Family Law News & Views 2012

 

 

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July 2012

WEST VIRGINIA   

Court orders Putnam family judge to rule in divorce or be held in contempt

By Lawrence Smith  -Statehouse Bureau, West Virginia Record

07-06-12 -- A Putnam County family law judge facing disciplinary action for his lack of professionalism in a Hurricane pastor's divorce could be held in contempt if he fails to render a decision in another divorce by next week. . . . The state Supreme Court in a memorandum opinion issued July 5 ordered Judge William M. "Chip" Watkins III to make rulings on motions before him in the divorce of John J. and Nancy Black by Tuesday, July 10 or be held in contempt. The Court's ultimatum came in response to a writ of mandamus John Black filed last month after Watkins not once, but twice ignored orders by Putnam County's two circuit judges that he rule on the motions that have been pending for almost two years. . . . Memorandum opinions are issued by the Court in cases that would not be significantly aided by oral arguments, and present no new or significant questions of law.


WEST VIRGINIA   

Family judge won’t face complaint over screaming

By Kate White, The Charleston Gazette

07-03-12 -- The West Virginia Supreme Court administrator said Tuesday he won't file a complaint against a Putnam Family Court judge who screamed at a pastor during his divorce hearing. . . . Steve Canterbury said that because Putnam Family Court Judge William Watkins has recused himself from the Rev. Arthur Hage's divorce case, a complaint from Canterbury is not warranted. . . . "I think the judge is embarrassed, and certainly contrite, about his outburst," Canterbury said, "and I think he has rightfully recused himself."

YouTube: Greatest Moments from Putnam County Judge, William Watkins' Tirade to Pastor Arthur Hage.


June 2012

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA  

Fathering Court helps fathers and mothers be better parents

By Courtland Milloy, The Washington Post  

06-17-12 -- When it comes to difficulties between mothers and fathers, it doesn’t get much tougher than the cases in Fathering Court. The program, which operates within the D.C. Superior Court system, helps men returning from prison reconnect with their children and learn to get along with the mothers. . . . In worst-case scenarios, a man will have sex with several women and discover after his release from prison that he now has several children. . . . “The fundamental problem is that too many people are having babies before they are prepared to take care of them,” said D.C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee Jr., who presides over the program. “Once the child is born, however, we are in a race against time to get the parents working together. Or else the cycle of fatherlessness and delinquency will never be broken.”


Divorce Costs: 10 Things Lawyers Don't Want You To Know

SmartMoney  |  By Catey Hill  

06-18-12 -- Our heart-to-heart on why it costs so much and takes so long to get out of wedlock.

1. You'll pay more than the advertised rate -- way more.

The U.S. divorce rate has nearly doubled since 1960, according to the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and the number of divorce lawyers has grown apace. Though divorce rates leveled off during the recession, competition among divorce lawyers has increased -- and billboards flashing "Quick and Easy Divorce for $299" reveal how desperate for business they've become. Those teaser prices aren't a scam, says Randy Kessler, chair of the American Bar Association's family law section, but they usually apply only to parties who have already agreed on the terms and just need the lawyer to fill in the forms. It's clients who don't fall into that category who are likely to pay more. Of course, such come-ons are partly "just to get you in the door," warns Sari Friedman, a New York City matrimonial lawyer. (Check out all 10 Things)


DELAWARE  

Top Delaware Court Reprimands Business Solo for Resisting Mandatory Family Court Appointments

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

06-19-12 -- Delaware's top court has publicly reprimanded a 16-year solo business law practitioner for resisting multiple court appointments to handle matters in Sussex County's family court. . . . Although John M. Murray had argued that it was his responsibility to inform clients and the court that he was not experienced in family court or litigation matters, the Board on Professional Responsibility said, in a report attached to the Delaware Supreme Court's order (PDF) on Monday that it is a long-standing tradition in Sussex County for lawyers to take on such cases outside their usual area of expertise.


NEW JERSEY  

Sheriff's Officers Join Sweep of Child Support-Delinquent Parents

By Press Release | Cape May County Herald   

06-15-12 -- Sheriff Gary Schaffer announced that the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office participated in a statewide sweep of delinquent parents that resulted in the arrest of 1,056 non-custodial parents who were issued warrants and who have failed to pay their court ordered child support. . . . Additional targets included parents who have failed to appear at court hearings to establish a child support order or order for medical support. . . . The Sweep was hosted in cooperation with the New Jersey office of Child Support Services [OCSS]. . . .The Sheriffs’ Association of New Jersey [SANJ] is the lead agency in this event as per the Sheriff IV-D Cooperative Agreement between OCSS and the Sheriff’s Association, as authorized under Federal Regulation 45 CFR 302.34. The OCSS has commended both the Sheriffs’ Association of New Jersey and the Judiciary for collaboratively supporting the Sheriffs.


NEW YORK  

Judge rules man does not have to return wife's topless honeymoon pictures

Sandra Abrams is using the photos to sue him for sexual harassment

By Barbara Ross / New York Daily News

06-05-12 -- A FORMER assistant to a hedge-fund bigwig does not have to return a CD of his wife’s topless honeymoon pictures, which she’s using to sue him for sexual harassment, a judge ruled Monday. . . . The wife, Sandra Abrams, had argued that the snaps were legally hers because they depicted her bod, photographed by her husband on their camera.


Parents can be kidnappers: Court of Appeals

by Jessica Dye, Thomson Reuters News & Insights   

06-01-12 -- A divided New York Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that custodial parents can be convicted of kidnapping their children. . . . The 4-3 majority ruling upheld the 2009 conviction of Leo Leonard, who was charged with kidnapping, criminal possession of a weapon, burglary and endangering the welfare of a child. . . . Leonard was accused of holding his 6-week-old daughter at knifepoint after police arrived at his former girlfriend's home to investigate a reported domestic dispute. . . . He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. . . . Judge Robert Smith, writing for the majority, noted that the Court of Appeals was following in the footsteps of top appellate courts in Arizona, Florida and Iowa, in acknowledging that "kidnapping by a custodial parent of his own child is not a legal impossibility."


May 2012

NORTH DAKOTA  

Panel examining license issue: Lawyers question attorney’s suspension after late payments

North Dakota lawyers are raising questions about whether the state’s child support enforcement agency can suspend an attorney’s law license for late payments.

By: By Dale Wetzel, Associated Press | The Jamestown Sun   

05-29-12 -- The Child Support Enforcement Division of the North Dakota Department of Human Services has broad power to take away occupational licenses, as well as licenses needed to drive or hunt, as a means of ensuring payments are made on time. . . . Rudolph Tollefson, a lawyer from Devils Lake, had his law license suspended twice this year and last because of tardy payments. A North Dakota Supreme Court disciplinary panel had investigated Tollefson for a number of rules violations, including allegations that he practiced law while his license was suspended for not paying child support.


MARYLAND   

Maryland’s Highest Court OKs Same-Sex Divorce

By Mark Hansen, ABA Journal

05-22-12 -- Same-sex couples can't get married in Maryland yet. But those who marry elsewhere can now get divorced there. . . . The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled Friday that same-sex couples who have a valid marriage from another state can divorce in Maryland. . . . The court, in a 7-0 ruling (PDF), said Maryland courts should withhold recognition of a valid foreign marriage only if that marriage is "repugnant" to state public policy. It said that threshold is a high bar that had not been met in the case before it.


FLORIDA  

Florida woman sentenced to 20 years in controversial warning shot case

By the CNN Wire Staff 

05-11-12 -- Saying he had no discretion under state law, a judge sentenced a Jacksonville, Florida, woman to 20 years in prison Friday for firing a warning shot in an effort to scare off her abusive husband. . . . Marissa Alexander unsuccessfully tried to use Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law to derail the prosecution, but a jury in March convicted her of aggravated assault after just 12 minutes of deliberation. . . . The case, which was prosecuted by the same state attorney who is handling the Trayvon Martin case, has gained the attention of civil rights leaders who say the African-American woman was persecuted because of her race. . . . After the sentencing, Rep. Corrine Brown confronted State Attorney Angela Corey in the hallway, accusing her of being overzealous, according to video from CNN affiliate WJXT. . . . "There is no justification for 20 years," Brown told Corey during an exchange frequently interrupted by onlookers. "All the community was asking for was mercy and justice," she said.


OREGON  

Oregon veteran seeks Supreme Court review of divorce court allocation of his disability pay

By Mike Francis, The Oregonian

05-09-12 -- It's an argument that has raged in some veterans' circles for years: Do family courts have the right to consider income from veterans' benefits when calculating spousal or child support? A disabled Air Force reservist from Albany is seeking to bring the question before the U.S. Supreme Court -- again. . . . Peter Barclay argues that he shouldn't have been ordered by the Linn County Circuit Court to pay his ex-wife, Claudia Barclay, $1,000 a month in spousal support because the amount was calculated by combining his monthly Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits and his Social Security Disability benefits. He and his lawyer argue that federal law prohibits states from including VA disability benefits in such calculations, on the grounds that Congress intended such benefits to be for the welfare of the veteran. But the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court refused to overturn the Linn County Court.


NEW YORK  

Lawyer Faces Possible Discipline Over Epic Christmas Poem About Neverending Divorce Case

By Staci Zaretsky, Above the Law 

05-07-12 -- If you’ve been representing someone in a knock-down, drag-out, decade-long divorce action, with no end in sight, it’s understandable that you’d be a little pissed off. And while some attorneys prefer to write “not so sincere” letters calling opposing counsel “a**holes,” others find more creative ways to channel their anger for the sake of poetic justice. . . . And while poetry may be the best way to make passive-aggressive complaints about your case, the next time you’re considering writing a four-page, 60-line email riffing on a classic holiday poem, you might want to consider your audience. Some people might not be fans of your rhyme scheme…. . . . A. Todd Merolla, of Merolla & Gold, may soon be facing disciplinary action from a New York court thanks to an epic poem sent right before Christmas via email to opposing counsel and a special referee on the case. . . . Click to read Merolla’s Christmas Poem


MASSACHUSETTS   

Divorce Trifecta Results in Discipline for Counsel, Attorney Client and Lawyer Employer

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

05-01-12 -- A Massachusetts disciplinary matter concerning the handling of an attorney's divorce has resulted in a legal ethics trifecta: . . . The counsel who handled the divorce has been reprimanded, the attorney client was suspended from practice for three months and her lawyer employer was suspended for one month, reports the Legal Profession Blog. . . . At issue ethically were misrepresentations made concerning the income of Kathleen E. Kilkenny in a contested divorce proceeding. . . . Kilkenny, who was suspended for three months in 2010 by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has already been reinstated.


TRACKING YOUR CHILD HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER!!!

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April 2012

MICHIGAN  

Lawyer Who Got $50K Monthly Alimony for Client Faces Potential Disciplinary Action re Relationship

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

04-30-12 -- A Michigan matrimonial lawyer is facing potential disciplinary action after admitting that a relationship with a client in a high-profile divorce case over a decade ago violated an attorney ethics rule. . . . Even though Henry Baskin got a very good result for Linda Olson in her divorce from a general contractor and construction company owner John Olson, he admitted to in a Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission stipulation that his conduct nonetheless presented a legal ethics problem, Crain's Detroit Business reports. . . . Baskin "does not contest that, on the particular facts of this case, his conduct violated (state rules of professional conduct) in that a lawyer could not reasonably believe that the representation might not be adversely affected by the lawyer's personal interests," the stipulation says.


CALIFORNIA  

Petaluma teacher slain by husband, police say

Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle

04-17-12 -- A Petaluma schoolteacher and mother of four who was on her way to see her divorce lawyer was shot and killed by the former high school classmate she married two years ago, who then turned the gun on himself, police and friends said Monday. . . . Kim Conover, 43, who taught at a Petaluma elementary school, was shot by her estranged husband, 41-year-old Kevin Conover, outside a law office on Keller Street in downtown Petaluma about 2 p.m. Sunday, authorities said. He then shot himself with his revolver. . . . He died at the scene. Kim Conover died that evening at a hospital. . . . Not knowing whether there was still an active shooter, police responding to the scene briefly detained her attorney, Jeff Zimmerman, and handcuffed him before determining he was not involved, authorities said. Zimmerman declined to comment Monday.


NEW YORK  

NY Appeals Court OKs $12K Divorce Award for Value of Spouse’s Notre Dame Law Degree

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

04-13-12 -- A New York trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding a husband only 10 percent of the value assigned to his wife's law degree from Notre Dame University despite his contributions as the family's primary wage-earner and the child care he provided while his wife was in law school, a state appeals court has ruled. . . . Likewise, there was a solid basis for the trial court to agree with an expert for Victoria Esposito-Shea that the law degree had a value of $126,000, based on what it added to her earning potential, explained the Third Department of New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division in its April 5 opinion (PDF).


MARYLAND   

A court’s conundrum: When same-sex partners want to split

By Ellen McCarthy, The Washington Post 

04-09-12 -- When Jessica Port showed up in court Friday to pursue a divorce, she first stopped to consult with her lawyer. Then she crossed the room to hug her ex, chatting happily until it was time to be seated. . . . The electronic board outside the courtroom identified the case as “No. 69, Jessica Port v. Virginia Anne Cowan.” That title is misleading. Port and Cowan are on the same side of this case: They both want to get divorced. But a Prince George’s County judge said they could not, reasoning that because same-sex marriage is not legal in the state, neither is same-sex divorce. . . . Now the highest court in Maryland will decide whether he was right, and whether the women will be required to maintain a bond they’ve tried for almost two years to sever.


CALIFORNIA  

California judicial panel admonishes L.A. County commissioner

The state panel finds Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Alan H. Friedenthal had made 'discourteous, undignified, gratuitous and denigrating remarks' while presiding over family law cases.

By Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times  

04-04-12 -- A Los Angeles County Superior Court commissioner who made "discourteous, undignified, gratuitous and denigrating remarks" during family law cases was publicly admonished Tuesday by a state agency overseeing judges' discipline. . . . The Commission on Judicial Performance determined that Commissioner Alan H. Friedenthal should be "severely publicly admonished" for misconduct, including "humor at the expense of litigants," during five cases over which he presided from June 2007 to January 2009, according to an 18-page order made public Tuesday.


NEW YORK  

Divorced attorney can't recoup Madoff fraud losses

By Dan Wiessner, Thomson Reuters News & Insights      –

04-03-12 -- New York's top court has thrown out a Manhattan lawyer's bid to undo his divorce settlement and force his former wife to share in losses tied to Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Steven Simkin, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, was saddled with losses when a $5.4 million retirement account he retained as part of a 2006 divorce settlement tanked because of the Madoff fraud. . . . Simkin claimed that the inclusion of the account in the settlement was the result of a "mutual mistake" that rendered the pact void. . . . A unanimous Court of Appeals on Tuesday disagreed. "Given the extensive and carefully negotiated nature of the settlement agreement, we do not believe that this presents one of those exceptional situations warranting reformation or rescission of a divorce settlement after all martial assets have been distributed," Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote in a 6-0 ruling. Simkin, a partner in Paul, Weiss' real estate department, a lawyer and the executive director of labor relations for the City University of New York, separated from his wife, Laura Blank, in 2002 after three decades of marriage.


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March 2012

ILLINOIS  

Alimony Decision Shows How Layoff Affected BigLaw Partner

By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal

03-30-12 -- An Illinois divorce decision showcases the economic problems that can plague BigLaw partners ousted from their jobs during the recession. . . . The case involves David McLauchlan, who sought to modify an order that he pay his wife of more than 30 years $14,000 a month in monthly alimony after their divorce, the Am Law Daily reports. McLauchlan worked for 34 years at Lord Bissell & Brook, serving as an executive committee member and earning as much as $500,000 a year. . . . But in 2006, six years after his divorce became final, his earnings fell. His income continued on a downward trajectory as Lord Bissell merged with Locke Liddell & Sapp, falling to about $165,000 in 2008. McLauchlan was asked to leave. He launched a solo practice, even as he and his new wife were making payments on a $924,000 mortgage on a Chicago townhouse that now has an estimated value of $691,000.


FEDERAL COURTS

Fast-track plea on gay marriage

Lyle Denniston "SCOTUSblog," Reporter  

03-27-12 -- Seeking a fast track for two test cases on the constitutionality of the federal law barring benefits for legally married same-sex couples, the Obama Administration this week asked the Ninth Circuit Court to go directly into review before a full 11-judge bench instead of a three-judge panel.  Besides seeking such en banc review, the government urged the Court to put the issue on an expedited schedule with two pending cases joined.  The government’s filing Monday on the appeals, both titled Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management (Circuit dockets 12-15388 and 12-15409), is here.  At issue is the Defense of Marriage Act. . . . DOMA is a 1996 law that includes a section declaring that same-sex couples, even if married legally in a state allowing such unions, are ineligible for any benefits, rights or other protections provided to married couples under any federal law.  The government has estimated that there are 1,138 laws that are covered by DOMA’s Section 3.  That provision states that anywhere the word “marriage” appears in a federal law, it means only “a legal union between one man and one woman.”


OHIO  

Love means not having to say you're sorry, on Facebook

From: AAP, The Daily Telegraph 

03-20-12 -- A man who made comments about his estranged wife on his Facebook page and was threatened with jail unless he posted daily apologies for a month won't be locked up even though he didn't finish the job. . . . American Mark Byron agreed to begin posting the apology last month to avoid jail but later said the ruling violated his freedom of speech. . . . He stopped posting the apology after 26 days, but Judge Jon Sieve, of Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court, determined that he had posted it long enough, and Byron wasn't jailed. . . . Mr Byron, of Cincinnati, Ohio, said afterward that he was relieved not to be in jail, "but I was prepared to go to defend my free speech rights." . . . Mr Byron's attorney, Becky Ford, said she had filed a notice of appeal in a state court. . . . "We believe that by scripting and saying what he had to post on Facebook, the court violated his rights to free speech," Ford said.


NEW HAMPSHIRE  

NH court considers counsel for indigent parents

By Holly Ramer, Associated Press | Boston.com     

03-13-12 -- The New Hampshire Supreme Court is deciding whether New Hampshire should remain one of two states that doesn't guarantee indigent parents court-appointed lawyers in abuse and neglect proceedings. . . . For three decades, poor parents in New Hampshire were provided lawyers if they could not afford them, but funding was cut during the last legislative session. That prompted a lawsuit on behalf of parents, and the high court took up the issue Tuesday. . . . Lawyer Michael Shklar (SKLAR) told the court that parents who represent themselves are at an enormous disadvantage. But attorney Jeanne Herrick, representing the state, said the courts have adopted protocol to make sure parents understand the process and that they don't have a constitutional right to counsel.


MASSACHUSETTS   

New law stops injustice of paying alimony forever

By Stephen Hitner, Special to CNN 

Editor's note: Steve Hitner is president and founder of Mass Alimony Reform and the president of Metrowest Printing Co. He is a divorce consultant and mediator.

03-09-12 -- My marriage ended in 1995 after 23 years. My two daughters were adults. I knew I would be required to pay alimony, split the assets and provide health insurance for a reasonable period of time. But a marriage that had been difficult for many years was finally over, or so I thought. I didn't know I was about to enter the twilight zone of alimony-without-end in Massachusetts. . . . The trial took three days, and a judgment took 10 months. My legal bills were nearly $150,000. I was ordered to pay $865 a week -- forever. After 9/11, my business suffered, as many did, and I could not afford the payments. I racked up credit card debt that terrified me. I had to file for bankruptcy. . . . When I went to court to modify the alimony payment, the judge recused herself from the case, saying her husband had once played cards with the bankruptcy trustee, and I would have to start over. Something was very wrong, and I had to fix it. . . . I launched a website, MassAlimonyReform.org, and with my current wife, Jeanie, and several couples in similar situations, began what became the alimony reform movement.


FLORIDA  

Ex-Marine Gets 15 Years for Attacking Wife During Hearing in Judge’s Chambers

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

03-06-12 -- A man who fractured his wife's nose and broke her jaw during an attack last year in a Florida judge's chambers was sentenced Friday to a maximum 15-year prison term after pleading no contest to an aggravated battery charge. . . . Paul Henry Gonzalez Jr., 29, apologized profusely and sought, with his attorney, to persuade Judge Jeffrey Cohen to sentence him to four years in the Broward County case. However, the judge was apparently unmoved by the apology and defense psychiatric testimony that the ex-Marine suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder as well as a personality disorder. He called the attack an outrage, according to CBS Miami, the New York Daily News and the South Florida Sun Sentinel.


UTAH  

For an Easy, Affordable, Lawyer-Free Divorce, Check ‘Yes’: View

By the Bloomberg Editors

03-04-12 -- A controversy over divorce procedures in Texas is calling attention to a profound shift in the way Americans in all 50 states exit marriage: They’re going to court on their own, without lawyers. . . . Few courts keep statistics, but small studies and local estimates suggest that self-divorcers now make up 40 percent to 70 percent of the total, depending on the jurisdiction, with the highest numbers in places with relatively large populations of poor people. . . . Naturally, this is causing a lot of chaos at family courts, and extra work for clerks who are called upon to help multitudes of legal novices, often in the pangs of marital separation, work through the process. . . . The Supreme Court of Texas, like courts in dozens of other states and counties, wants to make things easier by providing do-it-yourself petitions, summonses and other forms needed to manage a divorce. Texas family lawyers are fighting back, arguing that the forms may not provide adequate help, that marriages are best dissolved with a lawyer’s advice and assistance.


OKLAHOMA  

Former Oklahoma County Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure gets deferred sentence in fraud case

Former Oklahoma County Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure and her husband Karlos LeSure received deferred sentences after pleading guilty to fraud in a case involving adopted twins.

By Tim Willert, Oklahoman Staff Writer  

03-02-12 -- Former Oklahoma County District Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure and her husband, Karlos LeSure, pleaded guilty to fraud Friday and were given deferred sentences. . . . They were accused of secretly giving away twin babies to Ravonda L. Edwards, the sister of the judge's bailiff, after the judge and her husband became foster parents for the twins. Edwards is also accused of fraud. . . . Bass-LeSure resigned March 1 as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. . . . Prosecutors alleged Edwards raised the boy and girl. Witnesses said the children called Edwards “Mommy,” and called the judge their aunt. . . . The children are now 4. . . . The judge and her husband became foster parents for the twins in 2008 and adopted them in 2010.


February 2012

GENERAL

Divorce lawyers: Pet custody cases increasing

By Sue Manning, Associated Press | San Francisco Chronicle 

02-28-12 -- They still fight like cats and dogs in divorce court. But more and more they are fighting about cats and dogs. . . . Custody cases involving pets are on the rise across the country. . . . In a 2006 survey by the 1,600-member American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a quarter of respondents said pet custody cases had increased noticeably since 2001. The academy is due for another survey, but there is no doubt such cases have grown steadily since then, said Ken Altshuler of Portland, Maine, a divorce attorney and AAML president.


Lawyers.com “Divorce and Family Law” Newsletter Launched

Free Electronic Publication Offers Practical Information for Consumers

EON: Enhanced Online News  

02-27-12 -- Lawyers.comSM, a leading legal website from LexisNexis® for consumers and small business owners, has a new, free electronic newsletter available on the site called Lawyers.com Divorce and Family Law. The newsletter provides legal news, practical advice and information consumers can use to learn about current developments in divorce and family law. Future articles may cover such topics as adoption, paternity, child abuse and domestic violence. Readers will also receive alerts about related chats occurring on the Lawyers.com blog, a top online destination for practical analysis of consumer legal news. **** The first issue of Lawyers.com Divorce and Family Law can be accessed via the following link: http://blogs.lawyers.com/2012/02/get-the-the-divorce-family-law-newsletter-free/


GEORGIA  

Court disbars Marietta attorney

By Janel Davis, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Georgia Supreme Court disbarred Marietta attorney Joan Palmer Davis on Monday for failing to adequately represent her client. . . . According to the court ruling, Davis failed to appear in court to represent her client in a 2008 child support case, then attempted to withdraw from the case without telling him. Davis also took the client’s fee and refused to return it.


GENERAL

Are Divorce Lawyers Necessary?

By Joe Palazzolo, Wall Street Journal (blog)   

02-24-12 -- In most (some would say all) cases, couples calling it quits benefit from legal representation. But legal representation can be pricey, so the Texas Supreme Court is considering fill-in-the-blank legal forms people can use in divorce cases instead of hiring lawyers. . . . Texas divorce lawyers, naturally, are opposed to the plan. . . . The WSJ’s Nathan Koppel reports that the fight is part of a larger trend around the country of people trying to represent themselves when they go to court to dissolve their marriages. While no comprehensive figures exist, surveys in some states and Texas counties indicate that a majority of parties in divorce cases do so, which can cause problems for the couples as well as the courts. . . . Thirty-six states already offer self-help forms for divorce filings, according to Koppel. The Texas Supreme Court last month finished drafts of its versions.


CALIFORNIA  

Attorney who pleaded guilty in adoptive-infants case faces sentencing

Poway lawyer accused of wire fraud, related to her role in a ring to pay surrogates, accepted a plea bargain. But characterizations of the case as 'baby-selling' put the defendant at a disadvantage in sentencing, the defense says.

By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times 

02-24-12 -- Poway attorney Theresa Erickson was a star in the complex, competitive, and sometimes lucrative business of helping childless couples adopt babies. . . . She was a frequent guest on national TV shows; she self-published a book on "assisted reproduction," and she presented herself on her website as a tireless, fearless advocate for adoption. Eager to expand her business, she was looking to attract gay clients. . . . A different Erickson will appear for sentencing Friday in San Diego federal court: an admitted felon, the alleged ringleader behind an international scheme to pay surrogates to carry embryos to term so the babies could be placed with couples throughout the United States.


TEXAS  

Gay Texas Judge Refuses to Perform Marriage Ceremonies

By Christina Ng, ABC News  

02-24-12 -- Texas Judge Tonya Parker cannot legally marry a woman in her state, so she refuses to perform any marriage ceremonies until there is equality. She finds it "oxymoronic" to perform a ceremony that cannot be performed for her. . . . Parker, an openly gay judge, told a group at a Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meeting Tuesday that when she turns a couple away, she uses it as an opportunity to teach them a lesson about marriage equality. . . . "I don't perform marriage ceremonies because we are in a state that does not have marriage equality and until it does, I'm not going to partially apply the law to one group of people that doesn't apply to another group of people," Parker said in a video of the Tuesday discussion. "And it's kind of oxymoronic for me to perform ceremonies that can't be performed for me, so I'm not going to do it." . . . A spokeswoman for the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct said the commission had no comment.


UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

Do grandparents get visitation rights? Supreme Court declines case

The Supreme Court declined to hear a case in which grandparents demanded to visit their grandchildren but the parents intervened. The lack of a decision leaves no clear constitutional standard on the issue.

By Warren Richey, The Christian Science Monitor Staff writer

02-21-12 -- Two Alabama grandparents have lost their bid to have court-ordered regular visits with their teenaged granddaughters. . . . The US Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up the grandparent’s appeal in a case testing when a judge can force objecting parents to permit regular visits between a grandparent and grandchildren. . . . The high court action allows a decision of the Alabama Supreme Court to stand. The Alabama high court had ruled in favor of the parents who opposed court-intervention in the grandparent visitation dispute.

How much do you know about the US Constitution? A quiz.

All 50 states have grandparent visitation laws in which a judge can require regular access to one’s grandchildren. . . . But what is less clear is how a judge is to rule when the child’s parents are opposed to such grandparent visitation.


ALABAMA  

Alabama court's wrongful death ruling used to recommend abandoning Roe 'viability' argument

FoxNews.com 

02-20-12 -- Life groups are hailing an opinion by an Alabama Supreme Court justice who argued that it's time to abandon the viability standard used in Roe v. Wade because medical breakthroughs -- backed by case law and legislation -- have shown a fetus is only as viable as the technology monitoring it. . . . The opinion by Judge Thomas Parker was issued Friday in the case of a woman who sued her doctors for wrongful death when her baby died in the womb while only three months in gestation. . . . The Alabama Supreme Court threw out a DeKalb Circuit Court summary judgment in favor of the defendants that held the wrongful-death action could not be maintained because the unborn child was not viable.


Alabama Supreme Court justice blasts U.S. abortion law

By Brian Lawson, The Huntsville Times

02-17-12 -- Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker took aim Friday at U.S. abortion law, using a DeKalb County case to call for states to reject the concept of "viability" of a fetus and give legal rights to the unborn. . . . The state court ruled unanimously Friday that a DeKalb County woman has the right to pursue a wrongful death claim against her doctors on behalf of her unborn child. The child was not old enough to live outside the womb, but a 2011 Alabama Supreme Court ruling said that such a claim could be filed even for a "previable fetus." The decision did not break new legal ground in abortion law. . . . In Roe vs. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court said the state has a "compelling" interest in the life of an unborn child when it reaches "viability," when it can survive outside the womb. The U.S. Supreme Court has not defined viability by the age of the fetus, but left it to be determined by the mother's doctors.


OHIO  

Ohio parents get prison in cancer death of son

Kim Palmer, Reuters | Chicago Tribune  

02-16-12 -- A Cleveland judge sentenced two parents Thursday to eight years in prison after they pleaded guilty to failing to get medical help for their eight-year-old boy before he died from a treatable form of cancer. . . . Judge Michael Astrab admonished Monica Hussing, 37, and William T. Robinson, Sr., 40, parents of William Robinson, Jr., for not taking personal responsibility for their son's March 2008 death and for hiding him away instead of seeking help for his illness. They received the maximum sentence. . . . The couple pleaded guilty in January to one count each of involuntary manslaughter. Hussing and Robinson were under investigation since 2005 by the Department of Family and Children Services in Trumbull County for keeping some of their six children out of school and failing to get medical attention for William.


CALIFORNIA  

Attorney calls for protection of parents in school abuse case

Sam Allen, Los Angeles Times  

02-09-12 -- A local immigrant rights group has called on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to provide protections for undocumented parents whose children were allegedly victimized in the Miramonte Elementary School teacher abuse scandal. . . . The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles asked for the sheriff to assure the parents that their immigration status will not be affected if they go to authorities with claims of abuse. . . . “Families are not speaking up because they are scared of being deported,” attorney Jessica Dominguez said at a news conference Thursday morning. . . . Dominguez also urged Sheriff Lee Baca to assign a detective to the case “who is very familiar with certifications of U-Visas.” If approved, these documents give victims legal status for up to four years. . . . The news conference also featured a father of a Miramonte student allegedly abused by teacher Mark Berndt. The father, who was identified only by his first name, Raymundo, said he did not go to authorities initially because he was afraid of being deported.


NEW YORK

Appeals court sets guidelines for alimony and child support

Thomson Reuters News & Insight

02-07-12 -- A New York appeals court ruled on Tuesday that judges may not deviate from a new formula for calculating temporary alimony and child support payments -- even to account for basic expenses such as mortgage payments -- without justifying their decision using a 2010 law's strict criteria. . . . The unanimous ruling by the Appellate Division, First Department, provided particular guidance for judges and attorneys who are litigating divorces in which one spouse is wealthier than the other. . . . Before 2010, judges had wide latitude to determine the appropriate temporary payments -- which are instituted during an ongoing divorce action -- "in such amount as justice requires." The new statute, a section of the Domestic Relations Law, requires judges to determine a presumptive amount of alimony by performing a series of mathematical calculations based on each spouse's incomes, up to $500,000, as shown on their recent tax returns.


FLORIDA

Flowers, dinner, bowling -- and counseling -- ordered by Broward judge in domestic case

By Danielle A. Alvarez, Sun Sentinel  

02-07-12 -- A marital spat that began when a Plantation man didn’t wish his wife a happy birthday and then escalated into a domestic violence charge, resulted in an unusual bond court ruling by a perceptive judge. . . . Instead of setting bond or keeping Joseph Bray locked up, he ordered him to treat his spouse to dinner, a bowling date and then to undergo marriage counseling.


CALIFORNIA  

Prop. 8: Gay-marriage ban unconstitutional, court rules

Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times 

02-07-12 -- A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage, clearing the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage as early as next year. . . . The 2-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that limited marriage to one man and one woman, violated the U.S. Constitution. The architects of Prop. 8 have vowed to appeal. . . . The ruling was narrow and likely to be limited to California. . . .  “Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California,” the court said.

DOCUMENT: Read the court's decision    FULL COVERAGE: Prop. 8


Prop. 8: Gay judge’s relationship not a factor, court rules

Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times 

02-07-12 -- The appeals court that overturned Proposition 8 on Tuesday also ruled that retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who ruled against the 2008 ballot measure banning same-sex marriage, was not obligated to step away from the case because he was in a long term same-sex relationship. . . . The panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said U.S. District Judge James Ware, who refused to overturn Walker's ruling on the grounds he failed to disclose his relationship, based the ruling on sound law and logic. . . . The court cited Ware's finding that it was unreasonable to presume a judge could not be unbiased simply because he or she might one day be affected by the ruling.


Prop 8 Ruling: Judges Invoke Marilyn Monroe, Movies and Jumbotrons

By Joshua L. Weinstein at TheWrap, Reuters 

02-07-12 -- The appellate court judges who ruled Tuesday that California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, mentioned Jumbotrons, Frank Sinatra, movies and Marilyn Monroe along with Supreme Court precedents in their decision. . . . "Had Marilyn Monroe’s film been called ‘How to Register a Domestic Partnership with a Millionaire,’ it would not have conveyed the same meaning as did her famous movie, even though the underlying drama for same-sex couples is no different," the judges wrote. . . . The judges wrote that in society, "We are excited to see someone ask, ‘Will you marry me?’, whether on bended knee in a restaurant or in text splashed across a stadium Jumbotron. Certainly it would not have the same effect to see, ‘Will you enter into a registered domestic partnership with me?’." . . . They even invoked Groucho Marx, William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln -- all in one paragraph:


NEW YORK  

Ethics Dunce: Judge Barbara Jaffe

Jack Marshall, Ethics Alarms 

02-06-12 -- New York Judge Barbara Jaffe disagrees with me on the issue I discussed here regarding Natalie Munroe, the elementary school teacher who still has her job despite professing her contempt and dislike for her elementary students and their parents on her blog. Thanks to Jaffe, Christine Rubino, whose online comments about her students were infinitely worse, has won a court challenge to her firing from her job teaching at PS 203 in Brooklyn, New York. The judge is wrong, and I am right. The judge is also a fool. . . . Imagine: last March,  the day after a 12-year-old Harlem schoolgirl drowned during a class trip to a Long Island beach, Rubino posted a vicious rant about her fifth-graders on her Facebook page. “After today,” she wrote, ” I’m thinking the beach is a good trip for my class. I hate their guts.”


FLORIDA  

Attorney: Man adopts girlfriend to preserve trust assets

By Douglas Stanglin, USA TODAY  

02-03-12 -- An attorney for the wealthy Floridian who legally adopted his adult girlfriend says the move is not illegal and was made "with the intention to preserve and grow the assets of the Trust for his two minor children, even should he personally be unable to continue his historical role in achieving these goals." . . . As On Deadline noted in a posting on Thursday, John Goodman, 48, is being sued by the parents of Scott Wilson, 23, who was killed in a traffic accident last February, according to The Palm Beach Post. . . . The newspaper, quoting a sheriff's report, says Goodman ran a stop sign and hit Wilson's car in Wellington, Fla. . . . Wilson's parents have sued Goodman. The trial is set for March 27. . . . The newspaper says Goodman also faces a criminal trial on March 6 on charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash. He could face up to 30 years in prison.


January 2012

CALIFORNIA  

LA to allow press, public into child abuse cases

Associated Press  | San Francisco Chronicle  

01-30-12 -- The presiding judge of Los Angeles' juvenile courts says he will allow better access for the press and public on hearings for child abuse and foster care cases. . . . The Los Angeles Times ( http://lat.ms/AihIEd) reports Judge Michael Nash says the news media is presumed to have a legitimate interest that allows them into hearings.


FLORIDA  

Judge: Abused boy looks like concentration camp victim

Abused, starved and naked, a 9-year-old boy was rescued by neighbors when he was found on the streets. A Miami judge Monday demanded to know how it happened.

By Carol Marbin Miller & David Ovalle, The Miami Herald

01-30-12 -- Joseph Lee studied a color snapshot of his 9-year-old nephew Monday as a Miami child-welfare judge glanced at Lee. . . . The judge was looking for signs that Lee was as disturbed by the photo as she was. But Lee simply stared at the picture. . . . “I’m looking for words,” Lee said. “I was not aware of any of this.” . . . The photo, which was not released publicly, depicted a little boy who had become so emaciated that his bones protruded from his skin, and his eyes bulged from their sockets, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman said. She likened him to a concentration camp survivor. . . . The boy was discovered by police wandering his North Miami Beach neighborhood Saturday — beaten, naked and starving. His parents, 34-year-old Marsee Strong and 40-year-old Edward Bailey, remain at the Miami-Dade County Jail on charges of aggravated child abuse and neglect. On Monday afternoon, they were still jailed and had yet to post $65,000 bail. . . . The boy and four of his siblings were placed in the custody of Lee, a maternal uncle who was ordered by the judge not to allow the boy’s parents any contact with him. Lee also agreed to adopt the children if their parents are unable to regain custody. The boy also has an 18-year-old sister who is pregnant.


ALABAMA  

Judge no more: Warner banned from Alabama bench

Written by Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser

01-27-12 -- Former Montgomery County family court Judge Patricia Warner and the Judicial Inquiry Commission filed an agreement Friday that forbids Warner from ever serving as a judge in Alabama again. . . . Warner has lived in North Dakota since abruptly retiring from the bench last June, days before an ethics complaint containing 74 separate charges was filed against her. . . . Under the terms of the agreement, the Alabama Court of Judiciary found that Warner created "the appearance of impropriety" in a child custody case, in violation of Canon 2 of the state Canons of Judicial Ethics. . . . The remaining 73 charges against Warner -- including accusations of mishandled cases and entering orders without hearings or evidence to support them -- were dismissed.


NEVADA  

Outside Judge Sides with Prosecutor, Says Judge Jones Should Step Down From Family Court Case

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

01-23-12 -- Concluding the latest battle in an ongoing war between a Nevada family court judge and at least some members of the local prosecutor's office, an outside judge brought in to hear a recusal motion has determined that Judge Steven Jones should step aside from a child welfare case. . . . Earlier, Jones banned an assistant Clark County prosecutor, Michelle Edwards, from his courtroom after she helped expose his romance with another member of the prosecutor's office, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. But it is Jones who should step aside, because he earlier admitted he is biased against Edwards, Judge Susan Johnson ruled in a 10-page opinion.


FLORIDA  

Wife of Man Paying Alimony Despite Advanced Alzheimer’s Among Those Pushing Reform

By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal

01-19-12 -- The wife of a 72-year-old man still paying alimony despite advanced Alzheimer’s is part of a reform movement seeking to change the laws in several states. . . . Linda Morgan of Lehigh Acres, Fla., says her husband, retired physician Michael Morgan, has been paying alimony since 1992 when his 36-year marriage ended, USA Today reports. As Michael Morgan’s disease progressed, the Morgans sought to change an alimony agreement reached in mediation. But judges refused their request and even ordered the Morgans to pay attorney fees.


NEW YORK  

Judge in immigrant custody battle orders 5yo girl returned to mom in Mexico; 'illegal' dad stays in Queens with new girlfriend

Mexican parents' plot to come to America together fails; dad makes it, mom doesn't

By John Marzulli / New York Daily News

01-09-12 -- A federal judge ordered a 5-year-old Queens girl removed from her father's custody Monday and returned to her mother in Mexico after the couple's border-crossing scheme went awry. . . . "This is a tragic and heart-rending case," Judge Jack Weinstein said, noting that the decision was based on international law and not who is the better parent. . . . Weinstein directed the lawyer for the child's father to bring her to Brooklyn Federal Court Friday so a guardian could take her home to Puebla to reunite with her mother. The lawyer, Steven Ross, said he may ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for a stay of the judge's ruling. . . . Angelica Mota filed suit last year seeking custody of little Elena under the Child Abduction Remedies Act of the Hague Convention. . . . The child was born in 2006 to Mota and her husband Jose Luis Rivera Castillo who later entered the U.S. illegally and settled in Queens where he works as a custodian at a private school.


GEORGIA  

Judge allows thousands to join child support lawsuit

Suit alleges state is creating modern-day debtor's prisons by jailing parents who don't pay

By Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

01-03-12 -- Thousands of parents facing possible jail time for failing to pay child support can join a lawsuit that says lawyers should be appointed to represent them if unable to afford counsel, a  judge has ruled. . . . In a Dec. 30 order, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter granted class-action status to a suit filed last year against the state by five parents who had been jailed for child-support debt. . . . Georgia is one of the few states nationwide that does not provide lawyers for indigent parents facing civil contempt in child-support proceedings. The state already struggles, because of budget shortfalls, to provide lawyers to indigent people charged with criminal offenses. . . . The lawsuit contends Georgia is creating modern-day debtor's prisons for those jailed when they have no ability to pay because they have lost jobs or are disabled and unable to find work.


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"I do not charge the judges with wilful and ill-intentioned error; but honest error must be arrested where its toleration leads to public ruin. As for the safety of society, we commit honest maniacs to Bedlam; so judges should be withdrawn from their bench whose erroneous biases are leading us to dissolution. It may, indeed, injure them in fame or in fortune; but it saves the republic, which is the first and supreme law."
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