Winnipeg Family Law Lawyer Critically Injured in Bomb Explosion

IMG_0311 - Version 2Earlier today a bomb exploded at Winnipeg family law firm, Petersen King. The National Post reports that lawyer Maria Mitousis, age 35, is the only victim and has lost a hand in the blast. Other sources suggest she may also lose her other hand. She was rushed to hospital in critical condition.

No other details are available, such as whether the bomb was mailed or couriered to the firm and police are on the scene.

The firm has had its share of misfortune over the past several years. The “King” of Petersen King is lawyer Jack King, the wife of Madam Justice Lori Douglas who became known as Canada’s bondage judge. You may recall it was Mr. King who introduced his wife to a client who complained he was sexually harassed by Justice Douglas and her husband.

A high-profile judicial inquiry of Lori Douglas’ behaviour finally ended with her resignation as a Superior Court judge, but not before the first panel of judges adjudicating Judge Douglas’ future resigned en masse, and inquiry counsel, George McIntosh, now Mr. Justice McIntosh of British Columbia’s Supreme Court, was criticized for his vigorous cross-examination of several witnesses.

Sadly, Mr. King recently died of cancer.

It is reported that victim Ms. Mitousis is in a common-law relationship with Barry Gorlick, a Winnipeg lawyer who was recently disbarred after he admitted to 15 counts of professional misconduct. Gorlick practices at another firm in Winnipeg.

During a discipline panel hearing last fall, he pleaded guilty to 15 counts of misconduct, including failure to serve a client, failure to conduct himself in a courteous manner, breach of duty to act with integrity, and misappropriating client funds.

The misappropriation included the deliberate creation of false documents, as well as misleading his staff and partners. A total of $59,129 of client trust money was diverted for his personal use.

A terrible tragedy that hopefully will result in the speedy arrest of the perpetrator.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Big Law Partner Bears the Brunt of Madoff Fraud During Divorce

10950859361151CDPIn 2011 I wrote a story about Steve Simkin, a prominent real estate lawyer at New York mega-firm Paul, Weiss. An unwitting victim of Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme, Mr. Simkin signed an agreement with his wife, lawyer Laura Blank in 2006, before Madoff’s massive fraud unravelled, dividing their family assets between the two of them. Part of the deal saw Ms. Blank receive compensation for her one-half interest in Mr. Simkin’s investment portfolio valued at $5.4 million dollars and held by Bernie Madoff.

In 2008 Mr. Simkin realized he was a victim of Madoff’s criminal scheme. The truth was there was no account with Madoff’s company and the monthly statements were forgeries. Simkin filed a lawsuit against his ex-wife seeking to recover the funds he paid her for her share of the portfolio. Simkin’s lawyer argued that Ms. Blank had received a “windfall” on the basis of a “mutual mistake”. He sought a variation of the agreement and reimbursement from his ex-wife.

A Manhattan trial judge didn’t see it that way and tossed out Simkin’s lawsuit. She ruled there had been no mistake, because at the date of the separation agreement the account held funds. The fact the account was later worth nothing was not a “mutual mistake”.

Mr. Simkin immediately appealed and in a 3-2 decision in his favour, the Appeal Court ruled that Simkin’s claim was legitimate and ought to proceed in the lower court.

In a stinging dissent Justice Karla Moskowitz held that the majority decision trampled on years of well-settled law that “a deal is a deal”. She opined that when the agreement was signed the account had value and to adjust the division of assets because one asset had declined in value was “divorced from reality”.

The legal concepts set out in the dissenting opinion, mirror the laws in British Columbia with respect to a Court’s hesitancy to overrule or set aside a separation agreement negotiated by the parties in good faith and with independent legal advice.

The reason why separation agreements should not be easily varied is exemplified by the Simkin case. Another example? If a couple divorced, with the wife retaining the family home and the husband retaining other assets of equal value, it would be ridiculous for the wife to come back two years later and say, “The real estate market has dropped and my home is now only worth half the value it was at the date of the separation agreement, please pay me more money to account for this change in value.”

Of course, Ms. Blank appealed the Court of Appeal decision and in 2011 I made the following prediction:

“I believe at the end of the day, which could be years away, the pain caused by Madoff’s swindle will be suffered only by Mr. Simkin. Do I believe that is fair? Not really, but the law set out in the fourteen page dissent is compelling.”

Sure enough, with all appeals now completed, Mr. Simkin alone bears the burden of Madoff’s fraud, while Ms. Blank is permitted to retain the “overpayment” of $2.7 million.

It is likely that Steve Simkin’s plight will attract little sympathy, given the enormous salaries earned by “biglaw” partners in New York City. Website abovethelaw.com suggests a salary range of $600,000 to $900,000 per annum. Nice work if you can get it!

5 Reasons to Fire Your Divorce Lawyer

10950859361151CDPWhy do clients of divorce lawyers change lawyers so frequently? It’s because they are caught in an emotional vortex, facing the unknown and dreading the journey. However, there are legitimate reasons to fire your divorce lawyer. Consider the following:

1. YOUR LAWYER PULLS A BAIT AND SWITCH

This occurs when you hire a lawyer with a big reputation and never see him or her after your first consultation. Many busy, successful lawyers work with junior lawyers and paralegals and this is beneficial for a client. The usual, mundane paper-pushing can easily be done by a junior and at a far cheaper rate than “big lawyer’s” rate.

However, if this is the way your lawyer works you need to know up front. I always tell my clients that what they need from me is strategy and courtroom presence. The rest can be done by others with my supervision. Far better to have basic family law forms filled out by a junior who bills $250.00 an hour than by “big lawyer’s” charge-out rates. If you can’t accept your lawyer’s work style, time to find a new lawyer.

2. AFTER MANY MONTHS YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOUR BEST AND WORST CASE SCENARIOS ARE

After a few months your lawyer should have received from you or your spouse’s lawyer certain financial documents and information and if you have children, details about your kids and the parenting arrangements during the marriage. You have every right to expect that once a clear picture of the family finances emerges and the roles of each spouse in the marriage is elucidated, your lawyer will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly.

I am often asked to provide a “second opinion” and am always surprised when the client cannot tell me what their lawyer’s plan is to resolve the case. If four months have passed and you have no idea of where you stand, it may be time to challenge your lawyer.

3. YOUR LAWYER HAS NEVER DONE A COSTS/BENEFIT ANALYSIS

Unless you are a multi-millionaire and money is not an issue, you will want your lawyer to consider the financial viability of unleashing the hounds of hell on your spouse. By now, everyone knows how expensive court is and not just court, but the cost of two business valuators, two property appraisers, two child development experts, two accountants and the list goes on and on.

If you are fighting over a sum of $100,000 but it will cost you $150,000 to litigate, you would be a fool to proceed to court. Ah, but what about custody of kids? You can’t put a price tag on that. Yes, you can and you should. The worst battles of all are over children and usually the outcome does not justify the “go to war” tactics and accompanying costs.

A good lawyer will do everything he or she can to find a way to compromise on children’s issues, short of court proceedings. If you have not had a realistic “money” talk with your lawyer, beware.

4. YOUR LAWYER PROMISES BIG, BUT DELIVERS SMALL

An experienced, competent lawyer should be able to give you the odds of success for any court application he or she brings on your behalf. Legal cases are decided on decisions made in earlier legal cases, called precedents, and your lawyer should be fully aware of how cases like yours have been decided.

While you cannot expect lawyers to guarantee a particular outcome, before you can make an informed decision as to whether to proceed to court you need some idea of the lawyer’s opinion of the likelihood of success. If your lawyer promises the sun, the moon and the stars, but delivers space junk you may want to think twice.

5. YOUR LAWYER NEVER SENDS YOU A BILL

While at first blush this may sound like the perfect lawyer, it is not. A lawyer who is unable to bill you is a lawyer that is likely highly disorganized, overworked, has taken on too many clients and is generally overwhelmed. No one likes surprises, and when you finally receive your bill, and you will, it will come as a big shock. Insist that your lawyer bill you monthly so you can see how much this is costing you. Usually lawyers who fall behind on their billing, also avoid conversations about cost and benefits obtained. Not a good combination.

A divorce lawyer’s day is never boring and yet most other lawyers agree that divorce lawyers do the hardest work of all, they work with clients who are emotionally devastated who may become financially spent in the process. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

No Gender Bias in Family Courts Says Irish Academic

GEO CASUALA key finding in a new report on gender bias in family courts declares there is no indication of gender bias in contested cases about where a child should live.

The May 2015 report authored by Dr Maebh Harding, from the University of Warwick and
Dr Annika Newnham of the University of Reading is based on a document analysis of a retrospective of 197 case files from five county courts in England and Wales over a six month period in 2011. Of the 197 cases, 23 were custody disputes between a parent and another relative, usually a grandparent.

In the “two parent cases”, fathers initiated 70% of the applications, whereas only 30% of the cases started with an application by a mother.

The most common type of court application was for an order to allow contact or access, making up 41% of their sample. Fathers brought 96% of all access applications. The majority of these applications were made in order to initiate or restart contact.

Applications which sought a sole residence order made up 43% of the sample. Similar numbers of applications for sole residence were made by fathers (32) and mothers (30) but their reasons for going to court differed.

Joint custody and joint residence applications amounted to only 7%.

Notably, in 2011 there was no presumption in the British law that the involvement of a non-resident parent would further a child’s welfare. In 2014 this presumption was added to the governing statute, the Children Act 1989.

In my view, the analysis of the data in the report suffers from the absence of real-life experience in the family law trenches. Let me give you some examples:

1. The authors discovered that in 51% of cases the father had been cut off from contact with the child and that in almost half of the parent cases (86 out of 174) mothers had made allegations of domestic violence against fathers. However, in only 45 of the 86 cases was their sufficient evidence of family violence.

The report reads “Court investigations into the truth of domestic violence allegations were rare and took place in only 21 of the 86 cases in which allegations of domestic violence were made.

Where fact-findings were held, few ended in a clear determination on the alleged facts. Instead, the question of domestic violence tended to be reconceptualised as being primarily about reducing the risk to the child and facilitating as much contact as was possible in the circumstances.”

In other words, even unproven domestic violence was used to minimize a father’s role in parenting.

THESE FACTS ACCORD WITH MY EXPERIENCE THAT MANY FATHERS ARE MARGINALIZED AFTER MARRIAGE BREAKDOWN AND ALLEGATIONS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ARE USED AGAINST GOOD FATHERS TO THWART A CHILD/PARENT RELATIONSHIP.

2. The authors found that many of the cases took two years to resolve but expressed little concern about the delay saying:

“Time taken in the court process should not always be viewed as unnecessary delay. Cases need time to build trust between the parties and reach a workable child-centred conclusion ensuring contact was safe.”

THE REALITY IS THAT IF FATHERS BRING MOST OF THE APPLICATIONS FOR RESIDENCE OR ACCESS AND A RESOLUTION IS TWO YEARS AWAY, THE STATUS QUO CARRIES ON TO THE DETRIMENT OF THESE FATHERS AND THEIR CHILDREN.

3. The authors opine that going to court did not amplify or entrench the conflict between the parties finding that the vast majority of cases were resolved by consent orders. Only 25 of the 174 parent cases ended in a contested final hearing.

THE NAIVETY EXPRESSED IN THE AUTHOR’S FINDINGS ABOUT CONSENT ORDERS IS DISAPPOINTING. THE TRUTH IS THAT FATHERS ARE COMPELLED TO GO TO COURT TO OBTAIN RESIDENCE OR CONTACT ORDERS, AND MANY FATHERS SETTLE FOR WHAT THEY CAN GET AFTER YEARS OF FAILED NEGOTIATIONS WITH ADVICE FROM THEIR LAWYERS THAT FAMILY COURT JUDGES WORSHIP AT THE ALTER OF THE STATUS QUO.

Perhaps if academics conferred with family law lawyers when analyzing court data they would gain insight into the dynamics between feuding parents; understand the nuances and strategies employed by parents who seek to discount or eliminate the other parent; understand that children need both parents in their lives; and resist the attraction of the “primary parent” philosophy that is no longer relevant in today’s world.

The report is titled “HOW DO COUNTY COURTS SHARE THE CARE OF CHILDREN BETWEEN PARENTS?” and can be found at http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang


Mr. No-Pay: You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

DSC01152_2 (2)_2Family law lawyers now have access to information that can transform a case from an up-hill battle to a slam-dunk, and it’s all thanks to the internet.

Case in point: I have a client whose ex-husband, a venture capitalist, stopped paying his child support about one year ago. Exhibiting the patience of a saint, my client bided her time, hopeful her ex would reinstate his payments and make up the arrears. Didn’t happen.

She then contacted my office and the legal process began. Her ex was obliged to provide the usual financial documents including income tax returns and corporate financial statements. His tax returns showed nominal income and gosh, darn, he said that all of his businesses were insolvent so he hadn’t bothered to have his accountant prepare financial statements.

With a little help from the internet, we learned he was selling his home with an asking price of just over $900,000.00. After the usual land title searches, we found out he had already purchased a new home in another community. He said he was downsizing. He paid about $850,000.00 for his new home. It was a lovely estate property, larger than his last home, in a less expensive rural area.

Next stop was his Linkedin page and from there we simply googled his name and the names of his corporations. Here’s what we found.

Earlier that year, he made an offer of $25 million to purchase a golf course/housing development project that was very close to his new home and in financial trouble. Press releases abounded announcing the pending acquisition and his superior business acumen.

Several years earlier he had been a finalist for an entrepreneur of the year award. He was on the Board of his local Chamber of Commerce and associated with at least two consulting firms touting his business expertise. His allegations of insolvency were not born out. His only business debt was related to a wine store he operated. He was paying $1000.00 per month to pay down the $40,000.00 debt, $1000.00 more than he was paying for his two kids!

With this information and his feeble explanations, he no longer looked as broke as he said he was. My client got her happy ending when a judge ordered Mr. No-Pay to pay up asap!

It’s not always this easy, but his “high profile” doomed any chance of a judge buying what he was selling. And don’t get me started on the gems you can find on Facebook!

You can run, but you can’t hide from the internet!

Father Walks to Highlight the Abuse of Parental Alienation

BarristerPatrick Glynn is on a mission. He wants the world to know that parental alienation is rampant in North America and that he is just one its many victims.

Emotionally and financially spent after his divorce, Patrick’s website, walkforlostkids.com tells his story. As a working father Patrick was not his children’s primary caretaker, but he never dreamed he would become an occasional father.

With the financial pressure of paying for two households he was forced to move and take a job 300 miles away from his children, nonetheless, he drove ten-hours roundtrip every weekend to see them. Worst of all was that the game played by his wife meant he had to prove he was a worthy father, a cunning ploy that saw his wife and her lawyer convince the Court to curtail his visits to six weeks a year.

He says:

“I went from being an involved, hands-on dad to the courts relegating me to seeing my two daughters for six weeks a year, all because my wife wanted a divorce”.

To gain attention to the harm of parental alienation and the despair of its victims, Patrick began his “Walk for Lost Kids” last Fall by walking from Boston to Washington D.C, a 400 mile trek. Along the way he was joined by moms and dads who suffer like he does from a family court system that is out of touch with social science research on parenting and the evils of abusive spouses who use their children to inflict punishment on their spouses.

Writing on his blog, Patrick says:

“Meanwhile, smart, compassionate parents are endlessly stuck in their own cycles; unable to escape family courts and punished with financial and court harassment for years on end. Reasonable, solution-based people eventually realize their limited options at getting out of the abusive never-ending spiral:

Homicide
Suicide
Walking away from their own kids (which won’t stop the court harassment)
Fighting in court against their will, while being financially drained with little hope since the system is slanted
Accepting — in most instances — at least a decade of abuse while the kids are minors with little to no understanding from their peers.”

If this sounds overly dramatic be assured that it is reality for thousands of parents, many of whom have passed through the doors of my law office. And if you think this is a father’s rights issue, you’re wrong. It affects mothers as well as fathers, but it is the children who are scarred for life.

Back on the road, Patrick has just embarked on his second walk this month, a trek that will take him 549 miles from Sacramento to Los Angeles and end in late May. If you see him on the road, walk with him, and let him know you agree the family law justice system needs reform and needs it now. His Walk schedule is posted on walkforlostkids.com.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Second Attempt to Reform Spousal Support Crashes and Burns

GEO CASUALIt almost happened in 2013 as proponents of alimony reform in Florida heralded what they believed was the forthcoming passage of new laws eliminating lifetime spousal support and introducing other significant changes in alimony laws. However, women’s groups and divorce attorneys convinced Governor Rick Scott to veto the new law and the hopes of overburdened spouses were dashed.

Fast forward to 2015 where two separate alimony reform bills were introduced to legislators. Florida’s Senate embraced a bill that would end life time spousal support and provide a calculation for the amount and length of support based on the length of the spouses’ marriage and their respective incomes. Not content to focus on alimony reform, it also contained a provision mandating 50/50 shared parenting.

Meanwhile, a similar but separate bill was the subject of debate in Florida’s House where it handily passed.

While the Senate bill raised the heated controversy surrounding equal parenting, the House bill merely added a policy statement that
a child’s interests are usually best served by having both parents involved in his or her life. The bill did not seek to introduce a presumption in favor of either parent for time-sharing, relying as it did on a policy of maximum contact with each parent.

Florida media outlets reported that Senator Tom Lee stood in the way of the Senate’s acceptance of the House bill because of an alleged grudge he held related to his own divorce 15 years earlier, an allegation denied by Senator Lee. Lee was a vocal proponent of 50/50 parenting and would not vote in favour of the House bill’s “watered-down” version.

Nonetheless, the House and Senate’s decision to mix shared parenting with spousal support reform was a significant factor in the demise of alimony reform.

It appears the philosophy of reformers is to try to fix all the perceived ills of family laws in one fell swoop, a strategy that has backfired in other jurisdictions. Pundits say that had the bill dealt strictly with alimony it would likely have passed.

As it is now, lifetime alimony remains and it may be another two years before a further attempt is made. My suggestion? Deal with alimony and get that law passed. Phase 2 can then focus on shared parenting, however, laws that are “extreme”, such as a strict 50/50 formula or retroactivity are less attractive to major interest groups, including family law lawyers and women’s rights groups, who hold significant sway over public opinion.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang