The Tragedy of Hot Cars and Kids

GEO CASUALRecently there has been a spate of tragic stories about young children inadvertently left in motor vehicles who have died because of the intense heat.

Residents of sun belt areas know all too well that children and pets cannot be left in cars when sunny days lead to warm weather, however, despite this we continue to hear such stories.

This summer Justin Ross Harris of Georgia was charged with malice murder, felony murder, and child cruelty when he left his 22-month-old son in his car while he went to his workplace, forgetting to drop him off at daycare.

Authorities in Georgia believe that Mr. Harris’ actions were intentional after finding searches on his home computer for “death in hot cars”. They also learned that Harris and his partner had purchased substantial life insurance on their son. Media outlets have reported that while his infant son was sweltering in extreme heat, Harris was sending sexually explicit photos to a variety of women.

The only good news Harris has received since his arrest is that the county prosecutor will not be seeking the death penalty. Harris remains in jail. His wife has not been charged.

Meanwhile in Scottsdale, Arizona, mother Shanesha Taylor, age 35, left her two children, ages two and six months, in her automobile while she attended a 45 minute job interview. She was a single mother who had been desperately looking for work. The children were rescued before the worst happened. Ms. Taylor told the police she was unemployed and homeless. Her story was met with public sympathy and compassion, so much so that she received over $100,000 in donations.

Further investigation revealed, however, that she had a part-time job and was not homeless, nonetheless, authorities agreed to a plea bargain where she would take parenting classes and deposit all donations into a trust account for her children’s education.

Her biggest challenge was obtaining the return of her two children who had been removed from her home after the incident. She eventually recovered custody of the kids.

Across the pond, British family law lawyer, Tim Haines, stopped at a pharmacy to pick up baby formula for his two-year-old daughter, leaving her in the car for no more than ten minutes. When he returned his daughter was happily standing in the front seat, but outside the car were two police officers waiting for him.

The officers chastised Mr. Haines, and refused to allow him to drive his car home because of “bald tires”. Mr. Haines walked the lengthy distance home carrying his daughter.

Two weeks later the police showed up at his doorstep and arrested him for child endangerment. His five children were placed on the Child Protection Registry and Mr. Haines and his wife spent a year in legal proceedings. He was convicted of the charge but on appeal the conviction was reversed. He eventually had his name cleared and his children’s names removed from the registry.

Website kidsandcars.org brings home the devastation of these deaths in its collection of photos of beautiful, innocent children who have tragically died in their parent’s cars.

Never take the chance with a child’s life….

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Justice Cafe on Main Street

Last week I ran into a lawyer friend in the Supreme Court in Vancouver. She was gowned for trial, just like I was, so I assumed she was conducting a trial that week. Turns out that her client couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer for his five-day trial, so my friend was hired for one-day only to cross-examine her client’s wife in a divorce case.

My friend’s role in her client’s case is just the tip of an emerging trend in legal services called “unbundled legal services” or “limited scope retainers”. It is no secret that scores of people in British Columbia just can’t afford to hire a lawyer. This phenomenon has led to a court system where a significant share of the cases being argued are presented by in-person litigants. Litigants with no lawyer.

The challenges these cases present are numerous, particularly where both sides to a dispute are acting on their own. Unlike Provincial Court, where the process is simplified with lay litigants the norm, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal are a morass of rules and procedure, not the least of which is trying to figure out complicated rules of evidence, involving hearsay, opinion evidence, documentary evidence and so on.

However, with government coffers stretched so far that legal aid funding is almost extinct, and lawyers who provide many hours of pro bono services working to the max, unbundled services may well be the answer for those whose income and assets are not sufficient to pay a lawyer to do the complete job.

A law firm in Atlanta, Georgia recently announced the opening of their street front office, calling it “Justice Cafe”, where recent law graduates, many of whom are now unemployed, and retired lawyers will provide legal advice in family law and divorce matters for walk-in clients who will pay $75.00 an hour. Half of the hourly fee will go to the lawyer and the other half will go to the law firm to cover their operating expenses and hopefully, a small profit.

Michael and Shelia Manley will convert a dress shop about a block from the courthouse into a community law office, opening in December 2012. They will serve free coffee and offer free wireless access, while lunch can be purchased at the next-door lunch counter. They are hoping their storefront will attract some of the more than 60% of Georgia residents who do not have a lawyer during their divorce.

If their business model succeeds, they intend to cover their office walls with artwork done by lawyers and invite lawyers and law students to “jam” on a small stage in the store, with tips for their musical talent donated to free legal clinics.

Sounds like an idea whose time has come.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang