Monday, May 26, 2008

Traveling Without the Kids

There's more good advice today from Leanna Hamill at the Massachusetts Estate Planning and Elder Law Blog, this time on what you should be sure to do if traveling without the kids this summer.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Alternative to CORI Reform: Let's Just Order Them to Re-Offend

Thanks to John Monahan and the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for an excellent article yesterday about the fact that CORI reform is now unlikely. The CORI reform proposals, introduced and backed by Governor Patrick, and as discussed and strongly supported by me here at this blog,
have run aground in the House Judiciary Committee, and the chances of the law covering criminal records being reformed before the Legislature ends formal sessions for the year in July now seem remote.
The reason? According to the article:
Earlier this week, Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, D-Boston, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, reported that the bill has run into a lot of “roadblocks” because of the many complicated issues involving reintegration of ex-convicts into communities and the interest of employers to job screen applicants. His comments gave little hope the bill could be acted on soon.

Right. So, in other words, the CORI reform effort, which is in fact the effort to help reintegrate past offenders into society, by giving them a chance to housing and a job, and that is by reducing the extremely overbroad access of employers to information - information about not just convictions, but even about long-ago charges that led to dismissals or acquittals - has been derailed because employers still want that information, and they have the power on Beacon Hill.

This will be great for these employers, as they will continue to be able easily to identify a special kind of underclass, one that they can either avoid hiring altogether or relegate to lower paying, less desirable employment due to its much diminished bargaining power in the labor market.

But the collateral consequences of failure to reform CORI are that taxpayers will have to pay more for social services to make up for the economic deficiencies, and also more for the criminal justice system - including for law enforcement, our overcrowded jails, and the criminal courts and probation departments - as that criminal justice system will continue to be busy, if not busier, as a result.

The big employers blocking change are at the top of the economic ladder. Basically this is just another way in which the most powerful, wealthy interests are asking the majority of us as taxpayers to pay more taxes to cover the collateral damage that inevitably results from a system designed and created more for the benefit of these most powerful, wealthy interests than for anyone else.

I'm not saying individuals are not responsible for their crimes. However, I am a realist, and I believe the evidence is overwhelming that good, sound economic policies reduce crime. The attempt to block CORI reform seems to me to be just another unsound economic policy (and it is assuredly an economic policy as much as it is a criminal policy) and it probably deserves a chapter in the ongoing, unwritten history of Class War.

I have heard fellow criminal defense attorneys complain, often after a judge in a criminal case gives a poor criminal defendant on probation a short period of time to come up with very stiff probation fees, or when a judge sets very onerous conditions on probation, that "the judge just set him up to fail" or even - and this is my personal favorite - that "the judge just ordered him to re-offend."

Sort of a cynical joke among lawyers, maybe, but this is no real joke for those who have been in the world of crime, and now can't get a job or housing because of it. There are certainly criminal defendants on probation who have committed new crimes in order to get the money to pay their probation, court fees, restitution, or other court-related expenses, as they often find it difficult, if not impossible, to find a legitimate job.

And if former criminals, just like those currently on probation, also can't get a legitimate job or housing, they are more likely both to become dependent upon government benefits of one kind or another, and also either to steal, or sell drugs, or commit other crimes, just in order to survive. This is the difficult, cold, hard reality of former criminal offenders.

So I must ask, in that same, lawyerly cynical spirit: Is our legislature, at the behest of employers, going to deny CORI reform and instead "order former criminals to re-offend"?

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

Friday, May 23, 2008

Texas Appellate Court Rules Against Government's Illegal Raid on FLDS

This just in from the Associated Press: Texas Appellate Court rules Texas wrongly seized FLDS sect children.

With no thanks to the national ACLU, and other suddenly silent, supposed defenders of civil liberties, the Third Court of Appeals in Texas just did the right thing in denouncing the outrageous government raid on the FLDS sect, and reversing the boneheaded trial court ruling. The appellate court's opinion is here. The appellate court, to its great credit, has echoed the concerns raised by those of us who are truly concerned about civil liberties, no matter whose liberties they are, and who are not afraid to say so publicly.

I have previously denounced the actions of the Texas authorities in unnecessarily and wrongly wreaking havoc upon hundreds of families, and I have joined a few others in criticizing the dishonest way in which the Texas government has done so, in what has become the biggest custody case in this country. But I say again: Shame, shame on the Texas authorities for their damn lies and statistics, their false pretexts, all leading to their illegal raid on an unpopular religious community, and traumatization of hundreds of families. Hopefully the court's ruling will not be too little, too late, for the hundreds of completely innocent individuals, and especially their victimized children, the vast majority of whom can only be proven to have been mistreated by the government that presumes to protect them.

And shame, shame on the media for covering this story in a politically correct fashion, and thereby misleading the public by easily succumbing to the government's obvious media manipulation. For more on this, see my three previous posts on this, Destroying the Polygamist Village to Save It, From Aluminum Tubes to Broken Bones: Texans, Lies and Statistics, and More On The Texas Polygamy Scare and The Civil Liberties Non-Scare, linking to previous stories and blog posts from Grits for Breakfast, and The Volokh Conspiracy, Wendy Kaminer, The Polygamy Files, and the few other voices around the country who have courageously come out in favor of the law, the constitution, civil liberties, and sanity, while they have also simultaneously, and virtually alone, reported accurately on this story to fill in for the most prominent national reporters and commentators who have cowardly gone AWOL. OK, rant over.


SAN ANGELO, Texas - In a ruling that could torpedo the case against the West Texas polygamist sect, a state appeals court Thursday said authorities had no right to seize more than 440 children in a raid on the splinter group's ranch last month.

It was unclear how many children were affected by the ruling. The state took 464 children into custody in April, but Thursday's ruling directly applied to the children of 48 sect mothers represented by the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aide, said Cynthia Martinez of the agency. About 200 parents are involved in the polygamy case.

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that the state offered "legally and factually insufficient" grounds for the "extreme" measure of removing all children from the ranch, from babies to teenagers.

The state never provided evidence that the children were in any immediate danger, the only grounds in Texas law for taking children from their parents without court approval, the appeals court said.

It also failed to show evidence that more than five of the teenage girls were being sexually abused, and never alleged any sexual or physical abuse against the other children, the court said.

It was not immediately clear whether the children scattered across foster facilities statewide might soon be reunited with parents. The ruling gave Texas District Judge Barbara Walther 10 days to vacate her custody order, and the state could appeal.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

California Joins Massachusetts In Finding Right to Same-Sex Marriage

Jeffrey Lalloway at the California Divorce & Family Law Blog reports on news of today that is not just family law niche news, but is major national news: California's top court has overturned the gay marriage ban. The majority decision of the California Supreme Court, and all the concurring and dissenting opinions, can be found on the court's website here.

The 4-3 majority opinion by the California Supreme Court has resulted from a case with quite a different procedural and substantive history than that of our own historic Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision declaring a right to same-sex marriage here nearly five years ago. For more on the history and the story leading up to the California decision released today, and for a link to video of the oral arguments before the court in this case, see my last post on this topic, Oral Arguments Heard in California Same-Sex Marriage Case.

But the California ruling will have much the same effect in California as the Massachusetts ruling had here: within a month, gay and lesbian couples all throughout California will be permitted to marry. Gay and lesbian Californians will no longer have to settle simply for domestic partnerships.

As a result, California now joins Massachusetts as the second state in the nation to recognize, based on its own state constitution, the full right of gay and lesbian couples to the institution of marriage. Now, we should have our eyes on Connecticut, where another important decision should be coming soon.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

14 Common Financial Mistakes People Make and 14 Rules Most Should Follow Most of the Time

I have handled lots of divorces, reviewed lots of financial statements, and helped clients manage the difficult financial negotiations and restructurings attendant upon marital dissolution. I am often surprised by what I see intelligent people do, or not do, with their money. The following are 14 of the most common financial mistakes I have found that people make. I have had clients who are in poverty and others who are extremely wealthy. But these 14 mistakes are related to my experience with the majority of people for whom I have worked - people who are, like most of us, somewhere in between those two financial extremes.

There are other kinds of "mistakes" which are made in the course of divorce - and by this, I mean there are settlement decisions, which, at least from the point of view of personal finance, seem not efficient or optimal. Divorce settlements sometimes lead to some objectively bad financial moves that are, however, quite unavoidable, as they are often related to non-financial considerations or other exigencies. I am not speaking about those kinds of "mistakes" in this post, but only about general financial management mistakes I have found couples and families to have made long before they were at the point of divorce. (Lawyerly Disclaimer: These are general observations, and of course not offered as specific advice to anyone in particular. I am your unpaid blogger, not your attorney.)

14 Common Financial Mistakes People Make

1) Have no emergency or "rainy day" fund.
2) Buy a house they cannot afford.
3) Don't save enough for retirement.
4) Consult "financial advisers" from institutions such as American Express, and actually take their advice.
5) Buy whole life insurance rather than term life insurance.
6) Take out second mortgage or equity line on their home for consumer purchases.
7) Buy annuities.
8) Pay down house or other lower interest rate debts before higher interest rate debts.
9) Buy individual stocks, or day trade, in any area outside personal area of primary expertise.
10) Buy a timeshare.
11) Borrow against retirement funds, or liquidate retirement funds.
12) Go into business, or purchase property, together with a relative other than a spouse.
13) If in serious credit card debt, pay a "debt counselor" or "credit counselor" but never consult a good bankruptcy lawyer.
14) Use credit cards to pay for everything, and keep a balance on which they pay high interest.

OK, now for my 14 Rules. These are general rules which are derived from, and correspond to, the 14 Common Mistakes above. These are rules that I believe most people should follow most of the time. If you are super wealthy or destitute, obviously these do not apply to you. These are just rules, and there are exceptions to rules. Disclaimer: as general rules, these observations of mine, of course, do not constitute specific advice for any individual. As I say in these rules themselves, all should do research themselves and take charge of their own financial future, and if possible, seek specific advice from a fiduciary who can look at their particular situations, see the big picture, and give advice tailored to their particular situations.

14 Rules Most Should Follow Most of the Time

1) Maintain an emergency fund, in money market funds, conservative bond funds, or treasury bills, that is highly liquid, and outside retirement, equal to six months of your regular living expenses.

2) Buy a house, with at least 20 percent down, only if it is in a neighborhood that is a good long-term place for you and your family to live, only if you will be living there in that particular home for at least five years, and only if it costs half, or less than half, as much as the biggest house "you can afford," as calculated by the lender.
Be conservative. Your home is always more expensive, and in more ways than you think, than you initially realize. You need a cushion so you can save, and you should save not just in one piece of real estate, but in other types of investments, such as stock mutual funds. Do not be "house poor" like so many people are.

3) Save at least 20 percent of your gross income in retirement - through IRAs, 401Ks, employer pension funds, etc. Obviously, take full advantage of 401Ks especially when there is employer matching.

4) If you are getting financial advice, be sure that you are using a fiduciary, not a sales person working on commissions. Do research yourself, and find a fee-only financial adviser who is a fiduciary, and will work only for you, or do it yourself. If you can't find that kind of financial adviser - many independent, fee-only financial advisers will only work on behalf of individuals with significant assets, of $1 million or more - consult a good lawyer or just do it yourself. See Can you trust your financial adviser? By Liz Pulliam Weston- MSN Money.

5) If you have children, buy level term life insurance for a term that will extend no later than when your youngest child is 25. Don't buy any other life insurance. For the vast majority of people, whole life insurance is a bad idea; in my experience, most people who have it shouldn't. They would almost always be better off investing instead in stocks and bonds through mutual funds. I am often surprised at what I see. For example, I had a client who together with his spouse had paid around $1,000 a year for only $15,000 of life insurance in their children's names to cover the children's burial expenses! Of course this horrible idea had been sold to that client by a sleazy "financial adviser" working on commission. That money would have bought that client at least an extra million dollars of term life insurance. If you really like insurance, and depending on your circumstances, after taking care of term life insurance needs, you should instead buy disability insurance. In fact, for many, that will be an even more important move than buying term life insurance. If you don't have children, or other dependents, you should only think about disability insurance.

6) If you can't afford to pay for consumer purchases, including new cars, boats, vacations, or other things, from your current regular streams of income, do not buy them. Do not take out a second loan on your home to do so. See Rule 2 and Rule 14.

7) Don't buy annuities. Only rarely are these worthwhile. If provided by an employer, fine, but don't buy them. These are usually bought because of sales commissions. See Rule 4. Instead, invest wisely, and diversify, in mutual funds for the long haul. Buy and hold. I favor index funds with low expenses, such as Vanguard funds. One example: Lots in large cap (S&P 500), some in small and midcap, and some in international. See again Rule 3.

8) Pay down highest interest rate debts, such as credit cards, first before you pay down other debts. You should always, of course, make timely payments on your loans when due, but do not pay extra to reduce the principal debt if there are other debts you have with higher interest rates. However, if you are a sure candidate for bankruptcy, you should sometimes in fact stop paying high interest unsecured debts, like credit cards, entirely. But if you think that might be the case, see a bankruptcy lawyer first before doing this. See Rule 13.

9) If you have lots of money to invest - that is, if you still have money left over after you have invested 20 percent or more of your gross income in retirement funds - you may, if you insist, invest just a small portion of your extra money in individual stocks, but only in companies in an industry about which you have more knowledge than anything else, and never the company you work for. See Rule 3 and Rule 7. I have seen too many engineers who have been burned after overconfidently, aggressively and foolishly gambling on high tech stocks or other high-risk, high-return investments. If your company provides its own stock, or stock options as benefits, fine, but if and when possible, divest as much as possible, and diversify your investments into other holdings. And generally, unless you are really as smart as Warren Buffett, you should be primarily investing in solid mutual funds rather than trying to beat the odds by picking your own individual stocks.

10) Don't buy a timeshare. Pay as you go for vacations. Ridiculous timeshares are, in my experience, the asset divorcing parties most often want the other to take, as by the time of their divorce, they often realize that they should never have bought them. And don't buy a second home, unless you can afford it - that is, you have regularly saved enough for retirement, and are continuing to save 20 percent of your gross income for retirement, have no need to save for any child's future college expenses (you have enough saved in a 529 plan or otherwise to pay for your children's college costs) and still have money left over.

11) If tempted to raid your retirement fund, which will lead to absurd penalties, find any way you can to avoid this. If you can't cut your expenses or find a way to pay for the necessary things in another way, then come up with the money by temporarily halting your present contributions to retirement (preferable), or borrowing against your retirement (if it absolutely has to be done, this is better than taking an early withdrawal, but this is still bad). This should usually not be a problem if you follow Rule 1.

12) Go into business in one of the following ways only: a) by yourself, b) with others who are not relatives - but get a detailed, written agreement- or c) not at all. When buying a house or other property that you will live in, either do this by yourself, with your spouse - yes, still risky, but this is what marriage is about - or not at all.

13) If you have a lot of high interest, unsecured debt, consult a bankruptcy lawyer to see if you can and should go bankrupt, and if not, how best to get rid of the debt you have. Again, pay down the highest interest rate debt first. Usually you will want to maintain good credit and maximize your credit score, but sometimes you should default on high interest, unsecured debt. Get out of high interest rate debts one way or another, usually by paying them off as soon as possible, unless it is feasible and appropriate for you to avoid paying back the debt, through bankruptcy or default, after consulting a bankruptcy attorney. Often bankruptcy will be a better long-term move, and your credit may actually improve in a short period of time after you eliminate outrageous debts and make a financial recovery. There are many credit counselors who do nothing for you, and just make money as the middleman between you and the horrible vultures that are known as credit card companies.

14) Buy in cash, or use your bank debit card to make purchases, and pay off credit card balances in full each month. Can't or don't want to pay for it now? Then don't buy it. See Rule 6.

For information about personal finance, especially in the context of divorce and family law, see some links to a few good websites and financial calculators on the links page of my law firm website.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Michael Jackson Just Needed A Sheet

And you thought Michael Jackson was crazy when many years ago he dangled his baby from a hotel window? Maybe he just needed a sheet below, onto which he could have dropped Prince Michael II. Don't get it? Then see the YouTube video below, for a bizarre ritual that provides a good example of when state intervention in a religious community is truly necessary to protect children. Hat tip to Family Lore.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lawyers Are Good Doobies

Legal Blog Watch recently took note of the fact that about 350 lawyers, a majority of them family law attorneys, in West Texas have volunteered to represent, without any compensation, the 400 children taken by the state in its raid on the polygamist religious sect. Yes, it's true. Many lawyers are good doobies.

More On The Texas Polygamy Scare and The Civil Liberties Non-Scare

I have recently compared the troubling invasion by the Texas government of the polygamist sect near Eldorado, Texas, to our federal government's invasion of, and war on, the country of Iraq. I have yet another analogy. Yes, at the risk of creating confusion by making yet another comparison, sort of like mixing my metaphors, or similes, or whatever they are, I must say that this other related comparison comes to mind: Our relative silence and seeming disgregard or lack of concern for civil liberties, in the face of this polygamy and child abuse scare, reminds me of how our national fear of terrorism earlier permitted most of us to stand idly by while our Congress cowardly enacted the Patriot Act.

Thus I was rather encouraged upon finding, and listening to, the following, enlightening Lawyer to Lawyer radio show, hosted by Massachusetts lawyer, journalist and blogger Bob Ambrogi:

LegalTalkNetwork - Religion, Polygamy & the Law

In this discussion, it was great to hear the voice of lawyer and social critic Wendy Kaminer, and also that of a Texas lawyer involved in this case, Betsy Branch, who is one of a number of lawyers who has volunteered to represent, pro bono, some of the many adversely affected children. I'm glad to discover from this broadcast that Wendy Kaminer had already said, well before and much better than I did, in her April 21 blog post, The Free For All - Defending Mormon Polygamists: The ACLU Squeaks Up, that the ACLU really needs to speak up loudly and clearly, and that we all should be concerned about the huge civil liberties issues raised by this troubling case in Texas.

But in the radio interview, Wendy Kaminer goes even further. She says much more than the limited space permitted her to say on her blog, and she very well articulates many of the civil liberties concerns I think we all should have. It's really worth a listen, especially if, like me, you are not yet resigned to defeat in the never-ending struggle for restoration or preservation, if not expansion, of civil liberties and constitutional rights, even in this dark, post-Patriot Act era.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

New Legal Blogs From Boston's South Shore

I have recently added two new Massachusetts legal blogs to my blogroll. Both blogs have already contributed many excellent, practical posts likely to be of interest to Massachusetts readers, and both are written by attorneys working South of Boston, in Norfolk County. Check 'em out, subscribe to their feeds, and put 'em on your blogroll!

Massachusetts Lawyer Blog
Published by Wilson & Whitaker, LLC, a Weymouth, Massachusetts, law firm practicing in the areas of personal injury, real estate, estate planning and business law, this new blog is off to a great start, and thus far, seems to be penned solely by the Whitaker half of the firm, Kevin Whitaker. Whitaker is both a lawyer and a licensed real estate broker, and he deftly deals with timely topics and issues in several general practice areas.

Massachusetts Driving Laws
Jessica Foley, criminal defense attorney from the Quincy firm Sullivan & Sweeney, LLP fills a void in Massachusetts by writing a very informative, useful blog on every facet of Massachusetts driving laws: "Information on Speeding Tickets, Drunk Driving, OUI, DUI, Moving Violations, Citations, Insurance Surcharges, License Suspensions, Registry of Motor Vehicle Hearings, RMV issues, Clerk's Hearings, Junior Operators, Hardship Licenses, Revoked Licenses, Ignition Locks, Criminal Complaints, Criminal Charges and other driving related issues for Massachusetts Residents."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

Friday, May 2, 2008

From Aluminum Tubes to Broken Bones: Texans, Lies and Statistics

Remember the Aluminum Tubes, Niger, and The Big Nuclear Threat from Iraq? These themes were brought to you by the Texan in the White House.

Well, now welcome to some new theatrical themes coming directly from Texas: Broken Bones and Teen Pregnancy Statistics. Texas officials are trying to put the spin on another questionable invasion, this invasion being merely that of an unpopular, religious sect rather than of a country.

For more on lies and statistics, media manipulation, and the current FLDS case in Texas, see the following:

Scott Henson, Dallas Morning News op-ed: Where's the evidence of abuse?

Grits for Breakfast: Lies and Statistics

The Volokh Conspiracy: More Statistics

Grits for Breakfast: Misleading PR initiative by DFPS muddies YFZ Ranch debate.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.