As written for my “Influencers” post:
Once a year I travel to meet with about 20 of the finest family law attorneys in the country. This is that week. I always learn something and gain an optimism after each yearly meeting that lawyers can make a difference. We deeply explore systemic problems and ways to fix them. We discuss helping individual clients as well as how to assist the legislatures and the courts to better understand the needs of individuals embroiled in family law cases. But most importantly, the sometimes very depressing work we do on a day to day basis looks and feels much more positive when we realize we all struggle with the same dilemmas. How to convince a client that settlement is better than court. How to explain to a client that even though their spouse cheated, the children still love them both and want them to get along. How to ensure they are financially protected without spending all their savings on discovery and other legal procedures. These are dilemmas. But I know that my colleagues are good, decent people trying their best to help. This is refreshing and inspiring. I respect them and am honored to be able to join them. And I look forward once again this year to being inspired and educated. I owe it to my clients to learn as much as I can to help them. And learning from experts from around the country is one of the best ways to do that.
As written for my “Influencers” post:
I was interviewed today (October 21, 2012) on CNN about the new Federal Court decision declaring section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional (click here to see the interview: http://youtu.be/TErI_O9nQ6E). This is another step towards the U.S. Supreme Court eventually addressing it, and in my opinion, declaring sections 2 and 3 to be unconstitutional. The case was EDITH SCHLAIN WINDSOR, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF THEA CLARA SPYER, – v.- UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The case can be read in full here.
To summarize, the case held that an elderly woman (83 years old), could not be forced to pay over $300,000.00 in federal estate taxes on assets her partner had left to her when she (her long time partner and wife) died. They had gotten married in Canada and lived in New York, where same-sex marriage is legal.
The Court said “Homosexuals have suffered a history of discrimination” and used a heightened scrutiny test treating gays like other minorities which made it easier to find the law unconstitutional. They said: “[W]e conclude that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional”
Here is what Section 3 says:
“In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
Same Sex marriage licenses are issued in: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and the District of Columbia so according to this opinion, the federal government must recognize same sex marriages in these states and thus federal laws applying to married people should apply to married same sex partners.
Will the United States Supreme Court review this case? Who knows? Perhaps. But they may want to await a future decision that also raises the constitutionality of section 2 of DOMA, which seems to violate the full faith and credit clause of the constitution by stating that states need not recognize marriages in other states between same sex individuals if such state itself does not want to deem such marriages valid. But surely this case makes the issue more noticeable and in need of clarification. And since congress isn’t likely to try to fix this or address the constitutionality (the congress actually paid to defend the law in this case since president Obama would not), it seems the supreme court is where it will ultimately land.
One interesting line from the opinion is: “The law is not concerned with holy matrimony. Government deals with marriage as a civil status–however fundamental–and New York has elected to extend that status to same-sex couples.” This statement, to me, makes it clear that the legal definition of marriage, can, may and often will differ from the religious, moral and philosophical definitions of marriage espoused by different people, different religious experts and others. But the fact that same sex marriage has been declared legal by some states seemed to carry the day in this case. This decision stated clearly that the federal government cannot contravene the state’s determination that same sex marriage is authorized and that in this case, the federal law, DOMA which attempts to override state law, is unconstitutional.
I was recently honored by being featured as Lawyer of the Month in the Premier Edition of Attorney at Law magazine in Georgia last month. It was truly an honor, especially considering who the next Lawyer of the Month is (Joel Katz, the top entertainment lawyer in the country). I am grateful for the selection but honestly and humbly know there are so many more deserving potential honorees. They wrote such a flattering article about me that I really was struck (click here for a link to it). I have been very lucky in my career and my life. I am blessed to have a career I love. Being a divorce lawyer has it’s down moments for sure. But more often there is a feeling of being able to help. And that is the most rewarding part of all.
I have been so fortunate to have been able to serve as Chair of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association for the 2011-2012 term. I cannot believe the year is drawing to a close. To have been allowed to lead this section, has truly been an honor and the highlight of my legal career and bar service. About 15 years ago I served as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Atlanta Bar Association. I have served as Chair of the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse for the American Bar Association and as Chair of the Family Courts Committee of the Family Law Section of the ABA, as well as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Georgia Bar Association. This year has really been a culmination for me and I really know for sure now, that being a lawyer, and serving the bar and the community in ways beyond representing clients, is what makes ours a profession worth pursuing. I have been fortunate enough to meet lawyers and judges from across the world. And while there are many different personalities in our profession, like any other, there are so, so many people trying so hard to do good and to make the world a better place.
I recently attended an event for Congressman John Lewis. He explained how he has been getting in “good trouble” his whole life. What an inspiration he was and is. We should all get in “good trouble” and help make positive change in our world. For me, it is in my limited capacity as a family law attorney, but for all of us there is a way. My year has had it’s challenges just like any other year, but it has been quite an interesting one for Family Law. DOMA seems about ready to fall. Grandparent’s rights are evolving. International custody issues have been given more attention. We should all be helping ensure that these issues get the attention they deserve. Family Law attorneys can and should continue to help legislatures and courts understand the law and the ramifications of poorly drafted statutes or poorly interpreted laws. We should also help the public understand them. Knowledge is power and we should all be as knowledgeable as we can about the laws which shape our country.
Again, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and hope I can continue to contribute. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to be so involved have a duty to continue to help and to ensure that ours truly remains a “profession” and not just a job. Let’s keep trying to make this world a better place.
The New York Times recently ran a story on “Divorce Hotels”. It’s not such a strange concept. Click here for the NY Times story. A divorcing coupe stays at the same hotel to ensure the process moves forward. No delays. Lawyers there focus on that case. Paying attention to a case often helps “get ‘er done”.
Is this the wave of the future? Probably not. Is there a place for it? Maybe. The real bottom line is that once people are ready, emotionally and with all of the facts (an understanding of all finances/incomes/property values, etc.), divorcing parties should get together, be it for mediation or a settlement conference, or even a weekend at the “divorce hotel”, and they should not stop trying to reach resolution until it is done. The alternative, trial, is expensive, costly and very, very imperfect. Keeping hold of your own desitiny is vital. Mediation, and maybe even the “divorce hotel” offers an opportunity to do that.
The 30th annual Georgia Bar, Family Law Institute is this week in Amelia Island, Florida. There are already over 500 people signed up. This is the final seminar for my year as Chair of the Family Law Section in Georgia and I must thank Kelly Miles for putting together such an outstanding program. Click here for the entire agenda. The whole seminar is filled with Cutting Edge topics in Family Law, Hot Tips, case law update and a surprise speaker at the end. There will be ample opportunity not only to learn, but to network and meet other family law attorneys whom you may have litigated against, or with andothers who you certainly will meet for work in the future. Why not come to the program and try to meet them now, while you have no cases against them. It will make it much easier to handle cases together if you develop that relationship independent of any client directives or litigation which may make for a rougher start to a relationship?
I look forward to seeing those of you who have signed up and those of you who still may. Let’s learn and have fun together.
In March 2012, Georgia, a state which may well be one of the very last to recognize gay marriage, will celebrate a first, the first legal seminar hosted by ICLE to focus exclusively on same sex issues (click here for the brochure).
This program will be a comprehensive and thought provoking one. The first discussions will focus on the initial consultation and issues to discover and raise early. The next panel will cover the status of gay marriage and civil unions in the United States, interaction between federal and state law regarding same sex marriage, the portability of marriage and (un)availability of divorce and rights and remedies not available to gay couples where marriage or civil unions are not recognized. They will also discuss recent notable cases.
Other panels will discuss alternatives to divorce (since divorce is not available to same sex couples in Georgia) and alternative legal theories to resolve disputes under Georgia law. The entire program should be highly informative and educational. Even if you, as a lawyer, do not practice in this area, isn’t it something you/we should all understand and know what the law, and legal paths available are?
I can’t wait to watch and learn and hope you will consider joining us as we discuss these issues that many of us try to figure out each day in our practices, on a case by case basis. And again, to view the brochure and date andtime information, please click here.
On January 12, 2012, Dennis Collard and I will be presenting at the State Bar of Georgia on “Winning Settlement Strategies. The seminar brochure can be accessed by clicking here (click for brochure). We are the final speakers for this fine seminar being put on by the General Practice and Trial Law section of the State Bar of Georgia. Other fine speakers include Pete Law and Judge Gino Brogdon among others.
Too often the focus on lawyer education is on how to go to trial. While our particular presentation does indeed cover preparing for trial, our overall point is that by preparing well for trial, you make it more likely you will achieve an appropriate settlement. As with most seminars, the best part of the day will be listening to and watching the other speakers so that I may learn from them. If you are able to join us, please do. And if you have any suggestions for us to consider incorporating into our presentation, please let us know.
“SoBe”…South Beach in the Spring, what could be better? Please consider joining us April 18-21, 2012. After a very successful CLE program in Vegas this past October, we are on a “CLE roll”. The programs scheduled for Miami include:“How to Impress Judges: Analytical Steps to a Well Organized, Concise, and Engaging Trial”, “Social Networking for the Family Lawyer..” and “If you love me, put it in writing.”
And one more time, the location…the Eden Roc Hotel in South Beach, in the heart of Miami Beach, is old style Miami art deco, but fully renovated and hip. It’s a great place to learn and to mingle with family law attorneys from across the country. There will be family law discussed not only indoors, but pool side and at the beach. Isn’t that better than your conference room? I hope you will consider joining us for this fun filled educational meeting. See you in the sun!. – Randall M. Kessler
Each Fall, the American Bar Association holds it’s annual Section Officers Committee meeting in Chicago. This year it begins this week. Each section, division, forum, etc. of the ABA has officers who are new each year. Those officers all come to Chicago to learn how to best perform their roles as Secretary, Vice Chair, Chair-Elect, etc. of their particular group (for me it will be as Chair-Elect of the Family Law Section). It is great to be around so many lawyers who are committed to improving the practice of law. Each lawyer sacrifices two to three days of work to be at the meeting, yet it never feels like a sacrifice. There are “big picture” discussions about the general practice of law, things we can do to help our communities, things we can do to help educate the public about new laws and how we can improve the overall workings of the entire ABA. There are also “small picture” discussion groups focused on how we can each help our particular group (family law, business law, criminal law, etc.). Click here to see the SOC page on the ABA website describing SOC.
While some may say it is inconvenient, especially since each of the officers attending also typically attend four or five other ABA programs each year, including a Spring and Fall program for their area of law as well as the ABA annual and mid-year meetings, it is valuable. It is a chance to step aside from the basic programming and educational aspects of the ABA and to focus on how we can each use our strengths to better our individual areas of practice as well as the ABA as a whole. I am looking forward to it and to actively participating. It feels good.