Judicial Shaming of Convicted Judge Nixed by Court of Appeal

GEO#1As Elton John wrote: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”, an adage that is certainly true for convicted Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who was ordered to deliver a written apology to every judge in the State as part of her sentence for using state facilities and staff to run her judicial election campaign. The problem Ms. Melvin had with the order was that she was to write the apology on a photograph of herself in bracelets, also known as handcuffs.

Former Judge Orie Melvin and her two sisters were upwardly mobile stars in the Republican political firmament in Pennsylvania. Joan was initially appointed to the bench and thereafter ran several successful re-election campaigns. Joan’s sister Janine Orie worked with her, and sister Jane Orie was a Republican Senator for the State of Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, both sisters were also charged and convicted of improper use of state services, facilities, and staff to advance Jane’s Senate campaign. Janine was also convicted in respect of Joan’s judicial campaign, while Jane was charged but acquitted.

It wasn’t bad enough that Judge Orie Melvin lost her judicial position and her pension, but she was also ordered to serve three-years of house arrest with electronic monitoring, followed by two-years probation and community service in a local soup kitchen three days a week, together with a substantial fine.

On appeal the requirement that the apology to her fellow judges be written on a photograph of her with handcuffs was eliminated, the court finding that its only purpose was to shame and humiliate her. Appeal Court Judge Christine Donohue wrote:

“The trial court’s use of the handcuffs as a prop is emblematic of the intent to humiliate Orie Melvin in the eyes of her former judicial colleagues.”

However, the first batch of letters she sent to over 600 Pennsylvania judges were not good enough according to sentencing Judge Lester Nauhaus. Her first letters included the phrase “As a matter of law I am guilty of these offences”. Judge Nauhaus was not impressed with her lack of humility and ordered a rewrite which he said he would vet before the letters were delivered. He also criticized Ms. Orie Melvin’s lawyer, Patrick Casey, for the feeble apology.

On her second attempt she wrote:

“As a former member of the Pennsylvania Judiciary, I realize that my conduct has impacted the public’s perception toward the judiciary and the difficulty it has imposed upon the discharge of your responsibilities as a judge…I accept responsibility for the crimes for which I have been convicted. I regret any harm my conduct has caused you.”

How sad that three accomplished women in the same family lacked the integrity to conduct themselves in accordance with the privilege of the offices they held.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Supreme Court of Canada Strikes Down Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Prohibited Firearms

BarristerEveryone said Hussein Nur, age 19, was a fine young man, smart, athletic, and a leader among his high school peers. Unfortunately, Mr. Nur was caught by the Toronto police with a working 22‑calibre semi-automatic gun with an oversized ammunition clip. There were 23 bullets in the clip and one in the chamber. When working properly, this prohibited firearm fires 24 rounds in 3.5 seconds. Nur, a first-time offender, was arrested and plead guilty to possession of a restricted weapon. He was sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years prescribed by the Criminal Code.

Sidney Charles was also arrested when Toronto police found a loaded Ruger semi-automatic handgun and ammunition in his bedroom. It was equipped with an over-capacity magazine, a prohibited device under the Criminal Code, containing 13 rounds of live 9-mm ammunition. The gun’s serial number had been scratched off. As a career criminal with multiple criminal convictions he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, the mandatory minimum for a repeat offender.

Both accused argued that the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences as prescribed by Canada’s Criminal Code constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” and ought to be struck down as unconstitutional. Their cases wound their way up to the Supreme Court of Canada where six Justices agreed the law could not survive Charter scrutiny, although neither accused had their sentence reduced. (R. v. Nur 2015 SCC 15)

Perplexing isn’t it? The Court held the law was unconstitutional, but the minimum mandatory sentences were appropriate for each of Mr. Nur and Mr. Charles. How could the law be unconstitutional if the mandatory sentencing scheme was not cruel and unusual punishment?

Very simply, six Justices, Chief Justice McLachlan, LeBel, Abella, Cromwell, Karakatsanis and Gascon JJ. held that while the Nur and Charles’ sentences fit the crimes, there may be other cases where it would be “cruel and unusual” so better to get rid of the law now, before those cases occurred. Yes, the Court concluded that a minimum sentence may be challenged based on the circumstances of the offender before the court, or on other persons in hypothetical situations who may reasonably be caught unfairly by the law, such as persons who may commit minor licensing infractions without moral turpitude or danger to the public.

To that proposition three dissenting Justices, (Moldaver, Rothstein and Wagner JJ.) vigorously objected, declaring that the weapons applicable to mandatory sentences “have few legitimate purposes and are commonly used by criminals to devastating effect. Yet, despite Parliament’s valid and important objectives, the majority would declare these mandatory minimums unconstitutional on the basis that, in “reasonably foreseeable” cases, they could lead to grossly disproportionate sentences in violation of s. 12 (cruel and unusual punishment) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.

The dissenters take issue with the majority’s suggestion that innocuous licensing cases, that may or may not occur, support the striking down of the mandatory gun law, keeping in mind Chief Justice McLachlan’s statement that “gun-related crime poses a grave danger to Canadians.”

They note that Section 95 of the Criminal Code was enacted in 1995 and has been in force for nearly two decades. They say it has always included a mandatory minimum sentence for cases prosecuted by indictment. Since 2008, it has included the present three-year and five-year mandatory minimums. The Criminal Code gives prosecutors the option of proceeding with a matter by indictment or summarily, a discretion that abounds in the Criminal Code. Summary proceedings do not attract mandatory minimum sentences. They point out the unlikely probability of the majority’s concerns:

“And yet, the respondents Mr. Nur and Mr. Charles are unable to point to a single licensing-type case over its entire history where a mandatory minimum imposed under s. 95(2) could be regarded as grossly disproportionate. Moreover, they cannot identify a single case where an offender who has committed a “licensing offenc[e] . . . involv[ing] little or no moral fault and little or no danger to the public” has been prosecuted and subject to a mandatory sentence.”

In an unusual departure from Supreme Court of Canada protocol, the Chief Justice remarks that she has read the dissenting Reasons in advance and criticizes the dissenters’ opinion:

“I add this about my colleague’s proposed framework. The protection it offers against grossly disproportionate punishment is illusory: in practice it would create a situation where the exercise of the prosecutor’s discretion is effectively immune from meaningful review. The abuse of discretion standard is a notoriously high bar and has no place in this Court’s jurisprudence under s. 12 of the Charter. The proposed framework would be a radical departure from the constitutional framework in these cases, and offers scant protection from grossly disproportionate sentences being imposed on offender.”

Commendably the dissenters express the obvious: That it is our elected representatives who are responsible for making Canada's laws and "it is not for this Court to frustrate the policy goals of our elected representatives based on questionable assumptions or loose conjecture."

Alas, the majority rules, as it should, but the polarization of the Court's judges is worthy of note, as is the majority's propensity to once again turf Stephen Harper's "law and order" agenda.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Mother Fakes Child, Dupes Father, and Goes to Jail

GEO CASUALJohnna Loreen Vandemore of Iowa has nothing to be proud of. A woman so greedy she faked the birth of a child and inveigled her former lover to believe he was the father.

Only there was no child.

Ms. Vandemore created the fraud by telling her 2007 fling that as a result of their brief relationship he was the father of her baby. She provided him with a forged birth certificate from a non-existent hospital, and a photo of the child, using a picture of her cousin’s baby.

The alleged father, who lived in Minnesota, stepped up to the plate and began paying Ms. Vandemore $1,000 per month, sending extra cash for holidays and the child’s birthday.

As the money rolled in Ms. Vandemore’s husband queried her about her finances. She lied to him telling him it was profit from selling nutritional products online.

Vandemore’s scam was successful for six years. She received over 90 payments totalling $100,000. This week she was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to reimburse her duped victim the payments he had made.

Vandemore’s defence lawyer, Donovan Robinson, is as disingenuous as she, telling the court that Vandemore initially believed she was pregnant, and that her victim bore some responsibility, after all, if he had requested to see the child he would have discovered he was being swindled. Of course, Mr. Robinson assured the court he was not victim-blaming, saying:

“These things are not intended to foist responsibility on the victim, but, to show the ease with which a house of cards could have been toppled.”

Vandemore and Robinson are a matched pair. I’ve heard that clients hire lawyers that reflect their values. You don’t say?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Death Row Prosecutor Apologizes to Innocent Man

_DSC4851My regular readers will know that I abhor the arrogance of police and prosecutors who play a significant role in the wrongful conviction of innocent accused, both in Canada and the United States, but refuse to acknowledge their responsibility in these gross miscarriages of justice.

Imagine my delight when I read about the mea culpa from Louisiana prosecutor Marty Stroud III who sent an innocent man, Glenn Ford, to death row in 1984. His apology in the form of a letter to the editor of a Shreveport newspaper was poignantly refreshing:

“In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie “And Justice for All”, winning became everything.

After the death verdict in the Ford trial, I went out with others and celebrated with a few rounds of drinks. That’s sick. I had been entrusted with the duty to seek the death of a fellow human being, a very solemn task that certainly did not warrant any celebration…

I end with the hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford. But, I am also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it.”

Thirty-years after his conviction and almost as many years since Mr. Stroud left the prosecutor’s office, Glenn Ford, assisted by the Louisiana Innocence Project, was released from death row.

The former prosecutor wrote his letter when he learned that Mr. Ford was battling to receive compensation from the State for his wrongful conviction, a fight that was proving difficult.

Stroud wrote that he should have listened to rumours that others were involved in the crime and he ought to have realized that the testimony he introduced from a forensic pathologist, who opined that the shooter was left-handed, was nothing more than “junk science”.

The exoneration of Glenn Ford is bittersweet, as at age 64 he has terminal lung cancer. As for Marty Stroud I respect his courage to admit his mistakes and can only hope that other players in the justice system who bear some responsibility for wrongful convictions will follow his lead.

As for the state of Louisiana it is unconscionable for them to deny and delay Mr. Ford’s compensatory claim. He is seeking the sum of $330,000 an amount that pales next to the $10 million dollars rightfully paid to Canada’s David Milgaard for his 23-year wrongful incarceration for rape and murder.

No amount of money is adequate payment for the loss of one’s liberty and freedom, made worse by the prospects of unnatural death at the pleasure of the State and the justice system.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute

GEO#1PT Barnum of circus fame is credited with saying “There’s a sucker born every minute”, and that’s just what hucksters and fraud artists count on.

Here’s the email I received today…

“I hope you get this email on time, I made a trip to (Philippines) and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and credit cards in it. Went to the embassy and they are willing to help me by issued me a temporary passport but i have to pay for a ticket and settle my hotel bills with the Manager here. Unfortunately for me, I can’t have access to funds without my credit card, i was wondering if you could loan me some few $ through western union money transfer easy for me to cash here and pay bills and get back home, I will definitely refund it back to you as soon as i get back safely.

let me know so I can forward you the details to wire it to me. Susan”

Oh, yes, I think I’ll contact Western Union right now!

I also recently received an email from a woman in Japan who wanted to retain me to assist her to collect a large sum of money from her ex-husband who happened to live in Vancouver. She asked me to begin by writing to her ex to determine if he would pay the sum he owed voluntarily or whether it would be necessary to commence a court action.

From the get-go it smelled like a scam, so in return I sent her an email advising her that in British Columbia we have “know your client” rules which require that she provide picture ID to show who she was.

Not a problem. Within a day I received a copy of a passport and an official ID card in her name with a photo of her. Her emails were all unfailing polite and to a less suspicious individual she appeared to be an ideal client as she informed me that upon my successful collection of the monies owed I would be paid my legal fees in a generous amount.

At this point her scam was no longer amusing to me and I ended the email conversation. She contacted me several times thereafter wondering why her Vancouver lawyer had not been in touch.

Had I carried on with her she would have excitedly told me that my letter had served its intended purpose and that I should expect to receive a large cheque from her ex and would I kindly deposit it to my trust account and send her my trust cheque for the monies, less my generous fee.

Had I complied, she would have received her money from my account and I would be left owing my bank a large sum of money once it became obvious that the deposited cheque was worthless. The financial consequences to me would pale in comparison to the humiliation of being so thoroughly scammed.

This scenario is just one of the hundreds of internet swindles floating through cyberspace.

Have you heard of the “grandma” scam where a young adult posing as your grandchild, obtains enough information from Facebook and other social sites to pepper her email solicitation with accurate family information. She is in trouble and needs money to either get out of jail or purchase an airline ticket to fly home to escape a dangerous situation.

The “Nigerian” scam is so old it is truly surprising that it still nets internet crooks millions of dollars a year. If you could only send money to this Nigerian diplomat, he could obtain millions of dollars that belong to his family and share it with you!

The FBI reports that between 2000 and 2009 internet fraud accounted for $1.7 billion in financial losses to unsuspecting consumers. The best way to avoid being the victim of internet fraud is to assume that every email overture concerning money involves a criminal looking for a victim. Don’t let it be you.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Child Custody Dispute and Abduction Precursor to Murder of Father and His Family

DSC00275_1A Mississauga family: father, mother and adult son, were systematically eliminated in what police say may be revenge and payback arising from a high conflict custody case, resulting in this week’s arrest of 34-year-old Melissa Merritt and her common-law spouse, Christopher Fattore, age 37.

This bizarre case is the ultimate tale of “truth being stranger than fiction”, but it began so happily when Melissa Merritt and Caleb Harrison met and began living together in 2000.

Two children followed in quick succession and they married in 2003. However, domestic violence marred their union and the couple split in 2005 after Caleb was convicted of assaulting Melissa.

A month after their separation Caleb drove drunk, killing a taxi driver and injuring four teenagers. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and his mother, Bridget Harrison, took over the care of the children.

From there the battle lines were drawn… but the tragedies did not subside. In 2009 Melissa’s father-in-law, Bill Harrison, suddenly died at the home he shared with Bridget, his death attributed to a heart attack.

A month later Melissa abducted her two children, remaining at large for several months. Upon her return, she was convicted of criminal child abduction but served no jail time. Her access to the children, however, was now limited to every second week-end and specified holidays.

Almost a year after Bill Harrison’s death, one of the grandchildren found Grandma Bridget dead at the bottom of a staircase in her home. Suspicions were heightened with the second Harrison death in twelve months.

In the meantime, a fire destroyed the home Melissa shared with her common law spouse and their four children. The couple lost everything, but the custody battle still raged, and in 2013 Melissa filed a court application for joint custody.

A month later Caleb Harrison was also dead, and police began an investigation into the deaths of three family members in five years.

In January 2014 Melissa Merritt and her spouse, Chris Fattore, were charged with first degree murder in the deaths of her ex-husband, Caleb Harrison, and his mother, Bridget Harrison.

This week Melissa and Christopher were also charged with the murder of Bill Harrison and extradited from Nova Scotia to Brampton Ontario where they remain in custody.

All six of their children are now in care. It is unfathomable that one woman could destroy so many people’s lives…of course, she is innocent until proven guilty.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Mystery of Munchausen By Proxy

10950859361151CDPMany 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.

This week in White Plains, New York, jury selection began in the manslaughter trial of 29-year-old Lacey Spears, mother of 5-year-old Garnett-Paul Spears, who is accused of poisoning her son 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 that she was continually depositing salt in his feeding tube.

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.

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

Not surprisingly, the medical literature indicates that the syndrome is difficult to investigate and prove, and often doctors are not willing to make the diagnosis for fear of being wrong. Better safe than sorry, I say.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang