$500,000 Custody Case Garners Harsh Criticism

 

Another day…another courtroom, but the same insanity…. a custody battle that has cost two parents $500,000 in legal fees. This time it’s an exasperated Ontario Superior Court judge from Hamilton who asks the question, “How does this keep happening? What will it take to convince angry parents that nasty and aggressive litigation never turns out well?”

Mr. Justice Alex Pazaratz presided over a 36-day trial, awarding sole custody of an 8-year-old child to her father, a Toronto police officer. The Court’s Reasons for Judgment begin with the recitation of an email sent by the husband to his wife, a year after their separation, and before litigation commenced:

“We are both reasonable people and I really think we can work this out without spending $40,000 to $50,000 a piece in lawyer fees only to have a judge tell us something we could arrange ourselves. Please I’m begging you to be reasonable.”

It only takes one parent to turn a family law case into a hellish nightmare, and according to Judge Pazaratz that’s what an angry, foolish woman did. Consider the optics: Father wants generous parenting time, and mother refuses, turning the child against her father. In these situations, fathers will get nowhere unless they ask a court to intervene. At this point, most right-thinking parents would instruct their lawyers to negotiate a parenting plan, or attend mediation, with the goal of maximizing each parent’s time with the children, focusing always on the child’s best interests.  Sound so simple, doesn’t it?

In this case, dad spent $300,000, while mom spent $200,000. Judge Pazaratz said:

“Pause for a moment to consider the overwhelming tragedy of this case,…These are nice, average people. Of modest means (now considerably more modest). They drive old cars and probably pinch pennies shopping at Costco.”

The harshest criticism was leveled at the child’s mother, who the Court found had manipulated and falsified evidence, engaged in provocative and dangerous behaviour, and poisoned the child against her father. Judge Pazaratz described her conduct as “emotional child abuse… with their only child caught in the cross-fire”. Her deviant behaviour was triggered when her estranged husband began to move on with his life and began a new relationship.

The Court ordered the mother to pay costs to the father in the amount of $192,000, wryly concluding:

“In retrospect, (the father’s) sombre warning about ‘spending $40 – $50,000 a piece in lawyer fees’ now amounts to wishful thinking.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late for Court? Go to Jail!

BarristerJudge Amanda Sammons of Campbell County, Tennessee has a strict rule that if defendants don’t arrive at court before 9 am, or 1 pm for her afternoon session, they can’t come in! When she first started this practice she instructed the court bailiffs to lock the doors. Later she agreed the doors could remain unlocked, but no one could enter after the prescribed court commencement times.

More than a few people have been caught by her rule, which is antithetical to the concept of open courtrooms and transparent justice.

Case in point: Suzanne Webb, age 39, arrived at the courthouse at about 1 minute to nine for a hearing in a misdemeanour vandalism case. She was barred from entry and waited in the hallway. Once the doors were opened she entered, took a seat, and read a book until her name was called. Judge Sammons asked her why she was late. She replied that she was not permitted to enter, whereupon Judge Sammons said, “That’s no excuse. You’re going to jail, you violated your bond.”

Ms. Webb was handcuffed and led to the jail holding area adjacent to the courtroom. Her only previous charge was for driving with a suspended license, a charge that was dropped after she paid an outstanding ticket.  She remained in custody waiting for her aunt to bring her the funds to pay the new bond, and then was released.

A few months later she was back in court where the vandalism charges were dropped in exchange for the forfeiture of her $424.00 bond. Coincidentally, the fine for a vandalism conviction? $424.00!

Other “victims” of Judge Sammons include Ryan Daniel Currier who was held without bond for 24 hours and Laura Hatfield who was ordered to post $15,000. One unlucky lady was arrested on a bench warrant, and Jason Inman was ordered held pending his posting of a $75,000 bond.

Not surprisingly, Judge Sammons, whose nickname is “the blue-eyed assassin”,  is not a stranger to controversy. She has been accused of refusing to sign orders for accused persons who are entitled to have their records expunged, and ordering children into foster care in the absence of any request from the Department of Child Services.

Formerly a kick-ass prosecutor, Judge Sammons’ election website says:

“With a low tolerance for foolishness, Mandy’s tough approach to prosecuting crime has earned her a reputation as hard-nosed prosecutor who “goes for the jugular” and doesn’t quickly back down from a fight.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Has a B.C. Father Been Labelled a Sexual Predator Based on Fraudulent Expert Evidence?

GeorgiaLeeLang025In a groundbreaking decision last summer after a 147 day trial, Mr. Justice Paul Walker of the British Columbia Supreme Court found that B.C.’s child protection authorities had negligently permitted a father to sexually abuse his child while the youngster was in the custody of the Ministry. The Court found that the government’s failure to protect this child was “egregious, negligent, and a breach of duty” and government social workers showed a “reckless disregard to their obligation to protect children.”

The evidence before Mr. Justice Walker included expert evidence from Dr. Claire Reeves who had been an expert witness at the 90 day family law trial that preceded the action against the Ministry by several years. Dr. Reeves’ opinion played a significant role in the original finding that this father had sexually abused his children. The parties agreed that her expert opinion from the family law trial would be admitted in the Ministry trial.Throughout the lengthy proceedings, the father adamantly denied abusing his children.

After the family law trial Reasons were handed down, the father had 30 days to file an appeal of that decision, however, no appeal was filed. Yesterday the Court of Appeal allowed the father to appeal the original family trial decision, although three years had passed since the original ruling and the 30 day window has long passed.

Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett in the Court of Appeal remarked that “one would be hard pressed to envision an act as vile as sexually abusing one’s own children or a travesty of justice as great as being falsely accused and found guilty of such acts”. The father’s successful application was based on new evidence that appears to establish that Dr. Reeves’ evidence was fraudulent. The credentials she touted, including a Doctorate in Clinical Counselling, Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology, Bachelor of Science in Family Mediation, and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, are from so-called “diploma mills”.

Her assertion that she had testified as an expert on child sexual abuse on numerous occasions in a variety of courts also appears to be untruthful. The substance of her trial opinion was based on a theory of child abuse that has long been discredited, even by the expert who originally proffered the “child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome”.

Dr. Reeves has not responded to the allegations outlined by the Court of Appeal, however, a Google search, where one would expect to find many entries regarding her professional work, is sparse. She is the President and Founder of Mothers Against Sexual Abuse.

CBC News reports their online research indicates that Dr. Reeves says she was instrumental in bringing in chemical castration for child molesters in California. She also has unusual views on related topics. On her Facebook page she wrote:

” Why test on animals when we have prisons full of pedophiles”.

She also believes many people have had controlling microchips implanted in their brains — and have been given trigger words that could turn them into saboteurs.

“I believe people have been chipped, targeted individuals, and more of them than we can imagine,” said Reeves, calling it, “Mind control. Because it really is mind control.”

The father’s appeal will be of great interest to those who decry the failings of the family law administration of justice. No doubt the children’s mother will seek to legitimize her reliance on Dr. Reeves as an expert. The truth will, undoubtedly be revealed.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Bob Dylan as Legal Muse

In the turbulent 60’s Bob Dylan’s music and lyrics captured the imagination of a whole generation and became the soundtrack for America’s civil rights and anti-war movements.

His lyrics are as profound today as they were fifty years ago, and Dylan has become the most prominent legal muse for Judges and legal scholars.

Professor Alex Long from the University of Tennessee scoured legal databases for the year 2007 and found that Bob Dylan’s lyrics were cited in Reasons for Judgment 186 times, compared to 74 for the Beatles and 69 for Bruce Springsteen.

Several appellate judges in California have said “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowin’ ” from the song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in reference to the fact that an expert isn’t required to offer an opinion when any layperson could discern the facts.

Even the United State Supreme Court has relied on Dylan’s lyrics to make a point. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. quoted Dylan’s line “If you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose” from his song “Like a Rolling Stone”.

Even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, in a case involving privacy protection for employees that use company email, said “The times they are a-changing’ is a feeble excuse for disregard of duty”.

I wonder if a Judge will ever recite this line from Dylan’s “Hurricane” , Dylan’s ode to wrongfully convicted Hurricane Carter.

“The trial was a pig-circus he never had a chance”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Senior Judge Admonished for Facebook Posts

GeorgiaLeeLang009Hard to believe that a Senior Judge in Minnesota would post frank comments about cases he was hearing on his Facebook page, even though he believed only his 80 “Friends”, made up of family and close associates, would see them.

However, the posts were available for all the world to see and Judge Edward W. Bearse, who has an exemplary record, was formally reprimanded this month by the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards, the Board noting that even to disseminate his private views to his family and friends was unacceptable.

In the evening, after the first day of trial in a case alleging the accused had engaged in sex trafficking, Judge Bearse wrote:

“Some things I guess will never change. I just love doing the stress of jury trials. In a Felony trial now State prosecuting a pimp. Cases are always difficult because the women (as in this case also) will not cooperate. We will see what the 12 citizens in the jury box do.”

Three days later the accused was convicted, case closed. However, the prosecuting attorney saw the judge’s Facebook post and alerted the accused’s defence counsel to the posting. On application by defence counsel another judge vacated the guilty verdict and ordered a new trial. The Court found that Judge Bearse’s Facebook remark implied that the accused was guilty of the charge and that the victim of sex trafficking was a prostitute.

While hearing a felony case without a jury the accused’s lawyer was taken to hospital by ambulance after experiencing a panic attack in the courtroom. Judge Bearse posted this:

“Now we are in chaos because defendant has to hire a new lawyer who will most likely want to start over and a very vulnerable woman will have to spend another day on the witness stand. . . . I was so angry that on the way home I stopped to see our District Administrator and told him, “Michael, you are going to have to just listen to me bitch for awhile.” . . . [W]e know the new lawyer (probably quite justifiably) will be asking for another continuance. Terrible day!!!”

The Chief Justice asked Judge Bearse to delete the post. He did and then recused himself from the case.

In another posting, the judge wrote:

“My day yesterday in the Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis: . . . Criminal Vehicular Homicide where defendant stoned on Xanax supplemented it w/a lot of booze and then drove wrong way down a freeway colliding w/an innocent citizen driving the right way down the same freeway killing him. . . . and most interesting — three kidnappings . . . where the three were physically tortured to try and find the drugs.”

Among other postings Judge Bearse made pejorative remarks about offenders with long records saying “We deal with a lot of geniuses!” He also referred to his courtroom as a “zoo”.

While a judge’s work is both interesting and challenging, it is also often exhausting ( as he or she listens to marginally relevant evidence ad nauseam), and brings with it a degree of public and social isolation to ensure that judges cannot be said to be biased.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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Judge Must Follow the Law Despite His Personal Beliefs

GeorgiaLeeLang100Under international media scrutiny and political pressure Utah judge Scott Johansen reversed his recent decision to remove a 9-month old foster child from the home of  April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, a married lesbian couple in Price, Utah.

Ms. Hoagland and Ms. Pierce had fostered the baby for three months and expected to adopt the child. They had the approval and consent of the child’s mother and the local department of child welfare. During the initial hearing when Judge Johansen ordered the child welfare authorities to remove the child within seven days, he  remarked that he had read literature stating that children were better off being raised in a home with a mother and a father.

But the intervention of Utah’s Republican Governor Gary Herbert and the media maelstrom, including tweets from Hilary Clinton and a variety of anti-discrimination organizations led to a follow-up ruling from Judge Johansen who amended his original order and scheduled a hearing on December 4, 2015 to determine the best interests of the infant.

Judge Johansen is no stranger to controversy. In 1995 while interviewing a 16-year old young offender in his chambers, he slapped the youth after he tired of the boy’s belligerent insults. More recently, in 2012 a female child appeared in juvenile court for cutting the hair of a 3-year old child. Her punishment included cutting off the juvenile’s own pony tail, a sanction that led to the filing of a complaint by the juvenile offender’s mother.

While judges have significant discretion, where a legislature passes laws legalizing same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption, it is not open to a judge to inject his personal views into the decision. Only the Supreme Court of Canada and the Supreme Court of the United States can do that, although if asked, I suspect they would vigorously deny it.

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