The Mysterious Phenomenon of Human Chimeras

GeorgiaLeeLang016Perhaps one of the most shocking parental discoveries is when a father finds out that contrary to what he has been told and believed, he is not the biological parent of a child he is raising. Many devastated fathers have terminated their spousal relationships unable to cope with such fundamental deceit.

Recently a father in Washington State was flummoxed when he learned he had no biological connection with his infant son. Since he and his wife had undergone in vitro fertilization he immediately contacted the fertility clinic to let them know of their gross error: they must have mixed up his sperm with another client. When the clinic denied the allegation, the couple went to Dr. Barry Starr, a geneticist at California’s Stanford University.

Dr. Starr’s testing determined that while he was not the child’s father, he was the child’s uncle. More confused than ever, he listened as the doctor described a rare genetic phenomenon know as chimerism. Most people have two sets of DNA, one from their father and the other from their mother. However, human chimeras have extra DNA, typically from an unborn twin, called a “vanishing twin”, whose DNA they absorbed in their mother’s womb.There are also cases where extra DNA is absorbed as a result of a blood transfusion or organ transplant.

The adoption of the name “chimeras” derives from Greek mythology, where the chimera was a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature composed of the parts of more than one animal. It was usually depicted as a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that might end with a snake’s head.

Reported cases of chimerism are rare as many people are not aware of this anomaly, however, Lydia Fairchild almost lost her two children when she was required to take a blood test as part of her application for public assistance. The DNA test confirmed the children’s biological father, but revealed she had no biological connection with the children. She was accused of illegal surrogacy and welfare fraud.

Fortunately, around the time of the criminal investigation, an article appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine describing the case of another chimeric woman, named Karen Keegan. When Karen’s doctor suggested her three sons be tested to determine if one of them could donate a kidney to her, she learned she was not the children’s biological mother, despite carrying them to term and giving birth to them.

Ms. Fairchild’s lawyer arranged additional screening for his client and it was determined that Ms. Fairchild was a tetragametic chimera, meaning she carried two strands of DNA, the result of two sperm implanting with two eggs.

There is no question that the human body is “fearfully and wonderfully” made with all its complexities, including the mysterious phenomenon of vanishing twins.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Is Transgenderism a Fad?

GeorgiaLeeLang100The media circus surrounding Caitlyn Jenner (aka Bruce Jenner) has introduced transsexualism and transgenderism to a public that has been largely unaware of the nuances of these forms of gender dysphoria.

I can’t remember a time when there was such open discourse about gender identity and with this transparency comes articles, movies, TV shows, and public policy discussions.

A recent article in Britain’s Daily Mail describes an American family with two children, a girl and a boy, each of whom had researched transgenderism on the internet. Their youngest daughter who appeared to be a happy teen, albeit a tomboy, was the first to advise her parents she was transgendered and wished to transition to a male. Meanwhile, her older brother, who was bullied at school for his feminine manners and appearance came out to his parents one month later.

Both mom and dad unconditionally support their teenagers’ decisions, and surgery and hormonal treatments are underway for both, in fact, their mother wishes they had come out sooner so they each could have avoided the consequences of puberty, which complicates their gender switch.

Is this gender phenomenon on the uprise? That’s hard to say because research in this area is scant, however, if newspaper articles, daytime talk shows, the implementation of legislation in various jurisdictions to protect transgendered persons, and the development of children’s gender clinics is a sign, then the answer is “yes”.

Dr. Alice Dreger, a well-regarded American bioethicist, whose research includes intersex and sex development disorders, is not afraid to challenge the politics of gender dysphoria, while supporting social justice issues that effect this community. She opines that gender identity issues may be a symptom of other family problems.

“The dirty little secret is that many of these families have big dysfunctional issues. When you get the clinicians over a beer, they’ll tell you the truth. A lot of the parents aren’t well in terms of their mental health. They think that once the child transitions, all their problems will magically go away, but that’s not really where the stress is located.”

Experts and clinicians won’t say these things publicly, she says, because they don’t want to sound as if they’re blaming gender problems on screwed-up families.

Likewise, Dr. Joseph Berger, a consulting psychiatrist in Toronto, who is past Chairman of the Toronto district of the Ontario Medical Association, and past President of the Ontario branch of the American Psychiatric Association, believes that people who identify as transgendered are mentally ill or simply unhappy. He says that what they need is treatment for delusions, psychosis, or emotional problems, not surgery and hormones.

What is irrefutable from the research are the scores of transgendered persons who have attempted suicide, although linking suicide attempts to mental illness is problematic given the challenges faced by transgendered persons including discrimination in housing and the workplace, loss of family, homelessness, poverty, and other significant social factors.

What about sex-change regret? Numerous articles and websites discuss this issue and lawsuits against surgeons have been launched around the world, particularly in Australia. But who better to speak to regret than Rene Richards, the tennis icon who transitioned in the 1970’s:

“If there was a drug that I could have taken that would have reduced the pressure, I would have been better off staying the way I was—a totally intact person. I know deep down that I’m a second-class woman. I get a lot of inquiries from would-be transsexuals, but I don’t want anyone to hold me out as an example to follow. Today there are better choices, including medication, for dealing with the compulsion to cross dress and the depression that comes from gender confusion. As far as being fulfilled as a woman, I’m not as fulfilled as I dreamed of being. I get a lot of letters from people who are considering having this operation…and I discourage them all.” —Rene Richards, “The Liaison Legacy,” Tennis Magazine, March 1999.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Fifty-Year-Old Woman Can Refuse Life-Saving Treatment Where She Has Lost Her Youth and Beauty

GeorgiaLeeLang032Assisted suicide is a complex social issue, one that many people struggle with. I have come to the conclusion that if a person has a fatal or incurable condition with no quality of life or unmanageable pain, it is simply humane to engage a physician to assist in a peaceful passing. However, I am still concerned there will be inappropriate, even frivolous medical conditions that will pass scrutiny as doctors and the public become comfortable with new laws legalizing assisted suicide.

A related issue is whether an otherwise healthy adult with a medical condition that can be treated, should be permitted to refuse treatment where the result will be death.
A case in England last month comes to mind where a 50-year-old woman who said she “lost her sparkle”, meaning her youth and beauty, was the subject of a court application to determine whether she would be permitted to refuse lifesaving treatment following a suicide attempt.

The woman was first diagnosed with breast cancer and refused any treatment that would “affect her wearing a bikini” or “make her fat”. A year later she went through a high-
conflict relationship breakdown, lost her business and home, and incurred significant debt. She tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of an over-the-counter analgesic called paracetamol, not unlike aspirin, quaffing them with liberal amounts of champagne. The suicide attempt failed leaving her with a serious kidney condition that could be reversed with dialysis. She refused the treatment.

Her doctors contacted the Health Authority who applied to the Court for an order that she be treated, despite her refusal to consent. Justice MacDonald described her as a woman to whom youth and beauty was most important, she was unconventional in her lifestyle: married four times, had several affairs, and drank excessive amounts of alcohol. In short, she was a “party girl”.

Her daughter told the court, “Put bluntly, her life has always revolved around her looks, men, and material possessions. She understands that people have failed relationships,
feel sad, and continue living, but for her, she doesn’t want to ‘live in a council flat’, ‘be poor’ or ‘be ugly’, which she equates with being old.”

The judge considered whether the woman was competent to make an informed choice, ruled that she was, and refused the Health Authority’s application to force her to undergo treatment. Mr. Justice MacDonald added that his ruling did not prevent the woman’s doctors from “continuing to seek to engage with her in an effort to persuade her of the benefits of receiving life-saving treatment”.

She died fifteen days after the Court permitted her to refuse the life-saving dialysis, leaving behind three children including one who was still a dependent, all because in her dysfunctional mind she felt old, a state she equated with ugliness. Very sad.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge Releases Wrongfully Convicted Man (And Gives Him a Pumpkin Pie)

GEO#1While British Columbia’s Ivan Henry fights to receive compensation for his 29-year wrongful imprisonment, this week a Texas judge released Steven Mark Chaney, a man who served 28-years for the murders of John and Sally Sweek, on the basis of now-discredited “bite-mark” evidence and the almost commonplace charge of prosecutorial misconduct. The latter allegations have yet to face scrutiny in a court room.

In 1987 Dentist Jim Hales was one of two dentists that testified at Chaney’s trial that there was a “1 to a million” chance that someone other than Chaney made the bite marks found on the male victim’s body.

The jury, like other juries before and after this trial, relied on the expert evidence to convict Chaney. It is not uncommon that medical testimony from seemingly qualified doctors is considered to be scientifically infallible because of the elevated positions physicians hold in society. This, despite alibi testimony from nine of Chaney’s friends who said they saw him the day of the slayings and he couldn’t have killed the Sweeks.

Chaney’s attorney and the New York-based Innocence Project asked Judge Dominique Collins to overturn their client’s conviction after prosecutors admitted that bite-mark analysis was unreliable and flawed. Chaney received a pumpkin pie from the judge who wanted him to enjoy the taste after eating bland prison food for so long.

Steven Chaney is among a group of alleged murderers and rapists whose convictions were secured by bite-mark evidence. Since 2000 at least 24 men in the United States have been exonerated of heinous crimes after convictions based on this junk science.

The field of forensic odontology captured public and media attention during the televised trial of serial murderer Ted Bundy in Florida in 1979 when dental experts testified that Bundy’s crooked teeth matched a bite in one young victim’s flesh.

In 2009 the United States Department of Justice released a report titled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward”. The authors criticized the use of bite-mark evidence. Since then the FBI will not rely on it and the American Dental Association will not recognize it as bonafide science.

Nonetheless, as recently as 2013 a judge in New York accepted it as evidence in the trial of Clarence Dean, a registered sex offender accused of killing a woman near Time Square in 2007.

Meanwhile Chris Fabricant, director of litigation with the New York Innocence Project says “Bite mark evidence is the poster child of unreliable forensic science.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Personal Injury Lawyer Jailed for 20 Years For Judicial Bribery and Fraud

BarristerIn an audacious criminal conspiracy Texas personal injury lawyer Marc Garrett Rosenthal was sentenced to 20 years in prison for paying Austin, Texas Judge Abel Limas to hand down court rulings favourable to his clients. He also “bought” witnesses, coaching them in their testimony; fabricated evidence; and manipulated the court system to ensure his cases were heard by his judicial co-conspirator.  This week his appeal of conviction was dismissed. Judge Limas, who was the prosecution’s star witness, had earlier been sentenced to a six-year jail term.

The Appeal Court’s Reasons set out Rosenthal’s misdeeds, several of which involved lawsuits brought by Rosenthal against Union Pacific Railway. In one instance, he acted for the estate of a man who was killed when a train struck his vehicle at a railway crossing.

Rosenthal and his legal assistant Gilbert Benavides persuaded Benavides’ cousin to make a false statement in an effort to force Union Pacific to settle the case. The cousin falsely swore that he was present at the accident scene and witnessed the train hitting the stopped vehicle without sounding its horn or warning of its approach. Attorney Rosenthal used the false testimony to induce the train corporation to pay his client a sum in excess of $1 million dollars. He also paid a kickback of $5,000 to his assistant’s cousin and $4,000 to another of Benavides’ relatives.

In another Union Pacific court action, Rosenthal represented a woman who was severely injured when she fell from the train while attempting to board illegally. The evidence revealed that Rosenthal directed his assistant to bribe the deputy sheriff present at the accident scene to testify that the train’s engineer invited the woman to board the train. The sheriff was also told to say that he overheard the train engineer say that the company “did not care if its train ran over wetbacks.”

In his effort to induce a settlement Rosenthal also advised Union Pacific that in the absence of a settlement he would erect billboards displaying Union Pacific’s alleged comments about illegal Mexican immigrants. Not surprisingly, Union Pacific settled for $575,000. The deputy sheriff was paid $4,000.

Rosenthal expanded his fraudulent scheme when he hooked up with former state legislator, Jim Solis, who began working as associate counsel in Rosenthal’s office. Solis was instructed by Rosenthal to connect with a court clerk to circumvent the regular assignment of judges to cases and obtain Judge Limas for two of Rosenthal’s pending cases. At the time Judge Limas was running for re-election. He received thousands of dollars in donations from Rosenthal and other partners in the firm.

Wiretap evidence at Rosenthal’s trial provided convincing evidence of conspiratorial ex parte conversations between the judge, Rosenthal, and Solis, and revealed payments to Judge Abel for his cooperation. He received a total of $235,000 in bribes during his eight years on the bench.

Rosenthal’s defence team suggested that Jim Solis was a rogue employee who acted without firm approval, a submission that received short shrift. Solis was sentenced to four years in prison.

Rosenthal was also placed on probation at the conclusion of his prison sentence and ordered to pay $13 million dollars in restitution.

Sadly, in the eyes of the public the greed of these men undermines all the good work that lawyers and public officials do in their communities across North America.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” 1 Timothy 6:10

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

A Man Who is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool For a Client

_DSC4851In 1814 British scholar and writer Henry Kett wrote “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client”, a truism if there ever was one, and later adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States who wrote “the adage that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client” is the product of years of experience by seasoned litigators. (Kay v. Ehrler, 499 US 432, 437 (1991)

A classic example of the danger of acting “pro se” or for one’s self is illustrated by Anthony Zappin, a 30-year-old New York lawyer who made the disastrous mistake of acting for himself in his own divorce.

Married to lawyer Claire Comfort in 2013, the couple separated shortly after their son was born. Zappin’s path to self-destruction began after he entered into a consent order dated November 2013 where he agreed to have no contact with his wife and supervised access to his son.

In April 2014 Superior Court Judge Anthony Epstein found that a motion filed by Mr. Zappin was “replete with intemperate and uncivil language…redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous”. Judge Epstein also criticized his counsel skills, a comment that Zappin, a junior lawyer, took great exception to.

In May 2014 Judge Epstein rendered a further decision throwing out Zappin’s application that he reconsider his prior ruling. By this time, Mr. Zappin’s bad behavior was escalating as evidenced by the handwritten note he attached to his reconsideration motion that read “You’re pathetic! (Judicial Complaint Forthcoming)

On March 3, 2015, Justice Deborah A. Kaplan rendered oral reasons in open court that apparently displeased attorney Zappin. When she concluded she asked Mr. Zappin if there were any other matters for her to consider. He answered:

MR. ZAPPIN: I just want to make it known on the record that I am tired of the lies coming from the court and tainting of the record, knowing full well this is going to go to the Appellate Division. And we’re gonna be in the Appellate Division tomorrow, getting a stay, and then we’ll go back down to D.C. on Friday, and we’re going to open up to Ms. Comfort’s domestic violence petition, and we’re gonna have a hearing down there in from of Judge Blant, because that’s who she lied to, saying that she filed the motion and we’ll have him make a finding of domestic violence. So that’s all I have to say.

THE COURT: Are you finished?

MR. ZAPPIN: Oh, I’m finished, your Honor.

Penning the disciplinary judgment in respect of Anthony Zappin, Justice Matthew F. Cooper wrote:

(Zappin’s) “contemptuous remarks directed towards Justice Kaplan — made to her face in her own courtroom in front of attorneys, litigants and court staff — were not restricted to the statements quoted above. Without reciting the other deeply personal, and frankly outrageous, verbal attacks that plaintiff launched against Justice Kaplan when he was before her on March 3, 2015, they can only be described as words not said in civil discourse, let alone ones that should ever be uttered by an attorney to a judge in the context of a court proceeding.”

But Justice Kaplan was just one of Mr. Zappin’s victims. He also targeted a lawyer ordered by the court to represent his son’s interests, regaling her with scathing comments. Later he established a domain site in her name and on this website wrote missives like:

“Harriet You’re a very sick and greedy woman. I pray for you and hope you seek help. Also, “I intend to keep the public apprised of your misconduct and disturbing behavior.”

The child’s lawyer retained a court ordered psychiatrist to provide expert testimony, a task that was met with Mr. Zappin’s pernicious complaint to the psychiatrist’s professional organization, and although quickly dismissed, caused considerable anxiety and harm to the innocent expert.

Most damaging, however, was Justice Cooper’s conclusion that Mr. Zappin’s “ill-advised behaviour seriously calls into question his fitness to practice law” and indicates a “personality that makes (him) incapable of properly parenting the parties’ child”.

Zappin was fined $10,000. The trial to resolve the issues takes place in November 2015. After all this, one can only hope Zappin finally hires a lawyer.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

$1,000 an Hour Lawyer Disbarred for Appealing an Arbitration Award

BarristerRobert Bennett was a high-flying attorney in Texas with a big reputation as a go-to litigator. He included among his clients uber-wealthy financier R. Allen Stanford, sentenced to 110 years in prison for a $7 billion dollar Ponzi scheme arising from the fictional Stanford International Bank in Antigua and wrongfully convicted death row inmate Anthony Graves, exonerated in the murders of six people and released from prison.

But the case that has ended his career relates to client Gary Land who retained Mr. Bennett in 2011 to handle a breach of contract case and a potential civil rights violation action. The latter case had been turned down by other lawyers as it involved an improbable allegation that Mr. Land was being secretly surveilled by unnamed persons, possibly federal agents.

Bennett asked for and received a $50,000 retainer. Bennett was instructed by his client to forward his bills for legal services to him by email as he would be engaged in extensive travel. Bennett’s first bill arrived by email but the rest were mailed to Mr. Land’s parents’ home. When Mr. Land finally received the posted bills he learned that Mr. Bennett had already billed for $75,000 worth of legal services. Land fired Mr. Bennett and challenged the legal fees.

When Mr. Bennett agreed to act for Mr. Land he asked him to sign an agreement that any fee dispute would be subject to binding arbitration by the Houston Bar Association Fee Dispute Committee. Mr. Land had agreed and an arbitration was scheduled.

Mr. Land’s position that he had been charged excessive fees for very limited legal services was upheld by the arbitrators whose award included a provision that Mr. Bennett would not receive the outstanding amount of $25,000 and that $27,500 in legal fees would be reimbursed to Mr. Land by Mr. Bennett. The award was binding, conclusive and not appealable in accordance with the agreement between Mr. Bennett and his client.

Rather than paying the award, Mr. Bennett filed an application to the Committee for a Modification and Clarification of the award. His application was denied. Mr. Land then applied to the district court who turned the award into a court order. Bennett still refused to pay and appealed the court’s order.

That’s when the Texas State Bar commenced disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Bennett seeking a two-year suspension from the practice of law.

In a rare three-day hearing in district court Judge Carmen Kelsey upheld the Bar Association’s findings of professional misconduct based on Mr. Bennett’s failure to pay the arbitration award and his pursuit of several appeals that were barred by agreement between the parties. However, Judge Kelsey ignored the Bar Association’s submission that Bennett be suspended. She ordered him disbarred. In Texas a lawyer who has been disbarred cannot apply for reinstatement until five years have passed.

But this case is not over. Last week Mr. Bennett’s appeal from the order of the district court was argued before three judges of the Court of Appeal. Most impressive were the one thousand amicus briefs filed by local lawyers in order to show solidarity with Mr. Bennett’s position that disbarment is out of proportion to the alleged offences.

I still can’t figure out why such a notable and successful lawyer would refuse to reimburse his client a mere $27,500, only to engage in protracted, expensive, high-profile disciplinary and court proceedings?

The appeal is under reserve.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang