Judge’s Decision Results in Tragedy

BarristerHave you ever thought about how judges make decisions? Frankly, I rarely think about this as my focus is simply on persuading a judge to see it my way. But learned scholars have studied and researched the psychology of judicial decision-making with interesting results.

The authors of “Blinking on the Bench: How Judges Make Decisions”* say that judges are predominantly intuitive decision makers, a characteristic that unfortunately can lead to flawed decisions. Of course, some intuitive decisions are accurate, but as between those kind of decisions and  the more academically rigorous “deliberation” method,  acting on gut feelings or hunches can be a dangerous way to adjudicate matters of critical importance to participants in the justice system.

A case this week out of Madison, Kentucky highlights the impact of judges’ “getting it right”.

Local prosecutor Chad Lewis was in court in Madison on October 6, 2016 seeking an arrest warrant against Laura Russell’s husband, Anthony Russell, age 51. The couple was divorcing and it was going far from well. Charged in August 2016 with strangulation and domestic battery for allegedly attacking his wife on several occasions. Mr. Russell was out on bond of $500.00 and subject to a restraining order, that he apparently ignored.

This court appearance was scheduled after Ms. Russell advised the police that her husband was continuously stalking her. She was upset, intimidated and frightened.

Judge Michael Hensley presided at the hearing, however, he refused to issue a warrant for Mr. Russell’s arrest and instead issued a summons requiring Mr. Russell to attend court on  October 11, 2016 after the three-day long weekend.

Mr. Russell did not show up at court on October 11 and neither did his estranged wife. They were both dead. Mr. Russell went to Ms. Russell’s home on October 7 and stabbed her multiple times. He then  committed suicide, blowing his head off with a pistol…a tragedy that devastated Judge Hensley.

The judge released a statement to the press expressing his condolences to Ms. Russell’s family, saying he felt “horrible about her death” and understood that his sincere regret would not “bring her back”. He explained that he didn’t believe there was “probable cause” to issue a warrant and said “I made what I thought to be the correct legal decision…obviously I made a decision that had the most tragic result possible”.

Prosecutor Lewis criticized Judge Hensley for failing to accede to his request for a warrant for stalking. Meanwhile, Ms. Russell’s lawyer suggested that it was Mr. Lewis’ fault as he could have asked for a warrant for multiple breaches of the restraining order, instead of seeking a probable cause hearing for a new charge of stalking.

Judge Hensley also announced that he would institute a new procedure in respect of arrest warrants, by ensuring that a hearing be scheduled for the day the warrant request is made.

 Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

*Chris Guthrie,  Jeffrey J. Rachlinski & Andrew J. Wistrich

“Bill Cosby” Law to Take Effect in California

DSC01152_2 (2)_2In Canada there is no statute of limitations for criminal offences. If you committed a robbery,sexually assaulted a person, or even murdered a person decades ago, the law is coming for you, if they find sufficient evidence to prosecute. Admittedly, historical cases are more difficult to prove: evidence is lost, witnesses die, and memories fade, but Canadians recognize that a crime is a crime is a crime and the passage of time ought not to excuse an offender of his or her criminal wrongdoings.

Not so in the United State, where criminals can beat the system if they have not been prosecuted within certain proscribed time periods.  Justification for limitation laws include that an alleged offender ought not to have to defend himself after a lengthy period of time has passed, again because of lost evidence, faded recollections and other “fairness” arguments. That this approach clearly prejudices victims has apparently fallen on deaf ears, until now.

This week California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law that changes the limitation period in California for rape and other sexual molestation cases from 10 years to 20 years commencing in  2017. California’s limitation law reforms are not at the leading edge as  Nevada and Colorado amended their laws earlier this year, again expanding the period to 20 years. All of these legal reforms arise from the allegations of at least 30 women who say they were drugged and assaulted by Mr. Cosby.

According to the California Women’s Law Centre, 17 other States in America have no limitation period for rape.

California attorney Gloria Allred represents 30 women in the Bill Cosby case, most of whom have no legal recourse because of the limitation laws on the books in most states. She notes that the legislation is not retroactive, so it will not apply to her clients.

Proponents of the new law explain that it “tells every rape and sexual assault victim in California that they matter and that, regardless of when they are ready to come forward, they will always have an opportunity to seek justice in a court of law.” California state Senator Connie Leyva who brought the bill forward said in a statement. “Rapists should never be able to evade legal consequences simply because an arbitrary time limit has expired. There must never be an expiration date on justice!”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Custody Dispute Puts Father in Prison for 18 Years

GeorgiaLeeLang057For those of you who think that false allegations of abuse are a rarity in family law cases, think again! Recently I acted for two clients, the first was a father accused by his estranged wife of molesting their young son. A police investigation was initiated and the Ministry of Child and Family Services barred him from seeing any of his children.

The second client was accused by his common law spouse of all manner of outrageous abuse: physical, sexual, and psychological. The graphic descriptions of her alleged suffering were like nothing I had ever seen before. Another day, another police investigation.

In both cases the allegations were unfounded and dismissed, but not before wreaking havoc in two innocent men’s lives.

And not all abuse allegations are nipped in the bud…take for example the case of Luther Jones of  Santa Rosa, California. In 1998 he obtained custody of his daughter, an event that changed his life, only because immediately after he was awarded custody, his 10-year old daughter accused him of sexually molesting her.

Mr. Jones alleged that his former girlfriend, Elizabeth Woods’ accusations were false and only surfaced when he received custody of one of their children. A witness at trial told the court that Woods had told her she would put Jones in jail to prevent him from gaining custody. The ten-year old testified against Mr.  Jones. He was convicted and sentenced to 27 years in prison, all the while protesting his innocence.

But that little 10-year old grew up and at the age of 30 admitted to authorities that her mother forced her to falsely accuse Jones, because her mom was enraged that he obtained custody of another child of theirs. She also acknowledged that she was molested, but the perpetrator was a different boyfriend of her mother’s.

Luther Jones, now 70 years old, ill and frail, was released from prison and is expected to receive compensation of about $1 million dollars from the State of California.

The current county district attorney, Don Anderson remarked that in the context of a custody battle, the allegations of abuse must have attracted suspicion, but apparently not enough to see justice prevail. Anderson has announced his willingness to seek perjury-related charges against Ms. Woods, a fate that is far less than she deserves. He is also determined to investigate the new information that the ten-year old was molested, just not by Luther Jones.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang







Another Crazy American Judge Story

DSC00507 (2)There will always be debates about what it is like to be a judge. Some say it’s a highly stressful position, while others argue it is a “cushy” power job, with no one looking over your shoulder as you command your courtroom. When a judge directs a lawyer or a litigant to “jump”, they jump, no ifs, ands or buts!

I lean towards the view that a judge’s job is very stressful. They deal with the most important issues in society: where should a child live? how much jail time should a convicted offender receive? and, how much money do innocent victims  of a car accident need to reclaim their lives?

Of course, there is much anecdotal evidence about the stressful nature of the judicial role, often used as a reason to excuse bad behaviour. Or does unprofessional conduct  abound because  some judges begin to believe they are untouchable, simply because they are judges?  A recent case of a “runaway” judge tends to support the “arrogant judge” theory.

Judge Arnette Hubbard, age 81 (yes, still sitting at 81!)is a silver-haired African-American jurist who presides in Chicago. One sunny July morning Judge Hubbard left the court building to smoke a cigarette in Daley Plaza, adjacent to the court facilities. Businessman David Nicosia was nearby using his cell phone and became annoyed at the second-hand smoke wafting in his direction.

Judge Hubbard and Mr. Nicosia, a white man, had an unpleasant exchange that resulted in Mr. Nicosia’s arrest for aggravated battery and a hate crime. Mr. Nicosia was at the law courts that morning to obtain a marriage license. Instead he ended up in jail, cancelled the wedding plans, and awaited his day in court.

His trial last month turned into the ever popular “He said/She said”.  Judge Hubbard testified that when Mr. Nicosia asked her to stop smoking she replied that she wasn’t permitted to smoke indoors. She said that Mr. Nicosia then spat in her face and yelled “Rosa Parks move!”. She cried out to nearby deputy sheriffs and tried to stop Mr. Nicosia from leaving the scene, whereupon she alleged he flung her off and slapped her.

Mr. Nicosia described a different series of events. He testified that after he complained the judge intentionally blew smoke in his face and said she could smoke wherever she liked. He replied “It’s not like you’re the Rosa Parks of smoking”. At that point an angry Judge Hubbard said she had something for him. She opened her mouth and delivered a projectile of tobacco-laced spittle that landed in his mouth, on his glasses, and on his shirt.  He quickly spit out the nasty “goober” which inadvertently landed on Judge Hubbard. He testified that the slap was accidental and occurred when the judge moved toward him to stop him from leaving.

Trial Judge James Obbish acquitted Mr. Nicosia of all charges, saying he believed that Mr. Nicosia would never have faced the felony charges if the alleged victim had not been a judge. He said that Judge Hubbard ought to have moved away from Mr. Nicosia once he complained. He also added that Mr. Nicosia  didn’t deserve a medal as he “didn’t act in a way that a man should act to a lady”.

Clearly the court did not believe Judge Hubbard’s version of the truth and her credibility was also damaged after she testified she had to take 17 months off work  after the “assault” for post-concussion syndrome, although she presented no medical evidence to support her claim.

Judge Hubbard has a civil lawsuit against Mr. Nicosia pending. As for me,  I think she should retire from the bench, drop her civil suit,  and pay back the 17-month salary she milked  from the citizens of Chicago.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang




Who Knew? DNA Isn’t Always Reliable

GeorgiaLeeLang016DNA evidence has proven to be a godsend for police investigators and a nightmare for criminals, whose skin, hair, blood, and other bodily fluids can provide damning proof of their involvement in criminal cases, usually involving sexual assault and homicide.

Florida rapist, Tommie Lee Andrews, has the ignominious distinction of being the first offender in the United States to be convicted as a result of DNA evidence. DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid, contains a genetic blueprint that  unequivocally identifies each person, with the exception of identical twins, who share the same DNA profile. Two years after Mr. Andrews’ conviction, a Virginia killer, Timothy Wilson Spencer, nicknamed the “South Side Strangler” was sentenced to death in 1987 after DNA linked him to multiple rapes and murders in Virginia.

The infamous “Green River Killer”, Gary Ridgeway, who murdered 49 women in the Seattle/Tacoma area in the 1980’s and 1990’s, mostly prostitutes and runaways, was eventually caught through DNA.  He plead guilty after learning that police had definitively confirmed that sperm on several of this victims matched his DNA. He later confessed to another dozen murders.

That DNA evidence initially baffled jurors is best illustrated by the 1995 murder trial of OJ Simpson, where despite unimpeachable blood evidence a jury acquitted Mr. Simpson of the murders of his former wife and her friend Ron Goldman. The public outcry of his acquittals underscored the public’s new understanding of the science behind DNA.

However, Scientific American reports in their June 2016 journal that DNA evidence, thought to be foolproof, recently implicated an innocent man, where “touch” DNA was used as evidence of his involvement in a murder.

Lukis Anderson, a homeless man in California, was charged with the murder of Silicon Valley multi-millionaire Raveesh Kumra based on DNA evidence. While Anderson’s DNA was found on Mr. Kumra, his alibi was rock-solid. At the time of the murder Mr. Anderson had been drunk, near comatose, and in hospital under medical supervision.

How is that possible you say? Anderson’s legal team discovered that the paramedics who arrived at the murder victim’s home had also treated Mr. Anderson earlier that day and inadvertently “planted” his DNA at the murder crime scene. While this is an isolated case, it shows that blindly relying on DNA, particularly from skin cells, carries with it a significant risk.

Mr. Anderson was arrested and spent more than five months in jail after he was connected to the slaying of Mr. Kumra. Eventually two Oakland gang members and a prostitute were charged in the murder which occurred during a home invasion at the victim’s mansion.

Law-enforcement agencies around the world are assembling DNA databases, which have yielded matches that investigators may otherwise have missed. The FBI now has DNA records on more than 5 million convicted offenders, and sex offenders in all 50 states are required to submit DNA samples to law enforcement.

Canada’s DNA Bank originated in 2000 and has two categories: DNA collected from crime scenes, and DNA taken from convicted offenders who have been subject  to court orders permitting the RCMP to take DNA samples.

Government records show that over 237,000 DNA profiles are in the convicted offender category and more than 71,000 are in the crime scene bank.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang








Lawyer Falls for Nigerian Scam, Loses His Law License

GeorgiaLeeLang059Albert Einstein’s quotes are legion, but one of his most pithy is:

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

Along the same line, Judge Judy once remarked  that “Beauty fades, but dumb is forever”. 

Both quotes are apropos for a lawyer from Iowa who actually believed he could receive millions from a Nigerian Prince, and worse yet, dragged a client or five along for the ridiculous ride!

Lawyer Robert Allen Wright Jr. represented Floyd Lee Madison in a criminal matter in 2011. Mr. Madison presented lawyer Wright with documents which allegedly showed that Madison was entitled to a huge inheritance from his long-lost cousin in Nigeria. He asked Mr. Wright to help him get the funds transferred to him, a sum of over $18 million dollars, in exchange for 10% of the money. There was, however, one catch. To obtain the funds Madison needed to send the sum of $177,000 to Nigeria to cover the inheritance taxes.

At the same time, Mr. Wright was acting for Linda P. in a worker’s compensation suit. She received a payout of $25,000, whereupon Mr. Wright asked if she would loan $12,500 to Floyd Madison, as he needed the money to obtain an “anti-terrorism certificate” in order to complete the Nigerian transaction. She did more than that: she gave her entire WCB payout to Madison. He then enlisted several other clients to “loan” monies to Madison, in hopes of reaping great rewards from multi-millionaire to-be  Mr. Madison.

Meanwhile, lawyer Wright was busy dealing with representatives of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the African Union, and even the President of Nigeria. As scams go this one was a good one. He spoke with the Nigerian lawyer who purportedly witnessed the will of Madison’s cousin, and had discussions with a lawyer in England, Jonathan Walker, who told Wright he had travelled to Nigeria and attested to the legitimacy of the inheritance.

You already know how this ends…no inheritance received, no legal fees paid, and no repayment of Mr. Wright’s clients. But it wasn’t over yet.

Wright was inundated with disciplinary charges from his discipline body for incompetence, failure to disclose or secure client consent to conflicts of interest, and assisting a client in dishonesty or fraud. (The latter charge was not made out, as Mr. Wright was not devious, just stupid!)

The Iowa Supreme Court Disciplinary Board found that Mr. Wright “honestly believes–and continues to believe that one day a trunk full of one hundred-dollar bills is going to appear upon his office doorstep.”

The Board described Mr. Wright’s conduct as “delusional” but not fraudulent, and he was suspended for a period of one year.

It may be hard to believe but according to Ultrascan Global Investigations who operate in 69 countries, the profits earned by Nigerian 419  scam artists amounted to over $12 billion dollars in 2013. They say there are more than 800,000 organized perpetrators globally and many of them are Nigerian. Section 419 is the  section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud.

Ultrascan also reports that in 2002 the United States government was given authority to open all letters mailed from Nigeria to the U.S.  Government authorities found that 70% of the letters were scams. Today, the Nigerians rely mainly on email to induce unsuspecting victims.

Bottom line: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang