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Will using smoking as a factor in child custody decisions lead family courts to regulate what children can eat, etc.?

SpitkidA parent who smokes can pose a health risk to a child. Can anyone honestly dispute that premise? I know a parent’s smoking can be a factor in a custody decision because I have seen it happen. A child with some fairly serious respiratory issues would tend to come home from the non-custodial parent’s house with ailments ranging from the sniffles to bronchitis, and we had the medical records to prove it. I represented the custodial parent, obviously. The parent’s defense, in essense, was that no one was allowed to smoke in the house when the child was visiting. They smoked in the house when the child wasn’t around, and they smoked outside when the child was there. The parent did not seem to understand the tendency of the particulate matter put off by cigarettes to hang around an enclosed space long after the cigarette goes out. That would be what was making the child sick. The judge, in ruling in our favor, noted that the non-custodial parent did not seem to have much understanding of, or concern for, the child’s health.

It brings up a sort of interesring question: if courts can consider smoking as a factor in determining custody, how much further can they go in making decisions for the child’s health. Can one parent use the court to dictate everything the other parent feeds the child? Attorney Myra Fleischer, writing at the Washington Times last month, describes these concerns and pretty much dismisses them, which I think is correct:

Civil libertarians and parents may argue that the state may expand its intrusion into other family affairs if it is allowed to limit the right of a private citizen to smoke as a condition of being a parent. What if the child drinks too many sugary sodas, or plays violent video games? Most people bristle at the thought the state can monitor what a child eats, even though most people understand that a high fat, high sugar diet can lead to serious medical problems such as obesity and diabetes. If the state can control smoking by parents, couldn’t the state also control the type of diet a parent provides their children? It’s doubtful we will slide down this slippery slope, since the consequences of second hand smoke are well documented scientifically, giving the state an interest.

But this argument might as well be saved. Many courts have already decided that smoking should be a factor in custody decisions. Judge William F. Chinnock, visiting Judge to the Ohio Supreme Court, said in a law review article that a “considered analysis of family law across the United States leads to this inescapable conclusion: a family court that does not issue court orders restraining persons from smoking in the presence of children under the court’s care fails those children whom the law has entrusted to its care.”

The difference between smoking and the examples cited is that smoking has no benefits whatsoever for a child. Video games are fun and fatty foods are yummy, and in moderation neither is necessarily harmful. Particularly in the case of video games, there is nowhere near the body of scientific evidence demonstrating harm like there is with smoking. Prohibitions on smoking are nothing new in society. Restaurants maintained non-smoking sections long before cities and states enacted smoking bans. To my knowledge, no one has created a non-fatty food section in a restaurant (i.e. a place where fatty foods are banned). I suppose it’s possible, but it’s hard to imagine and relatively easy to guard against.

If a parent is feeding a child nothing but hot dogs, soft drinks, and ice cream, then that is a specific problem a parent can take to a family judge. If a child, with either the permission or acquiescence of a parent, plays “Call of Duty” to the exclusion of school and other responsibilities, that is also a significant impact on the child’s welfare. Most states’ family codes empower family judges to make orders that protect the “best interest of the child.” This tends to be a maddeningly ill-defined phrase, but caselaw offers a guide to what a court can and cannot consider.

Considering smoking as a factor in child custody makes sense from a health standpoint. It makes sense from a practical standpoint because, unlike video games or fatty foods, it is not taking something away from a child that the child wants (and if the child wants cigarettes, there is another problem). Finally, existing law already allows it. This should not be a serious issue of civil liberties. Adults ought to have the right to abuse their own bodies as they see fit, for the most part. When science clearly shows a harm that is not mitigated by any benefit to a child, then the law begins to take an interest in a parent’s activities as they pertain to a specific child (bolded because this is not about trying to stop people from smoking, eating ice cream, etc. in a general sense).

The interesting part is when people start to debate what activities of the parents directly harm the children. I happen to think very few of a parent’s activities done well out of the presence of their children directly harm them (particularly ones that do not produce secondhand smoke), provided the parent does a good job of keeping them separate.

Photo credit: By Opa (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


May I serve as a cautionary example to young lawyers everywhere (UPDATED)

As I attend the South by Southwest Interactive Festival this week, I suppose one could say my transition from a law-focused career to a writing-focused career is turning a corner or something. I’ll have to work on that sales pitch a bit more.

It got me thinking about anything I might have to offer young lawyers trying to do what I did over the past decade, and a few tweeting colleagues helped me realize the biggest piece of advice I could possibly give: get a freaking mentor.

'Manta Ray, Kona Coast, Hawaii' by SteveD on Flickr

I couldn't find a good stock photo for "mentor," so here's a manta ray instead

If you are a young, newbie lawyer condemned by the economy to solo practice, get a mentor. Stop whatever you are doing, I don’t care if it’s cooking breakfast, driving down the interstate, or even getting some. Just stop, ponder the type of law you are trying to practice, and find a mentor. A Twitter exchange yesterday between veteran lawyer Antonin Pribetic and newbie Stephanie Toronto encompasses the importance of mentoring. (Of course I had to respond too, and that inspired this post).

As a second, somewhat-related piece of advice, I’d say this: don’t obsess over technology. Gadgets are awesome, but technology changes constantly and the practice of law changes pretty much never. Young lawyers, myself included, can get hung up on having the most-efficient doo-dads. Read Scott Greenfield’s post about the dangers of tech innovation in a law practice, especially when you deal with serious legal matters like criminal or family law, where the cost of an inconvenient computer crash could mean someone goes to prison or loses custody of their children. Sometimes taking notes on a legal pad makes sense, is what I’m saying.

I did not have anything resembling a mentor for years after I started practicing, and it showed. In my first year, I left the courthouse almost in tears on multiple occasions (at least I waited until I got to the car, most of the time) out of a sense of shame, embarrassment, or just plain ol’ fear. Fear because I never quite knew what to expect when I walked into a courtroom. Of course there is always uncertainty when you go into court, but I mean I sometimes literally had no idea what was going to happen. That was bad for me psychologically, but it was potentially far, far worse for my clients. I was doing family law, and my then-law partners’ criminal practice had several assault with family violence cases that led to divorces. These were not simple cases. They were highly emotional and combative, with every conceivable issue that could be disputed in dispute. Luck was an enormous factor in warding off disaster.

I went to CLE seminars on divorce, and I took advantage of the list of more-experienced lawyers who had agreed to offer their wisdom to us upstarts. I always called them with a strange sense of fear or shame, as if I was exposing too much of my ignorance by admitting there was something I did not know. I have no idea where that notion came from but it is (and let me be clear) utter, complete, and highly destructive bullshit. Of course you don’t know what you’re doing – you just started doing it!

The only people who expect a brand new lawyer to perform perfectly in court are clients, judges, and juries.

And they are the only people whose opinions matter at the end of the day.

So how do you find a mentor? Again, I was never very good at it, but here are a few tips anyway:

1. The courthouse. If you’re there all the time, try talking to other lawyers there. You might get blown off a lot, but you never know who you might meet.

2. Local bar associations. Many cities and towns have their own lawyer organizations that offer opportunities for CLE, networking, and even mentoring. Some even have official mentoring programs.

3. Actually, that’s a long enough list for now.

Where should you not go to find a mentor? A few places spring to mind:

1. Craigslist


3. Bus stops

4. Bars frequented by college students

5. Me

As a final note, if you are in court, arguing an objection, and you suddenly realize that you just recited nearly-verbatim an objection you heard Jack McCoy make on “Law and Order,” it is time to get a mentor. Or a new career. Up to you.

UPDATED (03/23/2012): Corrected an unfortunate spelling error.

Photo credit: ‘Manta Ray, Kona Coast, Hawaii’ by SteveD on Flickr.


Parents of the Year, 2012 Edition

I feel comfortable calling it for the year with these two cases. The fact that I learned about them within a space of just over twelve hours just makes it that much odder.

From the “Didn’t we bring something else with us?” category, we have the parents who forgot their kid at Chuck-E-Cheese, then didn’t realize they forgot:

Parents of a 3-year-old girl had some explaining to do after they forgot their daughter at a Chuck E Cheese and did not realize it until they saw her picture on the evening news.

The girl, named Harmony, was left behind at the theme restaurant in Bel Air, Md., after she attended a large party with her parents. According to a report from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, both of Harmony’s parents, who share custody, assumed the girl had gone home with other relatives.

A restaurant manager alerted sheriff’s deputies around 8 p.m. that the girl had been left alone after Harmony approached a staff member to say she was thirsty.

Unable to locate the 3-year-old girl’s parents, the deputies asked local news media to put Harmony’s picture on the evening news.

Shortly after Harmony’s picture showed up on the 11 p.m. newscast, multiple phone calls came into the Sheriff’s Office, including calls from the girl’s parents. After police determined that Harmony’s abandonment was inadvertent, Child Protective Services released her to her mother, and no charges are expected to be filed.

I’m glad everything worked out okay. Harmony may never want to go to Chuck-E-Cheese again, though.

Next, from the great state of Texas, we have the parents and aunt who clearly didn’t watch “Into the Wild” all the way to the end:

A broken-down school bus on a garbage-strewn lot in Montgomery County was home until Wednesday for two children whose parents apparently are in prison.

A postal worker discovered a girl, 11, and her 5-year-old brother about 10 a.m. while making rounds along Three S Street near Circle H, officials said.

“They appeared to be unsupervised,” said Jamie Nash with the Montgomery County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office.

The bus had been converted into quarters for the children, with bunk beds and a window-mounted air conditioner. But shocked local officials said the youngsters’ living conditions were deplorable. What little food they could get at was in another building on the lot.

“Everyone who was on the scene talked about the odor – there was a lot of trash on the property,” Nash said.


Hayden found a woman on the property who is believed to be the children’s great-aunt. The woman said she works a 12-hour shift Monday through Friday, but was always with the children at night.

“Whether she was there or not, they were being unsupervised for extended periods. It’s not acceptable,” Nash said.

The children said they were home-schooled and are not listed on the rolls at the Splendora Independent School District, officials said.

Again, sounds like everything worked out okay, or at least things potentially could work out okay. The article also mentions that the parents are in prison for defrauding Hurricane Ike victims in 2008. Times are tough, but damn, that is very not okay.


Hospitals are now sending patients directly to lawyers?

A hospital network in Maryland has come up with an inventive way to deal with malpractice claims: sent the complainants directly to lawyers. Via the American Medical Association’s American Medical News:

MedStar Health, one of the largest health care systems in Maryland, prides itself on being proactive when faced with accusations of medical negligence.

MedStar says it discusses with patients what happened during treatment, works toward a resolution and, when appropriate, proposes a settlement. But if patients decline to settle, the health system takes an unlikely next step: It offers them the name and number of a lawyer.

Providing such referrals can resolve cases more quickly and keep complaints from turning into long legal nightmares, MedStar officials say. The strategy also saves health professionals and patients legal expenses. The vetted attorneys agree to take patients’ cases at a reduced rate.

A patient (or family member) asserting a malpractice claim against a hospital receives a referral for a reduced-fee attorney from the hospital, directly vetted by the hospital?

What could possibly go wrong with that?

Hospitals say the practice is good for patients, who often are unfamiliar with the legal system and want compensation for their injuries as soon as possible. But legal experts question whether patients are being misled by hospitals. They also wonder if attorneys on the list may have conflicts of interest and if doctors caught in the middle may end up paying a hefty legal cost.

“As a patient, why would you want that referral?” asked Karen M. McGovern, a Colorado medical liability defense attorney and a nurse for more than 20 years. “There’s a reason these attorneys are being referred by the hospital. What I suspect is that this is an attorney who doesn’t push the cases to trial and settles for lower amounts. Is that attorney going to make up the difference by going after the doctor?”

That’s a defense attorney making that argument. As in, an attorney who represents hospitals against malpractice claimants. She does not want some cakewalk attorney on the other side, because it would only take a little bit of evidence of some sort of undue influence or collusion between the hospital and the plaintiff’s attorney, and that hospital is in for a world of hurt. There is a very good reason why referral services, i.e. services that match the public up with lawyers, need to be independent entities. This sort of appearance of impropriety, even if none exists, is enough to sink quite a few ships. Plaintiff’s lawyers and other health-care atorneys are even less polite about the idea:

The attorney-referral idea could save legal costs for patients, hospitals and health professionals, said S. Allan Adelman, a Maryland attorney and past president of the American Health Lawyers Assn. But the move is risky, he added. For instance, a patient could sue the lawyer after a resolution is reached, alleging that the attorney was beholden to the hospital and did not fairly represent the patient’s interests.

“The patient could come back and file a claim against the attorney, saying he sold them down the river because of a conflict of interest,” Adelman said.

Susan A. Dennehy, a New York plaintiff attorney, questions whether patients would be served by accepting a hospital’s attorney referral. “The concern would be if the patient didn’t fully understand the extent of their injuries,” she said. “Attorneys are not allowed to solicit clients, and it seems as if the hospital is kind of working with the plaintiffs’ attorney to resolve the case in a way that’s unorthodox.”

No matter what the public image may be of ambulance chasing scumbag lawyers, a good medical malpractice attorney must develop a considerable body of medical knowledge. Your average plaintiff is not going to understand their own injuries particularly well most of the time. The attorney has an important role in communicating so the plaintiff understands what his/her rights are. A settlement of a claim for damages requires a plaintiff’s informed consent, which requires an advocate with no relevant conflicts of interest to provide that information.

On the flip side, the pre-vetted plaintiffs’ attorneys may decide to go for broke, putting the entire medical team at risk:

McGovern, the Colorado defense attorney, worries that hospital-based doctors are at risk for costlier lawsuits if patients accept the hospitals’ attorney referrals.

“If [an attorney] is taking the case at a reduced fee, then the attorney is going to be looking to recoup the money that he could have made and looking to get his clients the money he thinks they deserve,” she said. “I think he would go after the doctor. You go after the deepest pockets.”

I have to wonder if any lawyer who did that might find themselves “disinvited” from the referral list, so long as the hospital can find a sufficiently non-suspicious reason.

Finally, given how tort reform is all the rage these days, a system like this might represent an effective capitulation (assuming you accept the inevitability of tort reform):

Maryland attorney Brian Nash doesn’t see anything wrong with the health systems’ legal approach. He has represented plaintiffs and doctors in medical liability cases and has been referred through MedStar’s lawyer list.

“The lawyers may make less, as does the cottage industry associated with litigation, but it truly is a loss that is well worth the price to get these matters resolved fairly, economically and timely,” Nash said in an email. “It is perhaps a form of tort reform that works for not only the health care industry but, more importantly, for the injured patients and families.”

The articles notes in closing that the Maryland State Medical Association is not a fan of the referrl system. Not so much because of patient protection or risk management, but because they say lawyers will not cooperate with them for “real reform.” the struggle continues ever onward.


I wasn’t going to the ABA Techshow anyway, but here’s another reason

I received this in the mail a few weeks ago:

Yes, the keynote speaker at the American Bar Association’s annual technology trade show will be Ben Stein. Info/Law has a good rundown of all the reasons why the ABA should be embarrassed by this. I’d just like to point out something that I hope will be obvious to everyone.

Their keynote speaker is a man whose entire claim to fame is a cameo performance in which he portrayed a singularly bad public speaker.

Well played, ABA.


Thoughts on Andrew Breitbart (Spoiler: they’re not good)

I’m very sorry for Andrew Breitbart’s family. They didn’t ask for the storm of crap that is likely to come from his passing. They ought to be able to mourn in peace. As it stands, though, opinions will swirl in a hostile online environment that Breitbart himself helped to create.

I can’t actually muster much enthusiasm to write about this guy, but several people have asked me my thoughts (although I’m not sure why). More than twenty-four hours have passed, which is reportedly more time than Breitbart allowed before ripping into Ted Kennedy (apparently this is a popular talking point among people who did not like Breitbart). That gives me some small measure of smug moral superiority. All I really have to say is that he was a thug and a liar.

He died of natural causes. That is being widely reported alongside the news that we don’t know how he died. That these two statements don’t yet go together ought to be clear, but if we learned anything from Andrew Breitbart, statements don’t have to be mutually consistent to be truthy.

The casualties of his mendacity are many. As so often happens, others have written more eloquently than I, so I turn to the words of this Tumblr blogger (h/t Karnythia):

Andrew Breitbart dropped dead unexpectedly today. His fellow journalists, eager to justify one of their own and “Make Some Larger Sense Of It All”, are already embarrassing themselves with their eulogies. Breitbart was the “cutting edge of the new journalism.” He “was among the first to see” that with the internet, the old standards of journalism no longer applied.” Blah, blah, blah.

No. Andrew Breitbart was nothing more than an accomplished liar. His “gotcha” journalism was deliberately dishonest but he justified his lies in the name of a higher truth. If he victimized his liberal targets with fabricated videos, that was OK because the larger truth (as defined by the Radical Right) was being served.

This is how fascists think.

I’m skipping the eulogies.


Something’s rotten in the state of legal academia (or how law school is like a penis-enlargement supplement)

Via Andy Mergendahl at Lawyerist, we have this gem of a quote from a law school admissions officer:

I used to be amazed by how little research students did before deciding to go to law school. Thousands of hours and thousands of dollars are invested based on a school’s marketing materials, US News ranking, and a hunch. But there is a wealth of useful, and underused, data available online from sources other than law schools.

'Danger School Traffic Signal' by Jorc Navarro on stock.xchngTo provide a bit of context, solo attorney David Anziska has filed (so far) fourteen lawsuits against law schools related to inflated and otherwise-exaggerated employment statistics provided to prospective students. I’m not holding my breath that these lawsuits will get the plaintiffs any significant relief, but I think they may help put law school on notice that we are on to them. Since I have already commented on various shenanigans of Thomas M. Cooley Law School, let’s take a look at the complaint filed against them (PDF file).

Filed as a class action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, MacDonald, et al v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School “seeks to remedy a systemic, ongoing fraud that is ubiquitous in the legal education industry and threatens to leave a generation of law students in dire financial straits.” Cooley allegedly pumps out up to one thousand new J.D. recipients every year, with four thousand total students at any one time on four campuses. The school’s marketing materials allegedly claim that seventy-six to eighty-two percent of its graduates find employment within nine months of graduation. The rub, according to the complaint, is that the school strongly implies that this number refers to full-time legal employment, when it actually refers to employment of any kind. At the same time, the school reported average starting salaries based on a small subset of employed graduates. Therefore, according to the plaintiffs, graduates whose sole employment one year after graduation is as a part-time dog sitter get counted as “employed,” but their salary might not be included in the statistics. All told, this is not information that would allow a prospective law student to make an informed decision.

The complaint goes on to discuss the non-intervention of the American Bar Association and various other miscreants in legal education. The plaintiffs, by and large, are Cooley graduates who couldn’t find a job and had massive student loan bills. They say they relied to their detriment on the promises made by Cooley’s admissions materials. They assert three causes of action: violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation.

Let’s go back to the statement of the law school admissions official above. Mr. Mergendahl has a good analysis of it, but I think this sentence really cuts to the heart of these cases. Time and again, law school officials seem to invoke caveat emptor (buyer beware) in response to allegations of misrepresentation or outright fraud in employment and salary statistics. In other words, law schools are chastising law students for not figuring out that the law schools were lying to them.

To my knowledge, no court has ruled on any of these cases yet, so let’s say allegedly lying.

It’s actually a fair point, to a degree. There is a wealth of data available to prospective law students now (far more than was available even to me when I applied to law schools in the ancient days of 1999.) Any prospective law school who isn’t blinded by either a desperate search for a new path in life or giddy anticipation of the riches a law degree will bring can find this information. Anyone applying to law school from this point forward should be on notice: DO NOT TRUST EMPLOYMENT STATISTICS FROM LAW SCHOOLS!!!

That covers all present and future law school applicants. What of the people who were taken in by the promises of the moon and the stars in years past, only to find themselves left to fend for themselves when the bottom fell out of the law business? Perhaps they should have known better than to trust the marketing materials of a law school. Should that let a law school off the hook for essentially committing fraud?

By way of comparison, first consider tobacco. Anyone picking up a cigarette for the first time in 2012 anywhere in the United States has a wealth of information available to them regarding the health risks inherent in taking on that habit. Should they try to sue a tobacco company years down the road after they develop lung cancer, there is a good chance that a judge would laugh them straight out of the courthouse and into the street to get hit by a bus. This is because they would be making a decision to take up smoking in the face of extensive evidence of how doing so will kill you.

For people who took up smoking years ago, when information on tobacco’s tendency to turn you into a wheezing phlegm factory was less widely available, the answer is less clear. At any rate, judges and juries have concluded that tobacco companies are liable to people killed by their products, based at least in part on their tendency to understate the product’s deadliness. Misrepresenting or withholding key information has its consequences.

In the tobacco cases, misrepresentation or withholding of information had fatal consequences. Law school, generally speaking, does not kill people. It just saps their finances and leaves them riddled with debt. The debt is voluntary, but arguably obtained under false pretenses. For a less dire, much sillier analogy, consider Enzyte.

Anyone who watched television after 10:00 p.m. between roughly 2002 and 2010 remembers the obnoxious commercials with Bob, the middle-aged guy with the enormous penis. Or enormous grin, since the commercials couldn’t actually say that Enzyte would make your junk get bigger. They couldn’t say that partly because of FCC standards, and partly because they knew that would be pushing the bullshit too far. Of course Enzyte didn’t work. It’s easy to look back and think that only an idiot would think that it would work. That didn’t stop the Federal Trade Commission from prosecuting the company for mail fraud, sending several executives to jail and the company into bankruptcy. Even with completely asinine claims about their product, they still got into major trouble with the law. At least they didn’t kill anybody.

How is law school like a cigarette or a fake dick-embiggening pill? False or misleading claims induce a person who probably should have known better to invest resources into a product or service. That person suffers injury (e.g. death from lung cancer, personal embarrassment, or mountains of student loan debt). Legal liability ensues. The remaining population is wiser.

That said, people still smoke cigarettes, Enzyte is still on the market, and people are still applying to law school in droves while that admissions officer implicitly calls them fools. One thing I learned doing family law, which applies here, is that you often cannot save people from themselves.

Photo credit: ‘Danger School Traffic Signal’ by Jorc Navarro on stock.xchng.


Contrary to what you might have heard, that’s not me in this video

h/t to Jordan Rushie for bringing this to my attention. I can only dream of having this guy’s acting and musical chops. Some day, perhaps…

I can see how one might confuse me for this guy, if you look at me in my full-bearded days. I have never gotten to sing in a commercial, although we did once have our own TV commercial, for two magical, grossly-unproductive months in 2004:

We got three phone calls as a result of that commercial. Two of them were people wanting to sell us stuff. The other one wanted to sue God or something.


Persistence is not key, especially after seventeen years of stalking

The nightmare began with a random act of kindness. The student body president, Jane*, saw a boy she described as an “outcast” struggling with homework in the library. She offered to tutor him, as she said, because she wanted to be nice.

“I just thought I would be a nice girl,” she tells The Seattle Times. “He was an outcast, somebody I wouldn’t be friends with.”

The boy, Tommy, interpreted it as something more. They were middle school students at the time, in 1994. Today, Tommy is 31 years old, and he will be spending more than a quarter century in prison for stalking Jane. A judge in Seattle sentenced him to what prosecutors called the longest prison term for stalking they could remember.

The Deer Stalker by E B StephensFor seventeen years, Tommy made various efforts to contact her. He sent her more than one hundred letters during that time. Sometimes he would threaten to kill her, and other times he would threaten to kill himself. His behavior got him expelled from high school, but the contact continued. Jane’s mother says she reached out to Tommy’s family, but they refused to do anything. At one point, he apparently wrote a letter from jail asking if he could come live with them upon his release.

In 2001, a court sentenced him to eight years in prison for violating an order of “no contact.” He served two years, and once he got out he was back to contacting her family to try to find her. He reportedly even threatened the judge’s life after his release.

He was back in court in 2011, facing two felony counts of stalking and many, many counts of violating restraining orders. By that time, according to prosecutors, he had 26 misdemeanors to his name for violating anti-harassment orders. He had also spent time in a mental health facility, where they deemed him mentally fit to stand trial. Upon his conviction, prosecutors asked for twenty years’ imprisonment. In January, the judge imposed a sentence of 26 1/2 years. Barring any sort of early release, he will be in prison for almost as long as he has been alive so far. Compare that, of course, to the fact that Jane has endured his harassment for more than half of her life.

She had an opportunity to address him directly at the sentencing hearing, in a way that manages to be both vindicating and heartbreaking:

“Please listen to me,” [she] said in court Tuesday. “I don’t love you. I don’t like you. I don’t intend to ever be with you. Please quit trying to contact me or my other family members. We want to be left alone.”

His statement to the court, though, is downright chilling:

Defense attorney Robert Jourdan told [Superior Court Judge Patrick] Oishi that [Tommy] has no support from his family, and no job skills or education. He said that [Tommy] believes prison is the “safest place” for him.

“Your honor, this started all from a phone call … all I did was contact people,” [Tommy] said when given a chance to speak. “As my attorney has said, I don’t mind being in custody for the rest of my life.”

Neither [Tommy] nor his attorney objected to the lengthy term. The sentence includes 7½ years for the two felony counts and 19 years for the misdemeanor counts.

I’m no psychologist, but obviously something went terribly wrong with Tommy. Jane told reporters that she does not expect the letters to stop. I’m sure the prison will figure out how to intercept letters sent directly to her, but a sufficiently-determined person will probably find a way to get some communications out there. I don’t know what, if anything could have been done differently in the past 17 years, but as the situation stands no one can come up with anything but to lock Tommy in a box, away and out of sight, for the next 26+ years. It is hard to muster up sympathy for Tommy. He destroyed multiple lives through his actions–even if he never turned to overt violence, do not underestimate the power of mental abuse, especially over such a long period of time.

It’s tempting to try to draw some broader lesson from this: what does this case say about how poorly we communicate? What does it say about how boys interact with girls, and men with women? I don’t know that there is such a lesson to gain here, except perhaps in how we react to the story. This case has been a tragedy, not only for Jane and her family, but really for Tommy, too, who could not get it together for whatever reason and will now spend decades behind bars.

* I am not using their real names because it seems like they have been through enough. If you simply must know, the linked articles have their names.

Photo credits: Stephen McKay [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Rich Guy Does Something Creepy: Deluxe Edition

Polo playersJust sit with this story for a while:

A wealthy Florida man has adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend as a daughter in a move critics say will protect the man’s assets during an upcoming lawsuit surrounding a deadly car accident.

Polo Club Palm Beach founder John Goodman, 48, adopted his longtime partner Heather Laruso Hutchins in October, The Palm Beach Post reports.

The strategy could shore up Goodman’s wealth as he confronts a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Scott Patrick Wilson, The Associated Press says. Wilson was killed in 2010 when Goodman allegedly ran a stop sign. The trial begins March 27.

Goodman had previously set up a trust for his two minor children. If Wilson’s parents win their civil suit, they cannot receive any compensation from the trust, The Post reports.

Hutchins, as Goodman’s third legal child, is now entitled to a third of the money in the trust. However, another court could later rule that Hutchins isn’t entitled to a share of the trust, Fox News reports.

A lawyer for the Wilson family claims it’s a ploy for Goodman to keep money for himself. But Dan Bachi, Goodman’s lawyer, told The Palm Beach Post, the adoption is to guarantee his children’s future and denied that it was spurred by the lawsuit.

He’s now dating his daughter. There, I said it. Based on my reading of Florida criminal statutes, this does not legally constitute that thing that begins with the letter “i.” It still seems creepy. And opportunistic. Also, what happens if they break up?

Photo credit: By Siddha (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons