Zealous Advocacy or Abuse of Process?

GEO CASUALThis week two Vancouver lawyers were excoriated by a Supreme Court Justice because of the tactics they employed in a case involving the proposed adoption of a young Metis child, referred to as SS. (A.S. v. British Columbia (Director Of Child, Family and Community Services),2017 BCSC 1175)

Lawyer JH represented foster parents who were desperate to retain custody and adopt the young child, while lawyer NG represented the biological parents, who supported the claims of the Metis foster parents. Their mutual nemesis was the Director of the Ministry of Child, Family and Community Services who determined the child, born in 2013, should be placed for adoption with a non-Metis Ontario family who had already adopted the child’s two siblings.

The court battle was hard fought involving multiple and duplicate actions and subsequent appeals, however, the lynchpin of Madam Justice Fisher’s damning findings against lawyer JH centered on a settlement letter JH sent to the Ministry, threatening to disclose a recording of an interview between Ministry social workers and the child which he said would show that the social workers had perjured themselves in their evidence in court. HH wrote:

“This is critical information which should be made available to Madam Justice Dickson, the panel hearing the appeal, and every subsequent Justice hearing any further matter in these and all related proceedings. Should the contested litigation continue, appropriate sanctions may be appropriate against the 3 social workers and the Director.

I have instructions from my clients, counsel for the birth parents, and the President of the BC Metis Federation, that if the Director is prepared to consent to my clients adopting S.S. by 10:00 a.m. this Wednesday, September 7, 2016, my clients, the birth parents and the BC Metis Federation are prepared to discontinue all legal proceedings, with the exception, of course, of the finalization of the adoption, and will enter into comprehensive releases involving all of the parties with respect to any and all possible legal outstanding matters.”

Despite repeated requests by the Ministry, JH refused to produce the alleged tape, a tape that if it existed was of questionable origin since the social workers had not recorded the meeting. If a recording existed it could only have been done surreptitiously by the unwitting child.

Madam Justice Fisher found that JH and NG had become blinded by their zeal to obtain custody for the foster parents ignoring that the Ministry could only settle the case if it was in the child’s best interests. To accept JH’s proposal would be a dereliction of their duty to act only in the best interests of their wards. A settlement to avoid scandal, the purported perjury, would be unconscionable. Madam Justice Fisher characterized JH’s conduct as a form of blackmail.

Lawyer NG was chastised for an email he sent accusing a Ministry lawyer of conduct that was “totally outrageous”,”totally unreasonable” and of a pattern of behaviour that showed “utter disrespect for the Court and to counsel”. He then threatened to report the alleged misconduct to the Law Society of British Columbia, apparently forgetting that while counsel may report another lawyer’s conduct, it is inappropriate to threaten to do so. One reports or not, but threats to report are sacrosanct.

The Court found that the lawyers’ conduct, which also included advancing inconsistent versions of their clients’ claims and unreasonable delay tactics was worthy of rebuke in the form of an order that each pay special costs to the Ministry for their egregious conduct, a rare sanction from the court. It is commonplace to order that a litigant pay costs but to order a lawyer to be responsible personally for costs is highly unusual and it is even scarcer to see a judge order special costs, which is typically 90% of the actual costs of the litigation.

The Reasons in this case illustrate that while lawyers should advance every legitimate argument in favour of their client, if they become enmeshed in their client’s cause they may lose objectivity and the perspective required of them. Following a client’s instructions will not protect an overzealous lawyer who is expected to control heated litigation as both an effective advocate and an officer of the court.

It is important to note that both JH and NG retained lawyers to represent them at the hearing where special costs were imposed and I predict that each lawyer will appeal the ruling of Madam Justice Fisher.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Couple Convicted of Satanic Child Abuse Freed From Prison and Declared Innocent

GEO_edited-1
You may recall the hysteria in the 80’s and early 90’s when an organized network of daycares were alleged to be involved in satanic ritual child abuse of youngsters in their care, the most infamous being the McMartin preschool case.

Virginia McMartin operated her preschool in Manhattan Beach, California employing family members and other staff. An investigation was commenced after one student’s mother reported to the police that her son had been sodomized by a McMartin staff member. From there the case snowballed with allegations of all manner of sexual acts involving 360 children. Eventually Mrs. McMartin and six employees were charged with 321 counts of child sexual abuse involving 48 children.

The McMartin trial lasted seven years at a cost of $15 million with not one conviction entered. Apart from prosecutorial misconduct it was determined that the interviewing of the children by specialized social workers was inherently flawed by suggestive, leading questions and interviewing which induced false memory syndrome.

The number of wrongful convictions for ritual sexual abuse is not documented but this week a couple from Austin Texas were declared innocent after serving 21 years in prison. Dan and Fran Keller operated a daycare from their home until three children accused them of dismembering babies, torturing pets and videotaping sexual orgies with the children. They were eventually convicted of sexual assaulting a three-year-old girl and sentenced to a 48-year prison term.

Their convictions in 1992 were based on the evidence of a young doctor with limited experience with sexual abuse victims who testified there was physical evidence of sexual interference. He later recognized that his inexperience had led to an erroneous conclusion that the child had been sexually abused. Prosecutors requested the release of the Kellers in 2013 and asked the court to reverse their convictions, which was done, however, the appeal court declined to pronounce the couple innocent.

The Kellers are now senior citizens who lost twenty-one of their best years, years that were more difficult because of the nature of the offence that resulted in their imprisonment. With their exoneration and declaration of innocence they will each receive $80,000 for every year they served in prison. Dan and Fran Keller are surprisingly upbeat and say they simply want to get on with their lives, now their nightmare is finally over.

Their pro bono defence lawyer, Keith Hampton, maintains that the Kellers were victims of the “satanic panic” that swept the United States in the early 90’s assisted by inept social workers and gullible police officers. The Keller investigation also identified other abuse suspects, including an Austin police captain and several of their neighbours.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

5 of the Dirtiest Divorce Tricks

Some divorcing spouses treat each other deplorably. In these sad cases, it is actually hard to believe they were once in love. Candor and kindness are replaced by artifice and cruelty. Divorce lawyers are well aware of the grab bag of dirty tricks spouses inflict on each other. My top five dirtiest divorce tricks are:

1. Conflicting Out All the Top Divorce Lawyers

An age-old practice for a spouse who expects a long, drawn out divorce battle is to ensure their estranged partner can’t retain a top divorce lawyer. It goes like this – husband or wife makes appointments with the top lawyers in the area. At each meeting they reveal enough about their situation that the top lawyer, who they have no real intention of retaining, cannot act for their spouse. If each top lawyer charges them $500.00 for a one hour consultation, they only spend a few thousand dollars to ensure they have defanged their spouse by preventing him or her from hiring a “gun” equivalent to their top-tier counsel. Yes, this happens in the world of high net worth divorce.

2. Firing Your Lawyer Just Before Trial

Another effective divorce trick is to fire your lawyer weeks before your divorce trial is set to commence. How does this work? It’s easy. Let’s say you are the wife of a wealthy husband. Since you obtained a court order ejecting your husband from the family home, you now reside in luxury with peace and quiet; you are receiving thousands of dollars a month in tax-free child and spousal support; and your life consists of tennis lessons, lunch with the girls at the Club and evening soirees. Meanwhile your husband is doing what he always does: travelling around the world doing business deals to support your mutual lifestyles. He doesn’t even see the kids much, so there’s no hassles at all.

Why would you spoil all this by taking a chance that a judge may eliminate some part of your lavish lifestyle or impose an access schedule for the children to see their father that may interfere with your plans?

3. Transferring Your Assets Off-Shore

While you may live a life of champagne and caviar, it is unlikely you can maintain that level of opulence if your spouse has arranged to stash all his liquid assets off-shore in trusts set up in any number of tax havens such as the Bahamas, the Isle of Man, Turks and Caicos or Panama.

In many jurisdictions a Court may make an order that off-shore assets be divided between the spouses, but just wait until you see how difficult it is for you to convince the foreign jurisdiction they must obey the order of a North American Court. All I can say is good luck!

4. Arranging Multiple Mortgages on Your Real Estate

It is not uncommon to see marriages where the “little lady” has no idea of what she and her husband are really worth. Imagine a spouse’s disappointment when their lawyer informs them that the family home and their summer cottage are mortgaged to the hilt and have little or no equity. Their once middle-class standard of living evaporates as Mrs. now looks for a basement suite to house her and her two children.

Another real estate divorce trick is to build a lavish home on leased land that is situated on property that is in the agricultural land reserve, so that while it may have cost $3 million to build, it has no real market value since nobody in their right mind would purchase this property. Yes, this is a true story.

5. Building a House of Cards

For a time life is grand, but inevitably problems arise in your marriage. In an effort to please your spouse you try you to spend your way back to the marriage you once had. Little does your spouse know that the trips to Europe, Hawaii and the Super Bowl were leveraged, courtesy of American Express or Visa.

The marriage does not survive and you discover your net worth is much less than you expected as you have tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt all used for the family. Let’s just hope the Sistine Chapel was worth it.

Perhaps you think that with the explosion of mediation and collaborative divorce, these tricks have lost their luster? Think again. For spouses who need revenge more than they need closure, they are alive and well.

Ungrateful Children? You’re Not Alone.

GEO#1What everybody wishes for...a big lottery win, happened in 2011 to an English couple, Dave and Angela Dawes. They won $131.3 million dollars (US) in the Euromillions lottery, open to residents of the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man. Not surprisingly, David Dawes left his job as a factory worker, ready to enjoy the good life.

Ecstatic about their good fortune, they were equally generous with their family and friends, sharing $32 million dollars with them, as well as starting their own charity. Over a two-year period, two million dollars was gifted to Mr. Dawes' 32-year-old son Michael, who had served in Afghanistan, and his partner Jame Beedle, age 34.

Michael and his partner quickly blew through the money and wanted more. Dave Dawes expressed his concerns to his son, but the tipping point occurred when a dispute broke out at a birthday party for Michael's step-mother, his father's wife.

Mr. Dawes was not pleased when his son showed up at the party with no gift for his wife. Michael insisted the flowers he brought her was the best he could do for a "woman who had everything". As a result of their heated exchange, accompanied by too much alcohol, Michael and his father became estranged and Michael filed a lawsuit against his father.

He alleged that his father had promised he would "always be looked after". In reliance on that alleged promise, Michael Dawes said he had given up his position as a Lieutenant with the Royal Navy Fleet Auxiliary. He had previously worked as a lecturer at Southampton University and was an IT expert.

Michael asked the court to order that his parents be obliged to continue with their financial support so long as they were alive, explaining that the original funds he received helped him with his mortgage, afforded him the opportunity to purchase a BMW, and allowed him to provide funds to his friends and his partner's family.

At trial the evidence showed that over $1.3 million US had been spent by Michael in the first month, followed by an injection of $650,000 US into a house in Portsmouth, and the gifting of $300,000 US to friends. It was revealed that Michael and his partner were spending $40,000 US a month, described by the court as "some sort of Walter Mitty existence."

Mr. Dawes' counsel commented that his client's generosity "had not been repaid with gratitude... and his client's son has "developed a sense of entitlement."

Meanwhile, the ungrateful son suggested his father "showed arrogance and ungenerosity of spirit"...saying that his father's attitude changed from humbleness to grandeur.

A decision from Judge Nigel Gerald was handed down quickly, dismissing son Michael's lawsuit and saying that: “There was no basis on which any rational or normal human being could conclude that they could go back for more money whenever they wanted.” Judge Gerald remarked that Mr. Dawes could stop “bailing out his profligate son”.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

17 Years in Prison for Divorce Fraud

BarristerCalifornia businessman Steven Zinnel, age 50, thought he could get away with cheating his wife, his two teenage children, and the bankruptcy court, but he was wrong….boy was he wrong!

Zinnel and his wife, of Gold River, separated in 1999. By 2001 their uncoupling got even more ugly when he told his wife she would get nothing, no assets or support because he was filing for bankruptcy.

Zinnel systematically funnelled millions of dollars into the names of other persons and true to his word, filed for voluntary bankruptcy in 2005. He also laundered money through shell corporations in order to conceal his true income.

Shockingly, he did all this with the assistance of lawyer, Derian Eidson, age 50, who used her trust account, her personal account and a corporation she owned to return the funds to Zinnel after his discharge from bankruptcy.

But he didn’t stop there…Zinnel went on to initiate an FBI investigation of his ex-wife, displaying a hatred that knew no bounds and that eventually led to his own demise.

In the course of the investigation, authorities uncovered Mr. Zinnel’s bankruptcy and divorce fraud. Before U.S. District Court Judge Troy Nunley he was sentenced to 17 years and eight months in prison, fined $500,000, and ordered to disgorge the sum of $2.8 million to the state.

Judge Nunley in bankruptcy court and the 3rd District Court of Appeal in respect of his divorce matter condemned Zinnel for his narcissistic arrogance, and found that while he was articulate and charismatic he used those traits for his own selfish purposes.

Yorba Linda lawyer Ms. Eidson, was disbarred and sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison for money laundering. She was also fined $200,000. Her undoing began when she commenced an intimate relationship with Zinnel and became a victim of her own greed.

As for Mr. Zinnel, his phone call to his son when first imprisoned shows that he still doesn’t get it…he told his son that he was “railroaded” and blamed his ex-wife!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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

GEO#1Family 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!

A Christian Response to Racism

BarristerOne common thread throughout mankind is the endemic ugliness of racism.

Human history is rife with examples: early Romans subjugated the Jews; slavery was rampant; India’s caste system ostracizes the untouchables; Japanese immigrants to Canada and the United States were rounded up and forced into internment camps; indigenous peoples in Canada, Australia, the United States live amid poverty and discrimination; Germany oversaw the murder of Jews, political prisoners, homosexuals, and the mentally disabled; colonialism and apartheid ruled South Africa;  Jim Crow laws ruled the south, and today in North America, African-Americans have risen up to demand an end to systemic racism, their action propelled by a wave of police shootings of black men.

Meanwhile, white America reels as black vigilantes assassinate white and black police officers in retaliation, as Black Lives Matter assumes centre stage in the public arena.

The question I pose is whether Christians should believe and act upon the notion that racial injustice is a gospel issue that deserves our energy and attention. I believe it is.

How could it not be when the spirit-breathed Word of God tells us that Christians should be peacemakers: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building.” Romans 14:19

We are told to forgive those who do harm to us and treat our enemies with love. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

Admittedly, these are difficult aspirations for flawed mortals to embrace, but the message of the Gospel demands the abolition of discrimination of any kind, be it sexism, homophobia, ageism, disablism, fat-shaming, or religious discrimination.

When Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the commandments of God, men and women had no difficulty understanding the Sixth Commandment: “Thou Shall Not Kill.” Later, in the Gospel of John we read: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” 1 John 3:15

Jesus Christ, delivering his Sermon on the Mount, admonished his followers: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:43-45

It seems there are so many ways that people hurt people, often inadvertently, but the pain remains the same. Is the Church of Jesus Christ prepared to tackle this difficult issue?

Following on the heels of a Sunnyvale, California church, a congregation in Concord, North Carolina is taking action to defeat the affliction of racism. Based on the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, this predominantly white church invites their members and the public to join weekly meetings of Racists Anonymous, encouraging and fostering this decidedly uncomfortable conversation. Pastor Nathan King reports that the meetings attract old and young, those admittedly racist, and others who are unsure or believe they may have a problem.

The only sure remedy for racism is the love of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Christ has the power to transform our understanding of race and discrimination. We must confront it, name it, shame it, and banish it forever.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang