Co-parenting during the pandemic

It’s the question I’ve been asked more than any other since the age of social distancing began: how does this affect parenting time with my children?

The answer, as reported in the Chronicle Herald:

While safety precautions must be kept in mind, court orders and agreements for parenting time must be followed by both parents:

Shared parenting can be done safely during the pandemic by following public health guidance, says a Nova Scotia family law expert.

“As long as both parents follow the public health directives they should continue to comply with their parenting orders and agreements,” said Rollie Thompson, a Dalhousie University law professor.

The province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang created unnecessary confusion for co-parents on March 31 when he said in his daily briefing that children should remain in one home during the COVID-19 lockdown, Thompson said.

Strang backtracked the next day, acknowledging he was offering a public health perspective and reminded parents to follow court orders and parenting arrangements. He said parents could get advice from a lawyer or Nova Scotia Legal Aid and “if possible and safe to do so … should develop a plan with the understanding that moving about in the community and going from house to house does increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”

“I think Dr. Strang should stick to public health and stay away from family law,” said Thompson.

Thompson, an expert in family law, co-wrote the federal government’s Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. He said that the vast majority of co-parents in the province can be counted on to follow the social distancing rules. That includes moving kids from one parent’s home to another.

Thompson’s advice to co-parents and their kids is to follow four instructions during the pandemic:

– continue to comply with parenting orders and agreements;

– comply with public health directives to protect your health;

– when health or other unexpected problems arise, be flexible to do what’s in the best interests of your children;

– and above all, work together and avoid conflict.

[…]

The Nova Scotia Judiciary said that existing court orders around parenting time continue to be in effect during the COVID-19 crisis. Jennifer Stairs, a spokeswoman for the judiciary, said those orders — including those involving custody, access, contact and parenting — could be negotiated as long as all parties involved agree.

Unfortunately, I’ve already been forced to deal with several cases where a parent either believes the COVID-19 pandemic means they can’t allow their child to spend time with the other parent, or where they’re using it as an excuse to deny access.

If this is happening to you, contact your lawyer immediately. If you aren’t yet represented by counsel, Nova Scotia Legal Aid may be of assistance:

Nova Scotia Legal Aid is offering help for parents trying to wade through the confusion. Lawyers will process emergency family matters for people who qualify for legal aid. Free twice-weekly online chats are also being offered on the Nova Scotia Legal Aid website. Lawyers will be manning the online discussions on family law issues. They are scheduled Tuesday and Thursday, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Those who don’t qualify for legal aid can access family summary advice at all courthouses through scheduled telephone appointments.

COVID-19 and the courts

The courts of Nova Scotia have issued several memoranda explaining how its practices and procedures have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic:

If you are dealing with any legal matters at the moment, make sure to contact your lawyer and check the courts website to see how your case is being affected.

As for me, my office is closed to the public and I’m working from home. But I’m still meeting with clients when needed – albeit by teleconference or video calling apps. My contact information remains the same, but regular mail may be delayed – email or fax is the best way to get a hold of me.

In the meantime, stay home and keep washing those hands!

Trump Justice

We’ve all been there. Every lawyer has found him- or herself representing a client so belligerent, so unreasonable, so obstinate they’re left with no choice but to withdraw from the case.

In this case, the impossible client is the President of the United States.

Four lawyers who prosecuted Roger Stone quit the case Tuesday after the U.S. Justice Department said it would take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for President Donald Trump’s longtime ally and confidant.

The decision by the Justice Department came just hours after Trump complained that the recommended sentence for Stone was “very horrible and unfair.” The Justice Department said the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump’s tweet — and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.

The four attorneys, including two who were early members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia team, had made up the Justice Department’s trial team and had signed onto a Monday court filing that recommended up to nine years in prison for Stone. 

[…]

After the attorneys quit the case, Justice Department officials filed a revised sentencing memorandum with the judge, arguing its initial recommendation could be “considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances,” but that it would defer to the court. None of the original prosecutors in Stone’s case signed onto the revised memo.

The Justice Department said the decision to shorten the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump’s tweet — and that prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.

Maine Senator Susan Collins, in justifying her decision to vote against removing Trump from office, said she thought the President had “learned his lesson.” I agree, he’s learned a lesson.

So now the President of the United States is blatantly interfering in the justice system for political reasons. What kind of banana republic allows that to happen?

The judge was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli

When I heard that an Alberta judge had invoked George Costanza in one of his decisions, I assumed it had something to do with his (completely accurate) assertion that it’s not a lie if you believe it. But no:

A justice has allowed an Edmonton man’s appeal based on an unusual precedent set not by law but by Seinfeld’s own George Costanza.

In “The Kiss Hello,” Episode 17 of Season 6, Costanza cancels a physiotherapy appointment within 24 hours. Later, he finds out he has been charged a $75 fee, and would face a second fee if he were to cancel the next day’s appointment.

But when he shows up at the office the next day, a receptionist informs him the physiotherapist has “personal affairs she had to attend to,” and that the office left a voicemail message.

“I’m sorry, I require 24 hours for a cancellation,” he says.

“Now, as I see it, you owe me $75. Will that be cash or cheque?”

[…]

On Thursday, a Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta justice found parallels between Costanza’s predicament and that of a local man.

The man’s appeal and request for a new trial date came after a months-long “bungling” of dates and times by both Court and the appellant.

Mr. Chiles, you’ve done it again.

The “Jews did it” defence

He’s just protesting Israeli policy toward the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

A lawyer defending someone charged with murder is acceptable.

A lawyer defending someone charged with the murder of Jewish people is acceptable.

A lawyer defending someone charged with the murder of Jewish people by saying the Jews staged the murder themselves is really, really not fucking acceptable.

Tuesday was D-Day for Mehdi Nemmouche, the main suspect in the attack on the Belgian Jewish museum in Brussels almost five years ago.

The 33-year-old alleged jihadist, who stands accused of murdering two Israeli tourists, a French volunteer and a Belgian museum receptionist on May 24, 2014, was due to speak for the first time in court along with his co-defendant, Nacer Bendrer.

The victims have been waiting for years to hear what Nemmouche had to say – but since his arrest, he has exercised his right to remain silent. After a long day of waiting as legal procedures were followed and a juror was expelled, the accused pleaded not guilty and then said he chose not to speak for the moment.

[…]

Defence lawyer Laquay had told journalists about their strategy before introducing it in court. Laquay maintains the Israeli couple that were killed were not tourists but actually members of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.

“Emanuel and Myriam Riva had worked for Mossad. The lawyers representing their families have already revealed this. Israeli intelligence set up Mehdi Nemmouche. He wasn’t in the Jewish museum during the shooting,” Laquay told FRANCE 24, declining to detail the “scientific” evidence he says he has to support his claims.

“These murdered Jews were actually Mossad agents all along.” It’s the sophisticated European version of Alex Jones insisting that the children butchered at Sandy Hook never really existed.

38% of European Jews have considered leaving the continent because of surging antisemitism. I’m shocked it’s that low.

Good lawyering, bad PR

“MGM resorts sues victims of Las Vegas massacre”: the headlines sound downright dystopian, and the social media reaction is pretty much what you would expect.

But in context, the company’s move makes sense.

MGM, owners of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino, are being sued for their alleged negligence in inadvertently providing a shooter’s nest for Stephen Paddock, who massacred dozens of people at a country music festival last October.   The company’s response is to seek a declaration in federal court that anti-terrorism legislation shields them from liability:

The company cites a 2002 federal act that extends liability protection to any company that uses “anti-terrorism” technology or services that can “help prevent and respond to mass violence.”

In this case, the company argues, the security vendor MGM hired for Route 91, Contemporary Services Corp., was protected from liability because its services had been certified by the Department of Homeland Security for “protecting against and responding to acts of mass injury and destruction.”

The lawsuits argue that this protection also extends to MGM, since MGM hired the security company.

They do not seek money from the victims but do ask that a judge decide if the 2002 act is applicable, and if so, determine that future civil lawsuits against the company are not viable.

Debra DeShong, a spokeswoman for MGM Resorts, released a statement about the litigation Monday.

According to the statement, “The Federal Court is an appropriate venue for these cases and provides those affected with the opportunity for a timely resolution. Years of drawn out litigation and hearings are not in the best interest of victims, the community and those still healing.”

Is the company correct?  Beats me.  That’s for a U.S. Federal Court to decide.   But just because a company – even a company involved in the morally dubious business of gambling – is facing lawsuits from sympathetic defendants doesn’t meant they’re legally in the wrong.

It’s understandable if many Americans, who can’t seem to make any headway in fighting the gun lobby and curtailing their country’s firearms culture, want someone to be punished.  And maybe MGM does indeed bear some liability.  But they are entitled to press their case to the greatest extent allowed by law.

An alt-lawyer for the alt-right

The Washington Post profiles the eccentric Elmer Woodard, a Virginia lawyer who  represents the most deplorable of deplorables:

Woodard, 57, lives about two hours south of Charlottesville, in the tiny town of Blairs, Va., where he has his own law practice, according to public records. His email address, a nod to his past when he filed lawsuits against used-car dealerships, begins with “isuecrooks.”

When he has a case in Charlottesville, he is easy to spot. A driver drops him off in front of the courthouse. Dressed some days in a beige or light-blue seersucker suit, Woodard always dons his signature straw boater hat, encircled with a navy and red ribbon. Most of the time, as he walks past the gantlet of local reporters, he’ll tip his hat and wave a courtly hello. But the press-averse attorney rarely stops for interviews, usually shuffling straight into the courthouse with his cane and black Velcro-strap shoes.

But on his way out of a hearing in May, Woodard agreed to field a few questions from a Washington Post reporter. Asked numerous times whether he regarded himself as a white supremacist, ­Woodard repeatedly said: “I consider myself an attorney.”

Pressed to elaborate, Woodard said: “Just because I represent a pervert doesn’t mean I support perversion. I represent murderers, drug dealers and perverts. Miraculously, I’m not one of them. If you know any, send them my way — only the rich ones.”

Even neo-Nazi scumbags are entitled to legal representation, and as a sole practitioner myself, I can’t really blame Woodard for finding his niche and exploiting it.  Gotta keep the lights on (and straw boater hats on the rack), after all.

But if it makes you feel better, he kind of sucks at his job:

Although prosecutors didn’t raise during the trial Goodwin’s public denial of the Holocaust or his alliance with an Arkansas white nationalist group, ­Woodard made race an issue during his closing arguments. “They want you to convict this man because he’s white, and DeAndre is a black man,” Woodard declared to the jury, which included two African Americans.

After Kennedy

Because of the two defining features of modern American politics – Republican ruthlessness and Democratic strategic blunders – President Trump will almost certainly get to choose a more conservative replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

There is one way the Democrats’ minority in the Senate would prevent a new Justice from being confirmed before the midterm elections, by taking the risky and unprecedented step of simply refusing to show up for work:

Currently, Democrats control 49 Senate seats — two short of the simple majority they would need to filibuster a Trump nominee. So how could they “technically” block the president’s pick? And even with all the outrage on the left, why are they still unlikely to do it?

Earlier this month, University of Miami political scientist Gregory Koger, a specialist in filibustering and legislative obstructionism, explained on Vox.com that, according to Article 1, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution, “a majority … shall constitute a quorum to do business” in the Senate — meaning that Democrats can basically shut the place down by refusing to vote on anything.

With only the barest 51-vote majority — and one of their own, Arizona Sen. John McCain, on extended leave in Arizona as he grapples with what is likely to be terminal brain cancer — Republicans would have difficultly mustering a quorum without at least some Democratic help. “In the month of June, there have been an average of 1.8 Republican absences across 18 roll call votes,” Koger wrote, “so even if McCain returned to the Senate, the majority would struggle to consistently provide a floor majority.” If McCain doesn’t return, and all 49 Democrats refuse to participate, the 50 Republican senators left in Washington would fall one short of a quorum. (The Senate precedents on quorums do not mention whether Vice President Mike Pence could contribute a 51st vote.)

In that case, “the Senate can do nothing,” Koger concluded. “No bill can pass, no amendment can be decided on, no nominations can get approved.” The Senate would screech to a halt for lack of a quorum — and Democrats could conceivably delay a confirmation vote until a new Senate, perhaps with a narrow Democratic majority, is seated next January.

[…]

The fact that Democrats can shut down the Senate, however, doesn’t mean they will. “This would be a confrontational tactic,” Koger explained. “Confrontational” is probably too gentle a word for it. Obstructing a president’s Supreme Court pick by completely shutting down the Senate would require political winds that were blowing strongly in Senate Democrats’ favor. It’s not clear they are.

For one thing, 10 Democratic senators are running for reelection in states that Trump won in 2016, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana all voted to confirm Gorsuch. Would every one of these at-risk senators be willing to imperil their reelection chances by striking over Trump’s next nominee? Democrats can’t afford a single defection.

Politico has a short list from whom Kennedy’s likely replacement will be appointed – most of whom certainly appear qualified, though we all know this has much more to do with partisan politics than it does with legal qualifications.

One further point for despairing liberals, from conservative Marc Thiessen: it is by no means guaranteed that a Republican appointee will be as doctrinaire as they think.

…Trump will have to break the mold of his Republican predecessors. Over the past three decades, presidents from his party have picked seven justices, and several have turned out to be disappointments to conservatives. President Ronald Reagan picked three justices (Sandra Day O’Connor, Scalia and Kennedy), but only one, Scalia, was a consistent conservative. President George H.W. Bush picked one solid conservative (Clarence Thomas) and one (David Souter) who was not. George W. Bush did better, appointing two conservatives, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and John G. Roberts Jr. But even Roberts disappointed conservatives when he cast the deciding vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act in a stroke of judicial activism. If Trump picks not one, but two reliable conservative justices, he will secure the best record of Supreme Court appointments by any modern Republican president.

The new guy, like Gorsuch, likely will not be a Souter.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if Roberts provides Republicans with some unpleasant surprises in the coming years.

Why Kim K. went to the White House

Never change, New York Post:

Capture

It’s the kind of story that could only exist in the crazy year of 2018, but Kardashian’s visit was actually in the service of a noble cause:

The mother-of-three requested the White House meeting after hearing about the plight of Alice Marie Johnson on social media late last year.

“This is so unfair,” Kardashian tweeted in October 2017, along with a link to an interview Johnson, 63, did on Mic.com.

Sources told The Post that Kardashian argued that Johnson — a Memphis great-grandmother convicted of a drug conspiracy — had paid her debt to society after 21 years behind bars and deserves clemency.

The meeting went “well,” sources said, and now the decision is in Trump’s hands.

After the meeting, Kardashian headed to Ivanka and Jared’s DC home for a private dinner.

It was to be a continuation of the White House meeting, since Kushner is a passionate advocate for criminal justice reform after living through his father’s imprisonment.

Usually, liberals say they’re concerned about the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the world, but on Twitter their top priority is laughing at and mocking a much-maligned, vapid celebrity.  And also Kim Kardashian.

Actually, not just on Twitter.  Also CNN:

…one particular CNN reporter didn’t take this prison reform summit seriously.

During a panel discussion on both Trump and the White House’s reaction to the Roseanne Barr controversy, Acosta slammed the “lack of seriousness” coming from the president.

“Forget about the fact that Kim Kardashian is here at the White House today and what planet that is anything resembling normal because it’s not. She shouldn’t be here talking about prison reform. It’s very nice that she is here but that’s not a serious thing to have happen here at the White House.”

[…]

Besides the fact that Acosta never took issue with the countless celebrities that had visited the White House under President Obamaincluding Beyoncé and Jay ZGeorge ClooneyOprah WinfreyLin-Manuel MirandaBradley CooperRihanna, and Zach Galifianakis, Acosta seems to have forgotten about his own 2015 interview with singer John Legend.

Acosta sat down with the Grammy-winning artist and discussed his music, Black Lives Matter, and yes, prison reform, something Legend at the time was planning on meeting with Obama about. And Acosta was genuinely engaged with Legend during the interview and took him seriously not only as an entertainer but as a political thinker.

The same can’t be said about his treatment of Kim Kardashian.

So why the drastic attitude change?

If your argument is that Legend is some intellect singer-songwriter and Kardashian is some air-headed reality star, that misses the point. Look at what they have in common; they’re A-list celebrities with huge followings who have sincere passions that involve politics and in this case, both are using their celebrity status on prison reform. And despite her husband’s recent outspoken support for Trump, Kardashian and Legend backed Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. Which begs the question why Acosta would take one seriously and not the other.

You know my feelings about Trump.  But if he can be President, why can’t Kim Kardashian help nudge the United States toward criminal justice reform?  It wouldn’t be crazier than everything else that’s happened these past few years.