Lawyer Who Played “Nazi Card” Slammed by Appeal Court

BarristerDonn Martinez was riding his motorcycle approaching a network of freeways referred to as “Orange Crush” in Orange County, California, so named because of the maze of highways that come together at this point.

Unfortunately, he lost control of his bike and was injured. He attributed the accident to a poorly lit curb in the middle of the highway that divided two converging roadways. He sued the California Department of Transportation for negligence.

Donn was an ordained minister and a member of a Christian motorcycle club called “Set Free Soldiers”. The logo of the Set Free Soldiers is a skull wearing a World War II German-style military helmet, called “Fritz helmets”. Some say they look very much like the helmets worn by the U.S. Army. His license plate read “The Evil 1”, a biblical term for “Satan”.

Mr. Martinez’s trial lawyer was concerned that opposing counsel would exploit his client’s motorcycle affiliation, portraying him as a low-life biker and thus, prejudicing the jury against him.

To avoid these kinds of tactics, pretrial orders were obtained that provided there be no reference at trial to “membership in motorcycle clubs/gangs or to stickers or emblems” used by Martinez. As well, Martinez’s termination of employment from a California school district was off-limits. Finally, the court ordered there be no evidence led to elicit sympathy for the Department of Transportation with regards to their dire financial situation.

Despite these clear rulings defence counsel, Karen Bilotti, ignored the ground rules in a manner the Court of Appeal described as “egregious” as they overturned the verdict that dismissed Mr. Martinez’s case. It began with her Opening Statement where she made numerous references to the state of the Department of Transportation’s financial status. The Appeal Court said:

“Blessed with a trial judge who allowed it, trial counsel ran roughshod over opposing counsel and the rules of evidence. We have no choice but to reverse.”

The Appeal Court described Ms. Bilotti’s cross-examination questions as “gratuitously besmirching” of Mr. Martinez’s character and despite repeated objections from his counsel that were sustained (agreed to) by the trial judge, she flippantly ignored him.

Most blatant, however, was her final question to Mr. Martinez’s wife:

“At the time of the accident, the motorcycle that your husband was riding had a skull picture on it wearing a Nazi helmet; right?”

In relation to this breach of the pretrial court orders the Appeal Court referred to “Godwin’s Law”, a term coined by American attorney Michael Godwin in 1990 that provides that the first person to introduce the Holocaust or make analogies with Nazism is the loser in any discussion or argument. Bilotti was apparently attempting to counter the positive evidence led by Martinez’s lawyer of his charitable, Christian activities.

In her closing argument Ms. Bilotti mentioned the word “Nazi” multiple times, no longer referring to Mr. Martinez’s motorcycle helmet but directly to him. The Court noted:

“The law, like boxing, prohibits hitting below the belt. The basic rule forbids an attorney to pander to the prejudice, passion, or sympathy of the jury.”

The Appeal Court concluded its opinion with a directive that the clerk of the court was instructed to send a copy of the Reasons to the State Bar (equivalent to the Law Society) notifying the Bar of its reversal of the case based “solely on prejudicial attorney misconduct”.

There is a broad line between aggressive advocacy and representation that intentionally mischaracterizes a litigant and the evidence proferred. Bilotti knowingly crossed that line, no doubt in her zeal to win at all costs.

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

Judges’ Orders Place Limitations on Defendants’ Sex Lives

DSC00447_2 (1)Another American judge has made an order regulating a litigant’s sex life. In the most recent case a court in Kansas sentenced a career criminal to a lengthy prison term for being a felon in possession of a weapon and also imposed a probation order to follow the jail sentence.

In an unusual move, U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs inserted a probation condition that Christopher Harris be barred from having unprotected sex while on probation, for the very simple reason that Mr. Harris had sired ten children with seven different women. He made the order over the protestations of Harris’ lawyer saying that Harris’ behaviour was creating severe social problems.

A week later Judge Sachs amended his order to read:

“The defendant shall use contraceptives before engaging in sexual activity that may otherwise cause pregnancy unless such use would violate his religious scruples or is expressly rejected by his sexual partner.”

However, unlike a similar order made in Wisconsin, the US Court of Appeals struck down the Sachs’ order saying the condition imposed was not related to the nature and circumstances of the offence, and did nothing to protect the public from future crimes.

In Wisconsin, Corey Curtis was sentenced to three years probation for falling behind in his child support payments. Mr. Curtis had nine children with six mothers. During the sentencing Judge Tim Boyle mused about whether he had the authority to order the sterilization of Mr. Curtis.

The alert prosecutor then advised the Judge there was precedent in Wisconsin to control Mr. Curtis’ sex life, referring to a 2001 case where a payor father was ordered not to father any further children until he had paid the arrears of child support he already owed.

This precedent setting case, State v. Oakley, was upheld by Wisconsin’s highest court and later appealed to the United States Supreme Court, who declined to hear the case, thus explicitly recognizing the legitimacy of the trial court order.

The Justices of the Wisconsin Court held that the “no-procreation” condition of probation was not unconstitutional. It was also preferable to the eight-year prison sentence that otherwise would have been ordered.

Different states, different judges, different results. That’s what makes the law so challenging.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang