Family Law Nightmare: Nozolino v. Nozolino

BarristerIf you thought you had an ugly divorce, you may reconsider after hearing about Nozolino v. Nozolino. The Nozolino’s from Colorado were divorced in 1999. Unhappy with the outcome of his family law trial, Bruce Nozolino, a software engineer in his 50′s, appealed the decision before Chief Justice Gil Martinez, regarding division of property, attorney’s fees and several other issues. To no avail, as his appeal was dismissed.

But Court was not over, it was merely adjourned to await the next battle. And there were many.

The Nozolino’s fought over every issue, whether large or small. They fought over the cars, his wife’s pension, her jewellery, the burgundy leather ottoman and particularly over the kids, how much time they would spend with their dad and how much money Bruce Nozolino would pay for their support.

Mr. Nozolino eventually fired his lawyer and redirected his fury from his allegedly adulterous ex-wife to her lawyer, John Ciccolello, a leading Colorado attorney, who he insisted was unethical and unprofessional, delaying hearings to prejudice Mr. Nozolino and making false statements against him.

At one point, Mr. Ciccolello sought to bring trespassing charges against Mr. Nozolino in respect of Nozolino’s attendance at his office, but the charges did not proceed. Meanwhile, Mr. Nozolino took every opportunity to bring Ciccolello to the attention of the Court, seeking sanctions for serious ethics breaches. None were ever proved.

In the midst of the divorce battle in October 2001 a shot was fired at the home of Chief Justice Gil Martinez. No arrests were made but soon after the Chief Justice removed himself from the Nozolino case. Most people thought it was just a coincidence until it was revealed that bullets had also been fired into the home of John Ciccolello a few months earlier.

On January 23, 2002 attorney Ciccolello was in his second floor office when a sniper’s bullet pierced the window and lodged in his eye socket . He believed he was going to die, but thankfully survived his injuries and even with his loss of vision and related hearing problems, continued his thirty year family law practice.

All eyes turned to Bruce Nozolino as the attacker, but with no inculpating evidence, charges could not be filed. Mr. Ciccolello spent years watching over his shoulder wondering and worrying what might be next.

He left the Nozolino case shortly after the shooting and in August 2002, the Court ordered that Mr. Nozolino pay his former wife’s attorney fees in the amount of $30,000.00. By this time, Mr. Nozolino was barred from having any contact with Ciccolello, his ex-wife and his children.

Colorado Springs lead investigator Terry Bjorndahl continued to pursue the investigation against Nozolino and also found himself the subject of a lawsuit brought by Nozolino against him. Nozolino alleged that when Detective Bjorndhal seized Nozolino’s gun collection, Bjorndahl had made the seizure in order to sell the guns to ensure that Bjorndahl’s divorce lawyer, none other than John Ciccolello, was paid his attorney’s fees arising from the Nozolino case. The suit was dismissed.

On November 30, 2008, 46 year-old Richard Schreiner was outside his Colorado Springs home shoveling snow when he was gunned down on his front sidewalk. Good police work uncovered information that indicated that during the Nozolino trial, his name had come up as a “friend” of Mrs. Nozolino’s.

After nine years of investigation and a three-month grand jury hearing, Bruce Nozolino was arrested in July 2010 and charged with thirty-one counts, including the murder of Richard Schreiner and the attempted murders of John Ciccolello and Chief Justice Gil Martinez. A public defender was assigned as counsel for Nozolino, who was being held without bond. Not one to lay idle, Nozolino was also busy tampering with witnesses and had five additional charges levied against him.

In September 2012 Nozolino was convicted of tampering with witnesses and perjury in relation to the grand jury inquiry into the murder of Richard Schreiner and the attempted murders of the judge and his wife’s lawyer. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

His trial on the remaining charges is scheduled for January 2014. Colorado is a death penalty state. You don’t say?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Who Knew? Abraham Lincoln Was a Divorce Lawyer

Did you know that America’s 16th President was a divorce lawyer? I didn’t, but according to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War of Middle Tennessee, he was.

And who are they? An organization founded to “Preserve the Memory of the Grand Army of the Republic and our ancestors who fought to preserve the Union 1861-1865″.

The Sons of Union hosted a program in Nashville Tennessee in 2012 that explored how Lincoln’s divorce practice impacted who he was as a leader and offered a glimpse of the society he lived in.

Researcher Stacy Pratt McDermott found that between 1837 and 1861 Lincoln and his three law partners handled 131 divorce cases in 17 Illinois county circuit courts. The state of Illinois was one of the first in America to grant divorces, make custody orders and provide alimony for women.

Grounds for divorce in Illinois included desertion, adultery, habitual drunkenness, repeated cruelty, impotency, bigamy, and felony conviction.

One case in particular reveals Lincoln’s approach to the business of divorce, which he apparently disliked but considered a necessary evil. In Rogers v. Rogers Lincoln was retained to act for Sam Rogers who sought a divorce on the basis of his wife’s desertion and her adultery. Lincoln persuaded his client that he didn’t need to rely on two grounds for divorce and recommended the divorce proceed under the ground of desertion.

The reason Lincoln chose not to pursue a divorce on the basis of adultery was to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment to his client’s wife. His sensitive approach, however, backfired, as his client was ordered to pay $1000.00 in alimony to his wife. Had he also plead adultery, his client would have paid nothing or a nominal amount.

Fortunately for his client Lincoln was able to reverse the alimony ruling and undoubtedly learned a lesson in the process.

Lincoln was not only a great leader and an advocate for the abolition of slavery, but was a sensitive, pragmatic man who practiced law for 25 years. While he handled railroad cases, tax cases and murder cases, his “bread and butter” was divorce law.

Historians now rank him among the top three United States Presidents and his Gettysburg Address on liberty, equality and democracy is one of the most often quoted political speeches.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Looking for a Lawyer? Buyer Beware

DSC00476 - Version 2The practice of law is both a profession and a business. Many lawyers can rely on their winning track record and high ethics to gain a reputation that engenders word-of mouth referrals.

Other lawyers buttress their status in the profession with advertising. Gone are the days, however, of yellow pages ads.

Today’s lawyers utilize television, radio, and the internet to entice potential clients. Many of these ads fall into the “conservative, balding lawyer standing in front of a bookcase” category. While others are innovative, even racy! Case in point:

An all-women law firm in Chicago created a billboard ad that read “Life’s Short. Get a Divorce.” The ad featured a photo of an attractive woman in her lingerie beside a handsome man with a six-pack. It turned out that the woman who posed for the ad was the lead attorney at the firm and the dude with her was her personal trainer. She reported that the firm was inundated with phone calls. Unfortunately, the billboard was removed seven days after it went up for an alleged by-law infringement.

Other forays into to the world of marketing are less provocative but no less effective. One family law firm, again an all-women firm, launched their print marketing with the headline “Ever Argue With A Woman?” I think they made their point very clear!

New York is the home of the lawyer who offers the “60 Minute Divorce for $299.00″. His slogan is “Got an Hour? Get a Divorce.” The bonus is that if you sign up, you get a $10.00 gift certificate for either Starbucks or MacDonald’s.

Other law firms have raised the hackles of their governing bodies with their ads.

In Nevada a lawyer bills himself as “The Heavy Hitter” in his rambunctious televisions spots and a Polish speaking lawyer ran an ad on a Polish-language radio station referring to himself as “The Lion of the Court”. The trouble was that he had never tried a case in court!

Looking for a lawyer? Buyer Beware!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Top Five Lawyer Movies

GAL & PAL #2jpgPeople love movies with suspenseful courtroom scenes where the accused is suddenly exonerated by a surprise witness. Doesn’t happen much in real life, but it reminds me that Hollywood used to make great legal movies Here’s my TOP FIVE list:

1. My Cousin Vinny (1992)

When two New Jersey Italian-Americans are charged with murder in Alabama, they need to find a lawyer, but the only lawyer they know is their cousin Vinny, who failed his bar exam six times. In this laugh-a minute comedy Vinny is played by Joe Peschi, while Marisa Tomei, plays his bubble-headed fiancee. Tomei received an Oscar for her role.

2. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

This Agatha Christie play was turned into a movie starring Marlene Dietrich. It is a terrific movie about a man falsely accused of murder. I have a soft spot in my heart for this film since several years ago, I played Marlene Dietrich in an Arts Club production at the Stanley Theatre in Vancouver, in several scenes where she disguises herself to dupe a lawyer. Many Oscar nominations for this movie.

3. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

This film portrays the real-life trial of four judges appointed by Hitler who were charged with crimes against humanity after World War II and tried at the Nuremberg Court. Nominated for many Oscars, and the recipient of three, it was one of the first Holocaust movies. It starred Humphrey Bogart, Richard Widmark, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and Montgomery Cliff. A new version starring Alex Baldwin was made for TV in 2000. It is also an excellent flick.

4. And Justice For All (1979)

Another riveting courtroom drama, this one starring Al Pacino shouting indignantly : “You’re out-of-order! You’re out-of-order. This whole courtroom is out-of-order! They’re out-of-order!” The story begins with Al Pacino’s character, a brash idealistic lawyer, in jail for contempt of court after he punches Judge Fleming during a heated criminal trial. The story is complex but the Judge Fleming thread is picked up again when Fleming is charged with rape and wants Al Pacino to defend him. The two loathe each other and therein lies the compelling drama.

5. A Few Good Men (1992)

In a Hollywood “tour de force” Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore and Tom Cruise star in this movie about a military tribunal convened to judge two Marines accused of murdering a fellow Marine. Tom Cruise plays the role of a young lawyer who has never been in a courtroom. The tension is palpable as Cruise cross-examines defence witness Col. Jessop played by Jack Nicholson. Who can forget Cruise’s taunt to Jessop “I want the truth!” and the shocking retort “You can’t handle the truth!” A stunning movie.

There are more to add to this list, but I can’t think of any movie made this decade that compares with my TOP FIVE. I suggest you run to your video store if you have missed any of these stellar films. More to come from me, but what about you? What are your favorites?

Sticks and Stones Will Break My Bones, Etc.

352c45a9a449851d47da3cd61856bca7 In a classic bitter divorce case, a New Jersey lawyer, who ought to have known better, unsuccessfully sued his ex-wife for defamation after she called him names in front of one of his clients.

Mark Kentos of Ocean Township filed a lawsuit against Kelly Kentos after she allegedly called him a “sociopath”, a “psychopath”, a “control freak”, a “sex maniac” and a “pervert” during a visit to the home of one of his clients. She also suggested that he ought to be disbarred.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Cleary said that even if Ms. Kentos had made the statements, which was not proven, the name-calling did not rise to the level of defamation.

Defamation is defined as a false statement that harms a person or business’s reputation. While defamation claims during divorce proceedings are relatively rare, frequently a divorce litigant will query whether they can sue a witness who they claim falsely maligned them during their trial testimony.

The short answer to that perplexing question is “no” and that’s because trial witnesses are granted immunity to ensure they will give evidence without fear of retaliation in the form of a lawsuit against them.

Meanwhile, upon the dismissal of Mark Kentos’ claims, his victorious ex-wife sought sanctions against him for filing a frivolous lawsuit, another action that was tossed by the judge.

Ah, bitterness…”Bitterness is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” John Ortberg Jr. (Theologian)

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Divorce Lawyer’s Nasty Letter Leads to His Suspension

DSC00507 (2)No one in their right mind could possibly welcome an unsolicited letter from a lawyer. The chances that such letters will bring good news are extremely remote. Clients who retain lawyers to write the dreaded “lawyer’s letter” usually have a situation that means trouble for the recipient.

But in the ordinary course of a lawyer’s business, there is no reason that these letters heralding bad news, should be rude or nasty.

I have always subscribed to the theory that each person deserves to be treated with respect and courtesy, even in the most difficult of circumstances. After all, dramatic entreaties outside of the courtroom are of little assistance in resolving disputes.

Unfortunately, not all lawyers have the discipline to exercise basic rules of common courtesy and common sense. Indiana divorce lawyer Joseph Barker falls into that category.

While acting for a father who had been denied access to his child, Mr. Barker wrote to mother’s counsel:

“[Father] told me this week that he has only seen his baby . . . one day all year. Your client doesn’t understand what laws and court orders mean I guess. Probably because she’s an illegal alien to begin with.

I want you to repeat to her in whatever language she understands that we’ll be demanding she be put in JAIL for contempt of court. I’m filing a copy of this letter with the Court to document the seriousness of this problem.”[emphasis in original letter]

The Indiana Supreme Court took exception to Mr. Barker’s letter invoking two sections of their Code of Professional Conduct:

4.4(a): Using means in representing a client that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person.
8.4(g): Engaging in conduct, in a professional capacity, manifesting bias or prejudice based upon race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, or similar factors, and this conduct was not legitimate advocacy.

Mr. Barker was suspended for 30 days for professional misconduct. The insulting letter served no legitimate purpose related to the matter of his client’s access. Perhaps Mr. Barker believed his offensive missive would intimidate opposing counsel or impress his client? Not likely…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED: The Series Part 9 Scott Saidel

GEO CASUALWhen hot-shot Florida attorney Scott Rothstein’s world of excess collapsed with his $1.2 billion dollar Ponzi scheme, it was inevitable there would be collateral damage, but who could have guessed that Rothstein’s massive fraud would also bring down his beleaguered spouse’s lawyer?

Rothstein’s wife, Kim, shocked by her husband’s criminal acts, had lawyer Scott Saidel by her side, as federal investigators moved to repossess their homes, their yacht, and all the other “stuff” they took such pride in as Rothstein bilked family and friends, all the while parading around Florida like a “big man on campus”.

Boca Raton attorney Scott Saidel, who called himself a friend of Kim Rothstein’s, apparently felt sorry for her, particularly after her husband was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Unfortunately, his compassion led him to participate in a fraudulent scheme to hide over $1 million dollars of her jewellery, including a 12-carat diamond ring, despite a court order that all assets be relinquished to the trustee in bankruptcy.

He then secreted over half a million dollars in his law firm trust account when she sold a portion of the gold and gems. But there was more. Mr. Saidel and Kim Rothstein also conspired to convince the imprisoned Mr. Rothstein to falsely testify that the 12-carat ring had already been sold, so that they could keep it away from the bankruptcy trustee.

Scott Saidel was charged with money laundering, obstructing justice and tampering with a witness. Ms. Rothstein and a girlfriend, who also took part, were also arrested and charged.

Florida newspapers reported that Mr. Saidel wept as he apologized to the court and others for his “error in judgment”, a characterization of his crimes that drew ire from prosecutors. Saidel’s attorney made a passionate plea to the court that out of her client’s desire to help a friend, he had lost his career, his wife and family, and all his assets. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

After reading the news stories I almost felt sorry for Mr. Saidel, until I learned that his “assistance” to his client/friend, added $65,000 to his personal coffers, a hefty sum he was ordered to disgorge as a result of the convictions.

I also learned that Mr. Saidel’s Florida disbarment was not the first time he had fallen afoul of the criminal law. Saidel had practiced law in Arizona, prior to moving to Florida, and was barred from the practice of law for six months after pleading guilty to two felonies arising from an incident that left two passengers in the vehicle he was driving suffering serious bodily injury. Excess speed and alcohol were major contributors to the accident.

Kim Rothstein awaits her sentencing.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Sleazy Divorce Lawyer Faces Jail Term

BarristerWhen I first heard about Mary Nolan, a divorce attorney from Oakland California, I thought perhaps she was simply an overzealous and misguided advocate who got caught up in the emotional maelstrom of her high-conflict divorce practice, perhaps misled by a dirty cop on-the-take.

At the time, maintaining her innocence, she seemed to be a bit-player in scenarios set up by now-disgraced private investigator Chris Butler, situations referred to in the press as “Dirty DUI’s”.

One of Mr. Butler’s “games” was to “set-up” husbands going through a divorce, by instructing his attractive female operatives to entice them to a bar, and after too many drinks and a little dirty dancing, plant a friendly cop a mile from the drinking establishment waiting to bust the unsuspecting dupes.

On at least two occasions, Ms. Nolan just happened to be acting for their wives and lo and behold, the resulting criminal convictions for drunk driving were a serious problem for them in their custody and access claims.

This week Ms. Nolan plead guilty to tax evasion and hiring Mr. Butler to plant listening devices in the automobiles of her clients’ spouses. Butler, who was earlier sentenced to eight years in prison for a myriad of criminal offences, including drug trafficking, testified that Ms. Nolan’s clients paid him for the scam DUI’s but Nolan managed to escape the consequences of her participation in these activities.

Butler also admitted to planting eavesdropping devices inside “hundreds” of cars for clients.

But it is likely Mary Nolan’s evasion of tax that will see her spending time in prison. In multiple years she filed tax returns indicating annual income between $20,000 and $50,000 when she actually earned hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, resulting in a tax bill to the IRS of $1.8 million dollars.

She and Butler also face civil suits brought by husbands of Ms. Nolan’s clients, who suffered significantly after their arrests and convictions. Luckily for them, a higher court quashed their convictions after hearing of the dirty dealings between local police, P.I. Butler and attorney Nolan.

She faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

Husband Takes Advice to Transfer All Assets to His Wife and Gets Screwed

GAL & PAL #2jpgFlorida resident James Grieff, a successful entrepreneur, was not happy with the legal advice he received from lawyer Richard Cahan at Florida law firm Becker & Poliakoff. It all started when Mr. Grieff was facing a court action seeking the return of $2 million dollars payable to the trustee in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme case.

He asked his lawyer for creditor protection advice and was advised to transfer all his assets to his wife, Lana Landis, a pin-up model. Their six-year marriage had seen the birth of one child and he had no reason to believe the marriage was anything but strong and stable.

He took Mr. Cahan’s advice, entered into a binding marriage agreement, and transferred two expensive condominiums, several building lots, significant cash, and his Aston Martin and BMW to her.

Unfortunately for Grieff, his wife filed for divorce three months later, $6 million dollars richer than before.

Assuming that the law firm would represent him in his divorce case, as he had given them a large retainer, he was shocked to learn they would be representing…..you guessed it… his wife!

Even more astounding was that a Miami judge upheld the marriage agreement permitting Ms. Landis to retain all of the assets, even though they were acquired by Grieff before his six-year marriage to her. The Court also granted a divorce.

Mr. Grieff then sued Becker & Poliakoff for gross negligence, conflict of interest, and abandonment.

An interesting twist to Grieff’s case is that the law firm took his retainer funds but also insisted that Ms. Landis sign a retainer agreement.

Believing that lawyer Cahan was representing his best interests and advising him of the best way to protect his assets, as he had promised to do, Grieff agreed to the joint retainer.

Law professor Bob Jarvis of Nova Southeastern University opined:

“We tell our students all the time that you have to be very, very careful when you switch assets to a wife with litigation pending,” he said. “It’s a fraud on the court. It’s a fraud on creditors. This is bad advice from day one.”

He also said:

“We don’t feel sorry for him… We do feel outrage on the wife for trying to turn this to her advantage, and we feel more outrage at the lawyer. If he was truly representing the wife, he should have said you need your own attorney. If these facts prove to be true, now you are no longer looking at just a malpractice suit. We are looking at some discipline from the Florida Supreme Court.”

There is every expectation that the Madoff trustee will attempt to recoup $2 million dollars from Ms. Landis.

As for Mr. Grieff, he is now dead broke and residing with his elderly mother.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Law At the Barbershop

49afd8240a58bf0fb97d4a86105572c1I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “he really took a haircut!”. Well, lawyer Don Howard from Connecticut will cut your hair and dispense legal advice when you come to his barbershop in New Britain.

As a trained barber and a qualified lawyer, Mr. Howard heard about a California lawyer who combined a coffee shop with a law office and was inspired to indulge his entrepreneurial spirit by opening “Legal Cuts” this May.

Howard also has an office in Hartford, Connecticut but theorized that the market in Hartford for lawyers and barbershops was already saturated so now his main base of operation is on Main Street, near the courthouse in New Britain.

He specializes in laser cuts and personal injury and criminal law and has some great specials. Every Tuesday between 10 am and 2 pm he offers hair cuts for $5.00. He also provides a white shirt and tie for men, along with the haircut, for clients that are appearing in court.

His usual fees run from $7.00 to $25.00….for a haircut. For lawyering, he charges a flat fee, no hourly rates for this business tycoon.

You certainly can’t argue when he says that his barbershop is less intimidating than a regular law office and that men like to “shoot the breeze” when they get a haircut. He says “People feel safer in a barbershop; it’s easier for them to talk about problems.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang