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

Mass Murderer Receives Compensation for Jail Beating

GEO_edited-1It was a horrible day in Palatine, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in the winter of 1993 and it wasn’t just because of the weather. There was a robbery at the Brown’s Chicken franchise where the culprits escaped with a mere $2,000, leaving behind seven corpses and a piece of chicken with human saliva on it.

The case went cold for nine years until a woman told police that her boyfriend, Juan Luna, was involved. Sure enough, with DNA advances, the authorities were able to detect Mr. Luna’s DNA on a piece of frozen chicken and after a trial in 2007, he was convicted of seven murders, narrowly escaping the death penalty by a jury vote of 11-1.

Luna fingered his co-accused, James Degorski, who was also arrested for the murders and upon arriving at the Cook County Jail was severely beaten by jail guard and Cook County deputy, Thomas Wilson.

Mr. Degorski suffered serious facial fractures requiring the insertion of two metal plates in his face. He was also convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole in 2009.

Guard Wilson took a leave and two years later was fired by Cook County, but not before his acquittal for assault causing bodily harm on the basis of self-defence.

Nonetheless, Mr. Degorski sued Cook County and Mr. Wilson in a civil suit seeking damages and compensation for his injuries, a case that saw a jury award this week of almost half a million dollars in his favour.

The jury obviously didn’t believe that Thomas Wilson struck Mr. Degorski in self-defence and despite protestations by Wilson’s lawyer, were not told he had murdered seven people, two store owners, and five employees ages 16 to 46 years old. They were told, however, that he was a convicted murderer.

To say that the families of the victims are unhappy with Degorski’s windfall is an understatement. However, they can take some comfort in the knowledge that Mr. Wilson’s lawyer has agreed to represent each one of the victims’ families for free by filing wrongful death actions against Degorski seeking compensation.

As well, the law in Illinois provides that if an inmate has money, the State can take all funds, with the exception of $15,000, to pay for the prisoner’s expenses for room and board.

What seems like a dangerous precedent is simply the mechanics of the civil law which provides compensation for injured persons, even if they are mass murderers.

As for Brown’s, the store closed after the murders, and almost 100 more franchises in the Chicago area went under after the unspeakable events of January 1993.

Could It Happen in Your Family?

DSC00507 (2)Tomorrow at 5 pm I’ll be doing an interview with Jill Egizii who is the host of her own show on blogtalkradio.com out of Springfield Illinois. Jill is a local politician and advocate for children with a special interest in parental alienation.

She’ll be discussing a story out of California involving pop radio icon Casey Kasem, now 81-years-old, who ruled the airwaves for decades as a music historian and deejay, best known for the popular show “American Top 40″ and its multiple spin-offs.

Mr. Kasem retired from radio and his impressive voice-over career in 2009 once he became debilitated by Parkinson’s disease. Recently, however, he has been back in the media spotlight as a result of a situation that is sadly, not uncommon.

Mr. Kasem’s three adult children, Mike, Julie and Kerrie, from his 7-year marriage to his first wife, Linda Meyers, have been refused contact with their father by his second wife, albeit of 33 years, whose relationship with his children was sour from the get-go in 1980.

Media reports indicate the children were very close to their father, who is of Lebanese heritage, and had regular contact with him until he became immobilized due to his illness and also lost his ability to speak.

Daughter Julie brought a conservatorship application in an attempt to become involved in his care, however, she dropped the court case after negotiating visiting time with her father’s wife, Jean Kasem.

The children’s desperate campaign to see their father has included “picketing” in front of the home he shares with Mrs. Kasem, all in an effort to gain access to him. But it is not only his children who are barred, but also close friends and long-time business associates, who participated in the protest outside his Holmby Hills estate in Los Angeles.

In December of last year, Mrs. Kasem consented to the children seeing their dad for twenty-minutes before being escorted out by a paid “bouncer”.

As a result of the profile of this family, one California legislator is proposing new law to protect disabled, elderly parents from “forced” estrangement, such as in this case.

Sadly, with the multiplicity of divorce and remarriage, there will be more cases like this and more elderly victims.

Kerrie Kasem will also be featured in this interview.

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

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

Custody Battle Poisons Children

BarristerParents who fight over child custody and access bring out the worst in themselves and often poison their children along the way. Divorce lawyers who are stuck in the middle of high conflict family disputes often remind their clients that children deserve both a mother and a father, and that a child immersed in conflict is usually headed for a disastrous future.

Frequently, the worst of these types of conflict peter out once the children mature, interact with their peers and begin to think for themselves. Some parents also eventually recognize that their anger hurts them more than it does their ex-spouse…but not always.

A recent court case in Illinois illustrates the worst possible outcome where parents refuse to put their children first and instead continue with angry reprisals and revenge, apparently oblivious to the seeds of destruction they are sowing, for themselves and their children.

In Miner and Miner v. Garrity 2011 IL App (1st) 1103023-U the Court of Appeal dealt with a lawsuit brought against Kimblerly Garrity, mother of the plaintiffs, Steven and Kathryn, who were 20 and 18-years old when they commenced their lawsuit.

Their father, attorney Steven Miner, together with two other attorneys, filed the suit for them which claimed damages of $50,000 each, alleging their mother had intentionally or negligently inflicted emotional distress on them during their young lives.

Mr. Miner was quick to point out in media interviews that he tried to talk his two children out of filing the lawsuit, but they insisted. His protestations are unbelievable in view of the claims he advanced on their behalf.

The Garrity/Miner marriage ended after ten-years in 1995. Mr. Miner was awarded sole custody of Steven and joint custody with his ex, of Kathryn, who resided primarily with him. So how bad an access parent was Kimberly Garrity?

The children’s grievances included their distress when their mother tried unsuccessfully to obtain primary residence of Kathyrn. She also allegedly treated the children unequally, requested medical receipts from their father before she would pay her one-half share, and referred to their father as a “Disneyland” dad.

Worse yet was the claim that when her mother began living with another man, Kathryn’s distress caused her to gain weight, which was only exceeded by her mother’s gall in taking a new name when she remarried, a change that upset Kathryn.

Even more petty was Steven’s complaint that his mother forced him to wear a seatbelt when he was 7-years old, and Kathryn’s upset at her mother’s refusal to take her to a car show. Both were also slighted by either no birthday or Christmas cards, or cards that were declared inappropriate and contained no cash or check for them.

One of the “inappropriate” cards from American Greetings showed a table full of red tomatoes with the centre tomato wearing googly eye glasses. The card read “Son I got you this birthday card because it’s just like you…different from all the rest.” On the inside Steven’s mother wrote “Have a great day! Love and Hugs, Mom xoxoxox”. How insensitive!

Not surprisingly, their litany of childish complaints impressed no one and simply confirmed their outrageous sense of entitlement, immaturity and lack of gratitude. Their father’s role in their claims of “bad mothering” deserves even greater rebuke. His participation was both contemptible and shabby.

Needless to say, their lawsuit was thrown out of court, as it should have been.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Gay to Straight Therapy Banned in Calfornia

DSC00476 - Version 2Controversial “gay conversion” therapy will no longer be used in California to treat children 18 and under who seek to change their same-sex attraction to heterosexual attraction.

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a Bill prohibiting state licensed therapists to engage in treatments intended to assist gay and lesbian kids to change their sexual preference, a law that comes into effect on January 1, 2013.

Proponents of the new law argue that therapies designed to alter a minor’s sexual orientation have been scientifically shown to be ineffective. Homosexuality as a psychiatric diagnosis was completely removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health in 1986, and in 2005 the American Psychiatric Association rejected the proposition that therapy could be useful for those who wished to “go straight”.

In 2007 Professors Stanton Hope from the prestigious Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois and Mark Yarhouse from Regents University in Virginia Beach joined forces in a study to test the APA’s theory that therapy was of no use.

Thirty-five of their original 98 participants dropped out almost immediately, leaving 65 research subjects at the conclusion of the study. The data was obtained through the organization called Exodus International, a Christian group whose mandate is to give homosexuals “freedom through Christ”.

Drs. Hope and Yarhouse published their results, finding that 23% of their group reported no change, 30% opted for celibacy, 20% embraced their orientation, while 23% reported they were “cured” with no harmful psychological aftermath.

However, critics say their lack of scientific rigour suggests their research is flawed and unreliable. Others say that their results do show behavioral changes, which are different from changes in sexual orientation.

What exactly is conversion therapy? It has been described as encompassing intrusive aversion treatments, drug therapy, Christian informed psychoanalysis, and spiritual intervention. Critics say the treatment brings on shame, grief, and anxiety causing patients to suffer depression and increased suicidal tendencies.

Critics of the new law have already filed lawsuits challenging the legislation on the basis that it breaches constitutionally guaranteed rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. They say the law is a disgusting abuse of government powers and a tyrannical interference with parental rights, who alone should determine how to help their child.

Until the law is overturned, a result that I believe is highly unlikely, therapists who continue to practice “gay to straight” therapy will be disciplined for unprofessional conduct.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang