Archive for the 'Lawyers' Category

Preventing Rapists from Obtaining Child Custody

Many child custody cases are heart-breaking, but the most horrific cases involve children who were forcibly conceived. The law struggles with what appears to be the easiest of questions: do rapists have child custody rights?

The Horrific Case of Tiffany and Christopher Mirasolo

In September 2008, 12 year old Tiffany and her sister slipped out at night to meet a boy. The boy’s older friend, 18 year old Christopher Mirasolo, offered to take the girls on a car ride. Instead, Mirasolo held them captive in a vacant house for two days. After raping Tiffany, he released the girls, but threatened to kill them if the girls reported him.

When Tiffany became pregnant, Mirasolo was arrested. He was sentenced to a year in county jail, but only served half a year, to look after his sick mother. Mirasolo was arrested for a second sex assault on a teenage victim two years later. He only served 4 years in prison.

Meanwhile, Tiffany struggled to support the son she gave birth to as a pre-teen. She skipped high school and went straight to work to support her boy. Unfortunately, Tiffany did not make enough money to support her child, so she applied for welfare. Shockingly, state welfare services would not help her unless she named who the father was. When Tiffany named Christopher Mirasolo as the father, state support service filed a support claim on Tiffany’s behalf. The support claim resulted in Tiffany sharing joint child custody with her rapist.

child custodyWhy Would the Judge Grant Joint Legal Custody?

Many states have guidelines and/or laws limiting how welfare is distributed. When Tiffany applied for welfare as a single mother, the state likely has an automatic process whereby it attempts to obtain child support from the father before providing welfare. The goal of course is to save taxpayer money and to transfer the obligation of supporting the child to the responsible party, the other parent.

In order for the state to order a man to pay child support, he must be proven to be the father of the child. Ordinarily, this would be a reasonable policy. The state cannot force people to be couples, but it can try to force people to be responsible for the offspring they create. However, all these reasonable policies and assumptions break down when it is obvious that the mother and father should not be in the same room. Judges have discretion to determine custody arrangements, but judges are bound by state law. Unless there is a statute that prohibits a judge from granting joint custody, most judges will err on the side of joint custody.

However, states vary in how they approach rape and child custody. In 20 states and the District of Columbia, a rape conviction is required before termination of parental rights is allowed.  Five states, Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota, Alabama and Maryland, do not have any laws prohibiting rapists from obtaining child custody. Since criminals are primarily state laws, the most the federal government can do is encourage states to enact laws barring child custody to rapists. The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, signed by President Obama in 2015, gives states funds for passing laws that prevent convicted rapists from obtaining child custody. That’s the extent of the federal government’s involvement in custody and criminal cases though.

How Can We Change Course?

According to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, about 5% of rape victims become pregnant as a result of rape; that’s about 32, 101 pregnancies per year. In percentages, the number is not high. However, each pregnancy because of rape brings out legal and ethical issues that impact both the mother and the child.

First, raising a child together is arguably a more intimate relationship than sex itself.  I have sat through custody hearings where the judge reminds young parents that “you will likely see each other at your child’s teacher-parent meeting, soccer games, college admission tours, wedding, and the birth of your grandchildren. The commitment you made when you decided to have a child together is not a commitment that ends in 18 years; it is a lifetime commitment.” Normally these are words of wisdom. Forcing a rape victim to forge this daily and emotional relationship with the rapist would only lead to more traumas and would likely reduce the victim’s ability to take care of herself, let alone her child.

Second, forcing the child to spend time with the rapist/father would endanger the child. If someone like Mirasolo was willing to kidnap and rape a 12 year old, there is no guarantee that he would not rape his child. Although the child in the Michigan case is a boy, rape is about power. Endangering the child’s life or threatening to do so would allow someone like Mirasolo to further control his victim. Even if professional supervised visitation is an option, it would not prevent the “father” from using the legal system to further exploit his control over the victim and the child.

If the father is convicted of raping the mother in a criminal court, it is imperative that the law extinguish the father’s custody rights. The risk to both mother and child are too great. Arguably, it might be in the best interests of the child to know where he or she came from. However, if the child wants to undertake that journey, they can do so when they are an older and independent adult, able to understand what rape is and why the man who conceived his or her existence is not a good person. If the judge does believe the child might have an interest in being raised by both the victim and the rapist, the judge should at least appoint an independent counsel for the child so that rapist’s arguments do not just outweigh the victim’s interests.

Can Social Media Impact Your Injury Claim?

Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have completely changed how we communicate –not just with close friends and family, but with the world at large. Many people have found commercial and professional success thanks to these websites. About 65% of American adults use some form of social media. However, that same technology can also lead to the loss of thousands, perhaps even millions, of dollars.

In personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff is expected to present evidence of injury. This includes the actual injuries, any loss of life enjoyment because of the injuries, doctor’s reports, etc. In contrast, the defendant’s role is to present evidence that these claims are not true or exaggerated at best. Before the internet, defense attorneys might hire private investigators to “dig up dirt” on the opposing party. With the invention of social media though, finding evidence to discredit opposing parties has never been easier.

social mediaIt’s trivially easy for defense attorneys to check an opposing party’s social media, like Facebook or Twitter, for incriminating evidence. Suppose that a plaintiff claims he was injured in an accident and is unable to return to work because his right foot was crushed during the accident. If the plaintiff has Facebook pictures of himself hiking or running a marathon, a defense attorney would use it against the plaintiff. Similarly, plaintiffs should avoid posting pictures of the injury or mention any doctor visits. If there are any doctor visits that the defense doesn’t know about, the defense can demand the results of those visits be made available to the defendant.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself?

If a defense attorney can use social media to undermine a claim, the plaintiff stands to lose a significant amount, if not all of, his or her recovery. The most obvious solution would be to avoid posting anything on social media until after the lawsuit is over. No postings about vacations, your medical condition, your case, or anything else that could jeopardize your case. It’s not always obvious what type of posts could harm a case though, so consulting a lawyer would be advisable under these circumstances.

If avoiding social media is not an option, there are a few other ways of guarding against incriminating social media. First, change your privacy settings. Websites such as Facebook allow users to change who can view their accounts. Changing your privacy settings from “public” to “friends only” would be a prudent first move. Similarly, you should also ask friends and family to refrain from posting any content about you. Remember, even something as innocent as a picture of a vacation to Disneyland can potentially be used as evidence that you are not injured as you claim.

Obstruction of Justice: What Does it Mean for President Trump?

Irony hits even the most powerful among us. After spending months trying to persuade Director Comey to tell the public that he wasn’t personally under investigation, Donald Trump wakes up on his birthday to find that he is being investigated by Special Counsel Mueller for obstruction of justice. Since obstruction is the same crime that undid President Nixon and almost brought down President Clinton, Mr. Trump finds himself in hostile legal waters. What exactly is obstruction of justice? Is there another evidence for the investigation that Special Counsel Mueller is committing? And is there enough evidence for impeachment?

Obstruction of JusticeWhat Is Obstruction of Justice?

Congress has defined obstruction of justice under Title 18 Section 1519 of the U.S. Code as:

“Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsified, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under Title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

To obtain a conviction, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the act and that the defendant intended to commit the act. For instance, if a defendant killed someone with a car but didn’t intend to, then the defendant can’t be guilty of murder since one element, intent, is missing. Similarly, a defendant who intended to kill someone with his car, but didn’t actually kill the person, cannot be guilty of murder because the act of murder was not committed (although attempted murder or assault would be easier to prove in that instance).

To be sure, the key here would be intent. Since we are dealing with the Presidency here, many of the actions Trump could take to obstruct the investigation would usually be legal. Normally, a President has the power to decide which types of cases the Justice Department should prosecute or fire an FBI Director. Therefore, any investigation regarding obstruction would need to focus on intent. Checking abuse of power is not about whether the power was used, but whether the power was used for improper goals. If Trump fired Director Comey because he truly believed that was best for the nation, then it would not be obstruction. On the other hand, if Trump fired Directory Comey because he didn’t want to see Flynn imprisoned, then it would be obstruction unless the President could explain why preventing Flynn from being prosecuted was in the best interests of the nation.

Establishing intent is always a challenge for prosecutors, as intent deals with what a defendant is thinking rather than what a defendant is doing. Obviously, if there is a “smoking gun” like the Nixon tapes, then proving intent would be a lot easier. However, the law doesn’t always require a smoking gun. If the facts and circumstances of a case suggest a pattern and practice of corrupt intent, that may be enough to tip the balance. Republicans would be wise to avoid examining specific verbiage such as “I hope you can let this go” and focus on the overall picture forming – whether the President has a pattern of removing people who ask too many questions about the Russian investigation and the Trump campaign.

Is There Enough Evidence For An Investigation?

The standard for a criminal conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, if we’re asking whether there is enough evidence for an investigation to ensure we’re not just perpetuating “a witch hunt,” the standard would likely be probable cause. For example, a police officer only needs probable cause to pull a car over. Only after the officer arrests the driver and the prosecutor charges the driver with a DUI will the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard be applied.

With all the talking points about “fake news,” it’s important to create a base line of facts that reasonable people can agree on. After determining which facts are 100% true, we can determine whether they warrant an investigation. So far, the agreed upon timeline appears to be:

This is a long chain of events, so let’s parse through it. Prosecutors, i.e. Mueller and his team, would be looking to fit these events with the two elements for obstruction, the act of impending the investigation, and the intent to do so. In this list, terminating Comey, the tweet about releasing tapes should Comey “leak to the press,” and threatening to terminate Mueller might be considered acts of obstruction. Removing the leading investigators could derail the investigation, although White House Spokeswoman Sanders claims the investigation would continue even after Comey left.

The White House would argue that these actions, terminating an FBI Director and considering the termination of a Special Counselor, are completely legal actions. However, while the actions might normally be legitimate, case law does state that if otherwise legal actions are done for corrupt reasons, then those otherwise legal actions would themselves become illegal. For example, if a prosecutor brings charges against a political opponent and a court later finds that the prosecutor acted based on politics, not law, then the action would become illegitimate, even though it is normally a prosecutor’s job to bring charges.

This idea can also be found in employment law; an employer can fire an employee for any reason, except for illegal ones, such as racial discrimination. Looking through the justifications that the White House gave for firing James Comey, it is very likely that the President gave a bunch of pretexts to mask the fact that he terminated the FBI Director for not dropping the investigation into Michael Flynn.

Of course, it is also possible that Trump had other motivations for firing Comey. Perhaps all Trump wanted was for Comey to announce that the President was not personally under investigation. Or maybe Trump really wanted Comey to say he was “loyal” and not just “honest.” We don’t really know, but if there is a potential for improper and illegal intentions, then its worthy of investigation. If the investigation cannot eliminate these foolish-but-not-illegal intentions, then the investigation will likely be a bust. But if the investigation has evidence to show that the illegal intention was the actual cause of these terminations, then the case would move to Congress to consider impeachment.

“Wonder Woman” Screening for Women Only Opens Theater to Lawsuit

The new Wonder Woman movie seems to be a big hit with crowds, but one theater in Austin is drawing sharp criticism.  Alamo Drafthouse unveiled “women only” screenings of the movie, to celebrate the “only woman superhero, directed by a woman, to hit theaters EVER.” Alamo Drafthouse also promised to staff only women at the event. The screenings were scheduled for June 6th and only women were admitted. The screenings sold out within hours of the announcement.

The announcement drew online criticism, mostly from men. One of those men, Stephen Clark, a law professor at Albany Law School and LGBT Rights Advocate, filed an administrative complaint with Austin’s Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office, alleging discrimination against male customers and male employees. The City has promised to investigate the complaints.

wonder womanWill the Complaints Be Successful?

There are two alleged complaints, discrimination against male customers and discrimination against male employees. The latter probably won’t get very far. In order to have a successful employment suit, there must be some injury or loss that the employee suffers, such as a pay cut, termination, or demotion. Although Alamo Drafthouse is only planning to have women serve the female only screenings, the men who would normally work at the Alamo Drafthouse were not removed. There are other movie screenings that the men can work at and they are still working at the same rate and for the same pay as their female counterparts at the women only Wonder Woman screenings. Without further evidence of injury on the part of the employees, the complaint on behalf of the men working at the theater probably won’t get too far.

The more controversial case would be the male customers who feel discriminated against. Alamo Drafthouse claims that there is no discrimination because there are other screenings going on at the same time in the same theater that do not have restrictions on gender. Men can see the same movie at the same time and it would be the same experience as the women only screening. The only difference is that they are held in separate locations.

The problem is that Alamo Drafthouse’s argument sounds too much like “separate but equal,” which was prohibited by the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board.  Of course, the difference is that the Court found that the segregated institutions of the south had discriminatory intent behind them; the purpose of that segregation was to exclude African Americans. Alamo Drafthouse can try to argue that their purpose is to celebrate and empower women, not to demean men. “This is a celebration of a character that has meant a lot to women since 1940.”

Where Do We Go from Here?

The biggest issue here is probably the marketing. Instead of “women-only” or “no men allowed,” the theater would be on better legal footing if this was sold as an event that celebrated women, but didn’t exclude men. We still live in a world where sex and gender are largely viewed as binary elements. An advantage for one group is often perceived as a disadvantage for the other. This is a big problem when each of the two groups make up half the human race. Like so many other discrimination issues, both sides have divergent understands of “equality and fairness.” One side strives for equality by treating both sides as equal from the present forward. The other believes that equality can be best achieved by acknowledging the past and trying best to correct those prior wrongs.

In this case, many of the men are willing to let women participate in events that once excluded women, but feel that women are not negotiating in good faith when some women demand events that exclude men. The women believe that the past cannot be over until women are not only allowed in to events that they were once excluded from, but also given a space where they feel they will not be discriminated against. Neither side is wrong, but the struggle will continue until both sides feel secure about everyone’s rights.

Anti-Seizure Medication: What Your Doctor Might Not Have Told You

Many people in the United States suffer from epilepsy and other disorders that can cause seizures and this affects every aspect of their lives. From not having the legal ability to drive a car to the simple fact that a seizure can often happen without warning, those who suffer from these crippling disorders depend on a variety of medications to keep their seizures under control.

Physicians who specialize in or are familiar with the nature of seizures and their causes treat their patients with the best medications available that are right for them. As is the norm, new medications arrive to the consumer market all the time and some of these new drugs may find their way into a seizure sufferer’s hands.

Again, most of these drugs work anti-seizure medicationwell and allow seizure patients to lead healthy and more normal lives. However, as with most drugs, side effects are always a risk and some of the risks associated with anti-seizure medications can be very serious.

If you’re taking an anti-seizure medication these are a few things you should know about their side effects and learn more about how to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have.

Types of Seizures

Regardless of the underlying cause seizures are classified by type. These types vary due the patient’s condition, age, and even menstrual cycle. These are some of the types of seizures that healthcare experts have classified.

  • Absence seizures. These are generally mild and consist of short periods of “spacing out.” These were previously called petit mal seizures.
  • Atonic seizures. These are brief seizures that result in a loss of muscle tension. They rarely last longer than 15 seconds.
  • Catamenial seizures. These seizures occur at varying times during a woman’s menstrual cycle and are generally hormone related.
  • Dravet Syndrome. This syndrome begins in the first year of an infant’s life and the seizures increase in frequency as the child ages.
  • Focal seizure. These seizures are among the most unpredictable as the seizure can begin in any part of the brain resulting in differing levels of seizure activity.
  • Myoclonic seizures. These seizures involve brief shaking or jerking of the muscles. The patient is generally conscious during this type of seizure.
  • Tonic Clonic seizure. Previously called a grand mal seizure, a tonic clonic seizure involves the shaking or jerking of the entire body and the patient loses consciousness. These seizures can last from one to three minutes. Anything longer than five minutes is a medical emergency.

Seizure Medications and Their Side Effects

Physicians prescribe a number of different medications for seizure related disorders and one of the more popular of these medications is Dilantin (phenytoin). Dilantin works by decreasing certain activities in the brain that can result in seizures.

However, as with any drug, dilantin comes with side effects and some of them have been severe. Dilantin’s interactions with other medications can also cause life-threatening side effects. Be very clear with your doctor about any medications you are taking if you are prescribed Dilantin.

anti seizure medicationOne of the most serious concerns about Dilantin is during pregnancy. It’s a conflicting issue because discontinuing the use of the drug while pregnant can cause seizures that can be very harmful for the mother and unborn child. On the other hand, Dilantin has been known to cause some serious birth defects ranging from cleft palate to heart defects. It’s vital that you discuss this with your doctor if you are pregnant and taking Dilantin. If taking Dilantin has affected your pregnancy or baby, you may have recourse against the pharmaceutical company.

Dilantin also decreases the effectiveness of hormone-based birth control which can result in irregular periods, spotting, bleeding, and pregnancy. Talk with your doctor about alternative methods of birth control if you take Dilantin.

People with low vitamin D levels or who have osteoporosis should also take Dilantin with caution. The drug is known to contribute to bone loss and this could become more severe if thinning of the bones is already a health concern.

Dilantin has also been associated with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and Purple Glove Syndrome, both of which are skin disorders that can be fatal and need immediate medical attention if they happen.

Dilantin has been a lifesaver for many people who suffer from seizures but it has also caused many people lasting problems due to the side effects. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any side effects that you experience and if those side effects have impacted your life in a severe way you might also want to speak with an attorney. After all, you can’t be too careful when it comes to your health.


Authored by Thomas J. Henry, a renowned trial attorney who has been practicing personal injury law in Texas for more than 25 years. He has represented victims of catastrophic trucking and auto accidents, on-the-job accidents, medical malpractice claims, and many other claims across the United States.