note was removed as the executrix of her father’s estate and was ordered to relinquish control of the assets in her father’s estate. She did, however, manage to post cash bail of $1 million dollars after pleading not guilty, a situation that has caused concern because Ms. Van Note filed for bankruptcy the year before her father’s death, claiming assets of $250,000 against debts of $375,000.

The obvious inference is that Ms. Van Note has already helped herself to estate assets.

Ironically, Liz Van Note practices estate law touting her “compassionate representation of clients” and expertise in end-of-life issues.

UPDATE: Liz Van Note has now been charged with the murder of Sharon Dickson. She was also jailed for contempt of court when she failed to return monies she spent from her deceased father’s estate. Charges have been dropped against high school friends, Desre and Stacy Dory, who unwittingly witnessed the forged power of attorney.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Law Firm Caught Up in Bogus Sunken Treasure Find

DSC00275_1Jay Miscovich was a bright man, with a medical degree in his pocket, but he preferred the world of business and real estate investments until, down-on-his-luck, he turned his talents to finding sunken treasure off the coast of Florida.

He told a story about running into an old friend in a bar in Key West, who showed him some salvage fragments which appeared to be from a Spanish galleon. He purchased a map from his friend for $500.00, where X marked the spot of a possible treasure trove of sunken artifacts and perhaps more.

He and a buddy, later a partner in the company they incorporated, began diving in the location marked on the map and lo and behold, they discovered over 80 pounds of emeralds on the ocean floor. But under Florida law they needed the admiralty court to confirm their find and legally recognize their ownership.

It was not to be as straight-forward as they hoped.

A well-established treasure salvage company, Motivation Inc., who in the 1980’s staked claims to two Spanish galleons that sunk in 1622 and rescued over $400 million dollars in booty, including gold and silver, challenged Mr. Miscovich’s claim, saying the area where the emeralds were found, was part of their salvage operations, 30 miles off the Key West coast.

Miscovich needed a lawyer and hired the well-respected firm of Young Conaway in Delaware. Young Conaway partner, Bruce Silverstein, ran the case and became an investor in the project as well. Silverstein engaged counsel in Florida to represent Miscovich in admiralty court. Young Conway’s legal fees would be paid from a percentage of the treasure, after sufficient monies were raised from investors to conduct the salvage operation.

Under the intense scrutiny of Motivation Inc., Jay Miscovich’s tale of treasure began to fall apart. Lab tests revealed that the emeralds were coated with a 20th century epoxy. But it was to get worse.

In later court proceedings a Florida jeweller testified that Mr. Miscovich purchased $50,000 worth of low-quality emeralds from him several months before the “find”.

Jay Miscovich committed suicide once the fraud began to unravel.

An investor’s group filed a $10 million dollar lawsuit against Silverstein and his firm, alleging that the goal of the enterprise was to extract money from investors and lenders, and conceal and perpetuate the fraud.

They also claimed that Miscovich fraudulently pumped up the value of the emeralds by causing Young Conaway to file false documents. Finally, they said Young Conaway’s litigation tactics were intended to “thwart and intimidate” the opposition by imposing “enormous litigation and investigation costs”.

Motivation Inc. had earlier brought a lawsuit against Young Conaway for fraud and bar sanctions against Bruce Silverstein, alleging that Silverstein aided and abetted Miscovich’s fraud, while deliberately delaying the legal proceedings by filing frivolous applications designed to overwhelm Motivation Inc.in a paper war.

This week a Florida court threw out Motivation’s fraud claims against Young Conaway, but agreed that Bruce Silverstein must face a sanctions hearing, not a trifling matter in the practice of law.

In the meantime, the investor’s claims are still alive, pending an upcoming trial.

As for attorney Silverstein, it is reported that he has an impeccable reputation with both the bar and the bench, and is highly offended by the allegations that he knowingly participated in the fraud. Young Conaway’s view is that they are innocent victims of their client’s treasure hunt scam.

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

Why Family Law Lawyers Will Always Bill By the Hour

GEO CASUALI read a piece in the Huffington Post this week written by Jim Halfens of Divorce Hotel, who argued that it was about time that divorce lawyers charged a fixed fee for the legal work they perform, instead of sticking to the “old way” of hourly billing.

It will never happen and for good reason! If Mr. Halfen knew the frailties of the family court system and the opportunities for abuse and delay, he would understand. But let me paint you a picture of regular occurrences in the practice of family law;

A client asks you to draw up a comprehensive separation agreement or prenuptial agreement, which without complications will cost in the range of $3,000. The problem is that often clients will request the agreement, expend the funds, all without having any idea whether their spouse will agree or sign the agreement.

Of course, it is an utter waste of time to present an agreement to your spouse, the terms of which have never been discussed with him or her. My practice is to warn clients that they may be wasting money, if they haven’t bothered to determine if their spouse is “on side”.

Once the client believes their spouse will cooperate, it is a “go” for the agreement and usually clients want to know exactly how much it will cost and want you to guarantee that fee estimate.

But it can’t be done….because every agreement and spouse is different and you can never rely on a client’s advice that their situation is straight forward. For example, it is commonplace to ask your client to provide you with a list of all their assets, their estimated values, and also their debts and the amounts owing. You also need the same information from their partner.

Of course, you can’t forget to request their recent personal and corporate tax returns, and in the case of companies, the financial statements as well. While the client may imagine their financial situation is simple, usually it is not, particularly where there are more sophisticated assets, like trusts, annuities and off-shore assets. But you don’t know any of that until you receive all the documents and my experience is that you never get everything you need or it trickles in over a lengthy period of time.

Lawyers bill for their expertise and the time it takes them to complete a task for their client. In this agreement scenario, it would be foolish to quote a fixed fee for ten hours of time, when it may take you twenty hours, or more. Another difficulty is that once the agreement is complete, your client’s partner will take it to her or his lawyer to review and negotiate. That could take two hours or ten hours, because initially you don’t often know who your client’s spouse will retain. One thing lawyers know is the negotiation styles of their colleagues, some lawyers are known to be reasonable, but others are not.

However, the agreement scenario is a piece of cake compared to the living nightmare if you must enter the family justice system, once negotiation and mediation have failed.(Unless of course, you are smart enough to agree to a private arbitration, but that’s another article) If you thought your lawyer was expensive before, this calamity will cost you not only heaps of money but also your emotional and psychological sanity. Where to begin?

After all the negotiations and mediations are at an end, the first thing you’ll have to do is attend a mandatory mediation with a judge, who may or may not be capable of facilitating a settlement. But it’s not like you haven’t already been there, done that. This first step will cost you several thousand dollars and it is not optional in most cases.

Once that has been a complete bust, you enter the nightmare called family law litigation, an experience that frightens even those who are courtroom addicts. The first shock is that you must produce every single piece of paper that has anything to do with the issues in your case, and I mean everything: your kid’s report cards, your kid’s medical records, all paper that is related to your assets and debts, including statements for long-lost bank accounts, credit card statements for the past five years, business records and financial statements, tax returns, and all the damning emails your spouse has sent to you, but that’s just the beginning.

Speaking of emails, most lawyers spend a lot of time reading lengthy email missives from their clients, and also multiple strings of nasty emails between client and his or her spouse, many of which will be producible for court. Hard to predict in advance whether you’ll need to read a hundred emails or several thousand. And don’t forget your lawyer will regularly scour the internet for damaging posts and pictures.

You’ll need to hire appraisers: lots of them, to value your home, your summer cottage, your cars, your boat and trailer, your wine collection, art collection, antique furniture, and your pension. But none of those appraisals will be definitive because your partner will do the same, and if you have a business, you need to set aside $30,000 or more to pay a business valuator. Welcome to the battle of the experts!

Worse than all of that is that when you finally prepare to go to court, you’ll get there and sit in a courtroom all day, only to learn that you have to come back another day, because the judge ran out of time. More delay and more costs because all that work your lawyer did to prepare, must be redone to prepare again, after all, your lawyer has dozens of clients and with even a delay of one week will not remember all the details without another review. You finally get a judge and you learn that you won’t get a decision for weeks, even months.

Tell me honestly, how do you provide your client with an infallible estimate of what it all will cost? That’s right, you don’t, because you can’t.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Would You Hire a 101 Year-Old Lawyer?

GEO CASUALPhiladelphia lawyer, Murray Shusterman, loves the law and has no intention of retiring anytime soon, despite his pending 102nd birthday. A lawyer since 1936 he practices corporate and real estate law at blue-chip firm Fox Rothschild, a firm with 600 lawyers and 19 offices coast to coast. This remarkable man only stopped driving a car last year, the same year he packed in his golf game…leaves him more time to focus on his first love.

But Murray’s longevity as a lawyer also makes him one of America’s oldest citizens, one of only 55,000 persons age 100 or over in the United States today. While Murray’s energy has not waned, his hearing has, and he has wisely stepped down from legal commitments he undertook for years. For example, until recently he was an adjunct professor teaching corporate and real estate law at his alma mater, Temple University, in Philadelphia.

His value to Fox Rothschild’s goes way beyond his legal skills. Murray’s knowledge of the history of Philadelphia and his dedication to community causes also propels his solid reputation. He has been a leader in the Jewish community and a trustee of Temple University, besides being a generous donor to the school. In 1994 he and his family donated $1 million dollars to Temple Law School where his name crowns the renovated Hall, and last year he gave another $1.1 million to the school to fund a professorship.

When asked for the highlights of his career he answered “There’s no such thing….the real secret is to be decent, to be fair and to be forgiving…and don’t take yourself too seriously”.

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