Family Court Judge Scolded for Discourteous Remarks

_DSC4179 - Version 2I have some sympathy for Judge Daniel Healy of Solano County, California. As a family court judge he has likely seen and heard it all…and I can readily accept that his intemperate remarks to certain litigants was borne out of intense frustration.

Among the worst of his “undignified and discourteous” remarks were the following:

In August 2013 Judge Healy was presiding over a family law case where a husband alleged his spouse was driving drunk with the couple’s child in her car. Judge Healy commented that while the two parents may not chronically abuse drugs and alcohol, both of them struck him as “rotten”. He called the mother a “liar” and said “Why don’t you prove to me that you recognize what a train wreck you are?” He also told her lawyer that she should be “grovelling like there is no tomorrow”.

In another case Judge Healy rebuked the father for his threatening and vulgar messages to his wife, saying “if the children do something thuggish and stupid it’s because their father is thuggish and stupid.” He also remarked “life is too short to let kids be tortured by rotten parents like you two”.

And in a 2012 case he said “This is the first time I’ve seen you but if you are exposing your daughter to one-fifth of the attitude I’m getting from you right now, you might as well have her start walking the streets as a hooker because that’s the life you’re going to subject her to, when you treat her like this, when you flash this attitude like this.”

Judge Healy also threatened litigants with imprisonment on multiple occasions despite lacking any authority to do so.

Yes, I think he crossed the line, but the stress of dealing with unfit, incompetent parents on a daily basis would cause the most sane of us to finally say what we really thought. No excuse, but understandable.

The Discipline Commission held as follows:

“Judge Healy argued that blunt and evocative language is sometimes necessary to compel litigants to gain awareness of their circumstances, the harm that they are causing their children, and the importance of respect and cooperation. The commission disagrees. Referring to litigants as “rotten,” “stupid and thuggish,” and a “total human disaster,” and telling litigants their child “might as well start walking the streets as a hooker,” is the antithesis of imparting the importance of respect.”

Judge Healy received a “public admonishment” and no longer sits in family court. He is likely happy to be out of there!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Divorce Spyware: I Spy With My Little Eye

DSC00275_1 In many family law cases suspicion and lack of trust permeates divorce proceedings. It has become routine to have new divorce clients ask about the legal rules regarding spyware, computer passwords, telephone taps, and other forms of clandestine information-gathering tools.

In the old days, divorcing parties hired private detectives to ferret out damaging information about their estranged spouses. When no-fault divorce was introduced in Canada, investigators found their work drying up as it didn’t matter whether a spouse had been unfaithful.

However, with advances in technology and the proliferation of “Spy” stores, anybody
can readily access hidden “nanny” cameras, telephone bugs and computer screeners, or privately install a GPS on an unwitting spouse’s vehicle.

Gone are the simpler days when a wife simply located her husband’s desk keys or office pass to make an after-hours entry in order to surreptitiously remove or photocopy important documents and generally snoop for information that might help her and hurt him.

Even without sophisticated spy tools it is not difficult to track a spouse’s activities by monitoring their emails, text messages, credit card purchases, bank transactions, Facebook page, etc. Most separated spouses do not immediately change their passwords and frequently spouses can access important information this way.

But is it legal? That’s where it gets dicey…If the family computer is shared by both husband and wife with a single password, it may be offensive to spy on one’s spouse, but probably not illegal.

But even without a computer password, illegal hacking is easier than you think with today’s sophisticated devices. You may recall that journalists for one of Britain’s leading newspapers were hacking phones and computers of celebrities, crime victims, and the royal family, a situation that resulted in the newspaper eventually folding amid embarrassment and scandal.

What about putting a tap on a spouse’s car phone? That’s a no-no. Canada’s privacy law provides that so long as one of the two parties being recorded consents there is no problem and of course, if you record your conversations with your spouse you have obviously consented. However, if you place a bug on your wife’s car telephone, you are recording her conversations with others, yes, maybe even her boyfriend, but those parties have not consented.

What about installing a hidden tracker on your spouse’s car? Again, if the car is in joint names, you can do as you like, but I would be cautious with a GPS on a vehicle that does not belong to you. Besides potential privacy violations, you may be faced with criminal charges such as stalking or harassment.

The question you must ask is whether the evidence you need to get is worth the risk of a privacy violation or worse? That’s a decision for you and your family lawyer to make.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Rocker Randy Bachman’s Divorce Just Got More Complicated

10950859361151CDPRock legend Randy Bachman thought he was “taking care of business” when he and his wife, Denise Beck Bachman opted out of their divorce trial and agreed to settle their financial issues amicably last January. A smart move….however, sometimes in family law, one party thinks they’ve got a deal, while the other disagrees.

That’s exactly what brought the Bachman’s into Supreme Court recently.

The couple married in 1982 and became step-parents of each other’s children from previous marriages. Randy had six children with his first wife, while Denise had one son. Together they brought their own child into the world and remained a couple until their separation in 2011.

Their alleged settlement provided Denise with 27.5% of his annual song royalties of $1.4 million a year, and $32,000 a month in spousal support. As part of Denise’s financial package she was to acquire one-half of a residence in London, England upon Randy’s death.

However, she later learned that the property had been transferred to a trust and she claimed the beneficiaries were Randy’s six children and not her.

Meanwhile, while Mr. Bachman argued that a full agreement had been reached, he did not pay Denise her $32,000 monthly support but instead had paid her $3,000 a month.

Denise advised Chief Justice Hinkson that no final agreement had been reached because her husband had not agreed to provide “security” for the payments she was to receive. Security can be in many forms including the granting of a mortgage, a sum of money held in trust, or a letter of credit.

The purpose of security is that if the payor refuses or cannot pay the sums owed, the security can be used to make the required payments.

Denise’s argument prevailed. The judge ordered that if security was an integral part of the agreement and it had not been agreed by the parties, then the agreement was not complete. CJ Hinkson also said it was not the Court’s responsibility to fill in the details of an otherwise incomplete agreement. The judge also ordered Mr. Bachman to pay his wife $32,000 a month pending a final settlement or judgment.

So, the Bachman’s are back where they started. They can either negotiate a new settlement of the financial issues or book a trial and have a judge decide the issues. Or if they were really smart they would hire a family law arbitrator to resolve all matters and thus avoid the cost, delay, and publicity of a trial.

The public unravelling of a rock and roll marriage would undoubtedly generate a media frenzy!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

When Surrogacy and Adoption Goes Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

How Family Law Court Costs Escalate…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Nevada Media Tells Tale of Vancouver Same-Sex Divorce Debacle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is also likely that judicial discipline proceedings may follow.

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

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang