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

The Client From Hell

_DSC4851In the mid-2000’s Toronto police officer Richard Wills, pulled off the most masterfully cunning manipulation of Ontario’s justice system and shockingly, got away with it, mainly because nobody cared enough to pay attention. The refrain “It’s not my job” became the mantra that brought the Ontario Attorney-General’s office and Legal Aid Ontario to their knees.

Wills’ married mistress of six years, Linda Mariani, went missing in 2002. Having been dumped by Ms. Mariani, Wills was immediately identified as a viable suspect even though he broadly hinted to his police associates that her husband was the likely culprit. Four months after her disappearance Wills retained top criminal counsel to cut a deal for him. He would admit that Linda accidentally fell down the stairs in his home, and acceding to her wishes, to avoid an undesirable burial in her husband’s mausoleum, he hid her in a 60 gallon vat behind a wall in his home, so he could later bury her in the resting place she desired.

The police weren’t buying what Richard Wills was selling. They located Linda’s body where Wills said it was but the evidence screamed homicide. She had a skipping rope tied around her neck and a baseball bat jammed in beside her. She died of blunt-force trauma. Mr. Wills was promptly charged with first degree murder.

But Richard Wills was not your garden-variety repentant rage killer. No, he was different. Despite overwhelming evidence, including his confessions to at least two persons, he insisted that Linda’s death was accidental, or if it wasn’t, he was mentally ill and therefore incapable of forming the intent to murder her or understand the consequences of his actions.

The “Richard Wills Show” began with a 65 day preliminary hearing, a process designed to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial. Wills paid his first set of lawyers with his own money, after all, he was a millionaire. By the time he had fired multiple sets of new lawyers, he had transferred all his assets, including real estate and his police pension to his ex-wife and was now officially a pauper begging for legal aid. As an indigent criminal defendant the Attorney-General was obliged to follow Canadian case law and compelled to pay for his defence. Legal Aid received funds for Mr. Will’s defence from the Ontario government and was expected to oversee payments to his lawyers, only they didn’t realize they were to do more than just dole out money.

Representing himself for much of the preliminary hearing, his behaviour was outrageous. He was rude and childish, belching, passing gas, lying prone in the prisoner’s docket, and contemptuously degrading, swearing, and insulting the Judge, the prosecutors, and anyone else unlucky enough to be a part of the process.

He regularly urinated in the police van on the way to and from the courthouse and on one occasion displayed a handful of excrement to the Judge after a well-coordinated courtroom bowel movement. He revelled in the spotlight, ignoring the Judge’s admonitions and rebuke and obstreporously belaboured and delayed proceedings with his interminably irrelevant questioning of witnesses.

He rambled and repeated himself with the obvious goal of drawing out and delaying the hearing. He was finally ejected from the courtroom and forced to watch the proceedings via video from a separate room. Ultimately, he achieved his goal when the Attorney-General, in an unusual move, declared an end to the preliminary hearing even though it was far from finished, and directed that Mr. Wills go straight to trial. Of course, pre-trial motions occupied another 144 days before Mr. Wills 84 day trial commenced.

His antics at trial were no different. He laughed out loud, feigned mental illness, bullied his own lawyers and was repeatedly racist.

Legal Aid initially estimated that legal fees for Mr. Wills would amount to about $50,000. Boy, did they miscalculate. Thirteen lawyers took their turn at bat for Mr. Wills, including two “friends of the court.” One of Mr. Will’s last lawyers, Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, was fired by Wills before the trial commenced. He alone billed almost $700,000 for “preparatory work” and was later disbarred by the Law Society of Upper Canada for overbilling by more than $100,000.

His last and final lawyer, Raj Napal, began his representation by announcing to the Court he would be calling 18 expert witnesses.

If it is not already apparent it was Mr. Wills who was running this trial. On March 1, 2005, Justice Shaughnessy, declared, with no pun intended: “I think we have unfortunately a test of wills here.”

Sadly, at the end of this fiasco, the administration of justice and Ontario taxpayers were the fools, while Mr. Wills sits in prison, convicted of first degree murder, no doubt confounding prison authorities and fellow lifers.

Yes, it is the inmates running the asylum, or in this case, dictating the administration of justice.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Vexatious Litigant

BarristerDr. Valery Fabrikant was an unstable, temperamental, and frustrated engineering professor at Concordia University in Montreal when he slaughtered four of his colleagues in 1992. Acting as his own lawyer, he sabotaged his case at trial, although his murderous actions were never in issue.

No doubt impressed with his own legal prowess, he continued to file lawsuits and was eventually declared a vexatious litigant by the Quebec Superior Court in 2000, an apparently ineffective tool as today the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed his attempt to appeal a Federal Court of Appeal ruling made in 2014.

So, how does one merit a vexatious litigant label? A vexatious litigant is a person who continually brings frivolous, unmeritorious law suits intended to harass, insult and abuse the victims of his court actions and to undermine the justice system. Vexatious litigants typically represent themselves as no legitimate lawyer will take on these cases.

Attaching this label to a litigant and curtailing his recourse to the courts or ensuring that no claim can be brought without the permission of the Chief Justice of the Court is a draconian measure that is only ordered in extreme cases.

Notable vexatious litigants include:

1. JULIAN KNIGHT, an Australian mass murderer with an IQ of 132 who gunned down seven people and injured 19 in the Hoddle Street Massacre in Victoria in 1987. Knight’s multiple lawsuits were directed at prison officials and the Australian government over issues concerning prison conditions, prison discipline, access to mail, solitary confinement, and a myriad of other petty complaints. Knight was eligible for parole in 2014 but the government enacted legislation that year preventing Knight’s release from prison.

2. LAWRENCE BITTAKER, a serial murderer from California who raped, tortured, and murdered five young female hitchhikers over a period of six months in 1979. Bittaker, with an !Q of 138, sits on California’s Death Row. He filed 40 separate lawsuits against the State of California including one claiming “cruel and unusual punishment” because he was served a broken cookie. He was declared a vexatious litigant in 1993 and requires the permission of a lawyer or judge before he can commence any court actions.

3. CLIFFORD OLSON, British Columbia serial killer of 11 children between the ages of 8 and 15, in 1981, was declared a vexatious litigant by the federal court in 1994. He had filed over 30 lawsuits over issues including his lack of access to the media, his designation as a sexual offender, and his inability to vote in elections. It was reported that his case prompted the Canadian government to legislate against early release law, called the “faint hope clause”, for serial killers.

Of course, not all vexatious litigants are deranged murderers, however, prison inmates seem to be attracted to this attention-getting tactic.

4. JONATHAN LEE RICHES is a former federal prisoner in Kentucky, convicted of wire fraud, who filed over 2,600 lawsuits in six years. Victims of his court filings included publishing maven Martha Stewart; former president George W. Bush; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick; gossip columnist Perez Hilton; pop singer Britney Spears; Apple founder Steve Jobs, and Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Psychiatrists describe vexatious litigants as suffering from “querulous paranoia” or “litigious paranoia”, a subtype of a delusional disorder manifested in persons who feel obsessively wronged about minor issues and petty offences, accompanied by groundless allegations.

Their deleterious impact on the justice system cannot be overstated and unfortunately, their numbers have escalated in the last twenty years.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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