No Justice for Murdered Surrey Hockey Mom

DSC00280If you ask a resident of British Columbia what the murder capital of Canada is they may well tell you it’s Surrey. But they’d be wrong. The latest statistics tell us that it is Regina, Saskatchewan, followed by Toronto, Ontario.

However, that is cold comfort for victims of violent crimes across Canada, and in particular the family of Julie Paskall, the 53-year old Surrey mother who was attacked while waiting in the Newton arena parking lot to pick up her 16-year old son who was refereeing a hockey game.

Her son left the arena expecting to see his mom waiting for him as she regularly did, but instead he saw her on the ground surrounded by blood and scrambling paramedics. She had been brutally beaten and was rushed to hospital where she died two days later, on December 31, 2013.

Ms. Paskall’s murder shocked the neighbourhood and surrounding communities, who had become complacent with the ever-increasing toll of gangland slayings. But this was entirely different. This was a loving mother of three children, happily married to her high school sweetheart, and well-known in the community for her volunteerism.

A public memorial was packed with friends, neighbours and strangers. Her husband remarked that the outpouring of grief and sympathy was overwhelming, with cards and condolences coming from all over Canada and as far afield as Hong Kong and Sweden.

Mayor Diane Watts reminded the community their anger was understandable but that justice would prevail.

Unfortunately, Ms. Watts was wrong on that score. Last week Yosef Gopaul pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for Ms. Paskall’s death and a second robbery that took place two weeks before he attacked Ms. Paskall with a rock the size of a grapefruit. His DNA was on the rock and he confessed to an undercover police officer.

He said he only wanted to steal her purse and couldn’t believe he had caused her death. Gopaul had only been in B.C. for eight weeks prior to the murder, coming from Ontario.

While Gopaul attempted to say all the right things at his sentencing hearing his words rang hollow. The Crown informed the Court that at age 28 he had rung up 29 convictions, including six for violent offences, and although charged with second degree murder, a “deal with the devil” saw him escape with only a manslaughter conviction. With time served his sentence will be ten years, and he will likely only serve a portion of that before work release and parole.

In my view the sentence is unfit and an insult to the Paskall family and the community of Surrey who were told and expected that justice would prevail. I suspect it is easier (and cheaper) for the Crown to offer a plea deal than to run a challenging second degree murder trial. Even with DNA and a confession, the Crown refused to roll the dice which I suspect was because Ms. Paskall died from a pre-existing cardiac condition that took her life when she was beaten by this habitual criminal.

Perhaps if the Crown and the Courts had taken Mr. Gopaul’s previous serial criminality more seriously, he would have been locked up after his sixth violent offence. As it is, he will be free sooner that you think, making the Paskall murder beyond a tragedy.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Mr. No-Pay: You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

DSC01152_2 (2)_2Family law lawyers now have access to information that can transform a case from an up-hill battle to a slam-dunk, and it’s all thanks to the internet.

Case in point: I have a client whose ex-husband, a venture capitalist, stopped paying his child support about one year ago. Exhibiting the patience of a saint, my client bided her time, hopeful her ex would reinstate his payments and make up the arrears. Didn’t happen.

She then contacted my office and the legal process began. Her ex was obliged to provide the usual financial documents including income tax returns and corporate financial statements. His tax returns showed nominal income and gosh, darn, he said that all of his businesses were insolvent so he hadn’t bothered to have his accountant prepare financial statements.

With a little help from the internet, we learned he was selling his home with an asking price of just over $900,000.00. After the usual land title searches, we found out he had already purchased a new home in another community. He said he was downsizing. He paid about $850,000.00 for his new home. It was a lovely estate property, larger than his last home, in a less expensive rural area.

Next stop was his Linkedin page and from there we simply googled his name and the names of his corporations. Here’s what we found.

Earlier that year, he made an offer of $25 million to purchase a golf course/housing development project that was very close to his new home and in financial trouble. Press releases abounded announcing the pending acquisition and his superior business acumen.

Several years earlier he had been a finalist for an entrepreneur of the year award. He was on the Board of his local Chamber of Commerce and associated with at least two consulting firms touting his business expertise. His allegations of insolvency were not born out. His only business debt was related to a wine store he operated. He was paying $1000.00 per month to pay down the $40,000.00 debt, $1000.00 more than he was paying for his two kids!

With this information and his feeble explanations, he no longer looked as broke as he said he was. My client got her happy ending when a judge ordered Mr. No-Pay to pay up asap!

It’s not always this easy, but his “high profile” doomed any chance of a judge buying what he was selling. And don’t get me started on the gems you can find on Facebook!

You can run, but you can’t hide from the internet!

Disbarred and Disgraced Lawyer Strikes Again

GEO Oct 26, 2010Former lawyer Janice L. Jessup, who practiced on Long Island New York has a dreadful discipline history which led to her resignation and disbarment in 2010. Rather than slinking away into oblivion she is again in the news for stealing $1.2 million dollars from an elderly, mentally and physically challenged client.

In 2008 she faced 13 charges of professional misconduct involving making false statements of fact and law; engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; representing a client without adequate preparation; conduct adversely reflecting on her fitness as a lawyer; engaging in an impermissible conflict of interest; and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Unable to muster any kind of defence she opted to resign in 2010, an act that ensured she could not apply for reinstatement for at least seven years. Frankly, she got off lightly if her disbarment was the only punishment for her flagrant abuse of her clients’ trust. She apparently relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina and began using her husband’s surname, Jones.

It now appears the 2008 discipline charges were only the tip of the iceberg.

In 2007 she acted for Geraldine Savage, age 47, in respect of real estate inherited by Ms. Savage that was expropriated and used to build a community centre in Westbury. Lawyer Jessup convinced officials she had authorization to accept $1.2 million dollars in compensation on behalf of her client.

She craftily arranged for an imposter to pretend she was Geraldine Savage when government officials visited her home to confirm Ms. Jessup’s authority to act was legitimate and to investigate Savage’s health status. The real Geraldine Savage was resting comfortably in a residential facility, oblivious of the fraud being perpetrated.

In 2013 Ms. Savage’s relatives realized she had been duped by her lawyer. They later learned Ms. Jessup had spent all the money on herself, her family, and reimbursing other clients.

She was arrested in January 2015 for charges of first-degree grand larceny and first-degree scheme to defraud and entered a “not guilty” plea last month. The offences carry a maximum prison sentence of eight to 25 years. Her bail was set at a bond of $150,000 or $100,000 cash.

Is it just me or does it seem that cases of corrupt lawyers seem to be on the increase or is it that with the web and other social media we now hear about them much more than before?

“There is no fire like passion, there is no shark like hatred, there is no snare like folly, there is no torrent like greed.”
― Gautama Buddha

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Ex-Lawyer on Trial for Throwing His 2nd Wife Off a Cruise Ship and Putting a Hit on Wife #3

GEO#1Lonnie Loren Kocontes, age 55, formerly a lawyer in California, and later in Florida, is approaching his day of reckoning for his unfathomable deviant behaviour. He lured his second ex-wife, Micki Kanesaki, to join him on a Mediterranean cruise in 2006, where he strangled her and threw her body overboard. He reported her missing and then quickly hopped a flight back to California to reunite with his newest wife.

Ms. Kanesaki was a paralegal who had worked with Mr. Kocontes. They married in 1995 and divorced in 2001 but remained on good terms and continued living together on and off until the fateful cruise. Her body surfaced two days later, an event that likely shocked Mr. Kocontes, who undoubtedly thought he had devised a “perfect murder”.

Authorities in California did not pursue Mr. Kocontes until he was caught transferring $1 million dollars from his deceased wife’s accounts to his new wife. The money was eventually seized in civil forfeiture proceedings.

At a federal grand jury hearing in 2006 wife #3 testified on his behalf, but the FBI failed in their efforts to indict him and were later ordered by a judge to return to him $1 million dollars they had seized.

When it became apparent that neither the federal authorities nor the Italians would take jurisdiction, a California prosecutor convened a state grand jury in 2013, calling 14 witnesses including an Italian pathologist who opined that Ms. Kanesaki had been strangled and beaten prior to being tossed into the ocean. She also called Mr. Kocontes’ third wife who recanted her earlier federal grand jury testimony.

Kocontes was arrested in Florida in 2013 for “murder for financial gain” which constitutes “special circumstances” making a convicted offender eligible for the death penalty in California.

In procedural motions, Kocontes’ lawyers argued that only Italy had jurisdiction to prosecute, or alternatively, under admiralty law, the country under whose flag the cruise ship operated should take jurisdiction. The ship flew under a Bahamian flag.

Initially a California judge agreed that California had no jurisdiction to prosecute a homicide in waters off Italy, but fortunately for the victim’s family that order was reversed by an appellate court. Had the lower court decision prevailed, Mr. Kocontes would have escaped any consequences for his heinous act.

In jail awaiting trial Mr. Kocontes was not finished with his devious plans. Now aware his third wife had changed her testimony, he hired two inmates to force her to sign a letter reinstating her 2006 evidence. Once that was accomplished they were directed to kill her.

Instead, one of the hit men contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and this week Mr. Kocontes will appear in a California courtroom to face additional charges of solicitation to commit murder, and one count of solicitation to bribe a witness.

It is difficult to understand how Mr. Kocontes’ greed became his central motivating factor such that he would kill his ex-wife for her money. His decision to off his third wife was to save his own skin… a desperate, defeated man who deserves to be locked up for the rest of his life.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Looking for a Lawyer? Buyer Beware

_DSC4851The practice of law is both a profession and a business. Many lawyers rely on their winning track record and high ethics to gain a reputation that engenders word-of-mouth referrals.

Other attorneys buttress their status in the profession with advertising, but Yellow Page ads, popular for so many years, have gone the way of the dodo bird.

Today’s lawyers utilize television, radio, and the internet to entice potential clients. Many of these ads fall into the cruelly boring “conservative, balding, male lawyer standing in front of a bookcase” category. While others are innovative, even racy! Case in point:

An all-women law firm in Chicago created a billboard ad that read “Life’s Short. Get a Divorce.” The ad featured a photo of an attractive woman in her lingerie beside a handsome man with a tanned six-pack. The woman who posed for the ad looked like a model but she was the lead attorney at the law firm and the dude with her was her personal trainer.

She reported that the firm was inundated with phone calls. Of course, the billboard created quite a stir and consternation in the Chicago bar. It was removed seven days after it went up for an alleged by-law infringement.

In reaction to their increase in business, these lady lawyers started a website with the same name, where they sell T-shirts and mugs with the slogan emblazoned on their products. From all reports they’re selling like hotcakes!

Other forays into to the world of marketing are less provocative but no less effective. One family law firm, again an all-women firm, launched their print marketing with the headline “Ever Argue With A Woman?” I think they made their point very clear!

Of course, where television copies life, you have the billboard in New Mexico declaring “Better Call Saul”, the sleaze bag attorney from “Breaking Bad” who has been rewarded with his own spin-off show.

Other law firms have raised the hackles of their governing bodies with their ads.

In Nevada a lawyer bills himself as “The Heavy Hitter” in his rambunctious televisions spots and a Polish speaking lawyer ran an ad on a Polish-language radio station referring to himself as “The Lion of the Court”. The trouble was that he had never tried a case in court!

Looking for a lawyer? Buyer Beware!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Father Walks to Highlight the Abuse of Parental Alienation

BarristerPatrick Glynn is on a mission. He wants the world to know that parental alienation is rampant in North America and that he is just one its many victims.

Emotionally and financially spent after his divorce, Patrick’s website, walkforlostkids.com tells his story. As a working father Patrick was not his children’s primary caretaker, but he never dreamed he would become an occasional father.

With the financial pressure of paying for two households he was forced to move and take a job 300 miles away from his children, nonetheless, he drove ten-hours roundtrip every weekend to see them. Worst of all was that the game played by his wife meant he had to prove he was a worthy father, a cunning ploy that saw his wife and her lawyer convince the Court to curtail his visits to six weeks a year.

He says:

“I went from being an involved, hands-on dad to the courts relegating me to seeing my two daughters for six weeks a year, all because my wife wanted a divorce”.

To gain attention to the harm of parental alienation and the despair of its victims, Patrick began his “Walk for Lost Kids” last Fall by walking from Boston to Washington D.C, a 400 mile trek. Along the way he was joined by moms and dads who suffer like he does from a family court system that is out of touch with social science research on parenting and the evils of abusive spouses who use their children to inflict punishment on their spouses.

Writing on his blog, Patrick says:

“Meanwhile, smart, compassionate parents are endlessly stuck in their own cycles; unable to escape family courts and punished with financial and court harassment for years on end. Reasonable, solution-based people eventually realize their limited options at getting out of the abusive never-ending spiral:

Homicide
Suicide
Walking away from their own kids (which won’t stop the court harassment)
Fighting in court against their will, while being financially drained with little hope since the system is slanted
Accepting — in most instances — at least a decade of abuse while the kids are minors with little to no understanding from their peers.”

If this sounds overly dramatic be assured that it is reality for thousands of parents, many of whom have passed through the doors of my law office. And if you think this is a father’s rights issue, you’re wrong. It affects mothers as well as fathers, but it is the children who are scarred for life.

Back on the road, Patrick has just embarked on his second walk this month, a trek that will take him 549 miles from Sacramento to Los Angeles and end in late May. If you see him on the road, walk with him, and let him know you agree the family law justice system needs reform and needs it now. His Walk schedule is posted on walkforlostkids.com.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Lawyers Convicted of Extortion in Collection of Their Legal Bill

_DSC4179 - Version 2As a lawyer/owner who has practiced law for 26 years, I learned a thing or two about how to run a law firm. While the practice of law qualifies as a profession, and for some a “calling”, it is also very much a business. The bottom line is that if you don’t get paid, you will not be in business very long.

That’s why most lawyers understand that it is usually necessary to get a retainer “up front”. Unlike a body shop who has your car and will not release it until they are paid, or a watch repair business who will hang on to your Rolex until they get your Visa card, lawyers sell “intellectual property”, an intangible asset that is in high demand.

However, researchers who study people who need a lawyer recognize that a person with a legal problem is most inclined to gratefully accept legal advice and willingly (perhaps not happyily) pay their lawyer when they feel the most pressure i.e. when they are overwhelmed with anxiety and stress and are desperate for someone to alleviate their legal or financial pain.

Many young lawyers, including myself, way back when, have learned hard lessons about collecting legal fees. Ironically, the worst clients to collect from are so-called “good friends”. While they swear they will pay you, they often do not and usually without any justification.

Recently two senior lawyers in Tennessee broke the cardinal rule about getting paid in advance, only to be accused of extortion when they attempted to collect $50,000 they said a client owed them.

Michelle Langlois hired lawyers Carrie Gasaway, wife of a longtime local Tennessee judge, and her partner Fletcher Long to be present at the reading of her father’s will, a legal service that would cost her $800.00.

After the reading of the will, Ms. Gasaway and Mr. Long advised Ms. Langlois to challenge the will, and asked her to sign a retainer agreement. They initially offered a contingency contract of 20% of the monies they recouped for her.

Ms. Langlois instead decided on a flat fee of $50,000 for all the legal services required. She provided the lawyers with a personal cheque for $50,000 but advised them they could not cash it until she sold some of the stocks she received from her inheritance.

Langlois later sold the stock and faxed a certified cheque for $50,000 to the lawyers with a plan to meet with them to give them the original cheque. But she cancelled the meeting and in short order, fired her lawyers who angrily demanded payment of their fee.

An email to Ms. Langlois from the lawyers read:

“While we really don’t feel like you are in much of a position to negotiate, we will accept $7,000 as a full settlement […] in the event the check is not good, you will only receive more criminal charges.”

Testimony at trial indicated that Gasaway and Long had taken funds from monies held in trust for another client to purchase real estate and needed Langlois to pay her bill so they could return the funds to their trust account.

In their zeal to collect their alleged fee, they made good on their threats to put her in jail and had her arrested for “theft of services”, a charge that was later dropped once the truth emerged about the lawyers’ collection methods.

Last week a jury found both lawyers guilty of extortion, a Class D felony with a sentencing range of two to 12 years with a maximum fine of $5,000.

Needless to say their legal careers are over. Attorney Long said he is considering changing his profession because it is “too stressful. He added:

“God has a plan for me, but it’s not to practice law… I think I have some marketable skills.”

Yesterday both attorneys had their licenses to practice law revoked pending a full discipline hearing. An inevitably unhappy ending for all concerned.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang