Judge Comments that Family Litigants are “Blowing Their Brains Out Fighting”

BarristerIn yet another British Columbia Supreme Court case, a wise judge points out the folly of the battle between litigating spouses and the accompanying expense, both financially and emotionally.

In Danroth v. Whiting 2017 BCSC 1814 Mr. Justice G.C. Weatherill considered an application to defer the sale of the parties’ family home. The wife had previously obtained an order for the sale of the home with the condition that the husband, who now lived in the home, had a one month reprieve before it would be listed for sale, in order to allow him time to raise the funds required to purchase his wife’s interest.

The 71-year-old husband wished to remain in the home he had lived in for years but had not been able to borrow sufficient funds to buy his wife’s interest. The home was valued at $3.5 million and had a mortgage of $1.2 million, leaving equity of $2.3 million. He needed to pay his wife $1.15 million, but he was only able to borrow $2.2 million, which was insufficient to pay out the mortgage and pay his wife. He was also waiting for an appeal hearing as he had previously appealed the order that the house be sold.

Meanwhile, it appeared the family squabble was to become more complicated as at least one of the parties’ children was contemplating filing a lien, called a caveat, against the title of the property prior to the property’s listing for sale, alleging that he/she had an interest in the property as well.

The judge noted that “this court sees a steady diet of these kinds of family disputes where it is all about money. The parties tend to lose track or lose sight of what really matters. However, that is for another day.”

Ultimately, the court refused to defer the sale, but before finalizing his judgment he spoke frankly to the parties’ counsel:

“……this is a tragic situation…the inevitable result will undoubtedly be that they will regret, if they don’t already, not having taken a step back and considering whether there is another, less tragic, way of resolving their dispute…this family is destined for complete ruin if they carry on as they are…this is all about money and the parties are spending it in droves….It seems to me that the parties could put their money to better use, for their retirement or for their future. The claimant is 71 years. How much more of this does he want to devote to this fight?”

Kudos to Justice Weatherill for taking the liberty that his status affords him, to try to de-escalate the family battle before it is too late. Judges hold tremendous sway over litigants that appear before them and it is heartening to see judges earnestly warn litigants of the fate that befalls them if they continue on the path they are on.

His parting words:”These comments can be taken for what they are worth. This court sees these situations far too often. I wish the parties the best of luck.”

A point of interest: Judge Weatherill is one of two judges sitting on the Supreme Court of British Columbia with the same name. The other justice is his twin brother, and yes, they are hard to tell apart.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: Perjury in Family Court

GEO#1People tell lies, so-called “white” lies, they tell half-truths, they prevaricate, fabricate, distort, and tell “whoppers”, and they can, unless they are in a court of law or a government hearing where they are “sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Yet nowhere is the truth more elusive than in a family law trial and the recent case of Kneller v. Underwood 2015 BCSC 1410 is a prime example of perjury under oath.

The issue was whether or not 36-year-old Twyla Kneller and Jim Greenwood of Cranbrook, B.C. lived together in a marriage-like relationship for nine years, as Twyla testified, or whether they simply were “friends with benefits” as he maintained.

If they were in a spousal relationship, Ms. Kneller would be entitled to share in his property in light of the 2013 law that gave common law spouses the same property rights as married spouses.

Ms. Kneller described a traditional relationship where Mr. Greenwood worked and paid the bills, while she maintained the home with its wood stove, doing the grocery shopping, cooking, baking, canning, cleaning, laundry, and gardening. The parties initially resided in a trailer on bare land and later in a renovated home on acreage, all owned by Mr. Greenwood.

Mr. Greenwood’s parents and grandparents lived on adjacent properties and Twyla became close to his mother.

Interestingly, despite his family’s obvious knowledge of their son’s living arrangements, they were not called to testify, although many other witnesses paraded through the courtroom.

During the nine-year relationship the parties separated on one occasion for three and a half months, not surprisingly, considering Ms. Kneller’s evidence that Mr. Greenwood’s physical
assaults landed her in hospital twice. She testified to regular punching, slapping, kicking, and other abuse. She said that initially Jim would apologize for this behaviour but after a while he didn’t bother. She stayed because she loved him, an oh-so-familiar sentiment in cases of domestic violence.

When it was time for Jim Greenwood to testify his evidence could not have been more different than Ms. Kneller’s.

He swore they never lived together, although she spent some nights with him. He said she lived in Cranbrook with her mother. He apparently forgot that in an earlier affidavit he said “they lived together off and on”. He testified their finances were completely separate and they each filed “single” status tax returns, a misstatement he was forced to correct when his 2010 tax return showed he claimed tax deductions in respect of his “common law spouse”.

He denied he gave her a “promise” ring and was cornered when it came to light he had added her to his medical and dental insurance as a common law spouse. He recounted a denigrating anecdote to the court where he felt it necessary to “take her home”. When it was apparent the “home” he referred to was his, and not Twyla’s Cranbrook home, he squirmed and became agitated and nervous.

When he abruptly asked Ms. Kneller to leave, he said she had almost nothing to pack, despite photographs showing a U-Haul with furniture and personal chattels piled in. He had forgotten that in an earlier affidavit he swore she took all of the furniture, although he paid for it all. He also couldn’t keep the date of their separation straight: Was it August 2013, as he first suggested, or October 2013?

Of course, who to believe was the central issue in the trial, a task that was not daunting for the trial judge. He found that Ms. Kneller was one of the “most genuine, down-to-earth, credible and engaging witnesses” he had ever encountered.

As for Jim Greenwood the court said:

“The respondent’s evidence, in particular, was disingenuous and lacking in credibility. It consisted almost entirely of vague, unsubstantiated and unsupported assertions. His evidence at trial contradicted his earlier affidavit evidence in many significant respects. The best he could muster when faced with the conflicts in his sworn evidence was to blame the drafter of the affidavits, to say he wasn’t a very good reader and to state, “that is what you get when you don’t look at the things you sign.”

The trial judge also declared that Mr. Greenwood’s blanket denial the parties ever lived together, and his testimony that he never physically abused his spouse were “devoid of truth”.

Finally, the trial judge said he didn’t believe or accept anything Jim Greenwood had to say that contradicted the evidence of his common-law spouse and her witnesses.

“In my view, the respondent would be well served by a recalibration of his moral compass.”

It’s called “perjury”, an indictable criminal offence with a possible 14-year jail term attached to it, and yet, liars are not prosecuted in Canada. Oh yes, Air India terrorist, Inderjit Singh Reyat’s acquittal in 2003 on murder charges prompted the Crown to charge him with perjury, securing a conviction and a nine-year prison term, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Not so in the United States where Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Martha Stewart and others faced charges, not for steroid use or securities fraud, but for lying.

Canada’s refusal to deliver consequences to parties who blatantly lie in court needs to be addressed. Mr. Greenwood was a poor liar but there are many cases where Mr. or Ms. Charming fool the court and justice does not prevail. Perjury is a serious issue, particularly in our family courts and steps must be taken to punish liars who make a mockery of their oath to tell the truth.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Nevada Media Tells Tale of Vancouver Same-Sex Divorce Debacle

GEO CASUAL Television station KLAS Las Vegas featured a story last evening that told of a “divorce debacle” in our British Columbia Supreme Court.

Earlier this year I was retained by a woman in Nevada who, like many others, took advantage of Canada’s same-sex marriage laws. Vivian and her same-sex partner were married in Whistler, British Columbia in 2004, returning to their home state of Nevada, where both were accomplished professional women.

Along the way, Vivian’s partner adopted two children to whom Vivian played an equal mothering role during their marriage. Regrettably, their relationship broke down and Vivian quickly realized that she had no “legal” status with regards to her partner’s children, a most discomforting reality considering the equal role she had played in the children’s lives.

At the time of the separation of Vivian and her partner, same-sex marriage was not legal in Nevada and neither was there any legal provision for same-sex divorce.(Note:same-sex marriage is now legal in Nevada)

In August of 2013 the Canadian government became aware that many same-sex couples who married in Canada could not be divorced in their home countries, and so, a law was quickly passed that enabled same-sex couples to apply for a divorce in Canada in cases where both parties consented, or where a judge of the home country made an order that one of the parties was unreasonably withholding their consent.

Several months later Vivian was shocked when she received a copy of a divorce order made by a Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Vancouver. She had not been notified that a divorce proceeding had been initiated and completed in Vancouver.

The pronouncement of a divorce was significant with respect to Vivian’s chances of maintaining a parental role with the children and as well, sadly, her ex-partner was terminally ill, which had serious ramifications with respect to estate matters.

Would Vivian become a widow or was she a divorcee, with no legal rights?

It was about this time that Vivian retained me to assist her to determine how her partner was able to obtain a divorce order in Vancouver with no notice to her.

The divorce file in the Vancouver courthouse told the story. Vivian’s ex had filed the proper paperwork, which included a court order from the Las Vegas Justice Court, pronounced by Judge Melanie Andress-Tobiasson. This order declared that Vivian had unreasonably withheld her consent to a divorce. The problem was that Vivian was never informed, notified, or served with any divorce application.

Instead her ex-partner, who happened to be a lawyer in Las Vegas, appeared before Judge Andress-Tobiasson with no application, no motion, no paperwork of any kind, and obtained the order she sought. More significantly, the judge had no jurisdiction over family law cases!

Vivian contacted the Chief Justice of the Nevada Court who immediately voided the Nevada order and also ensured the order was declared void back to the time the Vancouver court made the divorce order.

Nonetheless, the divorce order is still in effect until a hearing can be set down in Vancouver to expose the unethical process and persuade the judge who made the divorce order to rescind it.

In the meantime, Vivian’s ex-partner died, and Vivian is now in court in Las Vegas battling for access to the two children, who are in the primary care of her ex’s new partner.

Judge Gloria O’Malley, presiding over the custody hearing, referred to the divorce debacle saying:

“The order was problematic in numerous respects…The Court is not comfortable with the process used to obtain the ex parte order from Justice Court…there was no due process to Vivian. She didn’t have an opportunity to be heard. She didn’t have an opportunity to present her position”.

Judge Andress-Tobiasson is being sued personally in federal court by Vivian for civil rights violations. As for “judicial immunity”, because the judge had no jurisdiction to make the order, arguably she cannot avail herself of the immunity protection.

It is also likely that judicial discipline proceedings may follow.

Vivian believes that “a huge favour was called in. It’s classic cronyism, corruption, and a back-room deal”. I agree with her, and thought this kind of justice only occurred in countries like Russia and Zimbabwe!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

ANOTHER WRONGFUL CONVICTION: IVAN HENRY “INNOCENCE ON TRIAL” by JOAN MCEWEN

BarristerI admit it…I’m a crime junkie. I’ve read every true crime book written by Ann Rule and Jack Olsen. I’m also a big fan of America’s Most Wanted, and I frequently peruse the FBI Most Wanted List. Don’t hate me when I tell you that I follow the executions in the States, even though I’m against capital punishment.

Having established my credentials to review Vancouver lawyer Joan McEwen’s new book “Innocence on Trial: The Framing of Ivan Henry” Heritage House Publishing 2014, I should also add that I’m a criminology graduate and have been married to a police officer for almost three decades.

Beginning with Steven Truscott and on to David Milgaard, Guy Morin, Romeo Phillion, Michael Morton and so many others, I have been horrified by the number of men who have languished in prison for crimes they did not commit, both in Canada and the United States.

But Joan McEwen’s story of the persecution of Ivan Henry brings it all home, right to our doorstep in Vancouver British Columbia, where a down-on-his-luck ex-con, father to two young daughters, found himself ensnared in a nightmare that still has not ended, after serving 27 years in prison.

Ivan Henry, age 35, was in an on-again/off-again relationship with ex- wife Jessie, a drug addict, when he was detained by the Vancouver Police Department as a burglary suspect. What he didn’t know was that the police were really after him for fifteen sexual assaults attributed to a sex offender the police called the “rip-off rapist”, based on the offender’s pretense that he was looking for someone who had stolen from him. Henry’s record contained one hit for attempted rape, a charge he pled guilty to on the advice of his lawyer when he lived in Winnipeg.

He denied being involved in any sexual offences and offered to take a polygraph test. The police declined his offer, but were adamant that he participate in a line-up. When he resisted, three “lean and mean” uniformed officers grabbed him and maneuvered him into a line with an assortment of their dark-haired colleagues, wrapping themselves around him, while holding his head of red hair in a vise-grip.

The photo of that line-up became a crucial part of Henry’s case and it was later revealed to be a “trophy”, retained by the trial judge, Mr. Justice Bouck, who proudly displayed it in the Judge’s Lounge in the courthouse at 800 Smithe Street, Vancouver. Cheap laughs…

Henry was immature and ornery, and too foolish to realize he was in water over his head when, after a preliminary hearing before His Honour Wallace Craig, he was committed to trial for ten counts of rape. Before his 1983 jury trial began Henry fired his legal aid lawyer. When offered the services of legal star, Richard Peck as trial counsel, Henry declined, believing the system was rigged and that Peck was just another player in the grand conspiracy against him.

How difficult could it be? There was no evidence against him: no hair, fibre, DNA , confession, or eye witnesses, and he had an alibi for many of the times he was alleged to be in flagrante delicto.
His trial tactics were unconventional, to say the least. Because he knew he had not assaulted any of the parade of women who identified him as their rapist, some of whom said they recognized his voice, he argued they were all liars…making it all up.

Before the trial completed Henry came to the realization that while he could handle the facts, he needed a lawyer to help him with the law. When he asked Mr. Justice Bouck to allow him to obtain a lawyer for that purpose, Bouck J. said:

“You should have thought of that before…I said you should have a lawyer. You turned it down. You elected to represent yourself. You take the chances…We’ve given you a copy of Martin’s Criminal Code.”

After ten hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Ivan Henry on all ten counts, whereafter Crown Counsel Mike Luchenko announced the Crown was seeking a dangerous offender designation. As night follows day, Henry was “bitched”, the expression used to describe criminals found to be “habitual” or dangerous offenders.

Henry poured over law books in preparation for his appeal but could not afford the thousands of dollars required for the court transcripts. Eventually he appeared before British Columbia’s Court of Appeal on a motion to dismiss the appeal for want of prosecution, brought by appellate crown Al Stewart, later Mr. Justice Stewart. Of course, the
Crown won and Henry was banished to purgatory. Later his leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was also rebuked.

Ms. McEwen’s carefully researched story reveals indifference, betrayal, class discrimination, and worst of all, a cast of characters who didn’t give a damn about Ivan Henry. He was just the usual collateral damage in the state’s zeal to close the books on a series of assaults that continued after Henry was locked away.

As the truth spills out, we learn that Ivan Henry’s ex-wife, sold him down the river, a la Judas Iscariot, in exchange for a few pieces of silver and gold, that ended up in her arm.

The unfortunate women who were victimized by a rapist, were then victims of a justice system that wasn’t really interested in the truth, for if it had been, they could have seen it staring in their face.

It is difficult to say who comes off worse in this sordid tale. Based on Ms. McEwen’s careful narrative, it must be a tie between Crown Counsel Mike Luchenko and trial judge Mr. Justice Bouck, both of whom deserve censure for the roles they played. By 1983, it was no secret that eyewitness testimony was unreliable and could never, by itself, be the foundation for a life sentence. But that’s what happened.

Years later, when one of the heroines of this story, Crown Counsel, Jean Connor , voiced her suspicions to the Attorney-General, concerning the convictions of Ivan Henry, McEwen reports that Mr. Luchenko tried, undeservingly, to take credit for an eleventh hour redemption.

With twists and turns galore, and an unvarnished glimpse of Canada’s brutal prison system, Ms. McEwen’s book is a compelling must-read for anyone who still believes justice should be blind, and that it is better that ten guilty men go free than to have one innocent man suffer.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Husband Ordered to Pay His Wife For His Outrageous Behavior

DSC00507 (2)It happens far too often in family law…a marriage breakdown that should and could be resolved, turns into scorched earth litigation.

Case in point: Madam Justice Watchuk in British Columbia’s Supreme Court walloped a litigant for his reprehensible behavior, ordering him to pay $35,000 to his wife. His over-the-top antics included rude, nasty, demeaning, and inflammatory language directed against his former wife, his wife’s lawyer and the court process itself, during a nineteen-day custody trial.

The usual rule in litigation is that the losing party must pay “costs” to the winning party. Costs are not, however, a reimbursement of the successful party’s legal fees, rather they are a contribution to them, usually amounting to about one-third.

In this case the judge ordered the father to pay “special costs”. These costs are intended to punish a litigant for outrageous or reprehensible behavior before the trial or during the court process.

What seemed to escape this belligerent litigant is that no judge will award shared parenting to an individual who is so out-of-control that he cannot rein in his rage in the face of the court.

Yes, there are litigants whose attitude and behavior is despicable, but they are smart enough to clean up their act by the time they get to court, as if butter couldn’t melt in their mouth. Often times these narcissistic creeps fool the court into believing they are the ones who have been abused.

What is common in these cases is that by the time the trial begins, they have alienated any lawyer who had the misfortune to try to assist them. As well, some percentage of these types of litigant don’t want a lawyer because they believe that acting in person allows them greater freedom to harangue, harass, and obfuscate the issues.

Unfortunately, many of these reprobates simply ignore court orders and it would not surprise me if this woman never sees the money she has been awarded, particularly because the fellow in this case spent a lot of his time in the United Kingdom.

But, you may say, once the trial is done, it’s over? Not so fast…these litigants often appeal the trial court’s decision and for good measure, often report their spouse’s lawyer to the Law Society alleging unfounded unethical conduct.

Wise words to family law lawyers: Run as fast as you can when you see this kind of client. It is never worth it…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Human Trafficking Allegations Against BC Woman Proven False

GAL & PAL #2jpgI can only imagine the relief and joy West Vancouver businesswoman, Mumtaz Ladha, must have experienced after Madam Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon of the British Columbia Supreme Court acquitted her of all charges in relation to the allegations that she enticed a young African woman to come to Canada to work as her unpaid slave.

And to those who may think that the acquittal was simply because these kinds of charges are notoriously difficult to prove, Judge Fenlon laid waste to that theory, declaring that Ms. Ladha’s generosity was exploited by the young Tanzanian woman, who took advantage of the situation in an attempt to remain in Canada.

The judge said:

“I wish to emphasize that this is not a case in which I am left with only a reasonable doubt about whether the offences occurred….

I am left, rather, with the conviction that the allegations made by (the complainant) are improbable. On the evidence before me, it appears far more likely that the complainant took advantage of Mr. Ladha’s generosity in order to come to Canada and then took advantage of an opportunity she saw to remain in this country, showing a callous disregard for her benefactor and the truth in the process.”

What is appalling is that Ms. Ladha’s legal ordeal took four years to resolve. For four years, she lived with the stigma and shame of allegations that painted a false picture of her as a cruel, wealthy, woman capable of concocting a plan to coerce a naïve young woman into servitude.

While the judge focused on the alleged victim’s lack of credibility, she also noted that when Ms. Ladha was first faced with the allegations she defended her accuser to investigators exclaiming that she was “an innocent child who must have been pushed to do this.”

It is always heartening to see the justice system work, now if we can just get it to work a little faster.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Legal Nightmare Documented in B.C. Judge’s Reasons

BarristerWhat would your life look like if you were engaged in protracted family law litigation requiring more than fifty court appearances before 28 different Judges and Masters of the Court, over a period of 15 years?

“Hell on earth” would be an apt description for Laura Koch and Graham Underhill, the divorced parents of two children who have used the British Columbia Supreme Court as their public battleground since 1997.

In reviewing Mr. Justice Grove’s Reasons (2013 BCSC 1889), several aspects of Koch v. Underhill are noteworthy. Firstly, their legal rollercoaster began with an ex parte or without notice application to the court, wherein Ms. Koch received interim custody of the children who were ages three and one. A variety of restraining orders were also put in place barring Mr. Underhill from any activity that involved his wife and children.

In numerous posts I have decried the damage done when parents go to court behind their partner’s back to obtain life-changing orders, a practice that in my opinion usually leads to ugly, soul-destroying litigation, just like it did here.

As is typical in cases such as these, a succession of court hearings quickly followed the initial ex parte hearing, resulting in a more balanced order that saw the ex parte order set aside, the interim custody order deleted, and joint guardianship ordered.

Ten months later the parties agreed to share joint custody and equal parenting of their children, but by this time they had been back to court seven more times.

Another trigger that often leads to high-conflict in family law cases are allegations of mental illness and substance abuse. In 2002 the Koch v. Underhill litigation machine wound up again resulting in orders for production of psychiatric files, medical intervention, and a change in the equal parenting arrangement, with the children ordered to live primarily with their father.

The third significant factor in this case was Mr. Underhill’s longstanding refusal to provide proper financial disclosure, a situation that is often referred to as the “cancer of matrimonial litigation”.

Mr. Justice Groves remarked that despite Mr. Underhill’s “limited” disclosure it was apparent he was a very wealthy individual, which brings up the fourth element often found in marathon family law litigation, a litigant with “deep pockets”.

Through much of the litigation Mr. Underhill was represented by counsel, while Ms. Koch acted for herself, after her resources ran dry.

The Koch/Underhill saga is a textbook treatise that shows how warring spouses/parents can ruin their lives…and for what? To win? What about their children and the psychological damage they have inflicted on them? It is shameful…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang