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

Judicial “Copying” Longstanding and Acceptable Says Highest Court

GEO CASUALTwo years ago the British Columbia Supreme Court heard a case about a young boy who had severe brain damage and cerebral palsy as a result of difficulties during his birth. His mother sought damages on his behalf and was awarded several million dollars. His doctors and the hospital, who were found to be at fault, appealed the decision.

As is usual, a three-member panel of British Columbia’s Court of Appeal listened to their arguments and handed down their Reasons. What turned this case from a tragedy for this family to a case worthy of the attention of the Supreme Court of Canada was that two of the appeal judges excoriated the trial judge, accusing him of plagiarism by including lengthy excerpts from one of the lawyers’ written closing arguments in his Reasons for Judgment.

As a result of their findings, they set aside the young boy’s damage award and ordered a new trial, a devastating result for a family who had already suffered so much.

Many in the legal profession were shocked that this usually scholarly, genteel group of jurists would publicly impugn a sitting judge, for indulging in a practice that was frankly, commonplace. In fact, as far back as British jurist Lord Blackstone, lawyers hoped their written closing submissions would find a place in the Court’s Reasons and ultimately, dictate the Court’s decision.

Last week the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Mr. Justice Groves’ so-called plagiarism was nothing of the kind and his rebuke by the appeal judges was exposed for what it was: an inappropriate attack on an exemplary judge who did nothing wrong. (Cojocaru v. BC Women’s Hospital 2013 SCC 30)

Chief Justice McLachlin noted that “judicial copying” is a longstanding and accepted practice which should only be condemned if it so egregious that it displaces the presumption that judges fufill their duties with integrity and impartiality.

She gave short-shrift to the criticism that a judges’s Reasons must be an “original” product of the judge’s mind and mused that a lack of originality is “part and parcel” of the judicial process:

“Borrowed prose, attributed or not, does not establish that a judge has failed to come to grips with the issues to be decided.”

She also affirmed that to criticize a judge for utilizing excerpts from counsel’s written submissions is to fundamentally misunderstand the Court’s task and the time-honoured tradition of decision-writing.

She noted that unlike term papers, novels, essays and newspaper articles, a judge’s Reasons reflect a body of law and legal principles that have been arrived at based on precedents, which over the years when recited in successive decisions take on a “deja-vu” quality. The verbatim repetition of legal formulas is de rigueur, representing the “tried and true” rather than the novel.

For Mr. Justice Groves the exoneration must be bittersweet, as he spent two years under the shadow of plagiarism that never was.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Chicago Courtroom Becomes Stage for Donald Trump’s Theatrics

DSC00507 (2)Billionaire Donald Trump is used to running the show, whether it be in business or on television, and his penchant for full control made for an interesting few days in Judge Amy St. Eve’s Chicago courtroom last week.

Trump is a key witness in a lawsuit brought by 87-year-old real estate investor Jacqueline Goldberg, who is suing him, alleging that after she bought two million-dollar hotel rooms in Trump’s Chicago hotel and condo complex in 2006, he unilaterally changed the terms of the contract, thus depriving her of revenue she expected to receive from the ballroom business and valet parking receipts.

Judge St. Eve, who also presided over the trial of Lord Conrad Black, chastised Mr. Trump and Ms. Goldberg’s lawyer, Shelly Kulwin, for their incessant sparring, noting they had turned her courtroom into a boxing ring.

Lawyer Kulwin objected to Trump’s filibustering which he described as egotistical infomercials for Trump’s real estate empire. Kulwin’s impatience with Trump was marked by eye-rolling and heightened vocal volume on his part.

Mr. Trump’s testimony was vague on the details of Ms. Goldberg’s purchase, however, he confirmed that his executives managed all sales transactions and that he looked after the “big picture”, saying “I don’t run hotels, I build them”.

As for Ms. Goldberg’s bait-and-switch allegation, Trump testified that the contract clearly contemplated the possibility of a change in the profit-sharing scheme and noted that Ms. Goldberg had unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate the deletion of this clause from the contract. When Trump exclaimed “This is a disgrace. She’s trying to rip me off”, the judge admonished the jury to ignore Mr. Trump’s outburst.

Outside the courtroom Mr. Trump was even sassier, suggesting that Goldberg had “buyer’s remorse” and was using the “age-card” against the younger Trump.

The irrepressible Trump left the courthouse after a long day of cross-examination, only stopping to charm a throng of reporters by calling out, “I love Chicago!”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

When Obnoxious Lawyers Converge, Clients Are Not Well-Served

DSC00280One of the worst possible scenarios for those unlucky enough to be involved in a lawsuit is when their respective lawyers are at each other’s throats. You may think you are being well-served by an aggressive, boorish lawyer whose focus is on denigrating and insulting opposing counsel, but you are not.

On the other hand, as a client you should be happy if you know or see that your lawyer has a good working relationship with opposing counsel, as you can be sure that the resolution of your case will not be hampered by ill-will between lawyers.

Oddly enough, some clients are disturbed when they see cooperation between their lawyers, misreading it as a sign of weakness on their lawyer’s part. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, there are lawyers who are so well-known for their cranky, obnoxious behavior that other lawyers refuse to take on cases where Mr. or Ms. Miserable is on the opposite side.

A recent example of bickering lawyers arose in a courtroom in Chicago, where last week the final act of an ongoing legal saga came to an end, with Judge Raymond Mitchell ordering both lawyers to resign from the case and their clients to retain new lawyers.

Lawyers Joel Brodsky and Michael Meschino treated their clients and the court to months of disturbing behavior while representing their clients in a business dispute, taking potshots at one another in open court, with no concern for their lack of professionalism and decorum.

At one point Mr. Brodsky called Mr. Meschino a “moron” and a “liar”. Meschino responded with words like “fat, short, and bald” complaining that “Brodsky was constantly shaking his bald head, so that a light was shining on me”. Over time, when the lawyers were in court, up to four sheriffs were present in the courtroom and on two occasions Mr. Meschino was escorted out of the courtroom by sheriffs.

Outside of court, threatening and insulting emails were the norm, and discovery of each party took place in the courthouse rather than in the privacy of a court reporter’s office, as is the usual practice.

Judge Mitchell advised Brodsky and Meschino that a copy of his order would be sent to the Illinois Attorney Discipline Commission so that appropriate action could be taken by the Illinois Bar.

Joel Brodsky is certainly no stranger to ethics complaints. He was the lawyer that acted for former police office Drew Peterson, who was accused of murdering his third wife Kathleen Savio.

Before the case was finished Mr. Brodsky was replaced by new counsel, an event that did not sit well with him. His public comments after his departure as counsel “shocked” the trial judge and resulted in an ethics investigation.

After Drew Peterson was convicted, the animosity between Brodsky and successor counsel, Steven Greenberg was so intense that Brodsky sued Greenberg for defamation, suggesting that Greenberg was a “pathological narcissist”.

Not surprisingly, Brodsky also suggested that Mr. Meschino was mentally ill.

While emotions can run high in hard-fought litigation, the behavior cited by Judge Mitchell has no place in our justice system and the harshest punishment should be levied against lawyers who embarrass themselves and the administration of justice. Sadly, it is their clients who suffer most.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Guest Post: How to Find Your Perfect Divorce Lawyer

Let’s face it, most of us who commit ourselves into the bond of marriage are reluctant to think about it one day crumbling into a messy divorce, but the truth is, with today’s increasing divorce numbers, the reality is downright dismal ( in the US around 50% of all first marriages end in divorce, about 67% for second marriages and the numbers quickly rise with the number of additional marriages).

So what does this mean in terms of finding an attorney if you are among that fifty percent wanting to dissolve you marriage? Plenty!

Here are a few tips to heed if you find yourself needing someone to help you wade through the murky and unfamiliar waters of divorce.

• Before you file: Really consider the ramifications of filing for divorce. Have you exhausted every avenue before taking the steps for your divorce? Counseling and separation can be important steps to take before you make the final move.

Be very careful about moving about before the divorce, this could potentially be used against you, especially in the case of determining custody for minor children. Run a credit check for yourself, if possible get your finances in the best shape that you can. Divorce is extremely expensive and no matter the verdict, both parties will lose when it comes to finances.

Are you the non-breadwinner? You will need to take care of your personal finances as well as your healthcare, housing, cars and personal effects. A good attorney will inform you of what you should do long before you sign anything. Above all, if you can avoid divorce, then do so. Except in the cases of abuse or criminal behaviors on the part of your spouse, you should give your marriage every effort. Divorce should always be a last resort.

• Arbitration and Mediation versus litigation: The dissolution of a marriage cannot be on the same footing as breaking a business contract, though similar as seen through the eyes of the law, no one can put a price on the cost of someone’s betrayal or the lives of children of divorced parents who will forever grieve the loss of a family unit.

But there are ways to lessen the emotional trauma often association with divorce. If at all possible going through mediation services versus outright litigation will help not only with the overall costs, but will help families make choices over issues that can become quickly contentious if presided over by a non-family member or law enforcement.

Talk with your attorney; chances are if they have experience with family law and especially mediation expertise, this would make a better fit than someone hell-bent on taking on your spouse for every nickel and dime. Consider arbitration as an alternative to a lengthy, drawn-out court battle.

• Your attorney’s personal history: Find out about your attorney. Are they married? Or have they also been through a divorce, child custody battles with their own children or were they able to use their legal acumen to help minimize the trauma inflicted on all parties involved.

Sit down and talk with them about your personal feelings in regards to your spouse’s role, your custody concerns and your future. Do they really seem to be listening, adding thoughtful comments to your concerns or do you feel even more ambivalent after you leave their office?

Other than the death of a family member, going through a divorce is right there when it comes to life-altering experiences and more than ever, you will need someone who you feel confident in, someone who will stand up and defend you and fight for all rights.

A good family law lawyer will explain your rights and what you can expect with a divorce, they will not try to sugarcoat the truth about how difficult the situations will be, they will in all likelihood try to talk you out of a divorce, but if you are both in agreement about pursuing a divorce, they will be with you every step of the way.

GUEST AUTHOR NOAH KOVACS has over ten years experience in the legal field. He has since retired early and enjoys blogging about small business law, at Noah Kovacs and everything in between. He recently purchased his first cabin and spends his free time remodeling its kitchen for his family. Twitter: @NoahKovacs.

Texas Judge Arrested for Hiding Evidence as a Lawyer

GEO CASUALMichael Morton was convicted of murdering his wife, Christine Morton, in 1987 and served 25 years in a Texas prison. But justice was not served because prosecutor, now Judge Ken Anderson, purposefully withheld evidence that would have led to Michael Morton’s acquittal.

Instead Mr. Morton, an innocent man, languished in prison until DNA evidence exculpated him because the State of Texas, in the person of Ken Anderson, believed he was guilty, despite evidence that suggested otherwise. Morton was then 30-years old, worked at Safeway and had no police history

Anderson, a judge in Austin Texas for 11 years, was a celebrated “law and order” district attorney for 16 years before that. He prided himself in requesting and receiving the harshest sentences possible for criminals and argued vigorously to prevent inmates from being paroled, even when their prison terms had been served.

In Mr. Morton’s case he buried a bloodied bandana found near the family home, failed to reveal evidence relating to a mysterious green van near the home, from which a man emerged, and hid a statement from Morton’s three-year old son who said that it was a “monster”, not his dad that bludgeoned his mother to death.

To add to Mr. Anderson’s outrageous behavior, when asked during Morton’s trial whether all evidence had been delivered to defence counsel and the court, Anderson lied and said it had.

As is typical in these cases of wrongful conviction, the State erected roadblocks preventing Innocence Project lawyers from obtaining timely DNA testing on the bandana found near the scene. The forensics on this evidence proved that Mark Norwood was the killer, a man who had also murdered another woman near Austin. Last month Norwood was sentenced to life in prison for Christin Morton’s murder.

Judge Anderson’s apology to Mr. Morton was brief. He said “the system screwed up”. Obviously, a man in denial and all because he wanted another “conviction” notch on his belt.

He not only robbed Michael Morton of his life but also Morton’s son, who grew up without a mother or a father.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Making Babies Is a Tricky Business

DSC01152_2 (2)_2With the extraordinary science that benefits childless couples and the growing popularity of reproductive technologies, the prediction from early naysayers that baby-making would create criminal, social and ethical problems can no longer be ignored.

Public awareness of the foibles of procedures such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and anonymous sperm donation began with the news that a California woman, Nadya Suleman, gave birth to eight children via in vitro fertilization in 2009. Twelve embryos had been implanted, apparently at her request.

Ms. Suleman’s octuplets joined her already large family of six children, also born through in vitro fertilization. That she was a single mother with limited financial resources and was eventually compelled to work as a stripper and a nude model further rankled critics who denounced her physician, Dr. Michael Kamrava, who later lost his medical license.

The latest scandal in the baby-making industry involves a home-grown business called Canadian Fertility Consultants, with offices in British Columbia and Ontario, whose CEO, Leia Picard, has been charged with 27 criminal offences including purchasing sperm and egg from a donor and paying a surrogate to carry a baby for a client.

Under Canadian law it is illegal to pay sperm or egg donors and surrogates are only allowed to be paid for their reasonable expenses. While limited information has been released by the RCMP, it has been reported that two women who donated eggs were paid $5000.00 each.

Ms. Picard has also been charged with four counts of forgery in relation to allegations that her clients received false profiles of two of her sperm donors and two potential surrogate mothers.

Canada’s legislation has been in force for almost nine years, but this appears to be the first time that charges have resulted from a breach of the law, with related criminal charges.

There is speculation that Ms. Picard’s present legal problems arise from her purely innocent interaction with Maryland lawyer Hilary Nieman, who ran a surrogacy business with California lawyer, Theresa Erickson, that later proved to be anything but altruistic.

Under a unique California law, a woman can enter into a surrogacy agreement with prospective parents, but the agreement must be signed and finalized prior to the fertilization of the surrogate. Where there is a surrogacy agreement, the prospective parents do not need to go through an adoption to become the child’s legal parents as the child’s birth certificate will record the names of the prospective parents, not the surrogate’s name.

Lawyers Nieman and Erickson both specialized in reproductive technology law. Working together, they paid American women an average of $40,000 to travel to the Ukraine to be implanted with embryos. This was necessary because no doctor in California would do the in vitro procedure under the circumstances presented by the surrogates.

The lawyers got around the requirement for an executed agreement prior to fertilization by submitting forged documents to the Court which attested to the agreement being signed as required by the law.

Ms. Erickson with Hilary Nieman’s help, accumulated a stable of new-born babies ready to be sold to unsuspecting couples for $100,000 to $150,000 each.

In the twelfth week of their pregnancy the women, referred to as “gestational carriers”, flew back to the United States where the lawyers would find a couple who were told that a surrogacy agreement with another couple had fallen through after the couple backed out.

For couples who had tried numerous procedures over many years without the blessing of a child, the prospects of a new-born baby was like winning the lottery.

Erickson and Nieman, both plead guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy, involving the sale of twelve babies. Although lawyers for the State and Ms. Nieman agreed to a plea bargain of nine months of home confinement, the Court would have no part of that and sentenced Nieman to five months in federal prison and seven months of home confinement. She was also order to pay back profits of $133,000 and was later disbarred.

We now await full particulars of the charges against Ms. Picard, but payments of several thousand dollars to egg donors hardly seems worth the cost of the RCMP’s year-long investigation. Allegations of forgery, however, puts an entirely different spin on the agency’s practices.

Ms. Picard says she will vigourously defend against the charges and is inviting donations to her legal fund.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED: The Series Part 8 Scott Rothstein

IMG_0311 - Version 2The story of Scott Rothstein, disbarred Florida attorney and entrepreneur, reads like a movie script for actor Sean Penn.

The plot begins simply: Jewish boy raised in poverty moves from New York to Florida, where despite his hardscrabble beginnings makes it through law school and is called to the bar in Florida in 1988.

His career is low-profile and apparently unblemished until 2005, when he designs a scheme to attract investors to pay cash for the right to receive the proceeds of large lawsuits where the payments are “structured settlements”. The idea is that litigants will trade their settlement results from their lawsuits to Rothstein’s investment firm in exchange for upfront, lump sum cash. The investors are promised 20% returns within less than three months.

Business was good for Mr. Rothstein whose firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler grew to 70 lawyers and 150 staff with seven offices in Florida, New York and Venezuela. He began to hang with the “big boys” including Bill Clinton, Jeb Bush, Governor Christie and a long line of flamboyant “players”, referred to as the Israeli Mafia.

No doubt they were impressed by his million dollar homes, Boeing 727, 87 foot yacht and a garage full of high-end cars including Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Rolls Royce, Bugatti and Harley Davidson’s.

There was plenty to go around as he accumulated a million dollar watch collection, jewellery galore for his second wife, Kim Rothstein, and gave millions to well-regarded charitable and political causes.

Only the money wasn’t his and his fraud unravelled in 2009 with his arrest for racketeering and money laundering. Yes, like Bernie Madoff, Allen Stanford, Lou Pearlman, and others before him, Rothstein stole every dollar invested to fund a lifestyle that he couldn’t afford, didn’t deserve, and could never have achieved by relying on his own brain or brawn.

Knowing the jig was up, Rothstein researched which countries did not have extradition treaties with the United States, and fled to Morocco, but not before he wired $16 million dollars to an account in Casablanca.

Several days later he sent a suicide text message to his law partners apologizing for his behavior. His partners and his rabbi persuaded him to return to Florida, where he was sentenced to 50 years in prison, even though the prosecutors asked for only 40 years.

All of his prized possessions were forfeited and the law firm he so proudly fronted was dissolved. He was disbarred in 2009 and removed from Best Lawyers in America. His coveted AV rating (the highest available) from Martindale Hubbell ( a firm that rates lawyers) was gone.

This week his wife plead guilty to charges that she, her lawyer, Scott Saidel and her close friend, Stacie Weisman, conspired to hide her million dollar jewellery collection consisting of prize pieces, including a 12 carat diamond ring. She could receive up to five years imprisonment.

I will never understand why some people believe they can steal from others. Perhaps Rothstein answered that question when he said “I grew up poor, I’m a lunatic about money”. I hope he’s just as excited with a lifetime behind bars.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang