Canadian Couple Sue Georgia Sperm Bank for Misrepresentation

DSC00507 (2)An Ontario couple were over-the-moon with delight when their first child was born. Angela Collins and Margaret Elizabeth Hanson of Port Hope Ontario had purchased sperm from Xytex Corp. in Atlanta, who touted the sperm donor as an overachiever with a 160 IQ, working on his PhD in Neuroscience Engineering.

The couple received their donor’s photo which showed an attractive man, only later did they learn the photo had been photoshopped.

Seven years after the birth of their son, Xytex inadvertently released the name of the anonymous donor to Ms. Collins and Ms. Hanson. That was when they discovered their child’s father was schizophrenic ex-convict, James Christian Aggeles, a college drop-out who had fathered 20 other children through the services of Xytex.

The couple’s lawsuit reveals that if they had known the truth about the donor’s background and medical history they would have declined. Their lawyer, Nancy Hersh, said the couple love their child but want to ensure they have the funds to properly evaluate and care for him if he is diagnosed as schizophrenic. Ms. Hersh is representing 15 other mothers in the same situation as the Ontario couple.

Collins and Hanson say they have suffered emotional and financial damages and are suing for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of warranty, and unfair business practices.

According to John Hopkins Medical School, research data shows that schizophrenia affects about 1% of Americans. If a parent has schizophrenia, there is a 10% chance their child will be similarly afflicted.

Canadian couples are forced to use offshore sperm banks as Canada has only one national sperm bank, Toronto’s Institute for Reproductive Medicine, and they have only 51 active donors. Two small clinics in Quebec have several donors but only operate locally.

It is reported that there is a need for donor sperm for more than 5,500 inseminations per year in Canada, 3,000 of those for lesbian couples.

Spokesperson, Wendy Kramer, for the American non-profit “Donor Sibling Registry” says there is little regulation or oversight in the sperm bank industry allowing donors to get away with saying whatever they want about their personal and medical histories.

With the number of women requiring donors, it surely is time for proper protocols to be legislated to protect vulnerable women, eager to have a child.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Justice Cafe on Main Street

Last week I ran into a lawyer friend in the Supreme Court in Vancouver. She was gowned for trial, just like I was, so I assumed she was conducting a trial that week. Turns out that her client couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer for his five-day trial, so my friend was hired for one-day only to cross-examine her client’s wife in a divorce case.

My friend’s role in her client’s case is just the tip of an emerging trend in legal services called “unbundled legal services” or “limited scope retainers”. It is no secret that scores of people in British Columbia just can’t afford to hire a lawyer. This phenomenon has led to a court system where a significant share of the cases being argued are presented by in-person litigants. Litigants with no lawyer.

The challenges these cases present are numerous, particularly where both sides to a dispute are acting on their own. Unlike Provincial Court, where the process is simplified with lay litigants the norm, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal are a morass of rules and procedure, not the least of which is trying to figure out complicated rules of evidence, involving hearsay, opinion evidence, documentary evidence and so on.

However, with government coffers stretched so far that legal aid funding is almost extinct, and lawyers who provide many hours of pro bono services working to the max, unbundled services may well be the answer for those whose income and assets are not sufficient to pay a lawyer to do the complete job.

A law firm in Atlanta, Georgia recently announced the opening of their street front office, calling it “Justice Cafe”, where recent law graduates, many of whom are now unemployed, and retired lawyers will provide legal advice in family law and divorce matters for walk-in clients who will pay $75.00 an hour. Half of the hourly fee will go to the lawyer and the other half will go to the law firm to cover their operating expenses and hopefully, a small profit.

Michael and Shelia Manley will convert a dress shop about a block from the courthouse into a community law office, opening in December 2012. They will serve free coffee and offer free wireless access, while lunch can be purchased at the next-door lunch counter. They are hoping their storefront will attract some of the more than 60% of Georgia residents who do not have a lawyer during their divorce.

If their business model succeeds, they intend to cover their office walls with artwork done by lawyers and invite lawyers and law students to “jam” on a small stage in the store, with tips for their musical talent donated to free legal clinics.

Sounds like an idea whose time has come.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang