Who Knew? DNA Isn’t Always Reliable

GeorgiaLeeLang016DNA evidence has proven to be a godsend for police investigators and a nightmare for criminals, whose skin, hair, blood, and other bodily fluids can provide damning proof of their involvement in criminal cases, usually involving sexual assault and homicide.

Florida rapist, Tommie Lee Andrews, has the ignominious distinction of being the first offender in the United States to be convicted as a result of DNA evidence. DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid, contains a genetic blueprint that  unequivocally identifies each person, with the exception of identical twins, who share the same DNA profile. Two years after Mr. Andrews’ conviction, a Virginia killer, Timothy Wilson Spencer, nicknamed the “South Side Strangler” was sentenced to death in 1987 after DNA linked him to multiple rapes and murders in Virginia.

The infamous “Green River Killer”, Gary Ridgeway, who murdered 49 women in the Seattle/Tacoma area in the 1980’s and 1990’s, mostly prostitutes and runaways, was eventually caught through DNA.  He plead guilty after learning that police had definitively confirmed that sperm on several of this victims matched his DNA. He later confessed to another dozen murders.

That DNA evidence initially baffled jurors is best illustrated by the 1995 murder trial of OJ Simpson, where despite unimpeachable blood evidence a jury acquitted Mr. Simpson of the murders of his former wife and her friend Ron Goldman. The public outcry of his acquittals underscored the public’s new understanding of the science behind DNA.

However, Scientific American reports in their June 2016 journal that DNA evidence, thought to be foolproof, recently implicated an innocent man, where “touch” DNA was used as evidence of his involvement in a murder.

Lukis Anderson, a homeless man in California, was charged with the murder of Silicon Valley multi-millionaire Raveesh Kumra based on DNA evidence. While Anderson’s DNA was found on Mr. Kumra, his alibi was rock-solid. At the time of the murder Mr. Anderson had been drunk, near comatose, and in hospital under medical supervision.

How is that possible you say? Anderson’s legal team discovered that the paramedics who arrived at the murder victim’s home had also treated Mr. Anderson earlier that day and inadvertently “planted” his DNA at the murder crime scene. While this is an isolated case, it shows that blindly relying on DNA, particularly from skin cells, carries with it a significant risk.

Mr. Anderson was arrested and spent more than five months in jail after he was connected to the slaying of Mr. Kumra. Eventually two Oakland gang members and a prostitute were charged in the murder which occurred during a home invasion at the victim’s mansion.

Law-enforcement agencies around the world are assembling DNA databases, which have yielded matches that investigators may otherwise have missed. The FBI now has DNA records on more than 5 million convicted offenders, and sex offenders in all 50 states are required to submit DNA samples to law enforcement.

Canada’s DNA Bank originated in 2000 and has two categories: DNA collected from crime scenes, and DNA taken from convicted offenders who have been subject  to court orders permitting the RCMP to take DNA samples.

Government records show that over 237,000 DNA profiles are in the convicted offender category and more than 71,000 are in the crime scene bank.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Florida Man Sentenced to 33 Years for Fatal DUI

GeorgiaLeeLang032Kenneth Jenkins, age 33, of Florida just received the stiffest sentence possible for driving drunk in 2008, a drive that ended with the death of three persons. His response? He blames his lawyers.

Jenkins was driving his car on I-95 freeway when he collided head on with a Mercedes carrying Boris Rappaport, age 54, Rappaport’s mother, Renee, age 78, Renee’s boyfriend, Robert Rutman, age 83, and Angelina Pagliuca, age 58. Ms. Pagliuca survived the crash.

His blood alcohol reading was .182, more than twice Florida’s legal limit. Despite evidence that he was the wrong-way driver, his lawyers attempted to prove that it was the Mercedes that was in the wrong. During the sentencing hearing last week, Jenkins told the court that he wanted to accept the blame but his lawyers pursued that strategy and that he trusted his lawyers. He testified that he had no memory of the accident.

But Jenkins’ “nail in the coffin” was a video taken by a private investigator hired by one of the deceased’s relatives, handed over to the court, and viewed by the judge reviewing the sentence imposed at the urging of Jenkins’ new lawyers. The video was taken just before the sentencing hearing and showed Jenkins, out on bail, playing “beer pong” at a local bar. Judge Charles Burton said:

” engaging in a drinking game on the eve of sentencing is a slap in the face and an affront to the victims and their survivors and friends.”

Jenkins’ lawyers suggested to the Court that if it were not for his previous lawyers delaying the resolution of his case, he would not have had an opportunity to play beer pong and that by not pursuing an early guilty plea, they prejudiced Mr. Jenkins.

Judge Burton was not impressed with the suggestion that Jenkins had been let down by his previous counsel saying:

“the trial lawyers conducted themselves professionally and competently by investigating the case, especially in light of the fact that there were two witnesses who suggested that the victims were going in the wrong direction.”

Florida State sentencing guidelines call for a minimum of 32 years, 10 1/2 months in prison and a maximum life term.  Judge Richard Oftedal, the original sentencing judge, could have justified a sentence going below the minimum but declined.

The Florida Department of Corrections reports that inmates typically serve about 85% of their sentence before they are paroled.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Watch What You Say Online or Be Sued

A  divorce  lawyer in Florida was awarded $350,000 in punitive damages for false statements made by a former client who was unhappy with the services she received from her lawyer.

Both the client and her ex-husband  posted comments on multiple websites which read:

“This lawyer represented me in my divorce. She was combative and explosive and took my divorce to a level of anger which caused major suffering of my minor children. She insisted I was an emotionally abused wife who couldn’t make rational decisions which caused my case to drag on in the system for a year and a half so her FEES would continue to multiply!! She misrepresented her fees with regards to the contract I initially signed. The contract she submitted to the courts for her fees were 4 times her original quote and pages of the original had been exchanged to support her claims, only the signature page was the same. Shame on me that I did not have an original copy, but like an idiot . . . I trusted my lawyer. Don’t mistake sincerity for honesty because I assure you, that in this attorney’s case, they are NOT the same thing. She absolutely perpetuates the horrible image of attorneys who are only out for the money and themselves. Although I know this isn’t the case and there are some very good honest lawyers out there, Mrs. G.  is simply not one of the “good ones. Horrible horrible experience. Use anyone else, it would have to be a better result.”

“I accepted an initial VERY fair offer from my ex. Mrs. G. convinced me to “crush” him and that I could have permanent etc. Spent over a year (and 4 times her original estimate) to arrive at the same place we started at. Caused unnecessary chaos and fear with my kids, convinced me that my ex cheated (which he didn’t), that he was hiding money (which he wasn’t), and was mad at ME when I realized her fee circus had gone on long enough and finally said “stop”.  Altered her fee structures, actually replaced original documents with others to support her charges and generally gave the kind of poor service you only hear about. I’m not a disgruntled ex-wife. I’m just the foolish person who believes that a person’s word should be backed by integrity. Not even remotely true in this case. I’ve had 2 prior attorneys and never ever have I seen ego and monies be so blatantly out of control.”

Both the client and her ex-husband appealed the damage award, however, just before the appeal was to be heard the ex-husband withdrew his appeal saying that he had settled the matter with the attorney.

 

His ex-wife however, did not abandon her appeal and the appellate court remarked that even if she had, they would not have dismissed the appeal, because it raised an important issue with respect to free speech protections vis a vis reviews of professional services posted on the internet. The court said the issue merited discussion as it presented a scenario that would likely occur again.

At trial, both defendants admitted they had posted the online reviews. The evidence at trial included a written retainer agreement signed by the attorney’s client which proved that the lawyer had not charged her four times more than what was quoted in the agreement, a fact both defendants later admitted.

If a statement is true it will not be defamatory, but in this case the alleged overcharging was a falsehood. It simply wasn’t true. The appeal court rejected the defendant’s suggestion that their rights of free speech protected them from voicing their “opinion” online.

 

The court disagreed saying:

“An action for libel will lie for a ‘false and unprivileged publication by letter, or otherwise, which exposes a person to distrust, hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy or which causes such person to be avoided, or which has a tendency to injure such person in [their] office, occupation,  or business….”

 

The lesson here is to think twice before you publicly criticize a service provider, but if you feel compelled to do so, you better be sure you can prove your comments are true.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee

 

 

Second Attempt to Reform Spousal Support Crashes and Burns

GEO CASUALIt almost happened in 2013 as proponents of alimony reform in Florida heralded what they believed was the forthcoming passage of new laws eliminating lifetime spousal support and introducing other significant changes in alimony laws. However, women’s groups and divorce attorneys convinced Governor Rick Scott to veto the new law and the hopes of overburdened spouses were dashed.

Fast forward to 2015 where two separate alimony reform bills were introduced to legislators. Florida’s Senate embraced a bill that would end life time spousal support and provide a calculation for the amount and length of support based on the length of the spouses’ marriage and their respective incomes. Not content to focus on alimony reform, it also contained a provision mandating 50/50 shared parenting.

Meanwhile, a similar but separate bill was the subject of debate in Florida’s House where it handily passed.

While the Senate bill raised the heated controversy surrounding equal parenting, the House bill merely added a policy statement that
a child’s interests are usually best served by having both parents involved in his or her life. The bill did not seek to introduce a presumption in favor of either parent for time-sharing, relying as it did on a policy of maximum contact with each parent.

Florida media outlets reported that Senator Tom Lee stood in the way of the Senate’s acceptance of the House bill because of an alleged grudge he held related to his own divorce 15 years earlier, an allegation denied by Senator Lee. Lee was a vocal proponent of 50/50 parenting and would not vote in favour of the House bill’s “watered-down” version.

Nonetheless, the House and Senate’s decision to mix shared parenting with spousal support reform was a significant factor in the demise of alimony reform.

It appears the philosophy of reformers is to try to fix all the perceived ills of family laws in one fell swoop, a strategy that has backfired in other jurisdictions. Pundits say that had the bill dealt strictly with alimony it would likely have passed.

As it is now, lifetime alimony remains and it may be another two years before a further attempt is made. My suggestion? Deal with alimony and get that law passed. Phase 2 can then focus on shared parenting, however, laws that are “extreme”, such as a strict 50/50 formula or retroactivity are less attractive to major interest groups, including family law lawyers and women’s rights groups, who hold significant sway over public opinion.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Lawyer’s Arrest Mid-Trial a Set-up by Opposing Counsel

10950859361151CDPFlorida radio “shock-jocks”, “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem and Todd “MJ” Schnitt were engaged in an ugly defamation lawsuit, a case that spun out for five years, culminating in a tough-fought court battle that ended with Bubba declaring himself the victor. But the conflict between the two radio DJ’s took a back seat to the drama that unfolded when MJ’s lawyer, C. Phillip Campbell Jr., was busted for drunk driving in the middle of the trial.

Lawyer Campbell apparently got under the skin of Bubba’s lawyers at Adams & Diaco, so much so they repeatedly brought motions before the trial judge to have him removed as MJ’s counsel, with zero success. But according to Mr. Campbell’s DUI lawyer and the prosecuting attorney, Adams & Diaco found another way to get back at their courtroom adversary.

After court Mr. Campbell walked from his office/apartment to Tampa’s Malio’s Prime Steakhouse two blocks away. An attractive paralegal in the employ of Adams & Diaco was in the restaurant and saw Campbell. She quickly contacted her bosses and asked if she “there was anything she should do?” Following instructions Melissa Personious began a flirtation with Mr. Campbell, lying about who she worked for, and buying him drinks. Campbell wasn’t driving and enjoyed a few drinks.

Shortly after Campbell and Personious connected, lawyer Adam Filthaut from Adams & Diaco called a police officer friend who sat outside the restaurant for three hours waiting for Campbell to leave. Unfortunately, Campbell ended up driving Ms. Personious home in her vehicle, but was stopped and charged with DUI within the first five blocks. He refused to take a breathalyzer.

Notably, at the time Adams & Diaco contacted the police Campbell was stone-cold sober and upon his arrest there was no evidence he was over the limit for alcohol consumption.

During the investigation it became apparent that Ms. Personious was in constant contact with her employers, sending and receiving over 200 text messages and phone calls.

Eventually the charges against Mr. Campbell were dropped, the prosecutors comments included words like “collaboration” and “organized effort”. They said the intense communication between the paralegal and Adams & Diaco was “jaw-dropping”.

Campbell’s lawyer, John Fitzgibbons said:

“It is now absolutely clear that Mr. Campbell was the victim of a devious setup, And all honest and ethical police officers and lawyers should be deeply troubled over what happened.”

Meanwhile, Bubba tweeted:

“This setup nonsense has nothing to do with me or the fact that a jury of my peers found in my favor vs Todd Schnitt. This was just another weak attempt from the losers to justify why they got their a– kicked in court by me/jay diaco.”

Thankfully Adams & Diaco’s “dirty tricks” were the subject of discipline proceedings. Last month Stephen Diaco was disbarred with a stipulation that he could not apply for re-entry into the Florida bar for five years, and would have to retake the bar exam.

Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut entered conditional consent guilty pleas that would impose upon each lawyer a 91-day suspension and requirement to attend ethics school.

The Florida Bar’s Creed of Professionalism includes the following:

“I will strictly adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of my profession’s code of ethics, to the extent that the law permits and will at all times be guided by a fundamental sense of honor, integrity, and fair play.”

Lawyers like these need to be ferreted out of the profession.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Hide and Seek: Non-Disclosure in Family Law

352c45a9a449851d47da3cd61856bca7At the end of a marriage, each spouse has a legal obligation to make honest disclosure of the assets in their name, possession or control. A colourful British Columbia judge called the absence of accurate disclosure the “cancer of matrimonial litigation”, and he was right.

Spouses who initiate the costly game of “hide and seek” have characteristics in common, and that is arrogance and greed.

Whether they accumulate assets off-shore, stash them in trusts and corporations, or transfer them to family members and friends, the result is the same for the non-owning spouses who must spend tens of thousands of dollars to track the concealed assets, often with limited success.

The latest player in this high-stakes game is John Sculley, the former CEO of Apple, whose business and entrepreneurial skills are legendary. Most notably he took Apple from an $800 million company to one worth $8 billion, firing Apple’s visionary founder Steve Jobs along the way.

John Sculley and his wife Carol Lee Sculley were married for 32 years when Ms. Sculley learned of her husband’s romantic liaison with an Apple employee, kept under wraps for almost ten years.

The Sculley’s settled their divorce in 2011,a process that allegedly belied John Sculley’s true net worth. He disclosed $4.8 million dollars worth of assets, and according to Ms. Sculley’s court documents, hid over $25 million in assets through a variety of corporations and the transfer of assets to his brothers Arthur and David, his co-founders in their investment firm Sculley Brothers.

Now Ms. Sculley is suing her ex-husband in Palm Beach Florida for breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation, seeking damages and her share of the hidden assets, a shopping list of twenty or more corporate entities. She alleges that Mr. Sculley began his asset scam ten years before the parties separated, a date that coincides with his extra-marital relationship.

At the time of their divorce and property settlement in 2011 their respective lawyers were quoted in Forbes saying:

“We’re trying to get through this as privately as possible,” said Martin Haines, Sculley’s attorney.

Said her lawyer, Josh Ferraro: “I think this will be amicable.”

Yeah, right?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Law Firm Caught Up in Bogus Sunken Treasure Find

DSC00275_1Jay Miscovich was a bright man, with a medical degree in his pocket, but he preferred the world of business and real estate investments until, down-on-his-luck, he turned his talents to finding sunken treasure off the coast of Florida.

He told a story about running into an old friend in a bar in Key West, who showed him some salvage fragments which appeared to be from a Spanish galleon. He purchased a map from his friend for $500.00, where X marked the spot of a possible treasure trove of sunken artifacts and perhaps more.

He and a buddy, later a partner in the company they incorporated, began diving in the location marked on the map and lo and behold, they discovered over 80 pounds of emeralds on the ocean floor. But under Florida law they needed the admiralty court to confirm their find and legally recognize their ownership.

It was not to be as straight-forward as they hoped.

A well-established treasure salvage company, Motivation Inc., who in the 1980’s staked claims to two Spanish galleons that sunk in 1622 and rescued over $400 million dollars in booty, including gold and silver, challenged Mr. Miscovich’s claim, saying the area where the emeralds were found, was part of their salvage operations, 30 miles off the Key West coast.

Miscovich needed a lawyer and hired the well-respected firm of Young Conaway in Delaware. Young Conaway partner, Bruce Silverstein, ran the case and became an investor in the project as well. Silverstein engaged counsel in Florida to represent Miscovich in admiralty court. Young Conway’s legal fees would be paid from a percentage of the treasure, after sufficient monies were raised from investors to conduct the salvage operation.

Under the intense scrutiny of Motivation Inc., Jay Miscovich’s tale of treasure began to fall apart. Lab tests revealed that the emeralds were coated with a 20th century epoxy. But it was to get worse.

In later court proceedings a Florida jeweller testified that Mr. Miscovich purchased $50,000 worth of low-quality emeralds from him several months before the “find”.

Jay Miscovich committed suicide once the fraud began to unravel.

An investor’s group filed a $10 million dollar lawsuit against Silverstein and his firm, alleging that the goal of the enterprise was to extract money from investors and lenders, and conceal and perpetuate the fraud.

They also claimed that Miscovich fraudulently pumped up the value of the emeralds by causing Young Conaway to file false documents. Finally, they said Young Conaway’s litigation tactics were intended to “thwart and intimidate” the opposition by imposing “enormous litigation and investigation costs”.

Motivation Inc. had earlier brought a lawsuit against Young Conaway for fraud and bar sanctions against Bruce Silverstein, alleging that Silverstein aided and abetted Miscovich’s fraud, while deliberately delaying the legal proceedings by filing frivolous applications designed to overwhelm Motivation Inc.in a paper war.

This week a Florida court threw out Motivation’s fraud claims against Young Conaway, but agreed that Bruce Silverstein must face a sanctions hearing, not a trifling matter in the practice of law.

In the meantime, the investor’s claims are still alive, pending an upcoming trial.

As for attorney Silverstein, it is reported that he has an impeccable reputation with both the bar and the bench, and is highly offended by the allegations that he knowingly participated in the fraud. Young Conaway’s view is that they are innocent victims of their client’s treasure hunt scam.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Enraged Husband Attacks Wife in Court After Child Support Order Pronounced

_DSC4851Catherine Gonzalez, age 23, was forced to go to court to get an order that her husband pay child support, an application that is brought routinely in family law courts across North America, when a parent refuses to pay support voluntarily.

Her husband Paul Gonzalez Jr., a former Marine, was enraged when Judge Geoffrey Cohen made the order and stormed out of the Judge’s chambers. But he returned, and attacked his wife, in front of Judge Cohen and her lawyer, pummeling his wife with his fists. Ms. Gonzalez suffered significant injuries including a broken nose, a broken jaw, a torn lip, a concussion, and severe bruises to her face and eyes.

The beating ended with the intervention of Ms. Gonzalez’s lawyer and court bailiffs who confronted Mr. Gonzalez with a stun gun.

The Court threw the book at Mr. Gonzalez, sentencing him to 15 years in prison for the brutal assault on his wife, despite testimony from the a psychologist that he suffered from bi-polar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Judge Cohen was particularly incensed by Mr. Gonzalez’s attack in a court of law, where participants had every right to feel safe. The sentence he imposed was more than three times Florida’s maximum sentence for aggravated battery.

Earlier, Ms. Gonzalez had sought a restraining order against her husband but couldn’t persuade a judge to make that order.

In courts in British Columbia where counsel are concerned that one of the parties may become violent, a special request is made to ensure that a sheriff is in the courtroom during the hearing.

It is a shame that Ms. Gonzalez’s fear of her husband’s threatening behavior was not taken seriously, by anyone

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang