Husband Sues Wife’s Divorce Lawyers for Fraud

GeorgiaLeeLang025Statistics suggest that 98% of family law cases settle out of court. For the unlucky few who can only obtain finality and closure with the aid of lawyers and judges, the journey is long, tortuous, and expensive.

Kenneth Felis of Vermont found himself engaged in divorce court proceedings that drained him emotionally and financially.

The parties had one child and a family estate worth between $12 to $15 million dollars, made up of cash, real estate and business interests.

HIs wife, Vicki, retained the law firm of Downs, Rachlin Martin to represent her in the court action. They, according to Mr. Felis, escalated the conflict by implementing a strategy that generated exorbitant legal fees and was intended to “harass and injure” him.

He sued the law firm for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty for “pursuing unreasonable legal positions, demanding extensive and unnecessary discovery, promoting and claiming outrageous asset valuations, raising claims without proper foundation . . . and billing excessive time.”

The firm had retained business valuators Gallagher, Flynn and Company on behalf of Ms. Felis, who were also named as defendants in Mr. Felis’ lawsuit.

Felis argued that at the outset of the multi-year litigation the “red fee-building flag went up” when Vicki Felis’ lawyers twice asked the court  and obtained  large distributions of cash to fund her lawyers and the business valuators.

Many jurisdictions permit family law litigants to request advances of cash or assets to enable them to pay for their litigation. It is only recently that British Columbia’s family law legislation was amended to permit these applications as well.

Mr. Felis was particularly incensed by his wife’s claim that he had “wastefully dissipated” millions of dollars from the family assets. To respond to the allegations, Felis’ lawyer was compelled to review and produce copious, detailed financial records and accounting documents, a process that required extensive time and generated additional legal fees.

The Court found Ms. Felis’ allegation of dissipation of funds to be without merit and dismissed her claim.

As for the business valuators, Mr. Felis argued that after years of discovery and production of all relevant documents, Gallagher, Flynn and Company “intentionally and wrongfully put up false expert testimony in an attempt to influence the court to improperly value [plaintiff’s] business assets and achieve an exorbitant and outrageous property distribution for Ms. Felis that was not grounded in the law.”

Mr. Felis also alleged that his wife’s lawyers submitted a false financial affidavit that incorrectly identified her debts, in an effort to gain increased child support.

By the time the divorce proceedings were finalized Ms. Felis’ lawyers’ bill was over $800,000 not including the business valuators’ bill of $248,000, all of which would be paid from the parties’  family assets, meaning that Mr. Felis was on the hook for one-half of over a million dollars in legal and valuation fees.

Regrettably for Mr. Felis, both the trial and appeal courts held that his wife’s lawyers owed no “duty” to him on which he could base a claim of breach of fiduciary duty. The law firm’s duty was to their client, not their client’s spouse. They also held that Felis had not alleged or  proven the requisite elements of fraud and thus, that claim failed as well.

The simple fact is that spouses may choose the lawyer they wish. Some divorce lawyers approach all their cases as a full-scale battle and unfortunately, unsophisticated clients tag along for the ride, while more discerning clients put a stop to strategies that only increase the conflict.

Mr. Felis’ complaints may have been legitimate  but there is no basis in law for the  courts to intervene.

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

Mediator Attacked by Former Client

B9316548187Z-1.1_20150314202542_000_GFTA6A1QO.1-0Child custody cases are notoriously difficult for clients and lawyers alike. Emotions run high and regrettably, our adversarial justice system only serves to escalate the conflict and aggravate the parties, on account of the psychological roller coaster of litigation and the drain on their bank accounts.

That’s why mediation has become so popular, particularly in child custody matters, where highly trained negotiation specialists work with parents and others to facilitate consensus and agreement for the benefit of themselves and their children.

While attorneys who deal with custody matters are sensitive to emotional eruptions and aware of the high stakes involved in custody litigation, mediators are usually sheltered from the anger of parents, who may become disenchanted with the mediation process or the results of mediation. “Settlor’s remorse” is the term used for a client who enters into a final agreement but later believes he or she gave up too much or didn’t get enough.

Litigation lawyers become skilled at determining whether their client is capable of settling or whether a client falls into the category of those who need a judge to make a decision.

Recently a lawyer/mediator in Springvale, Maine became a crime victim at the hands of a mediation client who was unhappy with his mediation. The client, Christopher Hall, age 48,  made an appointment with the mediator via text message, identifying himself as “Sue”. Arrangements were made for the attorney to attend at “Sue’s home” to discuss her services.

The mediator pulled up to “Sue’s” home and noticed an elderly man with a cane standing on the sidewalk near her car. As she alighted from her vehicle the old man suddenly rushed her and attacked her with a cane that was equipped as a stun gun, inserting the cane between the lawyer’s legs, resulting in a sudden shock to her inner thigh.

What the old man didn’t expect is that his former mediator would fight back, knocking off his long wig.

“Sue” aka Christopher Hall fled the scene jumping into a van driven by an accomplice. Acting on a tip the police identified Mr. Hall as the perpetrator and arrested him later that evening.

Because Mr. Hall’s trap failed, the planned assault of the mediator was aborted.  A police spokesperson said they were  unsure of Mr. Hall’s  actual  intentions. Did he plan to kidnap the mediator or worse, murder her?

He was charged with aggravated assault and held on bail of $250,000. His criminal record revealed previous convictions for domestic assault and terrorizing.

A frightening experience that could have ended badly, but for the woman’s decision to fight back. Of course, the notion of meeting a potential client at his or her home is wrought with danger. House calls should be reserved for regular clients who are well-known and female lawyers and mediators would be wise to refrain from personal visits to male clients.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Bill Cosby Loses Preliminary Legal Skirmish as Tattered Reputation Continues to Slide

GEO CASUALWhen you think of Bill Cosby today do you think of a family friendly comedian or a serial sexual abuser?  With his reputation tarnished it is his legal battles and the stripping of  his accolades and prestigious appointments by institutions that once honoured him that consumes media attention.

From the startling front cover of  New York magazine where photos of his 35 victims were pictured, to the removal of his honourary degrees from Marquette University and Fordham University, his tattered reputation is in free-fall. He was forced to resign from the Board of Trustees of Temple University and his ties to the University of Massachusetts, where he earned a Master’s and Doctoral degree, have been cut-off.

The United States Navy stripped him of his honourary designation as Chief Petty Officer and there has been significant pressure to remove his Star on the  Hollywood Walk of Stars, and force him to relinquish his Presidential Medal of Honour. His bronze bust at Disney World Orlando is no longer on display.

This week his lawyer’s application in Los Angeles Superior Court to dismiss alleged victim Judy Huth’s case on the basis of a technicality was denied by Judge Craig Karlan who determined that mistakes made by Ms. Huth’s previous counsel were not so serious that her claim should be thrown out.

Her former lawyer, Marc Strecker, admitted that he overlooked a section of the legal code that barred the naming of an alleged sexual offender in claims brought based on historical sexual abuse.

Mr. Cosby’s lawyer, Martin Stringer, argued that by identifying his client in the claim, he could not receive a fair trial and that the identification caused a tsunami of other complainants to come forward. Singer also attempted to persuade Judge Karlan that certain actions of Mr. Strecker were cause for dismissal of the claim, including allegations that Mr. Strecker attempted to extort $250,000 from Mr,. Cosby before the claim was filed, and attempted to sell Ms. Huth’s story to the National Enquirer ten years ago.

Mr. Cosby is scheduled to be deposed, an event that will likely see media outlets scrambling  for “leaks” and tips on his admissions during his under oath questioning.

Why Bill Cosby would put himself through the indignity of these civil cases is astounding considering his financial ability to make it all go away. I assume his many victims want their day in court, to be vindicated from Cosby’s  bold-faced denials, despite the corroboration of a phalanx of additional victims.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Mother Jailed 8 Years for Child Abduction Now Released

B9316548187Z-1.1_20150314202542_000_GFTA6A1QO.1-0One of the most litigious child abduction cases may have finally come to a conclusion.

Victoria Innes was five-years-old when her mother, Marie Carrascosa kidnapped her, taking her from the United States to Spain, despite a court order that prohibited each of her battling parents from removing her from the United States without the consent of the other parent.

To buttress this order, and as a precaution, the Court also said that Victoria’s passport must be held by her mother’s lawyer and not released.

A series of unexpected events unfolded when Ms. Carrascosa changed lawyers. Her new lawyer, Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, was unaware of the court order regarding Victoria’s passport. She released the passport to her client whereupon Ms. Carrascosa fled with Victoria to Spain, where her parents lived and where she was qualified as a lawyer.

Distraught father, Peter Innes, took immediate legal action to have Victoria returned to the State of New Jersey, obtaining an American court order for custody, however, the Spanish courts ignored the order.

Later Ms. Carrascosa returned to New Jersey without Victoria to continue the legal battle, apparently confident that the Spanish courts had jurisdiction and taking comfort in an order of the Spanish court that  barred Victoria from leaving Spain until she was 18-years-old.

But the New Jersey courts didn’t see it that way. Ms. Carrascosa was tried and sentenced in New Jersey to fourteen years in prison for contempt of court and interfering with child custody.

In the meantime, Mr. Innes launched a lawsuit against attorney Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich who was ordered to pay compensation of $950,000 to him for her negligence in releasing the passport to Ms. Carrascosa.

Typically a term of imprisonment tends to  eventually persuade an individual to comply with the law, but not in Ms. Carrascosa’s case. In her zeal to ensure her ex-husband would have no contact with Victoria she remained in prison year after year, depriving her daughter, not only of a father, but a mother as well. Victoria was in the care of her maternal grandmother in Spain.

Ms. Carrascosa’s continued defiance of the court orders and her lengthy incarceration became a legal problem for the State court who expected compliance sooner rather than later. At a hearing in 2007 appellate Judge Donald G. Collester said “She cannot be held forever. At some point in time, she will be out of jail. What are you going to do then?”

In 2014 Ms. Carrascosa received parole for the child abduction conviction but was immediately transferred to local  Bergen County jail for refusing to return Victoria to New Jersey.

It was the entreaties of her daughter to court and correctional authorities and the consent of her former husband, Mr. Innes that resulted in her final release in 2015.

Mr. Innes said:

“I know Victoria wants her mother back, and for that reason only, I support her release. I am confident that once our daughter gets to know her mother, she’ll begin to see the reality of this sad situation. It’s been 10 long years since my daughter was taken, and there’s only one thing I am sure of — no one wins in cases like this.”

No person should suffer the torment of child abduction and Peter Innes’ consent to his ex-wife’s release is proof that he understands that it should be all about what is in his daughter’s best interests, a concept that has eluded the self-centred Ms. Carrascosa.

Mr. Innes maintains a website “” and has not given up hope that one day he and his daughter will be reconciled.

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