Super Bowl Ad Features Dads and Daughters

BarristerWho could have imagined that an ivory tower academic scholar could influence a major corporation to produce a television ad that relied on her research about the relationship between dads and daughters? That’s what hair product company Pantene has done as they debut their Super Bowl ads this weekend, giving due credit to Dr. Linda Nielsen, a leader and expert in parenting issues. Their tag line? “Girls who spend quality time with their fathers grow up to be stronger women”.

The “Strong is Beautiful” campaign is a fusion of pop culture and cutting edge research that shows that fathers can do anything moms can do and their influence is pivotal to the successful development of their daughters. The ads feature Dallas Cowboy’s Jason Witten, Pittsburgh Steeler’s DeAngelo Williams, and Benjamin Watson of the New Orleans Saints, each of them creating hairstyles for their cute-as-a-button offspring. The dichotomy of these big guys gently braiding, combing, and pony tailing their youngsters with the help of Pantene products, is charmingly heart-warming.

The clear message is that men who care about their kids are both strong and sexy…it’s a marketer’s dream…. combining cute kids with virile football players, all that’s missing is a cocker spaniel!

As for Dr. Nielsen, her work has gone viral and her voice is respected worldwide. In a recent interview she said:

“ Are you worried about teenage pregnancy? Are you worried about whether your daughter will get a good job someday and be able to support herself? Are you worried about your daughter picking boyfriends and husbands who are going to be emotionally and physically abusive to her? Are you worried about boys taking sexual advantage of her? All of these things, research shows, are connected more strongly to her relationship with her father than to her relationship to her mother.”

Kudos to Pantene… now if our family court judges could embrace the reality that children need two parents if they are to be successful adults.

Pantene ad:     http://www.refinery29.com/2016/02/102454/pantene-super-bowl-commercial-2016

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Pooches Need Protection in Divorce Too

 

phoenixThe State of Alaska is joining several other States in introducing new legislation to protect dogs that are caught in the midst of their owners’ divorce or domestic violence incidents.

Family law lawyer and Democratic House Representative Max Gruenberg sponsored the bill with unanimous support from both sides of the aisle. Its provisions include expanding the definition of “essential personal items” to include pets and permit victims of domestic violence to retrieve their pets as they would any other personal items.

It would also require owners to pay for the cost of animals seized in cases of neglect; allow courts to include pets in domestic violence protection orders; and provide authority for custody arrangement for pets during divorce cases.

In 2007 California and Illinois passed laws to protect pets after concluding that spouses and partners in abusive situations were often reluctant to leave their abuser, fearing their pet would become their abuser’s next victim in retaliation for their departure. When victims of abuse leave their abusive situation and go to safe houses they are rarely able to take their pets with them. Thus, this law authorizes animal shelters to care for these pets during this time.

In California, even before the law was passed, courts were permitting applicants for domestic restraining orders to include family members in the order, which included pets. I have not seen such terms in protection orders in British Columbia, but I am aware of orders awarding the care of a pet to one of the parties pending a final decision in a divorce case.

As a pooch owner, I understand why separating couples fight as hard over their pets as they do the financial aspects of a case. Our pets are beloved family members and as any dog-owner will attest: our pets know when there is trouble in the home.GAL & PAL #2jpgGAL & PAL #2jpg

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Murder, Mayhem, and Matrimony

GeorgiaLeeLang009Yesterday I finished reading an intriguing true crime book called “Guilt by Matrimony” A Memoir of Love, Madness, and the Murder of Nancy Pfister”. The story involved the 2014 murder of wealthy, Aspen Colorado socialite Nancy Pfister, age 57, and was written by Nancy Styler. Both Nancy Styler and her husband Dr. William Styler were arrested for the capital murder of Ms. Pfister. Colorado is a death penalty state.

Nancy Styler was a prominent scientist and her husband a highly esteemed anesthesiologist in Denver, before bad luck reversed their fortunes. Dr. Styler was diagnosed with a degenerative illness and could no longer practice medicine. His lawsuit against the hospital that fired him came to an unsuccessful end after they exhausted their last savings on legal fees. They sold their opulent Denver home for far less than they expected, and were looking to start over, now in their early 60’s.

They ended up in Aspen hoping to open a spa, and met Ms. Pfister, an eccentric member of the “lucky sperm” club, who was looking for a tenant for her home while she was away on an extended vacation in Australia. She seemed like a fun-loving, sophisticated woman, and she said she was interested in investing in their new spa.  The Stylers didn’t hesitate to rent the home.

They moved in immediately, sharing the home with Ms. Pfister until she was ready to leave. They quickly became disillusioned with their landlady who was not what they thought. She was manipulative, mercurial, and had a penchant for pink champagne, in vast quantities. The Stylers met Ms. Pfister’s close friend, Kathy, a bank teller, who did her bidding without question. Sharing Ms. Pfister’s limelight appeared to be sufficient compensation for Kathy.

All was well, until the Styler’s received a brusque message from Ms. Pfister who was returning to Aspen earlier than expected. She rudely told them to get out and accused them of failing to pay the rent. They scrambled to move their furnishings and vacate the home, moving into a local motel.

During the move-out they were grateful their landlady was not home, but became alarmed when they saw her dog was alone in the home and had made a mess all over the house. They called Kathy, who fetched the dog.

Early the next morning, the police barged into the Styler’s motel room, ordered them to strip, took photos, and handcuffed them. They had no idea what was going on as they were driven to the local lockup. After hours of questioning without a lawyer present, Nancy Styler and Dr. Styler were charged with capital murder. Both denied any knowledge of Nancy Pfister’s death. Ms. Styler suspected she had overdosed on pills and alcohol. She later was told that Ms. Pfister received hammer blows to her head and was stuffed in her bedroom closet.  Ms. Styler was gobsmacked, without bail, and with no funds to retain a lawyer a public defender was appointed to represent her. Her husband had separate counsel.

She languished in jail for three months while her lawyers investigated the state’s case and concluded they had insufficient evidence to hold Nancy. But Nancy’s release only came when her husband made a startling admission. He said he had gone to the Pfister home early one morning to discuss Nancy Pfister’s allegations, which had enraged him, lost control of himself, and killed her. Nancy Styler didn’t believe him, thinking he was taking the blame in order that she be freed and exonerated. But she was wrong. He had done it. His illness had also affected his mind and the anger and resentment he had carried since losing his medical position exploded that morning. She immediately filed for divorce.

Dr. Styler was convicted of second degree murder, later committing  suicide in his prison cell. He had a one million dollar life insurance policy that was paid to his wife.

Yesterday the Aspen Daily News reported that Nancy Pfister’s daughter, Juliana Pfister, has brought a wrongful death suit against Nancy Styler alleging she assisted her husband in her mother’s murder, suggesting that Dr. Styler did not have the physical capacity to hide the body, as he did. Ms. Pfister is seeking financial compensation from the life insurance funds and the profits of Ms. Styler’s intriguing book.

This story is an enlightening example of how life can change so quickly, from the upper echelons of Denver society to a jail cell in Aspen…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Take Your Pick: 19 Dogs or Your Kids?

GeorgiaLeeLang059A couple in England lost custody of their two children, ages 7 and 2, when authorities discovered 19 dogs in their house, a home described by officials as “incredibly filthy and utterly squalid”. The children were placed into foster care.

At the time of the seizure of the children, their mother had been prosecuted by the SPCA and banned from owning any dogs for a period of 4 years.

After three years of foster care, the children’s parents, both in their fifties, brought an application to the court to have their children returned to them. Mother advised the court that once the ban expired she planned to have only 1 or 2 dogs.

Judge Peter Nathan denied their application despite evidence that the home was now neat, clean, and nicely decorated. He believed the improved conditions would gradually deteriorate, and he did not accept that the home would only house 1 or 2 dogs.

Other factors that caused Judge Nathan to refuse to return the children included:

  1. He found that the children’s mother resented the intrusion of social services, police and other persons in authority;
  2. He found that the mother’s expressed desire to involve the media, write a book, and participate in a film about the case was not in the children’s best interests;
  3. He found that the children’s father was paranoid and had complained about social workers, the SPCA, the police, and the children’s teachers, and believed these authority figures were envious of his lifestyle.

An odd conclusion to an interesting case…the judge specifically found that the children’s parents loved the children and had changed the conditions in the home. If these parents were unfit, the court needed to say so. There must be lots of parents who disdain state intervention in their home life. While I understand the initial removal, I can’t understand why there was no “second chance”. Surely these parents or other family members would be preferable to state foster care. There must be something more to this case and if I find out, I will update this story.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

The Lighter Side of Divorce

GeorgiaLeeLang032We all need a few laughs once in while, so today’s post is intended to focus on the lighter side of divorce, which, believe me, does not exist when you are in the middle of it. It is always amusing to see what Hollywood has to say about the subject, given their residents are abundant among the divorce statistics.

For those who have survived divorce and those who watch from a distance (and are grateful for that), consider the following sound bites and barbs.

1. “Ah yes divorce, the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.”
ROBIN WILLIAMS, divorced twice

2. “I’m an excellent housekeeper. Every time I divorce, I keep the house.”
ZSA ZSA GABOR, divorced seven times, one anulment

3. “The difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that a legal separation gives the husband a chance to hide his money.” JOHNNY CARSON, divorced three times

4. “Today Pamela and Tommy Lee announced they are getting back together. You know what that means? There’s still hope for Ike and Tina Turner.”JAY LENO, married for 30 years

5. “I’ve given my memoirs more thought than my marriages. You can’t divorce a book.”
GLORIA SWANSON, divorced four times

6. “The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.”
HENNY YOUNGMAN, married for 60 years

The literary world also has something to say on the topic of divorce:

6. “A divorce is like an amputation, you survive it, but there’s less of you.”
MARGARET ATWOOD, divorced once

7. “The worst reconciliation is better than the best divorce.”
MIGUEL DE CERVANTES, married for 32 years

8. “When two people get a divorce, it isn’t a sign that they “don’t understand” one another,
but a sign that they have at last, begun to.”
HELEN ROWLAND, marital status unknown

As Billy Joel once said “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang, happily married for 27 years!

The Tragedy of Munchausen By Proxy

GeorgiaLeeLang025Many years ago I acted for a single mom who had an 8-year-old daughter. She retained me when her ex-husband filed an application seeking a change of custody from my client to him…not so unusual, right?

Wrong! This case was my first introduction to the mental illness called “Munchausen by proxy”, an insidious syndrome that experts say causes mothers, rarely fathers, to exaggerate or fake their child’s health problems, or in the worst cases, deliberately harm or cause injury to their child.

The signs and signals that Munchausen may be present include:

• A child who is often hospitalized with unusual and unexplained symptoms that seem to go away when mother is not present, or a child who is moved by her caregiver from doctor to doctor and hospital to hospital.

• Symptoms that don’t match the child’s test results.

• Symptoms that worsen at home but improve while the child is under medical care.

• Drugs or chemicals in the child’s blood or urine.

• Siblings who died under strange circumstances.

• A mother who is overattentive to the child and overly willing to comply with health care workers.

• A mother who is a nurse or who works in the health care field.

Unfortunately, many friends, family, and medical experts who observe such symptoms have difficulty imagining that the child’s mother, who is overly protective, indeed, sacrificial in her care for her child, could intentionally harm her child.

Psychologists explain that the pay-off for the Munchausen mother is the fulfillment of her pathological need for attention and sympathy, something that the growth of social media exploits, with Facebook postings and mommy-blogs.

In a case from White Plains, New York, Lacey Spears, age 29, was charged with the murder. She was accused of poisoning her son, 5-year-old Garnett-Paul Spears with sodium….that’s right, every day table salt.

Garnett-Paul’s sodium levels escalated, confounding his doctors at Westchester Medical Centre who tried desperately to control his brain swelling and seizures, and prevent his eventual death.

Meanwhile his mother used social media to regale her readers with details of Garnett-Paul’s tortuous medical journey, all the while preening and accepting accolades for her unstinting dedication to her sick son.

Ms. Spears was bedside at the hospital with her son, sleeping with him overnight, until he died. Prosecutors allege  she was continually depositing salt in his feeding tube.

Video cameras caught Ms. Spears on two occasions taking her son into a hospital bathroom with a feeding tube. A search of her apartment also turned up two feeding bags contaminated with salt. One of the bags had the equivalent of 69 salt packets.

His death is a terrible tragedy and one that experts say is rare, because Munchausen mothers don’t intend to kill their children, they simply want them to stay sick to feed their uncontrollable need for attention.

She was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

As for my client, her ex-husband was unable to prove his daughter was a victim of Munchausen by proxy, although the circumstances were admittedly suspicious. I often wondered how that little girl fared and thought about her for years after.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

A Merry Christmas for Two Innocent Men Set Free in December 2015

BarristerAs Franz Kafka wrote in “The Trial”:

“It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves.”

While Vancouver’s wrongly convicted Ivan Henry spent weeks in court this year seeking compensation due to a disturbingly flawed police investigation; a prosecutor whose focus was on winning, not achieving justice; and an arrogant jurist, more innocent men around North America were set free from prison after decades of wrongful imprisonment. The numbers are staggering, but their stories are similar. Here are two tragic examples.

Native American Marvin Roberts of Anchorage, Alaska was 19 years old in 1997 when after eleven hours of police interrogation he admitted killing 15-year old John Hartman who died after being beaten, kicked, and sexually assaulted on a lonely Anchorage street. Three other companions were also arrested, charged, and all were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. They were nicknamed the “Fairbanks Four”. Mr. Roberts received a 33-year sentence.

Alaska’s Innocent Project was eventually able to prove they were wrongfully convicted resulting in their release from prison on December 18, 2015. But in exchange for their freedom, the prosecutor’s office extracted an unconscionable concession from each of them, namely, that none of them could bring claims for compensation for the decades they spent in jail. Factors leading to their convictions included mistaken witness identification; later recanted, false forensic evidence; perjury; false accusations; and the misconduct of officials.

Floyd Bledsoe, age 23, of Oskaloosa, Kansas also lived the nightmare of a wrongful conviction for the murder, rape, and kidnapping of 14-year old Zetta Camille Arfmann, his wife’s younger sister, who lived with Floyd, his wife, Heidi and their two children.

After a neighbourhood search for Zetta, Floyd’s brother, Tom Bledsoe, discovered her body and produced the murder weapon. He then called his pastor and admitted to the crime, begging for forgiveness. He also admitted his guilt to the local police, before recanting and accusing his brother Floyd of the horrendous crime, explaining that his initial confession was in response to Floyd’s threats that he would release embarrassing information about Tom to his family and friends.

Floyd and Tom’s father, Floyd Bledsoe Sr., provided an airtight alibi for Tom, as did witnesses for Floyd. Astoundingly, Floyd was convicted of all charges and given a life sentence plus 16 years, despite a complete lack of forensic evidence against him. The prosecutor proffered evidence at trial that the rape kit did not produce any DNA results.

Floyd’s multiple appeals were unsuccessful until one appellate court ruled that mistakes made at trial by the prosecution, that went unchallenged by Floyd’s lawyer, were grounds for vacating the conviction. He was released from prison, but after the prosecutor’s successful appeal, he was returned to complete his prison sentence.

To the rescue was Kansas University’s School of Law Innocence Project who in the course of their investigation discovered an agreement between the prosecutor, the county sheriff, and a representative of the FBI, that no DNA testing  on the rape kit would be performed, calling into question the prosecutor’s statement that the rape kit was negative for DNA.

Once Floyd’s lawyers were able to obtain DNA testing on a vaginal swab and the rape kit,  it was determined these items contained the DNA of Tom Bledsoe and excluded Floyd Bledsoe. DNA on Zetta’s socks from Floyd Bledsoe Sr. indicated he had likely assisted Tom to pull the body to its final resting spot.

A month before Floyd’s conviction was vacated, Tom Bledsoe committed suicide, leaving notes admitting he raped and murdered Zetta and apologizing for betraying his innocent brother.

Floyd spent 15 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Again, prosecutorial misconduct together with ineffective legal counsel, and perjured testimony played a role in the injustice that befell Floyd.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang