Lawyer Botches Adoption, Sued for Dead Infant

DSC01152_2 (2)_2Rachel and Heidi McFarland were thrilled with their little baby boy, who they adopted as a newborn from the infant’s 15-year-old mother. They loved him and cared for him for two months, but then received advice from their lawyer, Jason Rieper, that their son, named Gabriel, needed to be returned to his mother, Markeya Atkins.

Lawyer Rieper told the Des Moines couple that if they wanted to continue with the adoption he would need more than $10,000, but he didn’t explain to them why the money was needed. Rachel and Heidi were devastated, writing Mr. Rieper a letter indicating their desire to continue with the process. Mr. Rieper responded with a letter outlining Ms. Atkins “troubled youth” and her abuse of drugs. A few days later, Mr. Rieper showed up at the McFarland home, told them they had a slim chance of a successful adoption, and took the child to his birth mother. He advised them that a judge would likely side with the birth mother in any court proceeding.

Within five weeks of Gabriel’s return, he was dead and the child’s father, 17-year-old Drew James Weehler-Smith was charged with first degree murder. What the McFarland’s discovered was that their lawyer had failed to obtain the mother’s signature releasing the baby to the McFarlands, a fact he hid from his clients. They are suing for negligence and also arguing that Mr. Rieper had a legal obligation to advise child protection authorities of the danger of the infant’s return.

Poor little Gabriel, another victim of child abuse.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

MORE CELEBRITY DIVORCE RUMOURS

BarristerBeing a celebrity is not always an enviable status. Yes, when they are at the top of the heap, they get paid millions of dollars, have designers clamouring for them to wear their fashions, and get the best seats in the house, whether it’s a basketball game, tickets to the Oscars, or a front-row table at Wolfgang Puck’s.

But it can’t be any fun to read the constant speculation from the gossip mags that you’re heading for divorce. Recently, there’s a lot of dirt being dished about a whole bunch of Hollywood celebrities, apparently on the brink of separation and divorce.

In random order, Star, Us, People, TMZ, Buzzfeed, and so many more are telling divorce tales about the following couples:

-Sheri Shepard, late of TV’s “The View” and her husband are on the rocks, and to tantalize the public, Ms. Shepard has been sewered for allegedly walking away from their child who was recently hatched via a surrogate mother;

- Jay-Z and Beyoncé grabbed the headlines when Beyoncé’s sister, Solange, was observed assaulting Jay-Z in an elevator, ostensibly because he had done Beyoncé wrong. Some are saying that Rhianna is involved. Columnists are rabidly predicting that at the end of their $100 million dollar world tour, they will pack in their marriage. However, New York divorce guru, Raoul Felder, says that the rampant publicity is a boon for their tour and may be nothing more than “good business” for the pair;

-Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon are also rumoured to be heading towards Splitsville. The speculation is that the breakup is because of someone cheating, while others in the know say it’s because of Mariah’s diva-like behavior.

-Melanie Griffiths and Antonio Banderas separated a few months ago and now the paparazzi are following Melanie around Los Angeles, taking photos of her arm tattoo which is Antonio’s name in a heart, all the time wondering out loud when she will have it removed by laser.

-Barbara Streisand and James Brolin are another celebrity couple with rumours floating around. A recent article described Babs as very upset when she caught her 74-year-old husband ogling Kim Kardashian at an A List party in the Hamptons and we know he wasn’t looking at her eyes.

-Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are allegedly squabbling over when to have another baby and the stress has caused her to gain 20 lbs. She is apparently also in a panic because her dream marriage is a nightmare as Kanye keeps her on a tight leash with a GPS on her telephone so he can monitor her whenever he wishes.

Yes, there’s more: Ellen DeGeneres, Portia De Rossi, Michael Moore, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Kendra Wilkinson, David Duchovny, Tea Leoni, Robin Thicke, Paula Patton, Cuba Gooding Jr., Trace Adkin. Whew! It doesn’t end!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED THE SERIES: GARTH DRABINSKY

GEO_edited-1How far the mighty fall….Garth Drabinsky was an entertainment mogul in the world of theatre, whose productions including Phantom of the Opera, Showboat, Sunset Boulevard, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, garnered nineteen Tony awards for Drabinsky’s production company Livent. Prior to his foray into live theatrical production, he was an independent film producer, and later with a partner co-founded Cineplex Theatres in Canada in 1979, eventually acquiring Odeon Theatres to establish Cineplex Odeon, a venture he was forced out of in 1989 after accumulating unmanageable debt.

Born in Toronto, he obtained a law degree from the University of Toronto in 1973 and was called to the Ontario bar in 1975, working briefly as an entertainment lawyer, but his legal credentials paled in comparison to his success in show business. He became a Broadway darling, said to be responsible for 25% of North America’s live theatre revenues. Along the way he received a Queen’s Counsel designation, the prestigious Order of Canada, took Livent public, and appeared to be at the top of his game.

But things aren’t always as they seem. The reality was that Drabinsky was awash in financial problems due to excessive production costs, along with millions of dollars expended to build or renovate venues for his productions. To the surprise of many, in 1998 Livent received a $20 million dollar injection from Michael Ovitz, co-founder of Creative Artists Agency, the world’s largest talent agency and later President of Walt Disney Corporation.

With new money Drabinsky was on a roll, that is until forensic auditors hired by Michael Ovitz discovered that Drabinsky and his partner Myron Gottlieb were “cooking” the books in order to hide their massive financial losses. In this case, they created two sets of books, one that painted a rosy picture and the second that revealed the stark reality of their nearly bankrupt company.

These events saw the dismissal of Drabinsky and Gottlieb from Livent in August of 1998 and the commencement of a $225 million dollar civil lawsuit against them. But worse things were down the pike.

In 1999 authorities in New York indicted Grabinsky and Gottleib accusing them of misappropriating $4.6 million dollars from Livent. Meanwhile the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and securities regulators in the United States and Canada began investigating.

Finally, in 2002 four Livent executives, including Drabinsky and Gottlieb, were charged with fraud and accounting irregularities between 1989 and 1998. The allegations were ugly: forged financial statements, Livent purchasing large blocks of theatre tickets to falsely create an “uber-successful” production, and enticing investors to inject over $500 million dollars into the company based on fake documents.

After years of delay, said to arise from Garth Drabinsky’s lawyer, Eddie Greenspan, being fully occupied by the Lord Conrad Black fraud case in Chicago, Drabinsky finally faced justice. After a 65 day trial, Drabinsky was found guilty and sentenced to a seven-year prison term, which ultimately after appeal, was reduced to five years.

Recently steps were taken by the Canadian government to rescind his Order of Canada, and last week the Law Society of Upper Canada disbarred him, despite glowing reference letters from former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Frank Iacobucci.

Has Garth Drabinsky taken responsibility for his crimes? Sort of, but he still says that the fraud was a result of computer software that he didn’t understand.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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

Judge Presides Over Child Support Hearing While Conducting an Affair with Litigant

DSC01152_2 (2)_2If you were the payor father in a child support hearing and you learned that the judge presiding over your case was having an affair with your child’s mother, how angry would you be? How about if you read an email from the judge to your ex, agreeing with her suggestion that you be sent to jail because you’re in arrears of child support?

“I figure if he hasn’t come current by his court date, he gets jail to pay. If he says he can’t bring me the $$, I’ll put him on a tether (electric monitoring) til he brings the receipt…or do “double time”.

You might think this kind of corruption comes from a judge in Russia or Zimbabwe, but you’d be wrong. Judge Wade McCree was, until recently, a judge in Wayne County Michigan, home to two million people, best known for Motown and Motor City, and of late, the 18 billion dollar debt and subsequent bankruptcy of the City of Detroit.

Judge McCree’s judicial career ended ignominiously this Spring when Michigan’s Supreme Court suspended him for six years, after finding his conduct affected not only the litigants involved, but harmed the integrity of the judicial system as a whole.

Initially Judge McCree pulled a “Weiner” by texting a partially nude photo of himself to a female deputy sheriff, and was under investigation by the Judicial Tenure Commission. Rather than minding his “p’s and q’s” while under scrutiny for that indiscretion, he began an affair with Geniene LaShay Mott, who was the complaining party in People v. King, a court proceeding involving the enforcement and collection of arrears of child support against Robert King, who was the father of one of Ms. Mott’s children. He was in arrears of support in the amount of $15,000.

Judge McCree’s offences included:

1. Conducting an affair with Ms. Mott while he was presiding over her child support hearing;
2. Engaging in sexual relations with Ms. Mott in his judicial chambers;
3. Allowing Ms. Mott to access the court house through a rear, private door and utilize the judicial parking lot;
4. Surreptitiously arranging for Ms. Mott’s cell phone to be delivered to her in court by a sheriff so she could call him during the hearing;
5. Texting Ms. Mott from the bench while presiding over other cases;
6. Accepting Ms. Mott’s suggestions as to how he should deal with her child’s father;
7. Giving money to Ms. Mott, as much as $6,000;
8. Lying to the Judicial Commission concerning the date that he ended his affair with Ms. Mott;

But there was even more. Judge McCree presided over People v. Tillman, reducing Mr. Tillman’s bond in another child support case. Tillman was a relative of Ms. Mott’s, a fact known to McCree. And when his affair with Ms. Mott cooled down he lodged a complaint with Wayne County’s Prosecuting Attorney, alleging that Ms. Mott was stalking him and extorting him by demanding $10,000 in exchange for terminating her pregnancy and not revealing the affair and pregnancy to Judge McCree’s wife. In fact, the alleged crimes never occurred.

While Judge McCree’s attorney argued “no harm, no foul”, the judicial panel, comprised of seven judges, disagreed, saying the judge was well aware that his conduct was egregiously inappropriate as evidenced by an email he sent to Ms. Mott:

“Second, you are the complaining witness on a case that is before me. Naturally if it got out that we were seeing each other before your baby daddy’s case closed, everybody would be in deep shit”.

As for the aggrieved Mr. King, he filed a lawsuit against Judge McCree alleging constitutional violations, including the right to equal protection under the law and the right to be treated fairly in legal processes. District Court Judge Avern Cohn ruled against Mr. King finding that Judge McCree’s decisions in King’s case were “judicial acts” covered by “judicial immunity”, a protection that applies even if a judge’s actions are negligent, incompetent, or malicious.

Unfortunately for Mr. King, this week the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals endorsed Judge Cohn’s decision while declaring Judge McCree’s behavior “reprehensible”:

“Casual readers of this opinion…may erroneously conclude that…we are somehow endorsing Judge McCree’s conduct or going out of our way to protect one of our own…We do nothing of the sort.”

The Appeals Court also noted that “the best justice possible” was achieved by the Michigan Supreme Court when they suspended Judge McCree for six years.

Is this the end of Wade McCree’s judicial career? Only the people of Detroit can decide that, since Michigan State judges are elected, not appointed.

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