Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: Perjury in Family Court

GEO#1People tell lies, so-called “white” lies, they tell half-truths, they prevaricate, fabricate, distort, and tell “whoppers”, and they can, unless they are in a court of law or a government hearing where they are “sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Yet nowhere is the truth more elusive than in a family law trial and the recent case of Kneller v. Underwood 2015 BCSC 1410 is a prime example of perjury under oath.

The issue was whether or not 36-year-old Twyla Kneller and Jim Greenwood of Cranbrook, B.C. lived together in a marriage-like relationship for nine years, as Twyla testified, or whether they simply were “friends with benefits” as he maintained.

If they were in a spousal relationship, Ms. Kneller would be entitled to share in his property in light of the 2013 law that gave common law spouses the same property rights as married spouses.

Ms. Kneller described a traditional relationship where Mr. Greenwood worked and paid the bills, while she maintained the home with its wood stove, doing the grocery shopping, cooking, baking, canning, cleaning, laundry, and gardening. The parties initially resided in a trailer on bare land and later in a renovated home on acreage, all owned by Mr. Greenwood.

Mr. Greenwood’s parents and grandparents lived on adjacent properties and Twyla became close to his mother.

Interestingly, despite his family’s obvious knowledge of their son’s living arrangements, they were not called to testify, although many other witnesses paraded through the courtroom.

During the nine-year relationship the parties separated on one occasion for three and a half months, not surprisingly, considering Ms. Kneller’s evidence that Mr. Greenwood’s physical
assaults landed her in hospital twice. She testified to regular punching, slapping, kicking, and other abuse. She said that initially Jim would apologize for this behaviour but after a while he didn’t bother. She stayed because she loved him, an oh-so-familiar sentiment in cases of domestic violence.

When it was time for Jim Greenwood to testify his evidence could not have been more different than Ms. Kneller’s.

He swore they never lived together, although she spent some nights with him. He said she lived in Cranbrook with her mother. He apparently forgot that in an earlier affidavit he said “they lived together off and on”. He testified their finances were completely separate and they each filed “single” status tax returns, a misstatement he was forced to correct when his 2010 tax return showed he claimed tax deductions in respect of his “common law spouse”.

He denied he gave her a “promise” ring and was cornered when it came to light he had added her to his medical and dental insurance as a common law spouse. He recounted a denigrating anecdote to the court where he felt it necessary to “take her home”. When it was apparent the “home” he referred to was his, and not Twyla’s Cranbrook home, he squirmed and became agitated and nervous.

When he abruptly asked Ms. Kneller to leave, he said she had almost nothing to pack, despite photographs showing a U-Haul with furniture and personal chattels piled in. He had forgotten that in an earlier affidavit he swore she took all of the furniture, although he paid for it all. He also couldn’t keep the date of their separation straight: Was it August 2013, as he first suggested, or October 2013?

Of course, who to believe was the central issue in the trial, a task that was not daunting for the trial judge. He found that Ms. Kneller was one of the “most genuine, down-to-earth, credible and engaging witnesses” he had ever encountered.

As for Jim Greenwood the court said:

“The respondent’s evidence, in particular, was disingenuous and lacking in credibility. It consisted almost entirely of vague, unsubstantiated and unsupported assertions. His evidence at trial contradicted his earlier affidavit evidence in many significant respects. The best he could muster when faced with the conflicts in his sworn evidence was to blame the drafter of the affidavits, to say he wasn’t a very good reader and to state, “that is what you get when you don’t look at the things you sign.”

The trial judge also declared that Mr. Greenwood’s blanket denial the parties ever lived together, and his testimony that he never physically abused his spouse were “devoid of truth”.

Finally, the trial judge said he didn’t believe or accept anything Jim Greenwood had to say that contradicted the evidence of his common-law spouse and her witnesses.

“In my view, the respondent would be well served by a recalibration of his moral compass.”

It’s called “perjury”, an indictable criminal offence with a possible 14-year jail term attached to it, and yet, liars are not prosecuted in Canada. Oh yes, Air India terrorist, Inderjit Singh Reyat’s acquittal in 2003 on murder charges prompted the Crown to charge him with perjury, securing a conviction and a nine-year prison term, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Not so in the United States where Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Martha Stewart and others faced charges, not for steroid use or securities fraud, but for lying.

Canada’s refusal to deliver consequences to parties who blatantly lie in court needs to be addressed. Mr. Greenwood was a poor liar but there are many cases where Mr. or Ms. Charming fool the court and justice does not prevail. Perjury is a serious issue, particularly in our family courts and steps must be taken to punish liars who make a mockery of their oath to tell the truth.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Kelly Rutherford’s Lawyer Threw the Dice and Lost

GEO CASUALThere are certain actions that are available to family law counsel that in the long run may hurt a client more than help them.

The first that comes to mind is the notion that revenge can be exacted by reporting one’s estranged spouse to the income tax authorities. In high conflict divorce each spouse is looking for a way to “get even”. However, anonymous reports to the IRS or Revenue Canada are wrong-headed and counsel who recommend such actions seem to forget that if their client’s spouse owes additional monies for income tax, usually their client is on the hook as well. Income tax debts that relate to income earned during the marriage are generally found to be “family debts” and both spouses must share the burden of payment.

Similarly, actress Kelly Rutherford’s lawyer “threw the dice” by contacting immigration authorities with allegations of bad conduct, urging them to deport her German-born husband, Daniel Giersch, who was in the United States on a visitor’s visa that had been extended from time to time.

The Decision in the Rutherford case paints a vivid picture of Kelly and Daniel in the California court hallway where Rutherford’s lawyer, Matthew Rich, in the presence of his client and opposing counsel, dialled the phone number of the U.S. State Department and urged them to arrest Daniel Giersch, advising them of his Visa status and the likelihood he would wrongfully remove the children, Hermes and Helena, from the United States.

Then Matthew Rich turned to Mr. Giersch and his lawyer suggesting that if they would sign a “stipulation” that Daniel would not have visitation with the children until further order of the court, that Rich would make the immigration problem go away. Giersch declined and shortly thereafter was deported.

The trial judge found that it was more than coincidence that Daniel’s deportation occurred after Mr. Rich’s imprudent call to the State Department.

Matthew Rich threw the dice, no doubt hoping that with Daniel out of the way, Ms. Rutherford would have custody of the children in the United States with little “interference” from the children’s father. What her lawyer didn’t count on was the possibility that Daniel Giersch would become primary resident parent outside of the United States, but that’s exactly what happened.

As the judge notes in his Decision, if Mr. Rich had not taken the steps he did, it is very likely Kelly and Daniel, who each were described as “excellent” parents, would have co-parented their children and avoided the emotional and physical expense of a custody and relocation trial.

While strategy is important in custody battles, all scenarios must be considered before action is taken that can backfire leaving disastrous results. Kelly Rutherford did not help herself by agreeing to her lawyer’s strategy, a finding the judge also made.

She couldn’t blame this on her lawyer.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Kelly Rutherford Custody Case Rife With Misinformation

GEO#1Kelly Rutherford is an American actress who began her career in daytime soap operas, later moving to primetime network television in Melrose Place and Gossip Girls. However, she is much more famous today for her custody battle with ex-husband, Daniel Giersch.

Her court case has enraged media pundits who are slamming the family courts in California and New York, expressing outrage that Kelly Rutherford’s two American-born children were ordered to live in Europe with their father, an alleged breach of their constitutional rights. But if the television “experts” actually knew anything about custody law they would understand that it’s not the courts who are to blame, it’s Ms. Rutherford’s wrongheaded strategy.

A little background… Rutherford had a six-month first marriage and then married German businessman Daniel Giersch in August 2006. Their first child, Hermes Gustaf Daniel Giersch, was born in October 2006. Rutherford was two-months pregnant with their second child when she filed for divorce from Giersch on December 30, 2008

A custody battle immediately ensued with Mr. Giersch alleging his wife refused to tell him the expected birthdate of their daughter, Helena. After her birth she restricted his parenting time and also failed to register him as the father on her birth certificate. Rutherford either had bad legal advice, or more likely, ignored the advice she received. A sure way to sabotage a custody claim is to deny access and purposely decline to name the child’s father on the birth certificate.

But after seven months of legal wrangling in the California courts the couple agreed they would both live in New York City so Ms. Rutherford could continue with her work on Gossip Girls, an agreement that would expire in April 2010.

In 2012 the matter of final custody was adjudicated, resulting in an order that the two children live with their father in either Monaco or France. During the court proceedings, evidence was presented that showed that Ms. Rutherford contacted United States immigration resulting in Mr. Giersch’s expulsion from the United States. A wrongheaded strategy that clearly backfired on Ms. Rutherford. If her former husband had been permitted to remain in the United States it is unlikely she would have spent a million or more dollars fighting over custody and also avoided going personally bankrupt.

Trial evidence included reports that Ms. Rutherford’s work commitments, including twenty-hour work days, led to Mr. Giersch playing “Mr. Mom” in his wife’s absence. The judge also criticized Ms. Rutherford for misleading the court with respect to her work schedule and was unimpressed with her unwillingness to facilitate access. All good reasons to prefer Mr. Giersch as primary resident parent.

Ms. Rutherford went back to the California courts to change the custody order but the court ruled they no longer had jurisdiction. Neither of the parties lived there; Ms. Rutherford lived in New York while her ex-husband lived in Europe and neither of the children resided in California.

Happily for Ms. Rutherford, the children were with her for the summer of 2015.

Her lawyer then brought an application to the New York courts seeking an order that the children remain with her in New York. Unfortunately, the court declined jurisdiction on the basis the children were now habitually resident in Monaco, and only the Monaco court could make orders regarding the children.

In her latest strategic misstep, Ms. Rutherford refused to return the children to their father, causing the New York court to step in and order her and the children to appear in court where Mr. Giersch’s mother took custody of the children and returned them to her son.

It’s a familiar story: parents really have only one opportunity to obtain or retain custody or primary residence of their children. If they make mistakes, like Ms. Rutherford did, the chance of a change in residence is extremely remote. Her next best opportunity is when the children are able to speak for themselves, usually around the age of 13, but only if they want to live with their mother.

In the new world of shared parenting, mothers do not have a monopoly on child custody. That’s the past…this is the present…and the future.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Arrest Made in Thirty-Year Old Cold Case Called the “Family Court Murders”

49afd8240a58bf0fb97d4a86105572c1The notion that your wicked past will eventually catch up with you is one motivating factor for investigators following up on unsolved crimes, even decades after the abhorrent acts were committed.

There’s a story about “consequences” out of Australia that is sure to warm the cockles of any police detective’s heart… and yours and mine!

Between 1980 and 1985 a series of horrific crimes took place in Sydney, Australia that terrorized the city, particularly the legal community. Media pundits called the case the “Family Court Murders”.

Firefighter Leonard George Warwick seemed to be the link between a number of homicides beginning in February 1980 with the shooting of Stephen Blanchard, Mr. Warwick’s brother-in-law.

A few months later Justice David Opas heard the door bell ring at his home and opened the door to be greeted by a bullet that took his life. He was the judge who presided over a hotly disputed custody case involving Leonard Warwick, his then-wife, Andrea Warwick, nee Blanchard, and their one-year old daughter.

With Judge Opas’ violent demise a new judge was appointed, Justice Richard Gee. He too was the victim of violence when his home was bombed, injuring him and his family.

In April of 1984 the courthouse in Parramatta was bombed. Thankfully no one was injured but you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was in Parramatta that Mr. Warwick’s custody trial took place.

During Judge Gee’s convalescence, another judge was directed to take over the Warwick case. Justice Ray Watson presided until July of 1984 when his wife Pearle was killed by a bomb placed on the doorstep of their home.

In February 1995 Andrea Warwick’s lawyer, Gary Watts, was the target of another bomb attack. However, Mr. Watts no longer lived at the address targeted. When the new tenant opened the hood of his car parked outside the home to do some minor mechanical work, he saw the bomb and called police. He was a very lucky man.

But there was more to come, much more. Six months later a bomb was detonated at a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in a suburb of Sydney, killing minister Graham Wykes and injuring 13 other parishioners, who were at the church for a service. The connection to Mr. Warwick? Andrea Warwick’s sister attended the church and had been a shoulder for her to cry on.

And then the violence stopped, coincident with Andrea Warwick’s decision to relinquish custody of their now 7-year old daughter to Mr. Warwick.

All of this occurred with nary an arrest despite a reward of $500,000, until a cold case squad picked up the investigative mantle in 2012 after decades of dormancy.

Last week police in Sydney laid 32 charges against Leonard Warwick, including four murder charges and attempted murder charges. New South Wales deputy police commissioner, Nick Kaldas commented:

“The evidence that we’ve gathered includes significant new evidence, historic evidence enhanced using technology not available 30 years ago, witness evidence that was historic and new witness evidence.”

It boggles the mind that Mr. Warwick was not arrested 30 years earlier, but as the police commissioner remarked:

“We won’t give up!”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Legal Tsunami Accompanies Custody Battle

GEO_edited-1The level of vitriol, anger, and violence that finds its way into child custody litigation is beyond frightening, as common sense is displaced by exaggerated allegations, bizarre threats, and all too often, bodily harm or death.

The case of Tiffany and Eric Stevens of Connecticut represents the thin edge of the wedge, a story replete with allegations of infidelity, drug abuse, domestic violence, failed stints in rehab, mental health evaluations, child protection issues, harassment leading to a restraining order, exorbitant gambling debts,a hit man, and police intervention. Whew!

All it took was a five-year marriage and one little girl to create a legal tsunami that saw the Stevens’ in court on 200 occasions, the last being Tiffany Steven’s trial for hiring handyman cum hitman, John McDaid, to kill her husband for a fee of $5,000. When Mr. McDaid told Mr. Stevens of his assignment, the jig was up, and Tiffany was arrested for the attempted murder-for-hire.

But believe me, neither Tiffany, age 39, or Eric, age 49, qualify as “parent of the year”. Mr. Stevens stupidly wrote to his estranged wife saying:

“”I am going to let you bury yourself with your lies and then I am going to shovel the dirt onto your body…I will be dreaming of you laying in our bed with your addict boyfriend, the one that your mom bought us for a wedding present, and wondering to myself if you’re in that bed when they come. Will the mattress be saveable or will it have to be thrown out from all of your blood?”

When will litigants ever figure out that written expletives and threats of violence are a ticket to doomsday? Eric’s behaviour resulted in a restraining order against him and a custody order in favour of Tiffany, while he was saddled with supervised access that apparently never occurred.

Ms. Stevens advised the family court that Eric detonated his Mercedes and her BMW for the insurance money to avoid the wrath of his Mafia creditors. She also said Eric told his insurance company that all of their jewellery had been stolen to access yet more funds to pay gambling debts.

While Eric disavowed the insurance fraud he admitted his gambling debts, and agreed he posted his wife’s contact particulars on a Craigslist sex page.

Ms. Stevens was released on $1 million dollars bail after her arrest and continued to parent their daughter. The jury deadlocked during her first trial in December 2014 but this week she admitted the lesser charge of inciting injury to person and received five years probation and a ten-year suspended prison sentence.

The prosecutors threw in the towel in light of evidence, albeit from a convict, that Eric Stevens “set-up” Ms. Stevens to take a fall for a murder-for-hire that never was.

The custody battle rages on as Mr. Stevens remains committed to ensuring a relationship with his daughter. Mr. Stevens’ last word is that his ex-wife “bought” her slap on the wrist, or rather her wealthy father did. He has been self-represented for some time.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Extortion and Nude Photos Send Ex-Husband to Jail for Twelve Years

How would you like to marry a billionaire’s daughter? James Casbolt from Cornwall, England made an internet connection in 2009 with Haley Meijer, daughter of American billionaire, Hank Meijer, owner and CEO of a retail conglomerate with his brother, Doug, consisting of 213 grocery and pharmacy stores, 177 gas stations, and other related businesses, located in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Wisconsin.

Their attraction was immediate and mutual.

They moved in together in Cornwall and later moved to the state of Michigan, marrying in 2011. Mr. Casbolt enlisted in the US Army and was posted to Texas whereupon he persuaded Haley to send him sexually explicit photos of herself to fend off his loneliness. She in turn made him promise he would never show them to anyone else.

They later had a child together but domestic violence led to their separation and divorce. James Casbolt was bitter and angry with the demise of his marriage and began a campaign of threats and abuse, writing

“If you are living with another guy, you just gave him a death sentence”.

He also threatened to send suicide bombers to her parents’ home and demanded a large sum of money saying “If my terms are not met, I can tickle the public interest for years, until the Meijers are so infamous in the world they will not be able to walk down the streets safely.”

But he had already released some photos on Facebook, many of them photo-shopped to look seedier than they were.

Casbolt, now living in the UK, also told his ex-wife that he would dedicate the rest of his life to destroying her, that his efforts would be inexhaustible, and he would continue for years. He sent her photos with images of him wielding a sword and a gun. He threatened: “Your dad could be lynched in the street” and sent an email that read:“[£]2M. Put in my bank account. I will then stop talking about the Meijer family.”

In a trial this week in England James Casbolt was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

“You systematically set out to destroy her reputation. Thousands of people with gullible minds saw the photos and doubtless believed the horrible lies you wrote.”

First Cyberstalking, Then Murder, in Family Law Tragedy

DSC00507 (2)In a divorce tragedy akin to Shakespeare’s “MacBeth”, Delaware mother Christine Belford, age 39, was murdered by her father-in-law in February 2013 after years of litigation involving child abduction, allegations of mental illness, non-payment of child support, and the eventual termination of a parental relationship.

Earlier chapters of the divorce of Ms. Belford and her optometrist husband David Matusiewicz were distinguished by animosity and hatred engendered by a dispute over their children.

In 2006 a psychologist examined the parties and found each parent capable and fit. The Court acted on that information and granted joint custody to the parties with Mr. Matusiewicz to have primary residence and Ms. Belford to see the children every weekend and mid-week.

But that order did not suit the children’s father who believed his wife was a an unfit, neglectful mother.

Selling his practice, Mr. Matusiewicz abducted their three children in 2006, spiriting them off to Central America in a Winnebago, with the assistance of his mother, Lenore Matusiewicz. Eighteen months later the children were found in Nicaragua and both David and his mother were sentenced to prison, three years and eighteen months respectively.

Now that the children resided with their mother, the Matusiewciz family made Ms. Belmont’s life a living hell for seven years, with repeated calls to child protection services, abusive allegations, multiple trips to court, and the ever present overtures to psychologists willing to advocate for them.

Their email and internet campaign saw David Matusiewicz, his parents and his sister spy, torment, and stalk his ex-wife, and repeatedly and falsely accuse Ms. Belford in emails, letters, phone calls and Internet postings of sexually abusing and neglecting the couple’s daughters.

By June 2012 Christine Belford wrote a letter to her ex-husband and his family barring all further contact with the children. She wrote:

“Your past behaviors have scarred the children enough,” she wrote. “There is no need to inflict additional harm.”

She also communicated her fear to her lawyer, Timothy Hitchings, writing:

“[David Matusiewicz] may allow me to survive to suffer, I may survive long enough to watch the girls be harmed. I may even go missing. All of this could be possibilities.”

Further emails between this frightened mother and her lawyer indicated she had taken out life insurance on two of her daughters, wrote a will, and was saving money to purchase a gun.

During her last days, she prepared for another child support hearing, arriving at the courthouse with her friend, Laura Mulford, when suddenly her 68-year old father-in-law, a Navy veteran and former police officer, drew his gun and shot Christine Belford and her friend Laura. In a hail of bullets he exchanged gunfire with the police before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. He had earlier told friends that he had a brain tumour and didn’t care whether he lived or died, although medical reports indicated the tumour was benign.

But if Thomas Matusiewicz thought his death by suicide would spare his co- conspirators he was dead wrong. In the first case in the United States, David Matusiewicz, his mother, Lenore Matusiewicz, and his sister, Amy Gonzales were charged and convicted by a jury of cyberstalking leading to death, with a possible sentence of life in prison.

While the Matusiewicz defendants denied knowledge of their father’s plans to kill Ms. Belford, the Prosecutors successfully argued that the defendants did not have to know that Tom Matusiewicz planned to kill her in order to be found guilty, but only that her death was “reasonably foreseeable” or a “natural consequence” of their actions.

They remain in custody and will be sentenced in October 2015. It is expected they will appeal their convictions.

The saddest part of this tragedy is that three lovely children no longer have a mother, a father, or paternal relatives to help them along in life, all because of hatred and misplaced obsession.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang