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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Weed and work just don't mix

It’s Sunday morning and you are looking forward to a day off of work.  You wake up and your back is just killing you – must be that disc problem doctors say that they simply can’t fix.  Good thing is, you have something that can help, and even better, you have a prescription for it:  medical marijuana.  

Now that you’re done hiding those “green brownies” from the kids, you relax and start to feel the pain ease up.  Monday rolls around, and the boss randomly selects you for the drug testing program.  Not a problem, because you have a prescription for the weed in your system, a license to use an otherwise illegal drug, so you comply without a second thought.  And then, in the words of Donald Trump, “you’re fired.”

A similar ending played out for Colorado resident Brandon Coats in 2010, who got the ax from Dish Network after failing its drug test for having marijuana in his system.  Medical marijuana is legal in Colorado and has been for 15 years.  Colorado also provides an added bonus:  you can legally smoke marijuana recreationally, but your boss can be a buzz kill and prohibit its use by employees.  Despite both sides agreeing that Coats’ use of the drug did not occur at work or impact his job, he was still fired.  

The Colorado Supreme Court recently ruled in Dish Network’s favor, noting that while the law protects employees from wrongful discharge if they are engaged in lawful activities, it only protects activities that are legal at all levels – state and federal.  While the US Supreme Court has made some big decisions lately, none of them legalized pot.  Thanks to this little technicality, Coats was not improperly terminated by Dish.

Medical marijuana is permitted in many states, Michigan included, and this case could have substantial impact across the country in making legal decisions about employees that use pot.  I’m on the fence about whether or not Coats should have been fired – on one hand, everyone agreed that his use of marijuana did not cause a problem at work, and he had a valid prescription for it.  On the other hand, ignorance of the law is not an excuse to violate it, even if it does seem like a tricky detail few in the work force knew about.  

Lesson to be learned:  Don’t assume that your boss’ encouragement of participation in the company potluck means he approves of the brownies that you keep bringing.


When you are involved in the family law court system, chances are you don’t feel like smiling.  And if there weren’t already enough lawyer appointments and court hearings, the judge may order you to attend a program called SMILE.  You can voluntarily participate too (not a lot of people see this as an option, but hopefully this article will change your mind).

SMILE stands for Start Making It Livable for Everyone, and is offered in counties throughout Michigan.  In case you are one of those people who is afraid of the dentist, have no fear, the SMILE program has nothing to do with cavities and Novocain.

The program varies from county to county, but its purpose and message remain the same:  help parents going through separation, divorce, or those were never in a relationship, put the needs of their children first and improve their co-parenting relationship.  SMILE shows parents how their children are impacted by the behaviors of the adults, and how this behavior shapes their little beings both physically and emotionally.

SMILE lasts approximately one to two hours and is typically offered once a month.  Friend of the Court staff, therapists and counselors active in the court system, as well as family law mediators, are some of the potential speakers at each session.  Videos examining the impact of separation may be shown, but the personal and professional experience of the speakers are what make this program truly worthwhile.  These individuals have been working with the court system, parents and children of separate households for years and have likely ran across every situation imaginable.

Many individuals tell me that there is no need for them to attend SMILE because they don’t call their ex bad names and don’t fight in front of the children.  While the program certainly encourages a peaceful relationship between parents, it also provides parents with an idea of how the kids may react to the life changes that occur with the breakup of the intact family.  Every child’s reaction is unique, but there are definite behavioral changes, stressors and worries that children experience.  Learning what those are and how to tackle them as a parent can help your child (and you) better adjust.

Parents are encouraged to ask questions and actively participate during the program, with many of the speakers providing their contact information for future assistance.  Some counties provide a SMILE booklet that contains a summary of the program’s important points, as well as helpful resources like books and contact information for various organizations.  If your county does not provide a book, both Oakland and Washtenaw Friend of the Court websites have a link to their books, so you can download a copy.  While the resource/contact list is likely area-specific, the rest of the content will largely be the same.

If your judge orders or invites you to attend the SMILE program, don’t look at it as yet another inconvenience of the court system.  View it as an opportunity to better your co-parenting relationship for the sake of the kids.

Buffet Bust

My family and I went to Arizona in January to escape the somewhat cold winter we’ve been having, and to visit relatives.  We were lucky for two reasons:  one, it was really, really cold in Michigan the week we were gone, and really, really warm in Arizona; and two, we didn’t risk our freedom by attending any potlucks while there. 

I know, the last sentence deserves an explanation.  Unless you’re having your potluck at work, Arizona actually has a law forbidding it.  I’ve been to potlucks at work, potlucks at someone’s home, potlucks in a park, church potlucks, heck, I’ve even been to a potluck wedding (that one admittedly did hit me by surprise).  Based on my last sentence, you could write a Dr. Suess© book about them.

Arizona had the best of intentions when passing a law regulating “served food,” trying to ensure that everything was up to par with respect to safety and health inspections.  Potlucks at work were excluded from scrutiny, but nowhere else.  While a lot of these delicious “bring a dish to pass” gatherings occur at work, I can think of a myriad of other locales where they regularly take place. 

At first blush, you really wouldn’t think that anyone would even know that a) this law existed; or b) would care to call someone out on it.  However, one well-informed resident of a mobile home park in Apache Junction chose to rat out the neighbors and called the police (clearly he or she was simply not invited and decided to exact revenge).  Deputies actually came out and ended the festivities.  I am uncertain as to whether or not the organizer(s) were fined or arrested, as they legally can be under the law.

As one would expect, people were confused and pretty upset that the “food” police crashed the party.  Arizona legislators are presently working on a fix to modify the law and expand legal potluck locations.  I’m sure in due time, it will all be remedied, but what I really want to know is if the police confiscated the “evidence” from the buffet bust.

Jailhouse attorney

There are many times when a lawyer has dispensed advice that his client did not want to hear, and did not heed.  This can be problematic on both ends, because the client could end up in legal trouble, and the lawyer may decide that it’s just not worth staying on the case if the client refuses to accept his wisdom.  For one man, however, not taking his lawyer’s advice was the right move.

In 2013, attorney David Wenger of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, was representing a client in immigration court.  This particular client had been convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the past, which is not exactly a “small” crime.  Wenger knew of this conviction and was aware it would not be looked upon favorably by the court.  The real problem began when he advised his client to lie about it to avoid deportation.

It all came tumbling down when the client was testifying, and at an apparent moment of moral clarity, admitted to all of his wrongdoings.  Unfortunately for Wenger, he also admitted to what his attorney had advised him.

The prosecutors in Wenger’s case had more evidence to throw at him– a recorded conversation between Wenger and the client while the client was in jail, and a particularly damning email that Wenger sent, in which he was adamant about his decision to not disclose the conviction.

Wenger was recently sentenced for his part in all of this, and received a whopping 18 months in prison.  This was not the first time that his ethics have been called into question – in looking at the State of Michigan Attorney Discipline Board’s website, his slate is anything but clean.  Starting February 22, 2016, his law license will be suspended for two and a half years, to run consecutive to the 180 day suspension he previously received.  In the most recent Notice of Suspension, it provides various reasons for the decision, among those being Wenger’s violations involving client funds.

With his license to practice law gone, I wonder if Wenger will take up the profession of “jailhouse lawyer” while serving his time.    That might prove easier for him, since I’m pretty sure ethics are in short supply in prison.

Divorce is a one-way street

There are times when I send an email and instantly regret doing so.  Some email providers even offer the ability to “unsend” the message within a short few minutes to allow you to exercise that “on second thought…” feeling.

When you initially file a complaint for divorce, there is a waiting period.  It can be waived in some circumstances, but most people have to wait it out.  In Michigan, it’s six months if you have minor children, and two months without.  If there is a chance for reconciliation, it usually occurs during that time frame, and the divorce is dismissed so the couple can work on their relationship.  On rare occasions, the couple remarries after the divorce is finalized.
I have never personally handled a case where a couple tried to legally “reverse” their divorce, but that’s exactly what Terrie Harman and Thomas McCarron of New Hampshire tried to do.  The couple was divorced in July 2014, having enjoyed 24 years of wedded bliss.  Then in March 2015, they joined forces in a court motion, stating that they wanted the divorce voided as they were back together.  Basically, it was all one big fat mistake that they wanted fixed.

Like other states, New Hampshire will set aside divorce judgments for specific reasons – fraud, mistake, etc., but none of those fit the circumstances in this case.  In the Supreme Court of New Hampshire’s opinion, dated December 2, 2015, the court references one of Terrie’s arguments as being that the divorce will adversely impact financial assets, like social security, retirement and inheritance.  And, since they are back in love, why ruin the good thing they have going.  The Supreme Court didn’t buy that rationale and ruled against the couple, stating that absent statutory authority, the court has no power to vacate a divorce judgment based on the parties’ reconciliation.
One of the more ironic facts of this case is that the ex-wife is an attorney.  I’m guessing she doesn’t practice much family law.

Naughty or Nice? Parenting time denials

When I was in high school, I let my younger brother drive us to school one day.  I thought the car was going to flip when he rounded a particularly sharp curve on the highway without slowing down.  I asked him why he didn’t follow the speed limit posted on the bright yellow, diamond shaped road sign, and he said, “that’s just a suggestion.” 

Unfortunately, the practice of family law lends itself to hearing that same type of excuse from parents when they fail to follow a court order.  When a judge signs a court order, he doesn’t cross his fingers and think “I hope this works out” (okay, in some cases, I bet that does happen).  The court issues orders, whether by consent of the parties or the court’s decision, because it expects the orders to be followed.  I can guarantee that I’ve never seen an order where its terms are merely “a suggestion.” 
A lot of people believe that if their ex decides to unilaterally ignore the parenting time provisions of their court order and deny parenting time, they should call the police.  After all, cops enforce the law, right?  Many are often disappointed that the police tell them they won’t get involved in “civil” matters (when was the last time you saw a couple in a family law case be civil?  HA!)

If you are denied parenting time, what you should do is contact your Friend of the Court (FOC) and look into what services it offers for parenting time enforcement.  Some offices have a specific employee who handles these issues, and others spread it amongst several employees who may have other functions.  The FOC office that you would contact would be the one located in the same county as your court case. 
Usually, there is a form for the denied parent to complete and provide details as to what his or her side of the story is.  You have to submit the complaint within 56 days of the alleged denial, and many counties require you to have to attempt an actual physical pick up in order to consider it a denial of parenting time.

Once the FOC receives the complaint, your last parenting time order (if applicable) is reviewed. If it appears that you were entitled to parenting time on the day you were denied, a letter is sent out to the alleged offending parent asking for an explanation.  In a perfect world, a timely response is received and the worker can determine if the denial a) actually happened; and b) was justified.  Make-up parenting time can be ordered in accordance with the FOC’s policy; the parents can be called in to a joint meeting to try to work on their issues and devise a better parenting plan; and/or the offending parent can be show caused to explain why he or she denied the time.
Some reasons for invalid denials include not sending the child because he or she did not want to go; the child was sick (unless there is a doctor’s note indicating the child was not to travel at all and was to be on bed rest); bad weather; the child has other plans, etc.

Unfortunately, a lot of parenting time denials occur around the holidays, so be sure to follow up with the FOC to address any issues. Or, write Santa and tell him to add your ex to the naughty list.

Family ties

Before June of 2015, if you were a same sex couple in a state that did not validate same sex marriage, you had to get creative with how to provide your significant other with health care and other benefits.  For many of the couples faced with this dilemma, adoption was a viable option that afforded the legal family relationship necessary to secure medical and financial advantages.

One particular court case making headlines recently is that of Pennsylvania residents Nino Esposito and Drew Bosee, a same sex couple that have been together for over four decades.  Esposito, the elder of the two, legally adopted Bosee as his son in 2012, in a fairly simple process given that both of their parents were deceased.  This allowed them to reap the same benefits as others recognized as family, but more importantly, legalized their relationship in a way that wasn’t possible at the time.
With the 2015 Supreme Court ruling of Obergefell v Hodges providing for same sex marriage throughout the United States, it made sense to go about recognizing their relationship how they had desired to from the start – as a married couple.  Esposito and Bosee decided to annul the adoption and proceed with a marriage, which they had to do since Pennsylvania law recognizes marriage between adoptive parents and children as incest.

Logically, this all makes sense.  Plan B (adoption) was only carried out because Plan A (marriage) wasn’t available to them.  Now that Plan A is available, let’s scrap Plan B and move on.  This type of situation had already been remedied with others that were in the same predicament – the adoption was annulled, and the couple legally wed. 
However, Judge Lawrence O’Toole ruled that their adoption remained in place, stating he didn’t believe that he had the legal authority to annul it.  The case has been appealed, and will hopefully be overturned, thus paving the way for other couples in the same predicament to have a just result.

In the meantime, Esposito and Bosee will have no choice but to do something all too familiar to them – wait.

Taking the plunge...again

I call it jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire when a newly divorced person remarries right after the finalization of his or her old marriage.  I can’t understand how someone thinks it’s a good idea to take the same vows that he just dissolved mere weeks later.  In some cases, the new spouse may not be so “new” because that relationship may have been going on for a while (gasp!).

If an adult wants to make a decision that may not be the best in hindsight, that is his or her choice.  However, from a family law standpoint, I truly hope those with children consider how these quick, new relationships impact them.
All children, even if an adult, are affected by their parents’ divorce.  Whether they are relieved and think “well it’s about time,” or never saw it coming, their parents’ marriage has already shaped their lives and their future relationships.  It can be much healthier for a child to witness two separate but happy relationships instead of keeping the nuclear family intact when there is constant fighting and tension.

That does not mean, however, that you should start dating like mad to find the next best spouse, or that the kids should be introduced to everyone you start to see.  There is no bright line rule that states how many months a person should date before introducing that individual to the children, but in my (not in any way trained in psychology) opinion, I think three months of steady dating is reasonable.
The new love interest should not attempt to fill in for the missing parent in any way, and should initially just try to be a great friend to the child.  Let the child decide how close he or she wants to be.

Respect for the child’s parents goes a long way in helping the relationship between the new girlfriend or boyfriend and the ex-spouse.  One of my big pet peeves is when the parent introduces the significant other to the children but not to the ex-spouse.  Assuming that there is no domestic violence in the relationship with the ex, these types of matters should be shared.  It rarely goes over well if the children start talking about daddy or mommy’s new “friend” and that parent had no idea that the ex was dating again, let alone exposing the kids to this person.  That usually sets off bells and whistles, with the “in the dark” parent wondering why exactly she hasn’t been kept up-to-date.
Despite how difficult the situation is, in general, the more open you are, the better the outcome.  Sometimes it’s painful to let your ex know what’s going on in your personal life, but if it impacts the kids, it needs to be done.  Besides, you are the adult – put on your big kid pants and take that first step.

Being Above the Law

Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that the US Supreme Court ruled earlier in the summer that gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states.  Celebration was pretty much country-wide, but of course there are those who do not disagree with the ruling.  Most voiced it on social media or to their friends, and then went about their lives.  However, Kim Davis, Rowan County, Kentucky county clerk, was willing to go to jail over it.

As one of her job duties, Davis has to issue marriage licenses, which bear her name and title.   When she got word that she would have to issue these to gay couples, she refused to do so because of her deeply held religious beliefs, sparking legal action, which ended up with her in jail. 
I do things I don’t want to every day – work, pay bills, eat healthy – but I still do these things because I really don’t see much of an alternative (minus the eating healthy).  I also live within the constraints of the law because the last thing I want to do is end up behind bars eating bologna sandwiches.  I fully understand and support standing up for what you believe in, but there has to be some limit to this in terms of what makes sense.

After being released from the pokey, Davis went back to work as she refuses to resign (shocking).  To avoid another stint in jail, she stated that she personally would not sign or issue any marriage licenses for gay couples, but she would not stand in the way of her deputy clerks issuing them, although she does not approve of this.  However, she wants the license to state that it was issued pursuant to a federal court order, as opposed to her authority.  In Kentucky, only county clerks can issue marriage licenses, and not the state itself, so there is not a present solution to this dilemma without a legislative change.  Davis’ refusal to issue the licenses as she should has led to speculation regarding the validity of the license itself.
Many see Davis as a hypocrite, given her three husbands, four marriages and set of twins born out of wedlock.  Her answer to this is that she has only recently renewed her faith and religion, and that God has forgiven her for all of these past faults.  This begs the question, if God forgave her past sins, and she thinks gay marriage is a sin, why isn’t that forgiven too?  She certainly seems to be living by the “forgive and forget” mentality, but apparently can’t extend this leniency to all people.

What does a hug cost?

When I think of prison, I don’t think of sunshine, palm trees and beautiful sparkly baubles (my preferred daydream items).  I toured a prison once, and even the weather cooperated for my general impression of living behind bars – stormy, dark and overall creepy.  I was, however, surprised at the amount of amenities and items inmates could buy, earn, or were simply provided.  For example, there was a soft serve ice cream machine that was available in the cafeteria area.  I wasn’t exactly expecting this Dairy Queen treat to be housed amongst some of our state’s most violent offenders.

A recent jury award of just over $1,000 to a Jackson, Michigan prisoner had me again questioning what is appropriate to allow prisoners when they are serving their time.  Convicted murderer Kevin King was awarded $1,251 from a jury, who found that his First Amendment rights were violated (the violation garnered him $1, and $1,250 was awarded for punitive damages).

Back in 2012, King’s dutiful wife came by for a quaint prison visit.  In case you were unaware, conjugal visits are not allowed in Michigan, so there shouldn’t be a lot of hanky-panky that goes on between visitors and inmates.  King claimed that a prison guard, with whom he had a bad relationship, refused to allow him and his wife to hug each other.

When serving a life sentence, you have all the time in the world to ponder what to do about this dilemma.  King is no stranger to firing off lawsuits relative to his treatment in prison, so naturally, the decision to sue came quite easily.  And this time, he won. 

I don’t think that prisoners should be deprived of all forms of intimate expression, because if we expect them to “reform,” they need to be able to feel love from family and friends, and know that there is a reason to change their behavior.  States that provide conjugal visits are hoping to keep relationships intact, in part to continue the support system for prisoners once they are released.

Hugs are something that I absolutely look forward to after a bad day, and I would say that when you’re in prison, you probably have a lot of bad days.  They can make you feel better both physically and mentally, and I doubt King’s attitude was improved after being told his hug was a no go. 

Assuming the hug was only going to be just that, it seems like it could’ve done much more good than harm in this case.  And let’s not overlook the fact that it cost a lot more than $1,251 to fight the lawsuit.