Entries Tagged as 'Off Beat'

Divorce or Hit Man?

Divorce, for most people, is not an easy process.  Mediation does make the process easier.

However, a woman in Michigan (and a former NJ resident) decided that hiring a hit man to murder her husband was an easier way to resolve the issues she had with her husband.  According to an article in nj.com and video released by the Muskegon County Prosecutors Office, Julia Charlene Merfeld, 21, said to an undercover police officer: ” when I first decided to do this … it’s not that we weren’t getting along.  But … terrible as it sounds, it was easier than divorcing him.  You know, I didn’t have to worry about the judgment of my family, I didn’t have to worry about breaking his heart, all that stuff like this. It’s, like, how I got a clean getaway.”

She pleaded guilty to solicitation to murder on June 27. However, her husband and intended victim asked that she get no jail time at all.

Instead, Chief Muskegon County Circuit Judge William C. Marietti committed to cap her minimum sentence at six years. The maximum can be anything up to life in prison, depending on Marietti’s decision at Merfeld’s sentencing July 30.

I guess we can now use the tag line:  Divorce mediation — a better way to stay out of jail!

If you are interested in staying out of jail and mediating your divorce, please contact me.

Unattractive? Ugly? Maybe you should settle your lawsuit…

A recently published study by Cornell University indicated that “ugly” or unattractive people who are defendants in criminal trials are 22% more likely to be found guilty and are given longer sentences on average (22 months longer) than attractive people.  The scientists conducting the study tried to look at why this occurs.  Study co-author Justin Gunnell said:

Information processing can proceed through two pathways, a rational one and an experiential one. The former is characterized by an emphasis on analysis, fact and logical argument, whereas the latter is characterized by emotional and personal experience.  Our hypothesis was that if we identify the two groups, then the experiential people are more likely to focus on extralegal factors, which shouldn’t have any bearing on the legal process.  Attractiveness was the variable we used.

The study confirmed what it referred to as an “unattractive harshness effect.”  Jurors who processed information in more of an “experiential” manner were the ones who gave longer sentences and were more likely to convict.

Psychologists and sociologists have long known of the advantages which more attractive people have:  they are more likely to be hired and are generally paid more than less attractive people.  Hollywood is practically defined by attractiveness.

Most lawyers will say that the outcome of many trials hinges on how well the jurors or judge “like” the litigants, lawyers and witnesses who appear in front of them.  The trier of fact gives credibility or believes who they think is more attractive.

As I’ve indicated many times, settling a lawsuit or divorce matter is almost always in the best interests of all parties due to the unknowns of trial.  Part of the unknown results from human biases, some of which were detailed in this study.  We all like to think of a trial as “justice” but the reality sometimes is that it is a popularity or beauty contest.

If you would like to consider mediation to resolve your lawsuit or divorce, please feel free to contact me to discuss your situation further.

An Apology or Slap in the Face?

I have written before about the power and effectiveness of a sincere apology to help resolve a dispute. Now from West Virginia, a completely different way to resolve a dispute: a slap.

Stewart Altmeyer, a prosecutor in Kanawha County, was suspended without pay for one month for agreeing to drop a larceny charge in exchange for allowing the alleged victim to slap the defendant.

In a mediation, I (or most of my colleagues) do not allow violence to be the outcome of any mediation.

A Chance Election Win — ADR at work

While Iranians have taken to the street to protest their disputed presidential election results, an election in Arizona was settled in a different sort of way.  In the run-off ballot for the last city council seat, both candidates tied with 660 votes.  To settle the matter, they each cut a deck of cards after a judge had shuffled it six times.  High card won.

This is alternative dispute resolution at work.

Britain Holds its First Divorce Fair

First there are wedding fairs, now ones for divorce.  According to AP News:

Breaking up is hard to do. But lawyers, counselors, astrologists and lifestyle coaches at Britain’s first divorce fair this weekend will aim to make the process easier.

The fair — cheerily named the “Starting Over Show” — takes place Sunday at a cozy hotel in the seaside resort town of Brighton.

Organizer Suzy Miller said the event would aim to focus on the positive, starting with a warming cup of tea and a chunk of homemade cake. Musicians will play live and there will be play areas for kids.

Though Britain has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe, Miller said the Brighton event would be unlike the continent’s first divorce fair in Austria two years ago, which featured private investigators and companies offering paternity tests.

Instead, psychics would offer to heal people’s minds and bodies, and one company suggests boosting finances by selling a healthy version of chocolate, she said. Many of the 30 or so exhibitors, who have paid up to 1,600 pounds ($2,245) for a stall, plan to focus on having fun.

“Sometimes people just need someone to talk to,” said exhibitor Martina Mercer-Hall, who uses astrology and alternative therapies to advise on designing one’s home after divorce.

One exhibitor promises to organize the footwear equivalent of Tupperware parties, selling stilettos instead of food storage tubs. Another plans art appreciation vacations. On a more pragmatic note, the fair offers debt counselors and mediators to help couples navigate divorce without lawyers.

In Britain, 2.6 people of every thousand are divorced, compared with a European average of 1.8, according to EU statistics gathered in 2001. A 2002 report from the Center for Policy Studies think-tank says Britain offers few tax or welfare advantages to being married, and suggests younger people do not view a marriage commitment as seriously.

Divorce lawyers say business is booming, as the country’s recession puts pressure on marriages.

Divorce is a painful experience.  I can’t see how some of these things (bringing your kids?) to this convention will be productive.  At least they will be having mediators.

Appealing the God Lawsuit dismissal

In an earlier post, I talked about a lawsuit filed against God being thrown out since God was unable to be served.  The Omaha World-Herald reports about the appeal:

LINCOLN — A God who is “all-knowing” should know when he’s being sued, even without being served notice of the lawsuit, said former State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.

After all, Chambers wrote to the Nebraska Court of Appeals, courts already invoke the Almighty in oaths to witnesses that they tell the truth “so help me God.”

He said it was inconsistent for the Douglas County District Court “to take judicial notice of God in order to administer oaths and to enter an order to dismiss . . . yet simultaneously deny that the all-knowing God has notice of the petition,” Chambers stated in written arguments submitted Monday.

Chambers, an atheist who got a law degree at Creighton University, filed suit against God in 2007.

The purpose, he said, was to uphold citizens’ rights to sue “anyone else, even God.” Chambers said he acted in response to legislation to limit so-called frivolous lawsuits.

Douglas County District Judge Marlon Polk dismissed the lawsuit, saying there was no evidence that God had been served in the case. Polk also said “there can never be service effectuated” on God.

In his appeal, Chambers said not only that God would know he was being sued, but the judge abused his discretion by dismissing the lawsuit “with prejudice,” meaning it cannot be refiled.

Previous Nebraska Supreme Court rulings, he argued, state that if a party is not served within six months the remedy is dismissal “without prejudice,” which means a new lawsuit can be filed.

The Court of Appeals could uphold Polk’s ruling without comment or schedule oral arguments in the case.

The court gave Chambers until Feb. 24 to file a statement of jurisdiction in the case and to show that he had notified Lincoln attorney John DeCamp, who has asked to represent God.

DeCamp, another former state senator, is among a handful of people, from Texas to Sweden, who have filed court documents seeking to be God’s lawyer in the case.

“If they want to go to court, we’re willing to take God’s side,” said DeCamp, who practices law in Lincoln. He said he legally registered “The Church of the Golden Rule” as an entity in Nebraska two decades ago, so he has religious experience.

E.O. Augustsson of Orebro, Sweden, wrote the Appeals Court, asking to intervene on God’s behalf. The court ruled that his letters, which mentioned “Bjorn . . . the omnipresent,” were “frivolous” — a description some have given to Chambers’ lawsuit.

Attorney Eric Perkins of Corpus Christi, Texas, filed a response to Chambers’ lawsuit in Douglas County. Perkins said God “knew the plaintiff, created the plaintiff” but was not “disappointed” by him.

Court documents signed by “God himself” and “Mary” also were filed in the lower court.

And you thought NJ Justice was slow?

How would you like this system of justice?  In India, the New Delhi High Court has an estimated 466 YEARS of backlog.  Yes, that’s years and it’s not a typo.  And that is the backlog on criminal cases alone.  The court handles all types of cases, including criminal and civil.

A recent report highlighted the problems the court is having.   The court has thousands of cases pending.  Over 600 of those cases have pending for over 20 years.  And it’s not just from being slow.  The average case is heard in four minutes and 55 seconds.  India simply does not have enough judges in their system.  India has 1.1 Billion people (with a B) and 11 judges per million people.  The US in contrast has 110 judges per million people.  The court also needs to work more hours per day (currently ringing in at 5.25 hours/day and 213 days/year).  Corruption also plays a part, which is pervasive in Indian society in general.

Another pants Appeal…

Roy Pearson won’t go away quietly.  He is now asking for an en banc hearing of his appeal on the $54 million lawsuit over his lost pants.  Previously, 3 appellate judges rejected his appeal and now he wants all 9 judges on the circuit to hear his appeal.

Suing God

Can you sue God?  That was a question a court in Nebraska was asked to answer.

Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers sued the Almighty in September 2007, seeking a permanent injunction to prevent God from committing acts of violence such as earthquakes and tornadoes.  However, Judge Marlon Polk has thrown out the case saying there was no evidence the defendant has been served (been given the lawsuit papers and complaint in the proscribed manner).  Polk found “there can never be service effectuated on the named defendant.”  The case was dismissed with prejudice (meaning it cannot be refiled), but Chambers can appeal the judge’s decision — which he is considering.

“It is a thoughtful, well-written opinion,” Chambers said. “However, like any prudent litigator, I want to study it in detail before I determine what my next course of action will be.”  Chambers, an agnostic senator who has served for 37 years but cannot run for re-election due to term limits, is trying to draw attention to frivolous lawsuits and whether certain lawsuits should be prohibited.

This leads to a few interesting questions.  If God is the “true judge” (as many religions deem H,im so), how can others judge Him?  If all humans are subjects of God (who bears the power of life and death), how could a human judge make an unbiased ruling? If many religious organization purport to be the representatives of God, can you sue them as God’s agent on earth?

Even more, could this case be mediated? (I would say yes, since God does negotiate with Abraham, Moses and others in several biblical stories.)  If so, who would the mediator be?

It’s the pants?

They’re back again.  One of my favorite blogging topics, the (former) judge and his $54 million pants lawsuit.  I’ve written before about Judge Roy Pearson’s lawsuit against a dry cleaner for losing a pair of pants.  As you will recall, he lost his pants, lawsuit (and was required to pay the legal costs of the cleaners) and then his job.  The dry cleaner also went out of business as a result of the suit.

Judge Pearson has appealed both his job dismissal as well as the decision of the court in the pants matter.  Now, a 3 judge panel has agreed to hear his appeal on the missing pants in a hearing next month.

Has this case ever been through mediation?  How a lost pair of pants turned into all of this is beyond me.  In many cases, what people are suing over isn’t the core dispute at hand.  Perhaps something else transpired which has now spiraled out of control?

Mediation couldn’t hurt.  I’ll make some time if the parties want me to get involved.  :-)