Child Custody Dispute Leads to Hitman

GeorgiaLeeLang100Dan Markel worked hard and led a blessed life, until he didn’t. Toronto born and raised, the 41-year-old graduated with a degrees from Harvard, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Cambridge, capping his academic achievements with a  Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. He practiced white-collar criminal law and civil litigation before he became a tenured professor at Florida State Law School teaching criminal law. He wrote for academic journals and crafted controversial opinion pieces for  prestigious publications including the New York Times, Slate, and The Atlantic. Mr. Markel was an impressive man who was revered by his colleagues.

He was married to Wendi Jill Adelson, also a lawyer and professor at Florida State, and had two young sons. But his happy life began to crumble when his marriage  floundered, followed by a bitter divorce in 2013.  But the worst was yet to come.

In July 2014 Dan Markel pulled into the driveway and garage of his upscale Tallahassee, Florida home, just about to end a call on his cell phone, when he advised the caller that another vehicle was in his driveway. Those were likely Dan Markel’s final words before he was shot in the head. He died the next morning.

At first the police believed his death was related to online criticism he had received or from his legal consulting practice.  Almost immediately rewards totalling $125,000 were announced for information leading to the arrest of Mr. Markel’s assailant, but the case went cold, until last month.

On May 26, 2016 Tallahassee police arrested Sigfredo Garcia in connection with Dan Markel’s death. A “probable cause” affidavit unsealed by the Court indicated that Garcia did not act alone and that as a “hitman”,  his involvement likely stemmed from the contentious child custody matters that lingered from the Adelson/Markel divorce. Court proceedings were pending which could have prevented Ms. Adelson’s parents from carrying on with their grandparent relationship with the couple’s children, based on allegations they were badmouthing Mr. Markel. As well, Ms. Adelson’s desire to change the children’s residence from Tallahassee to Miami was at issue.

Authorities have not yet suggested that Wendi Adelson is a suspect in her ex-husband’s murder, but have indicated that further arrests should be expected. Friends of Dan initially refused to speculate on Ms. Adelson or her family’s involvement in his tragic death, but news of the arrest has prompted several to confirm that all along they believed the high-conflict custody dispute played a part in his murder.

 

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Depravity of Child-Sex Tourism

DSC00280With a significant increase in global travel, impoverished young girls and boys in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Costa Rica, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and other third world countries, are the innocent victims of men and women who prey upon them, leaving their upstanding lives behind to indulge in their perversions.

ECPAT International,  a non-governmental organization that stands against the sexual exploitation of children, released a report last week that  reports that Canada and the United States, traditionally countries where abusers come from, are now becoming destination countries for sexual offenders.

Montreal is said to be a “hotspot” for child sex tourism, a fact attributable to its close proximity to the US border, and its reputation for year-round festivals and events.  Other Canadian locations include those that are close to transportation hubs, convention centres, and remote work places, like the oil sands in northern Alberta. Sex entrepreneurs are in the business of providing children to welcoming customers, an avocation exacerbated by the internet.

But no longer is the sex tourist a white, western, wealthy, middle-aged male pedophile who plans a trip for the purpose of child sexual encounters. Now the majority are “situational” offenders, local or domestic travellers who find themselves presented with an opportunity to engage in child sex, and take advantage of it. The report indicates that the abusers are business travellers, migrant workers, and people who volunteer to help the afflicted in third-world countries.

A prime example of the latter category is Matthew Andrew Carter, a Floridian senior who travelled annually to Haiti where he established a group home for poor, orphaned children,  called Morning Star. Florida’s Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman described Carter’s criminal modus operandi:

“For 15 years, Matthew Carter, under the guise of serving as an international humanitarian, sexually abused more than 50 Haitian children..He held himself out as a savior to vulnerable children in Haiti, but in fact cruelly forced those children to choose between poverty and submitting to repeated sexual abuse…”

Testimony at the trial came from 16 young victims who described how they were forced to exchange sexual acts for food, school tuition monies, and  permission to live at Morning Star.

Carter was a repeat offender having been tried, but acquitted in Egypt, England, and the United States. However, this time justice was not elusive. He was sentenced to 165 years in prison.

The only way this desperate international problem can be  successfully tackled is for governments, private business, and non-governmental agencies to band together to condemn and eliminate child exploitation. Canadians have been assisted by the Harper government’s enactment of stiff child sexual abuse laws. But more must be done…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

No Child Support as Free Pizza Will Suffice

DSC00275_1Italians have given the world many gifts including opera, the jacuzzi, liposuction, and Roman law, which fostered the foundation for many of the world’s legal systems. However,  some say Italy’s greatest contribution (apart from pasta) is PIZZA.

As Tiger Woods once said: “And I don’t cook…not as long as they still deliver pizza”.

Fast forward to 21st century Italy where an Italian court in Padau this week ordered that a divorced father and former pizza restaurant owner, who had fallen on hard times, could discharge his child support obligation by providing free pizza to his daughter, who resided with her mother.

The former couple, Nicola Toso and Nicoletta Zuin divorced in 2002 and Mr. Toso faithfully paid his child support.  But with the world recession in 2008 he began to struggle financially. By this time he had remarried and had three children with his second wife. Between 2008 and 2010 Mr. Toso offered his ex-wife pizzas and calzones, instead of the 400 Euros he had contracted to pay.

She, however, eventually became fed up with the arrangement thrust upon her, and filed a criminal complaint against her ex-husband. By 2010 Mr. Toso had lost his restaurant after being unable to pay his suppliers and employees. He then found employment managing a pizzeria.

Toso’s lawyer advised the court that her client’s financial difficulties were legitimate, and that he was an exemplary father, as evidenced by his continuing relationship with his daughter and his successful efforts to welcome her into the life of his second family. Notably, his daughter provided evidence to the court in support of her father’s position.

The court also learned that by 2011 the child had left her mother’s home and had moved in with her father and his family. At that point, Ms. Zuin had been ordered to pay her ex-husband 300 Euros per month.

Judge Bitozzi ruled that given all the circumstances, Mr. Toso had not committed a crime by delivering pizza to his ex-wife, instead of 400 Euros,  and the criminal complaint was dismissed.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divorce Lawyers Misunderstand Effects of Minority Shareholdings

GeorgiaLeeLang025The division of business assets between spouses in a divorce can be complicated and tricky. Elizabeth Berardi of New York found this out the hard way. She retained seventy-member law firm, Philps Nizer , in 2000 to draft a marriage agreement for  her, a document that would take effect if her marriage to Eugene Berardi failed to survive.

The negotiations led to an agreement that would give her 49% of her husband’s  interests in  several bus companies, while Mr. Berardi would retain 51%. It seemed like a very good deal.

Five years later the Berardis’ marriage collapsed and divorce proceedings were commenced. Mr. Berardi’s first tactic was to  challenge the marriage agreement, attempting to set it aside. Ms. Berardi reengaged Philips Nizer, who put 23 attorneys and 16 other professionals to work on her case,  appointing lawyer Helen Davis Chaitman as lead counsel.  After a trial in 2006, the court handed down their Reasons in 2009 upholding the agreement. Philips Nizer had achieved success for Ms. Berardi , despite Ms. Chaitman’s inexperience in family law, and after charging  legal fees of $1.4 million.

But all was not what it seemed. When Ms. Berardi attempted to liquidate her share of the bus companies, she found she had little power as a minority shareholder, particularly in the face of shareholder’s agreements  executed before 2000 that limited her ability to freely sell her interests. Her minority position also diminished the value of her shares in the company.

Ms. Berardi sued Philips Nizer for malpractice and professional negligence, asserting they either knew or should have known, and told her of the effects of her minority interest and the shareholders’ agreements. In particular, when her husband sought to overturn the agreement, they should not have opposed his application. Had the agreement been set aside, by consent of the parties, she could have negotiated a bargain that would see her receive liquid assets.

She also argued that Philips Nizer were in a conflict of interest by agreeing to act for her while seeking to uphold the agreement they had drafted. In a separate claim Ms. Berardi alleged she was grossly overcharged by Philips Nizer, as her ex-husband paid his lawyers only $395,000 in legal fees.

Naturally Philips Nizer sought to have Ms. Berardi’s lawsuits dismissed, suggesting she was simply attempting to escape payment of the funds she still owed the law firm, an amount over $700,000. However, this week Justice Nancy Bannon disagreed with Philips Nizer, refusing to dismiss the court action, paving the way for the litigation to continue.

Ms. Berardi’s new lawyers, Pollock & Maguire, believe that Philips Nizer pursued and obtained minority shareholder status for Ms. Berardi, never realizing the ramifications of their successful defence, until it was too late. Lead counsel, Helen Davis Chaitman is no longer with the firm and is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

To Sign or Not to Sign: The Prenup Dilemma

DSC01152_2 (2)_2Pre-nuptial agreements are so commonplace today that no one gives them a second thought.  They are considered de rigueur in second marriages, particularly where there are children from a first marriage, who panic at the first sign that good ol’ dad has a girlfriend. They are also regularly used when a 50-year old wealthy bachelor moves his 25-year old girlfriend into his home. Ah…young love…

Their purpose is to protect a spouse’s assets from attack by their new partner if the relationship breaks down, and often they provide that upon separation, the wealthy spouse will not pay spousal support to the other.

But do they offer the protection the monied spouse is seeking, and what happens if your partner refuses to sign one?

Prenups are, of course, simply contracts, but unlike commercial contracts, courts look at prenups differently. When a couple begin living together or get married, there should be no expectation that each of them automatically has an interest in the other’s property or can expect to be supported by their new partner.

However, there comes a time when a couples’ lives are so intertwined that the law recognizes and provides for the sharing of property and in many cases, spousal support. Some of the factors include the birth of children, the sharing of childcare, the pooling of financial resources, the length of the relationship, and the many  non-financial contributions  each makes based on their abilities and skills.

In the usual prenup scenarios, if dad’s second marriage lasts as long or longer than his first, the prenup signed at the outset may be difficult to enforce. Our bachelor with the young girlfriend may find that after she has two children and is no longer participating in the job force, the contract they signed is simply unfair to her.

Often clients will make an appointment to discuss their desire for a prenup, but frequently it is a subject they have not yet raised with their partner. While prenups are not terribly expensive, to instruct a lawyer to draft one is rather foolish unless one has broached the issue with one’s sweetheart.

Case in point: New York executive,  Yiri Sun, is a Princeton graduate and vice-president of a large insurance company. She was very excited about her wedding day. She had booked a beautiful venue, the catering was top-notch, her bridal gown was exquisite, and the invitations sent.

At the last minute she was forced to call off the wedding as she refused to sign the prenup that was presented to her. Instead of losing her $8,000  reception deposit, she decided to turn her wedding into a party for 60 needy children and their families, referred to her by  the Salvation Army. She hosted the event wearing her wedding gown.

Ms. Sun’s professional status clearly gave her the confidence to call off the wedding when she saw the terms of the contract. Most women presented with prenups simply sign them. The good news for them is that if their relationship is not short, and they have made life choices that prejudice their financial well-being, they may be able to convince a judge to overrule the prenup.

As I tell my clients, prenups are a short-term solution, that in the long-run may not meet their expectations.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Hollywood, Stop Bothering Us With Your Inane Political Prattle

GeorgiaLeeLang009Jennifer Lawrence is the latest pretty face to achieve Hollywood success, scooping up an Academy Award for  Silver Linings Playbook in 2012 and achieving fame for her role in The Hunger Games. She was  first recruited by a modelling agency at the age of 14, when she was vacationing in New York City with her mother.

Recently on The Graham Norton Show, a BBC production hosted by  an Irish  comedian that combines comedy with chat, Ms. Lawrence showed off her class and style when she announced that her message to Donald Trump was that he could “F….Off”. Yet, her friends and fans still maintain that she is still just a Kentucky girl from a nice Christian family. Her family must be terribly embarrassed.

On the Graham Norton set she was joined by Johnny Depp, who did a  pitiful imitation of Mr. Trump, but as is usual with “stars”, no one had the nerve to tell him it was worse than  pathetic. Mr. Depp also insulted Mr. Trump…but what would one expect from two Hollywood stars who think a high school diploma and an acting career makes them worthy of our attention.

It always amazes me that Hollywood actors actually think people care about what they think about politics, foreign policy, the environment, or healthcare, among many other heady topics. What skills does an actor have that makes him or her an expert on any of these issues?

The hypocrisy of actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, age 40, who promotes his global warming agenda, nearly as much as he preens for the paparazzi, or dumps a regular succession of  20-something models, while travelling around the world in a private jet.

Remarkably, he flew a private jet from the U.S. to Davos, Switzerland earlier this year to lecture the attendees about climate change. Meanwhile, it was reported that in a six-week period in 2014 Mr. DiCaprio flew six times between Los Angeles and New York, all the while decrying everyone else’s “carbon footprint”.

Not to mention his $200 million, 450 foot super yacht, which can burn thousands of litres of marine diesel every hour, and up to 1,000 additional litres to run the air conditioning and electrical systems, spewing smoke and carbon dioxide as it plys the world’s oceans.

Another high school drop out whose ego is limitless.

I bet Jennifer can’t stand that Donald Trump has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for producing 14 seasons of  The Apprentice, with Mark Burnett, Hollywood’s most vocal Christian, responsible for the success of Survivor, The Voice, and The Bible, amongst his  dozens of high-quality television and documentary programs.

Hollywood: stop bothering us with your inane political prattle…That includes you, George Clooney!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge Threatened With Removal From the Bench for Her Religious Beliefs

GeorgiaLeeLang057Pinedale, Wyoming is a town with a population of just over 2,000 people. It is considered a gateway to the more famous Jackson Hole and sits surrounded by over 1,300 lakes. In such a small town everyone knows everyone else, and their local judge is beloved by all.

Her name is Ruth Neely and her career is in jeopardy after she gave an interview to a local newspaper admitting that her religious beliefs would prevent her from officiating at a same-sex marriage, an interview she gave shortly after Wyoming legalized same-sex marriage in 2014.

Mind you, Judge Neely is a municipal judge and circuit court magistrate whose cases involve traffic offences, bylaw breaches, and the like. Her judicial role does not include performing marriages of any kind, and she has never been asked to perform a same-sex marriage.

Nonetheless, the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics is seeking to remove her from her position and wants her to pay $40,000 in fines as well, because they allege her media comments manifest a bias and make her unfit to be a judge.

The Casper Star Tribune reported that the Wyoming Commission told Judge Neely  they would drop their prosecution of her if she would resign, admit wrongdoing, and never again seek a judicial position in Wyoming. Later the Commission suggested she could stay on, but only if she publicly apologized, and agreed to perform same-sex marriages. Judge Neely declined their offers and is now fighting to maintain her religious convictions.

Judge Neely’s dilemma has engendered a groundswell of support, including from members of the local LGBT community.  An oft-repeated sentiment is that “it would be obscene and offensive to discipline Judge Neely for her religious beliefs about marriage.”

The Commission’s persecution of Judge Neely is particularly egregious as they admit she has served the community well for twenty years,  and is a well-recognized and well-respected judge.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit advocacy group based in Washington, D. C. have come to Judge Neely’s aid. Their mission is to “protect the free expression of all religious traditions. Their clients have included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians.

Lawyers from the Becket Fund filed a brief on the judge’s behalf which declared “This would be the first time in the country that a judge was removed from office because of her religious beliefs about marriage.”

It seems wrongheaded to oust a judge for her religious views when those views do not interfere with her judicial duties. There is something very strange going on here.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang