Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Shaq O'Neal Divorce Reveals He's A Big Spender

I just saw this post by Jeffrey Lalloway at the California Divorce and Family Law Blog: Shaq's Expenses Revealed In Divorce Court...$26,560 a month in babysitters??.

Miami Heat center Shaq O'Neal, in the middle of a divorce with his wife of five years, Shaunie, has reported expenses of $1.3 million a month, including $26,560 per month just for babysitters (Shaq and Shaunie have four kids together and two kids of previous relationships), according to the blog which cites the following Miami CBS4 report: cbs4.com - Shaq's Expenses Revealed In Divorce Court.

Here's the complete list of O'Neal's monthly expenses, as reported in the CBS4 article and in the California Divorce and Family Law Blog:

• $156,116 on mortgages.
• $110,505 on vacations.
• $60,417 on gifts.
• $26,560 on baby-sitters.
• $24,300 on gasoline.
• $22,190 on maids.
• $17,220 on clothes.
• $12,775 on food.
And the tax man gets about $500,000 a month in income taxes.

At that rate of spending, and even with Shaq's $20 million yearly income (an income second among NBA players only to our own Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics) there doesn't seem to be enough room in his budget for savings and investment. I've heard it said about us Americans that the answer to the question "What is your cost of living?" is exactly the same as the answer to the question "How much do you make?" Certainly seems to be true for Shaq.

At that rate of spending, he only has about $4 million left each year to invest or save (not including that which he saves through his mortgage payments).

Aren't you feeling sorry for him now?

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the Massachusetts Divorce & Family Law Page of my law firm website.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Massachusetts Law Updates: Governor's Budget Recommendations and the Cellphone Bill

Massachusetts Law Updates has reported today and yesterday on two new developments in Massachusetts: 1) Governor Deval Patrick submitted his budget recommendations on Wednesday, and unlike past administrations, Patrick's administration is making his recommendations easily accessible on the governor's website, 2) the House has passed a new cellphone bill H4477, which would ban the use of hand-helds while driving, ban all text messaging while driving, and ban any use of cellphones (whether hand-held or hands-free) while driving by those under 18 years of age.

If we can get the Senate to follow the House's lead, it appears we will soon be joining nearby Connecticut and New York in banning handheld cellphones on the road, and that's a good thing. The bill appears to me to be a very wise law. However, as Massachusetts Law Updates quotes the Boston Globe, a "knowledgeable Senate source said Senate President Therese Murray is not likely to bring the measure up for a vote in the near term."

See the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries' Massachusetts Law Updates blog for more details.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New England Patriots' Randy Moss Hit With Restraining Order

This just in from Ned Holstein, of the Fathers and Families Blog, and as reported just several hours ago by various news sources in Florida: Randy Moss, our star wide receiver on the New England Patriots, has just been hit with a restraining order by a Florida woman: Fathers & Families Blog: New England Patriots’ Super Bowl Chances Imperiled by Restraining Order.

Ned Holstein, the tireless advocate for fathers' rights both here in Massachusetts and elsewhere, expresses an understandable skepticism regarding the claims, based on his knowledge that restraining orders are often fraudulently brought. Holstein recognizes that the allegations might be true as well, but puts the odds that they are true at 50-50. I wouldn't dare speculate without knowing the facts, which we can never expect to know just from the media's reports of what he said and what she said.

Certainly, as we might expect, Randy Moss himself has already proclaimed that these allegations are just an attempt at extortion, but then says he wishes no harm for his accuser, a woman whom he has known for 11 years.

"I don't wish anything bad on this woman. That's the love I have for her as a friend," he is quoted as saying in Canada's National Post. "Even though these allegations are false, or whatever she is claiming, I really can't be mad at that. If she's hurting and she needs money, that's on her."

But if this woman has really brought a false claim against him and is shaking him down for money, as he claims, why does he sound like he wants to placate her? Shouldn't he be really angry with her? I wonder.

Sports stars, like other celebrities, probably have more than the average temptations to stray and misbehave, but on the other hand, they are also much more likely to be victimized by greedy opportunists.

Maybe we will eventually know the truth about this. But more likely, as in many cases involving accusations of domestic violence, the case will be settled, dropped, or will otherwise "go away" and we will never get the real story. Only the two people involved will know.

See my law firm website for information about Massachusetts criminal law, and for the Massachusetts restraining order law. (Of course, where Randy Moss is concerned, it is Florida law, not Massachusetts law, that applies.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Former Computer Programmer Brought Back From Canada For Huge Child Support Arrears in Massachusetts

David Fisher, a former computer programmer, who apparently made $2700 per week (about $140,000 per year) in 1999 or early 2000, when his child support order of $883 per week was established, is now facing the music for huge child support arrears which have accrued since he left for Missouri and then Canada, according to this recent article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, By Linda Bock: $500,000 bail for ‘deadbeat dad’. He was recently brought back from Canada and is now facing charges of criminal nonsupport. He is being held on $500,000 cash bail, which essentially means he is being held without bail, as that huge bail amount is just a bit over the $493,912 the state Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division calculates he owes, including support, interest and penalties.

Reading over the facts of the case, as presented in the Worcester Telegram article (see relevant parts quoted below), and at the huge risk of reading between the lines, I would say Mr. Fisher appears to have had his high child support order issued based on his income at the height of the computer engineering boom in Massachusetts in the late 90s, and right before the bust that followed. His apparent salary of $140,000 was typical back then for many computer engineers, many of whom shortly thereafter made significantly less for the same work, if they even had a job after much of their work was subsequently outsourced to China and India or was otherwise restructured.

Perhaps Mr. Fisher was like many of my clients from those years since the bust, clients who ended up having to take lesser paying jobs as computer engineers or even had to find other work entirely, and yet had to struggle with the fact that the family courts were slow to recognize the economic realities in the computer engineering industry. Many judges have been skeptical and used the "attribution" doctrine, which allows them to attribute income to child support obligors based on their deemed potential income rather than their actual current income. Some men (it was always men, in my experience) had income attributed to them based on prior earnings and have had a hard time trying to convince the courts later that their actual, current earning capacity was less than it had been.

As a result, many fathers have had to pay child support orders that are far in excess of that which would be justified based on their actual incomes, and as a result, after child support and taxes are paid, they were left with little or nothing on which to live.

I don't know if that is what happened in this case, but it does seem to fit the pattern. Of course, fortunately none of my clients has run away from his obligation in the way Mr. Fisher apparently has done. If the facts in this article are correct, at the very least it is clear that Mr. Fisher failed to pay anything at all for his children for many years. If true, that is wrong and he should be held accountable for that.

Now, whether he should be held on $500,000 cash bail (the kind of bail you would typically see set in the case of a very violent felon) is another story. It is interesting that in the recent case that led to criticism of a Massachusetts Superior Court judge, and former Governor Mitt Romney, who had appointed her to the bench, and the Worcester DA, in the handling of a case in which a violent felon was released on personal recognizance, after which he went to another state and allegedly carried out a double homicide, the Superior Court judge in that case had overturned a District Court's bail order, which had been set at only $50,000 each on the two separate cases, for a total of $100,000 cash bail.

So, let's see. We had $100,000 cash bail (then personal recognizance) for a man who had killed his own mother and then stood accused of assaulting two prison guards, on the one hand, and $500,000 cash bail for a person with no criminal record, but who owes child support, interest and penalties of slightly less than that amount. Admittedly, there is a risk of flight - one of the important considerations in a bail hearing - in this case, but surely $500,000 is excessive, no?

Let me be clear here. I think we need to continue to hold men, as we do, accountable for failure to pay child support. It is absolutely wrong not to support one's children. There are many men - and women - who are not adequately supporting their children right now, or are otherwise violating their court-ordered obligations, and we should do everything we can do to force them to fulfill their obligations as parents.

Those who have excessive child support orders should never run away, but instead should do their best, pay as much as they can in child support, and persist in trying to modify their child support in court. Eventually, most judges will adjust the child support once the true facts come out, if one aggressively pursues modification of support and the facts warrant a modification. It may not be easy but it can be done. There is never an excuse to run away from one's obligations to one's children.

For information and links related to Massachusetts child support, including a Massachusetts Child Support Guidlines calculator see my Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Interactive Worksheet Page. For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see my family law page and for information about Massachusetts criminal law see my criminal law page.

Worcester Telegram & Gazette News, By Linda Bock: $500,000 bail for ‘deadbeat dad’:

"MILFORD— One of the state’s top “deadbeat dads” — who owes $493,912 in child support, interest and penalties — was recently deported from Canada, and was ordered held on $500,000 cash bail yesterday after he was charged with criminal nonsupport, according to state Department of Revenue officials and prosecutors.

David Fisher, 48, formerly of Hopkinton, appeared on the state’s 2002 Ten Most Wanted poster for failure to pay child support. He was sent back to Massachusetts by Canadian authorities three weeks ago and charged with abandoning his children without support, leaving the commonwealth without paying child support and failure to comply with a child support order. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf at his arraignment yesterday morning in Milford District Court. Judge Robert B. Calagione continued his case to Jan. 28. Mr. Fisher was arraigned in the same Milford court in which criminal charges for failure to pay child support and a warrant for his arrest were issued against him on Dec. 2, 2002.

Mr. Fisher married his ex-wife on Aug. 16, 1980, and they lived in Hopkinton. She filed for divorce Nov. 24, 1999. According to prosecutors, Mr. Fisher agreed to pay $883 weekly child support; he earned $2,700 per week at the time. He owes $314,373 in child support, $119,692 in interest and $59,847 in penalties, according to the state Department of Revenue and prosecutors, and faces up to 10 years in jail.


According to DOR officials and prosecutors, Mr. Fisher, who was a computer programmer at the time, agreed Jan. 28, 2000, to pay $883 weekly in child support for his three children, who were 10, 16 and 17 at the time of the divorce. After a judge denied Mr. Fisher’s request to reduce child support payments, he was found guilty of contempt for violating the terms of the existing child support order. When Mr. Fisher and Ann Fisher divorced in June 2001, the order to pay $883 weekly child support was part of the settlement.

Ms. Cunnally said Ms. Fisher was forced to sell the family home in Hopkinton after the divorce. The uprooted family moved to Upton and the three children had to change schools at the time.


DOR received the last child support payment from Mr. Fisher’s employer in Missouri on April 17, 2001. He worked for Helzberg Diamonds, a diamond retail company in Kansas City, Mo., according to Ms. Cunnally, and made $75,000 per year. DOR garnished a couple of thousand dollars in attached wages before he left the country.

Sometime after, he fled to Canada with his girlfriend. Mr. Fisher subsequently appeared on the state DOR’s “Ten Most Wanted” poster on Nov. 14, 2001.

Mr. Fisher allegedly married his Canadian girlfriend, according to officials, and does not have other children officials are aware of. State officials know that he worked at Quigley’s Restaurant in Toronto for a period of time. On Sept. 23, 2003, the DOR received an anonymous tip that Mr. Fisher was in Toronto.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Still No Visitation For Brit After Today's Hearing

See the Court's Order (courtesy of TMZ.com) after today's hearing in the Britney Spears custody case. Kevin Federline and several witnesses testified, but Britney didn't see fit even to show up to court until the afternoon. Result of the hearing? Still no visitation at all for Brit with the kids until at least February 19.

TMZ.com: "No Visitation for Brit," Posted Jan 14th 2008:

"The Commissioner has just ruled that Britney will not have visitation restored, at least until the next hearing on February 19.

The order came after the testimony of several people, including two LAPD cops who responded to the craziness a week ago Thursday; Lisa Hacker, a parenting coach; Lonnie Jones, a bodyguard, and Pamela Strong, the court monitor who was present during the drama. K-Fed's attorney, Mark Vincent Kaplan, testified as well.

Story developing ..."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see my law firm website's divorce and family law page.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Racy Divorce Lawyer Corri Fetman Takes it Up a Notch...And Takes it Off!

You may think personal injury lawyers have the most tasteless lawyer ads. But one divorce law firm out of Chicago, may have hit a new low in our profession last spring, with billboards like the one you see here. And now, one of the attorneys behind that ad campaign, Attorney Corri Fetman, has admitted she was actually the woman who is featured in this billboard and in the other controversial ads her firm has run.

Corri Feltman is clearly taking it up a notch.

Feltman has divulged this new information about herself in the upcoming February edition of Playboy, in which magazine she has apparently also shared quite a bit more of herself, as reported by Carolyn Elefant in Legal Blog Watch:

"Remember the racy billboard ads posted by Chicago law firm Fetman, Garland & Associates that raised so much controversy last spring? The ads featured two photographs, centered on the chest of a scantily clad man and woman with the slug line, 'Life's Short. Get A Divorce.'

Now, one of the firm's principals, Corri Fetman has revealed something else about her firm's revealing ads. In this press release issued today, we learn that 'the sexy female in the ads is none other than Corri herself.' Fetman first shared 'the naked truth' about the ads in the February 2008 issue of Playboy, which includes another law firm ad, a 'provocative nude pictorial of Corri' and a new online column by Fetman, entitled Lawyer of Love.

Like Larry Bodine, I too agreed that Fetman's billboard ad was an effective form of advertising, because it made a point clearly, provoked an emotional response and generated buzz. But the nude spread in Playboy goes too far. As a pure marketing ploy, I'm hard pressed to figure out what kind of clients Fetman is trying to target by posing nude in Playboy...."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Oral Arguments Available

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has webcasts of oral arguments previously broadcast, from September of 2005 to date, at the following Suffolk University Law School SJC Webcast Archive. As stated on the website: "Here you may review all Supreme Judicial Court arguments that have already been broadcast. You may locate oral arguments by date, case title or docket number. Archives of each argument should be available within four business days of the court proceedings."

Hence, now, available to all free of charge online, are the following:
*webcasts of all oral arguments at the SJC since September 2005,
and as mentioned by me in earlier posts:
*briefs in SJC cases, and
*appellate court decisions, both of the SJC and the intermediate appellate court, the Court of Appeals, for the past twenty years.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the Massachusetts Divorce & Family Law Page of my law firm website.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Governor Patrick Makes First Good Move Toward CORI Reform

Governor Patrick has now decided what to do with CORI reform, as indicated in this press release issued yesterday by the Governor's office. He has filed legislation, which of course has to be acted upon, but has also implemented some changes through executive order. The best article I've seen on this so far is from the Worcester Telegram: CORI Reforms Bill Filed; Changes to Help Ex-Cons Get Jobs, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, by John J. Monahan, January 12, 2008.

The Boston Globe also published yesterday a column by Adrian Walker, who, while praising the Governor for this effort, pointed out both that on the one hand this is a rather timid reform, and on the other, that it may not even be passed by the legislature.

The Walker piece discussed Senator Dianne Wilkerson of Roxbury, who is one of those who believes the reform measure does not go far enough. "She has argued that juvenile records should be inaccessible but aren't," explains Walker. "She also maintained that the proposal does not go to the heart of the issue, which is that people with criminal records have trouble finding work and rebuilding their lives."

And then I think Senator Wilkerson hit the nail on the head when she said, as quoted in the editorial: "I think those people who have difficulty finding work because of CORI are not going to have much relief after the release of the governor's plan, and that to me is the most unfortunate part of it. The only real test is whether last year's no becomes this year's yes."

Although this CORI reform is welcome news, there are some things CORI reform advocates had hoped for, but which are not in the executive order and legislation. The Blue Mass Group Blog has a post and some good accompanying comments on some of the gripes of the reformers, a few of the biggies being that this reform will not clean up the records themselves - records which in many cases contain way too much information, and are inaccurate, inconsistent, and misleading - and also, as indicated by Senator Wilkerson, there is no change in the handling of juvenile records.

It seems the Governor took the cautious approach that the Worcester Telegram advocated some time ago, a cautious approach which I feared and which I spoke out against in this blog.

Too bad. This just means still more reform will be needed later on or else we will continue to live with absurd problems, including more, and unnecessary, government expenses for taxpayers, as we continue to create impossible dilemmas for those lowest on the economic ladder in this state.

Opponents of CORI reform should realize that this reform is about people who are already out of jail. We can't lock everybody up and punish them forever. They are out here. So now what do we want them to do? Enabling these people to get to work, get housing, and otherwise move on with their lives will reduce the rates of recidivism and welfare dependency.

But hats off, Governor Patrick, for having the courage at least to make this very good first step in the right direction. Let's hope our legislature has the decency, intelligence and courage to enact the legislation, and follow up with even stronger reforms later on.

For a good explanation of CORI, see CORI Project - Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Inc., where you can find the "CORI Reader" - a very instructive article on CORI in a pdf file.


"BOSTON— Gov. Deval L. Patrick filed legislation yesterday that would reduce the time the public could view most criminal records — from 15 years to 10 years for felonies and from 10 years to 5 years for misdemeanors — to make it easier for past offenders to get jobs and to reduce prison recidivism.

The changes are among numerous proposed reforms to the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information law laid out by the governor after a year of study.

'CORI was never intended to turn every offense into a life sentence,' the governor said in a statement announcing the initiative. 'All but a handful of people incarcerated are eventually released, and they need to get back to work.'

While the change in the length of time before records are sealed and some other changes would require legislative approval, several changes were implemented by the governor by executive order yesterday.

The legislation also would increase access to sealed criminal records for police and criminal justice agencies, granting them access to all criminal records sealed by the courts, and would impose a new penalty of $5,000 or one year in prison for those convicted of making unauthorized requests, unauthorized use or dissemination of CORI records.

Handling of juvenile records would not change under the legislation.

Meanwhile, the governor directed state agencies to implement several other changes in the handling of criminal records...."

For information and links related to Massachusetts criminal law see the criminal defense page of my law firm website.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Airing Dirty Laundry: How Freely Can Divorcing Litigants Blog About Their Spouses?

A very interesting read indeed is the following article, from yesterday's New York Times: Blog Takes Failed Marriage Into Fight Over Free Speech - New York Times, by Abby Goodnough, January 10, 2008.

How freely can we speak about our spouses, our marriages, and the players in our divorce dramas? One divorce court in Vermont ordered a husband going through a divorce to take down "any and all Internet postings" about his wife and their marriage pending a hearing next week. But the husband, claiming his postings are constitutionally protected free speech, has apparently reacted with defiance. This New York Times story has already been cited by a few other blogs, at least one of which, the British blog Family Lore, has an interesting post here.

Excerpt from NYT article:
The husband, William Krasnansky, posted what he calls a fictionalized account of the marriage on his blog late last year. His wife, Maria Garrido, complained to the judge overseeing their divorce, who ordered Mr. Krasnansky to take down 'any and all Internet postings' about his wife and their marriage pending a hearing next month.

Mr. Krasnansky, 51, says the order amounts to a prior restraint, a rare restriction of speech before publication, and a violation of his constitutional right to free speech. His lawyer, Debra R. Schoenberg of Burlington, Vt., has asked Judge Thomas Devine of Washington County Family Court to vacate the order and dismiss Ms. Garrido’s motion for immediate relief...."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the Massachusetts Divorce & Family Law Page of my law firm website.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Another Great Bankruptcy Law Blog in Massachusetts

A recent post here listed 12 great Massachusetts legal blogs, but it should have included 13 blogs. One of the blogs I intended to list did not make the list due to my inadvertence. That blog is the excellent bankruptcy and consumer law blog written by Massachusetts attorney Bill McLeod: Bill McLeod's Law Blog, and it is now one of the two bankruptcy blogs on my list. I have amended my original list/post, so that it now includes 13 Massachusetts legal blogs, all of which I think might be useful and interesting to my Massachusetts readers here.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Joanna Grossman on What Britney Spears Can Teach Us About Family Law

I said in a recent post that we should not apply the legal lessons of the celebrities and the wealthy to our own cases, unless we are ourselves from that "strange world of the rich and famous, where fame sometimes hurts, but money always helps."

But there are of course some things we can indeed learn from these cases, and in fact that is part of my reason for writing about them.

When celebrities live large, their large mistakes can be especially illuminating. Family Law Professor Joanna Grossman explains, in her article posted today on Findlaw's Writ, what Britney Spears in particular can teach us about family law: FindLaw's Writ - By Joanna Grossman, January 8, 2008: "Britney Spears - Why She Lost Visitation Rights, And What Her Case Teaches Us About Family Law"

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Guardian ad Litem or Attorney for the Child?

The Family Law Prof Blog yesterday issued the following post, which in discussing a recent Iowa appellate case also pointed to several other useful sources that explore some issues regarding the appropriate roles of, and distinctions that should be made between, guardians ad litem, appointed by courts to investigate issues in custody and abuse and neglect cases, and lawyers appointed to represent children:

Family Law Prof Blog: Case Law Development: Attorney for Child May Not Act as GAL

"The confusion between the status of attorney for the child and guardian ad litem was the target of appeal in Marriage of Anderson, an Iowa Court of Appeals decision. In this case, Mother requested appointment of a guardian ad litem in a custody case. However, the trial court's response was to appoint an attorney under the Iowa statute allowing appointment of an attorney for the child. The court then rejected the attorney's report and request to testify, finding that the attorney had not been appointed as a guardian ad litem.

Read In Re Marriage of Anderson (Iowa Court of Appeals, Dec. 28, 2007) (Last visited January 7, 2008 bgf)

The case is a fine example of the continuing debate regarding the role of attorney representatives for children. The Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Children in Custody Cases require that a judge appointing a lawyer for a child specify whether the attorney is a “Child’s Attorney” or a “Best Interests Attorney.” The ABA’s Standards of Practice for Attorneys Who Represent Children in Abuse and Neglect Cases, while recognizing the hybrid attorney/guardian ad litem role for lawyers under certain circumstances, expresses a clear preference for the attorney for the child model. Based in part on these standards, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws is preparing a Uniform Representation of Children in Abuse and Neglect and Custody Proceedings Act. Professor Atwood's fine article exploring the policy choices in the uniform act can be accessed from her SSRN page: Atwood, Barbara Ann, "The New Uniform Representation of Children in Abuse, Neglect, and Custody Proceedings Act: Bridging the Divide Between Pragmatism and Idealism" . Family Law Quarterly, 2007 Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=938211


For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Thirteen Great Massachusetts Legal Blogs

The following are thirteen great legal blogs by Massachusetts lawyers, listed in alphabetical order by subject area. They represent many of the various fields of law outside my primary field of divorce and family law.

Bill McLeod's Law Blog. Written by Boston area bankruptcy and consumer lawyer Bill McLeod.

Massachusetts Bankruptcy and Consumer Law Blog. Written by Boston area bankruptcy and consumer lawyer Nicholas F. Ortiz.

Corporate Law and Democracy. Written by Boston College Law Professor Renee Jones.

Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog
Written by the Boston firm of Altman & Altman.

Boston ERISA & Insurance Litigation Blog. Written by Boston attorney Stephen Rosenberg.

Massachusetts Estate Planning and Elder Law Written by Leanna Hamill, who practices estate planning and elder law in Hingham.

HealthBlawg. Written by Boston area health care law attorney David Harlow.

Boston Immigration and Nationality Blog. Written by Boston area immigration attorney Joshua Paulin, mostly in English, but with some posts in Portuguese.

MassLawBlog.Com. Written by Boston attorney Lee Gesmer.

Massachusetts Law Updates
Written by the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries.

Media Law. Written by Robert J. Ambrogi, lawyer, journalist, and authority on blogging and legal websites.

Boston Injury Lawyer Blog Another blog written by the firm of Altman & Altman.

Real Estate Space Written by Goodwin Procter real estate attorney Doug Cornelius.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Supreme Court to Consider Whether Death Penalty Can Be Imposed for Child Rape

Louisiana, one of only five states that has laws on the book permitting the death penalty to be applied not just for murder but also for child rape, is the first state actually to have sentenced anyone to death for anything besides murder in over forty years, and now has a man on death row who was convicted not for murder, but for the rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter. After Louisiana's highest court narrowly upheld the constitutionality of that man's sentence, the US Supreme Court has now accepted the case for review, and will most likely hear arguments in the case in April.

Despite the Louisiana court's majority opinion that death sentences for child rape will protect children, the possibility of such death sentences may actually make children far less safe, as children who are rape victims would more likely be killed by their abusers, as the National Association of Social Workers (see the article below), has pointed out. Read the Washington Post article below to see yet more reasons, suggested by critics in the article, why child rape is not a crime that should get the death penalty.

Furthermore, if the US Supreme Court permits any state to carry out such sentences, it will further tarnish the human rights record of our country, which should instead be moving toward the abolition of capital punishment. Throughout the civilized world, capital punishment is recognized as a human rights violation. I'm with the civilized world on this one. But let's be realistic. Let's hope we can get at least five justices on the Supreme Court to do the right thing this time, and continue to reserve the death penalty for the crime of murder.

Justices to Consider Death Penalty Issue -Legality in Case of Child Rape at Stake, by Robert Barnes, Washington Post, January 5, 2008


A divided Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the state's law allowing the death penalty for someone who rapes a child under the age of 13, with the majority saying they could not think of a 'non-homicide crime more deserving.'

'Since children cannot protect themselves, the state is given the responsibility to protect them,' the opinion said.

Kennedy was convicted after he reported to police in 1998 that his stepdaughter had been raped. The girl at first told police that she was assaulted by two boys in her garage in suburban New Orleans while sorting Girl Scout cookies.

But police arrested Kennedy when they found a trail of blood in the house. Still, 20 months passed before the girl identified her stepfather as her attacker. He was convicted in 2003.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a brief urging the court to take the case because it said capital punishment was not fitting for a crime whose prosecution usually depended on the testimony of a young child.

'Such testimony is often unreliable because many children are susceptible to suggestion; they may confuse the suggestions of others with authentic memories; their stories may change dramatically depending upon when and by whom they are interviewed; and they recant their allegations -- whether those stories inculpate or exculpate the defendant -- at alarmingly high rates,' the brief said.

The National Association of Social Workers also asked the court to take the case, saying such laws do not protect children. In a brief the association said the statute 'will likely have exactly the wrong effect,' since offenders, knowing they will face execution whether or not they kill their victim, may decide it is worth it to get rid of a witness.

The case was among six that the court added to its docket yesterday. Cases accepted by the court at this time of year generally are argued in April, which is usually the last month the court hears arguments before it adjourns, typically at the end of June."

For information about Massachusetts criminal law, and children and the law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Britney's Visitation Suspended - Physical and Legal Custody to K-Fed Until Further Order of Court

Order in Brit Case -- Visitation Suspended - TMZ.com: "Order in Brit Case -- Visitation Suspended" (Jan 4th 2008 6:07PM by TMZ Staff)
"The Commish in the Brit case just issued his order and we got it first. -- K-Fed gets sole legal and physical custody. Brit gets nothing."

See the article to see TMZ.com's copy of the court order: No custody or visitation for Britney until further order of court...Way to go, Britney.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Thanks, Indiana Divorce & Family Law Blog, For Scratching My Back

Thanks to Sam Hasler, one of this nation's best and most prolific family law bloggers, who blogs at Sam Hasler's Indiana Divorce & Family Law Blog, for listing my blog among 12 favorite legal blogs in his post: My Roundup of Law Blogs Part 1. His list of 12 is nearly identical to my own recent list of the 11 Best Family Law Bloggers in the US, with one major difference being that his blog is not on his own list and my blog is not on my own list. But you know what they say: If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours!

My Roundup of Law Blogs Part 1:

"Originally, I titled this post 'My Best Family Law Blogs.' I decided I was just making things too hard on myself. Some blogs I like because of how they are written. Others, I like because how they deal with legal issues. So determining the criteria presented problems. So I decided to just skip the criteria.I got this idea from Pink Tape's Top 10 Law Blogs and a comment to Law bloggers respond to ABA Blawg 100 post.

I should say these are in no particular order:

Indiana Law Blog. The oldest Indiana legal blog run by Marcia Oddi. The best source for news on Indiana legal matters.

Florida Divorce Law Blog. A great source for interesting news on family law issues far beyond Florida.

California Divorce and Family Law: another good source for news from different sources.

Chicago Family Law Blog: I must admit to not reading this blog very often and I should.

Florida Divorce & Family Law Blog: is a fairly new one but I think this may turn into an interesting read.

Georgia Family Law Blog - an inspiration for me and I do not think I can give it any better an accolade. I got to admit that this blog makes me want to switch over to Typepad. A lot of information that is obvious in its presentation.

Judith's Divorce Blog - English but worth reading for Americans. I first wrote about this blog under the title of Reading about: divorce related blogs

Massachusetts Divorce & Family Law Blog: another new one and I like it. Maybe because he named this blog as one of the best but maybe more because he is another divorce litigator like me and has a some very sensible posts.

Updates in Michigan Family Law - very much what it says, a source for Michigan law but there are some posts that apply ouside of Michigan. I got the idea for highlighting Indiana's family cases from this blog.

New York Divorce Report - another I should pay a bit more attention to but I admit there is only so much time in the day. Again, one that has posts applying to more than New York.

The Pennsylvania Family Law Blog is a rarity amongst these blogs. The Fox Rotschild family law practice group rather than a solo or small firm attorney publishes this blog. Even then the articles have something to say to all sorts of clients, if they have a bit of lawerly stiffness.

Divorce Law Journal concentrates on Kentucky and on mediation issues. For any lawyers readoing this - remember to read the side columns for speaking engagements, etc."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Same-Sex Divorce Challenges the Legal System, Washington Post Reports

The Washington Post just published the following article, Same-Sex Divorce Challenges the Legal System - washingtonpost.com, by Dafna Linzer about the peculiar problems same-sex couples face, both here in Massachusetts and elsewhere, when they split. Given the topic, the article naturally had a big focus on Massachusetts, and it includes quotes from interviews of family law specialists here who do a lot of work with gay and lesbian clients.

The article points out some of the important ways in which same-sex married couples face different legal problems and challenges than traditional (heterosexual) married couples, even though the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's equal protection ruling in Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health et al., aimed to equalize treatment of same-sex couples and traditional couples. This just goes to show that no matter how hard one state's supreme court may try, there are many things standing in the way of equal treatment, including federal law, other states' laws, and biology itself.

Thus, gay and lesbian couples should not assume that simply by getting married they automatically have all of the exact rights and responsibilities of heterosexual married couples, even here in Massachusetts. It's not exactly true. For example, in a gay or lesbian marriage only one parent can be the biological parent, and nonbiological parents in such marriages will not automatically have the same parental rights and responsibilities as the partners in a traditional marriage - to effect such similar rights and responsibilities, such couples will need to adopt.

There are also some serious differences between the financial treatment, upon divorce, of couples married as same-sex couples and those married as heterosexual couples. And of course this all brings to mind the Golden Rule: When in doubt, see a lawyer first!

"When her three-year-old marriage broke up, the 44-year-old doctor assumed she and her ex would split their property and jointly parent their two children. Her stay-at-home spouse wanted sole custody and the right to move the children out of Massachusetts.

In pretrial motions, both parents made the same argument to a judge: The children should be with me; I'm their mother.

For years, family court judges leaned toward a maternal preference when it came to custody disputes. But what to do when both parents are women, or neither is? Judges in Massachusetts have been grappling with that question since gay and lesbian couples began filing for divorce in 2004, seven months after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

Nearly 10,000 gay and lesbian couples married after the ruling. Massachusetts does not keep records on the number who have divorced, but lawyers who specialize in family cases say it is in the dozens. Those who choose to end their marriages soon discover that the trauma of divorce is compounded by legal and financial difficulties that heterosexual couples generally are spared.

'One of the benefits of marriage is divorce,' said Joyce Kauffman, a Boston divorce lawyer who has handled a dozen same-sex divorce cases. 'But for a lot of couples, that benefit is very complicated and very costly in ways that heterosexual couples would never have to experience....'

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the Massachusetts Divorce & Family Law Page of my law firm website.

Britney's Latest Attorney Wants Out

BRITNEY'S ATTORNEY: I QUIT (CelebTV.com, January 02, 2008)

Heather Mills is not the only recent celebrity to have problems keeping her lawyer. Now Britney Spears' latest attorney wants out of Britney's custody dispute.

"CelebTV.com is the first to reveal that Britney Spears' divorce attorney, Sorrell Trope, is seeking to drop his troubled client. On Jan. 2, Trope filed a motion in L.A. Superior Court to be relieved as Spears' counsel, saying he could no longer represent the singer's interests.

'There has been a breakdown in communications between Petitioner and Trope and Trope [law firm] making further representation of her interests impossible,' reads the document.

Trope has been representing Spears in her ongoing custody battle with Kevin Federline. A hearing on Trope's motion to be relieved as counsel is scheduled for Feb. 4, 2008."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Some New Massachusetts Laws in Effect for 2008

Massachusetts Law Updates , the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries blog, has provided a helpful reminder of some new laws now in effect in Massachusetts for 2008, including a Massachusetts minimum wage law of $8 (the highest in the country) and penalties for those who don't buy health insurance although deemed to be able to afford it:

"New Laws for 2008
Effective today:

The minimum wage is now $8.00!

Stores must start selling fire-safe cigarettes (but they can deplete their existing inventories first)

Monthly penalties begin to accrue every month for failure to have health insurance

Adoptees born from today forward may have access to their original birth certificates at age 18 (their adoptive parents may have access before they turn 18)

Happy new year!"

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the Massachusetts Divorce & Family Law Page of my law firm website.

Celebrity Justice 2007

CNN Legal Commentary: The best and worst of a year of celebrity justice; Figures from entertainment, sports and politics had their day in court

This CNN article hits the highlights of the past year (Paris Hilton, O.J. Simpson, Michael Vick, Barry Bonds etc.) in the strange world of the rich and famous, where fame sometimes hurts, but money always helps. This is fascinating stuff, but unless you live in Hollywood, or play professional sports, or otherwise have a name we all recognize, don't learn your legal lessons from these cases.