December 28, 2012

St.Mary's County Courthouse Employees Bail on Weddings

I think this is interesting. Some St. Mary's County employees will stop performing marriages because of their opposition to gay marriage.

I don't know how I feel about this. I respect everyone's person views. Obviously, gay marriage won with 52% of the vote so there is still a lot of opposition out there. Still, aren't these employees getting a chance to bail on supporting laws they don't like. Can police officers who think traffic tickets are intrusive allowed to refrain from their obligations to participate in radar traps?

September 29, 2010

Lawyer Sues Client Then Pays $102,000 to Settle

The Washington Post reports on an utter mess where a Virginia divorce lawyer sues his client and then winds up, after five monetary sanctions from the court for failing to appear for mandatory appearances, paying sanctions and paying the client he sued $102,000 to settle the client's counterclaim.

Why did the lawyer settle? In pretrial discovery, the lawyer produced his billing records that showed there were days he billed for 39, 31, 40, and... 71 hours. That's hard to do in a 24 hour day. The Post also made issue of the fact he billed 226 hours per month over a 16-month period. That seems more likely to be inflated given what we now know but there are some defense lawyers who are legitimately billing like that. (They don't have lives, to be sure.)

Anyway, you don't walk away from this article thinking you know the whole story. Something else had to be going on here.

August 20, 2009

Legal Services for Sex

The Associated Press reports that a domestic lawyer in Sacramento pled no contest to four counts of sexual battery and one count of attempted sexual contact.

The prosecutor's allegations were incredible. This divorce lawyer told clients that he had a pharmacy degree and would touch them under the auspices of performing medical procedures during consultations, which, of course, are always necessary to get for a divorce lawyer. In one instance, he allegedly offered to reduce a client's bill by $5,000 if she had sex with him.

Are you kidding me? $5,000? This guy gave up a viable insanity defense.

I would like to know whether that is $5,000 off a future bill he intended to pad or whether he was actually offering to reduce the bill.

May 4, 2009

Leaving Children to Play in the Yard

I read David Berstein's post regularly on the Volokh Conspiracy. I completely disagree with his post on Friday about a Virginia mother charged with leaving her child in a car who is under 8 years-old. Bernstein says

I not only played in my back yard unattended at age eight, but, if I remember correctly, was free to wander around my neighborhood unaccompanied by an adult so long as I came home before dark, and in New York City (Queens) no less. Somehow, I survived unscathed, as did each and every one of my peers.

Most of the comments to the blog disagree with me. One of his readers commented how we were becoming a "Nanny State" and others pointed out that his parents would have been guilty of child abuse. As for the latter point, this is true. But we also didn't wear helmets when riding our bikes, nor did we sit in car seats. It is child abuse today not to put your child in a car seat. The result of this law is there are thousands more kids who got to become adults because they were not killed in an accident. Does anyone really argue that child seat law is a good law? Times change and, yes, the elements of the care given by parents in 1970 would be child abuse today. This is a good thing.

But the final comment is the real kicker:

[F]ellow defense attorneys have advised me not to take my kid to the local children's hospital. They say the doctors there lack the judgment to distinguish between a normal accident of childhood or unorthodox parenting on one side, and true neglect or abuse on the other. Worse, once the doctors get their mind set that it's abuse, nothing will change it. So you take your kid there at least some risk.

So there is a lawyer - apparently a public defender from his email address - out there who would not send their child to a local children's hospital because the doctors cannot tell the difference between an accident (or "unorthodox parenting") on the one side and true neglect or abuse on the other?

May 4, 2009

MAJ Family Law Seminar

I tend to forget that the Maryland Association of Justice has resources for family lawyers in Maryland because our law firm only handles personal injury cases. But they do. On May 15th in Columbia, MAJ is putting on "How Masters Are Deciding Difficult Cases" with the following speakers and topics:

Continue reading "MAJ Family Law Seminar" »

September 10, 2008

Putting the Boxing Gloves Down in Domestic Cases

An Ohio family law lawyer reports on a study suggesting that parties are putting aside the boxing gloves with greater frequency and focusing on trying to resolve domestic cases without a trial.

Does this mean that divorcing parents are starting to put their children ahead of their petty squabbles with greater frequency? Let's pretend this is true because it certainly would be a development that we are caring more for our kids in ways that don't involve educational or athletic excellence.

May 20, 2008

Maryland High Court Decides Same Sex Child Custody Dispute

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday in favor of an adoptive lesbian mother, denying visitation rights to her former partner.

Here are the facts in a nutshell: Two women, identified as Janice M. and Margaret K. by the court, met in 1986. After in vitro fertilization attempts failed, the couple adopted a child from India. India prohibits same sex adoptions, so Janice adopted the child without her partner obtaining a legal status. Presumably, Margaret relied on their long term relationship to assume that no legal formalities were required. Besides, there is no Maryland case law or statute addressing whether same sex parents may adopt children. But we know in practice that many Maryland same sex couples adopt children, notwithstanding the lack of legal approbation. In this case, both Janice and Margaret were acting as the child’s parents, dividing up responsibilities for caring for the child.

After an eighteen year relationship, the couple separated in 2004. Janice kept the house and physical custody of the child but Margaret continued to see the child three or four times a week. Not surprisingly, Janice soon began to wield her legal status as the mother over Margaret, setting new conditions for visitation and requiring details as to who would be with the child during visitation. Reading between the lines, I suspect Margaret was the one that terminated the relationship.

When the tensions reached a critical mass, Margaret then hired a lawyer, sued for custody, or in the alternative, visitation, in Baltimore County Circuit Court. The trial court agreed that Margaret was entitled to visitation rights based on the obvious: it is in the best interest of the child.

The Maryland Court of Appeals said there is no de facto parenthood in Maryland. Relying on the legal technicality of who was the child’s parent, the court found that "extraordinarily exceptional or compelling" circumstances or a finding that a parent is unfit would be needed to overcome a legal parent's right to the care, control and custody of a child.

This case is being prematurely viewed as a big win for the legal parents much to the joy of every anti-gay group which supports this decision in Pavlovian fashion. But this case is not about whether it is right or wrong for people to be gay and raise children. It is about the best interests of the child. Accordingly, the trial court will now have to make a call as to whether the bond between someone acting in the capacity of a parent – with all the bonding that comes with it – is “extraordinarily exceptional or compelling.”

Janice’s lawyer, Cynthia E. Young, was quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying that Margaret had "never had much interest in the child" until after the breakup. If this is true, then Margaret is the bad guy in all of this. But, based on my intuition after reading the facts, I doubt it.

Janice’s lawyer is also quoted by the Baltimore Sun as saying, "Part of my argument was that, 'Gee, an au pair or teacher could petition for visitation if being a de facto parent is the standard. No one wants that to happen."

But isn’t that a false comparison? Teachers and au pairs do not take on parenting responsibilities with the same force as someone in the role of the parent because parenting – with the grace of God – is a lifetime plan and is presented that way to the child.
Moreover, Janice agreed to raise a child with Margaret, sidestepping the social and legal impediments to such an arrangement. We can presume Janice believes these obstacles are false and unjust. Now, she gets a lawyer and hides behind the same legal barriers she ostensibly rejects. Towards what end? Denying a child the right to see a woman who has raised her as a parent out of apparent spite? Again, I’m reading between the lines and could be wrong about all of this. But it sure seems like another example of parents using their child as a pawn, in this case with the added wrinkle of a gay parent using the bias against gay couples as a sword in the game.

Memo to self: smart move never getting involved in domestic law.

March 31, 2008

Practicing Law in Maryland or Mayberry?

I have never felt like practicing law in Maryland was like practicing in Mayberry. But the Maryland Daily Record reports today that the Maryland Judiciary is holding a contest to rename the title “master” that is given to those designated to assist and advise judges, typically in family law and juvenile cases. The Judicial Cabinet, the judiciary’s policy-making body, will determine the contest winner who will be treated to dinner.

January 7, 2008

More Sperm Donors

The Maryland Lawyer Blog is starting to really sink its teeth into sperm donor's recipients who strike a deal with the donor only to later seek child support. This is our second blog on the issue in as many months.

In this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court went into a different direction, ruling that Joel McKiernan, whose sperm donation allowed his former co-worker and girlfriend Ivonne Ferguson to give birth to twin boys in August 1994, does not have to make monthly child support payments or pay thousands of dollars in back support to help support the now 13 year-old boys. McKiernan donated his sperm to his former girlfriend in 1993 with the understanding that he would have no legal rights to the children and would not have to pay any child support. However, it appears that this agreement was never put in writing, and in 1999, Ferguson sued McKiernan for child support.

The trial judge ruled that McKiernan must pay $66,000 in back support and make monthly payments of $1,500, despite strongly disagreeing with Ms. Ferguson’s decision to renege on her original agreement. The Supreme Court overturned this earlier decision, stating that although ruling in favor of Mr. McKiernan would deny the boys additional support, they would not have been born had Ms. Ferguson not agreed that Mr. McKiernan would not be financially responsible for the children.

The battleground in these cases is clear because what is in the best interests of the child is mutually exclusive of what is fair. Given these two powerful interests, it is anyone guess what the appropriate course really is.

December 4, 2007

Sperm Donor Ordered to Pay Child Support 18 Years Later

Newsday reports on a recent Nassau County Family Court ruling that found a New York physician who said he donated sperm to a female co-worker as a friendly gesture is the legal father of an Oregon boy and is obligated to pay child support to the college-bound 18 year-old teenager.

In 1988, a New York doctor decided to donate his sperm to a lesbian couple who wanted a child. Regardless of your position on this kind of stuff, it was almost certainly an altruistic gesture. Probably because he had some affection for the woman, he never put in writing that he would have no legal rights or obligations with respect to the child.

The lines between sperm donor and father were first blurred when the doctor allowed his name to appear on the boy’s birth certificate, an unusual choice he decided upon so that the boy would have a better sense of his identity as he got older. The nature of the relationship became even hazier in the following years as the doctor kept in contact with the child, sending him gifts and money and even cards that he signed “Daddy” or “Dad.” (If you are thinking this is all very strange, I’m right there with you.)

Continue reading "Sperm Donor Ordered to Pay Child Support 18 Years Later" »

September 20, 2007

Maryland's Same Sex Marriage Decision

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals, in a 4 to 3 majority, declined an attempt to legalize gay marriage. The majority did, however, underscore the legislature's authority to choose to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Court reversed Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Brooke Murdock's decision which found that the marriage statute, Family Law Article 2-201, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional because it discriminated on the basis of gender, thereby violating the Equal Rights amendment.

The opinion contained a partial concurrence/dissent and two dissenting opinions, one by Chief Judge Robert Bell. The majority held that the Equal Rights Amendment was not violated because the law discriminates equally between men and women who wished to engage in same-sex marriage (as opposed to only one of the sexes not being able to marry). This is a brillant application of the law or the twisting of logic to get to the result the Court wanted to reach. I cannot decide. Either way, the ball is still in the hands of the Maryland legislature.

The court issued a total of four opinions totaling 244 pages. I have to think this is a record. This reflects the angst of this court on this incredibly emotion issue. Obviously, this decision will likely set off a flurry of activity from activists on both sides of the issue.

I'm not going to ramble on about my own views on this issue. But I will say this: I can understand the depth of emotion gays have on this issue, their fight to be in the mainstream of society. I understand people who think like Hillary Clinton (who is obviously very liberal) and believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I appreciate both arguments. I just think it is a little odd to be so passionate about excluding someone or denying the rights of another person. They might believe gay marriage is wrong. But I can't see how they can get so worked up over the idea of excluding someone. From where does that passion come?