Monday, April 27, 2015

Baltimore Riots

Riots have erupted in Baltimore in protest over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25 year old black man who died of a spinal cord injury while in police custody. Stores have been looted, property damaged, and several police officers have been injured including one who, as I write this, is unresponsive.

As I wrote in my last post, the root cause of the lawlessness is that people do not believe the justice system is fair and impartial. When it is perceived that police officers can commit crimes, including murder, against blacks without punishment riots are ignited.

When lawyers blatantly lie and commit fraud on the court without any fear of being held accountable whatsoever the consequences are far more damaging than riots in the street. Not only does it result in the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars or more from the law abiding to the criminal and a vast number of deaths, it undermines the very foundation of civil society.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Scientific American - Terrorism as Self-Help Justice

The current issue of Scientific American's Skeptic column by Michael Shermer is titled Terrorism as Self-Help Justice -The moralistic motivations of ISIS. (not currently available online without a subscription) 

Shermer makes the point that only 10% of homicides are predatory in nature - murders that occur during a crime such as burglary - whereas the other 90% are people taking the law into their own hands.  Why do they take the law into their own hands? Because they believe that the state's judicial system is biased against them or they live in states with corrupt legal systems. Shermer makes the point that taking the law into your own hands is quite rational when the judiciary system itself is unjust. 

The best way to stop people from taking the law into their own hands is an effective, just and unbiased judicial system. No amount of law enforcement can overcome this. This may be obvious to people when we look at countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan but it is true in the United States as well.  How many young black men believe that if a police officer commits a crime against them the matter will be resolved fairly by the court system?

I am a victim of criminal misconduct by a lawyer but despite overwhelming evidence, neither the Court, the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, law enforcement or the County Attorney will do anything about it because this type of corruption is common and tolerated.

The very reason this site exists is to move the legal system, particularly the divorce system, in the direction of justice.  We can choose to become a more just country or a less just country. Which path do you choose? 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Permanent Alimony Debate

A few years back had an article on Florida's effort to reform alimony. What I found most compelling were comments it published originally posted on another site.

Here are a few compelling personal stories of both men and women posted in the comments section of the Crestview News Bulletin article:
My husband and I have been married for 11 years and he has been paying permanent alimony for equal to the length of his marriage to his ex (12 years, the myth that permanent alimony only results from a 20 year plus marriage is FALSE). When his marriage ended she left the marriage with more money than he did. In 2012, when their oldest child graduated from high school and she no longer received child support, she asked for an increase in alimony (we are in the middle of the case now). Now the court wants to use my income and savings as a basis to increase her support.”
To tell you a little about me…….I was a single parent for 13 years and raised my daughter alone without even receiving child support because my daughter’s father had no job or assets. Part of my survival as a single parent was to save money when I can. Now my saving money and being a responsible citizen and mother is backfiring on me and the court wants me to give it to my husband’s ex. She bought all the new cell phones and iPods, not me. She had new cars and a rental on the beach, not me. Yet now I am asked to pay. As Americans we are asked…begged….to take control of our own destiny. Work hard, save money, build your 401k and do not rely on the social security system as a single means of income as a retired person……that is what we are told. With alimony you pay forever….. forever. The case of the 40 year marriage where the wife had no job and had no education is the exception…..not the rule.”
In Florida, judges have the right to apply Life Long, Permanent sentencing for Murder, Rape, Child Abuse, Human/Drug Trafficking, High Treason and Divorce….that’s the list! Divorce is not a crime, Alimony Payers are not criminals. We are hard workers and good parents. Helping the ex-spouse become self sufficient as a new “single” citizen is something that we can, should and will do proudly. Helping an ex-spouse get free money for life at the expense of our hard work – and in many cases, the lost opportunity for re-marriage, savings, and retirement – is a sad reality that needs to change. All we ask for are some guidelines and an end date. Provide her money to get an education……but only durational…….not permanent.” 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Kiplinger - When Permanent Alimony Makes Sense

In a 2013 Kiplinger responded to a question as to when permanent alimony makes sense:
Permanent alimony is getting pretty rare, and rightly so in an era of approximate equality between the sexes in education and earnings potential. And it should always be appealable when circumstances change. But permanent alimony is still appropriate in some divorce cases. 
Among the factors that, singly or in combination, can justify permanent alimony are: The marriage was lengthy (30 or more years); the financially dependent spouse is in his or her fifties or older; the ex-spouse is in poor health, handicapped or has limited earning capacity, due to modest education and job skills; the ex-spouse financially supported the primary breadwinner early in the marriage (say, by helping to pay tuition); or one spouse gave up a career to support the other’s career and/or raise the children full-time.
Not a single one of these factors applied in my case. The marriage was less than 20 years, Spring was under 50 years old and in good health, I paid for most of her college tuition, a vocational evaluation concluded she could make just as much money as me, and custody of the children was joint. 

Spring received permanent alimony because the system is corrupt. Despite absolute evidence of fraud, the judge ruled for her because in Minnesota a judge can rule however they want. A Minnesota judge can rule based upon gender, race, religion or their personal relationship with one of the lawyers. They can even reward blatant criminal activity. The system really is that bad. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chris Rock on Alimony

Chris Rock talks about paying alimony in his usual bitterly funny way. 

Although some of his lines make me a bit uncomfortable (talk of violence, even in jest, always makes me a little uneasy), it is pretty poignant and humorous. I love the line about the ridiculousness of awarding alimony based on what you are accustomed to:
"You go to a restaurant, you are accustomed to eating, you leave you ain't eating no more. They don't owe you a steak!"

Friday, April 17, 2015

Is "Alimony Slave" a Valid Term?

There is little that will cause a judge, legislator or lawyer to get more defensive and riled up than stating that permanent alimony is slavery. Let's see if we can look at the matter analytically rather than emotionally. 

Slavery is defined by Wikipedia (and others) as:

Slavery is a legal or economic system under which people are treated as property.[1] While laws and systems vary, as property, slaves may be bought and sold. Slaves can be held from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation.
By this definition, permanent alimony is not slavery because the person paying alimony cannot be bought and sold. I have to pay alimony until the day I die but Spring cannot sell me and my income to another. 

However most countries recognize debt bondage as a form of slavery. Again, from Wikipedia:

Debt bondage has been described by the United Nations as a form of "modern day slavery" and the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery seeks to abolish the practice.[1][2][3] Most countries are parties to the Convention, but the practice is still prevalent in South Asia.[1] Debt bondage in India was legally abolished in 1976 but remains prevalent.
Debt bondage was very common in Ancient Greece. In ancient AthensSolon forbade taking out loans using oneself as a security and ended such debts.
Involuntary servitude is defined by Wikipedia to be (emphasis mine):
Involuntary servitude is a United States legal and constitutional term for a person laboring against that person's will to benefit another, under some form of coercion other than the worker's financial needs. While laboring to benefit another occurs also in the condition of slavery, involuntary servitude does not necessarily connote the complete lack of freedom experienced in chattel slavery; involuntary servitude may also refer to other forms of unfree labor. Involuntary servitude is not dependent upon compensation or its amount.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution makes involuntary servitude illegal under any U.S. jurisdiction whether at the hands of the U.S. government or in the private sphere, except as punishment for a crime: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
The Supreme Court has held, in Butler v. Perry, 240 U.S. 328 (1916), that the Thirteenth Amendment does not prohibit "enforcement of those duties which individuals owe to the state, such as services in the army, militia, on the jury, etc." Onerous long term alimony and spousal support orders, premised on a proprietary interest retained by former marital partners in one another's persons, have also been allowed in many states, though they may in practice embody features of involuntary servitude.[1]
So what do we have? Obviously I am not a chattel slave as I cannot be bought and sold nor can my children be compelled to work for Spring. (although their standard of living has been reduced because of her) However, I think I am clearly in a state of involuntary servitude as I am required to pay a a very large amount of money to Spring every month no matter what until the day I day.  I am being forced to work for her. Retirement is not an option for me. The court order was clear - nothing short of death will will fulfill my obligation. 

Also clear is that I am a debt slave. My debt is not a set amount. I can never pay it off no matter how hard I work. Again, the only way to fulfill my debt is to die. 

Well that was a bit depressing. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo

I recently finished Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity - a powerful and thought-provoking, even thought-wrenching, non-fiction book by Katherine Boo. The story centers around people living in Annawadi, an undercity (slum) located next to Mumbai Airport in India.

For the people of Annawadi hunger is constant, disease in rampant, vermin is vicious, cleanliness is unknown, violence is an everyday event and corruption is rampant. People with injuries are often simply left to die in the weeds. Suicide from self-immolation or eating rat poison is common. Life in Annawadi is, simply put, horrid.

What makes the book so powerful, however, isn't its accurate description of poverty, many books do that well, it is that Boo simply tells what happened without any political agenda. No doubt her background as a reporter (this is her first book) had a great deal to do with this. Boo describes violence by the police all the way down to the poorest of the poor. Corruption is not just the purview of the government, it happens at all levels. The poor are no more or less ethical than the rich. Boo reports, she doesn't blame. In many ways the book's impact on me is similar to Chinua Achebe's great novel Things Fall Apart which I read may years, decades in fact, ago and have never forgotten. Morality is truly a rare thing.

I fully admit that what has happened to me in my divorce has made me see things in a new and possibly skewed light but while reading the absolutely tragic lives of the residents of Annawadi, I could not help but notice that no one, absolutely no one, was forced to work for anyone else. And certainly not until they died. People starved, they were beat up, murdered, wrongly imprisoned, and died because they did not receive proper, or any, medical care. Corruption was rampant. But no one was a slave. Even among the poorest of the poor, that bane has been eliminated. At least in Annawadi. Here in Minnesota it unfortunately still exists. I am not sure if that is self-pitying or astute observation. Or both.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

"A Rape on Campus" Retracted

Rolling Stone magazine has retracted, the explosive article A Rape on Campus written by Sabrina Erdley which describes a gang rape of a college student named "Jackie" at a fraternity. Almost immediately after the article was published questions as to its veracity were raised. Columbia School of Journalism was tasked with finding out the truth and they found the allegations to be fabricated by the alleged victim as well as sloppy journalism by the Erdley and Rolling Stone. More coverage at The New York Times, NPR, and Wikipedia

The problem of confirmation bias – the tendency of people to be trapped by pre-existing assumptions and to select facts that support their own views while overlooking contradictory ones – is a well-established finding of social science. It seems to have been a factor here. - Columbia report

Obviously rape happens as does abuse but when the only evidence required is an accusation it just encourages false allegations. In divorce court, the vast majority of abuse accusations are false yet they still happen because it is effective and, despite it being illegal, there is no downside whatsoever in practice for the person making the false accusation. The only way to reduce false accusations is to prosecute the people making the false accusations just a vigorously as we do perpetrators of rape and abuse. The justice system is supposed to be about justice for each and every individual not a support system for preconceived social biases. It wasn't that long ago that an accusation of attempted rape by a white woman against a black man resulted in a summary lynching. We have made some progress since then but not enough.