Friday, December 17, 2010

Divorce and the Holidays

Either you look back at the holidays with a sense of childhood wonder with dreams of sugar plums, or you look back at the holidays wishing you had a sense of childhood wonder with dreams of sugar plums. The best Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and/or Eid al-Adha centers around children. That does not mean the best X-Box, Wii or Playstation. It means togetherness, love and family.
Thus, the process of divorce can certainly have a negative impact on the holidays. That is why if possible it helps to work together. Even at the cost of personal bad feelings. It will not be lost on the children that their parents were able to put bad feelings aside for the holidays.
There are areas of compromise. Some families celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and others on Christmas. Thus, that can be a good dividing point for visitation. Also, the Christmas break is usually at least two weeks and covers four special days: Christmas, Christmas Eve, New Year's Day, and New Year's Eve. Hanukkah varies year to year based on the Jewish Calendar. That being said, you can determine when Hanukkah will be each year. Muslim holidays also use a lunar calendar and vary year to year. Also, over eight days under most visitation schedules the children will have at least a few days with each parent.
Last minute fights over holiday visitation do occur. Thus, most of the time a compromise can be reached. It is important not to let bad feelings associated with the divorce interfere with the children's holiday experience.
Love one another and have a great holiday from the Law Office of Scott Lerner.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Top Scary Movies for Halloween

It is the time of year to talk about Halloween and scary movies. This blog entry does not have much to do with the law. Although, I encourage you to contact the Law Office of Scott Lerner if you go on a killing spree and need representation. I do frown on such behavior and encourage peaceful ways of resolving your differences.
I'm making a list of my top 10 favorite Horror Movies. It is not in order. If you make the list you are already a winner.
The Shining - (the original) - The Stephen King story is great but the direction of Stanley Kubrick makes it a classic. Also, the acting is fantastic. I still get a chill when the twins say, "Come play with us, Danny. Forever and ever and ever."
The Omen (The original from 1976) - The juxtaposition of timeless evil in a little boy just gives me a chill. This movie takes such an unbelievable premise and makes it real. Who needs modern Hollywood special effects?
The Thing - To me this is John Carpenter's masterpiece. Halloween never scared me very much. The Thing plays on your sense of isolation and claustrophobia.
The Sixth Sense - How can M. Night Shyamalan make such a great movie and such bad movies afterwards? Given its PG-13 rating it goes to show that gore, sex and bad language are not necessary for fright. When the father is watching the video-tape the look on his face expresses far more horror then any special effect can.
The Ring - Is there a pattern or two on the list? So far the movies all concern a child. Also they all start with the word "the." Based on the Japanese movie "Ringu" this adaptation is nightmarish. The premise seems silly but it works. The scariest thing to come from Japan since "uni."
Pet Semetery - Little kids coming back from the dead just scare me. Fred Gwynne should have received an Oscar. Most Stephen King books don't make great movies. "Pet Semetery" and "The Shining" are the exceptions. Both also involve Native American burial grounds.
The Orphanage - I'm not a big fan of subtitles but this film is well worth the effort. The atmosphere of dread. The dead children. This movie is just spooky. Another movie that does not need a lot of special effects to be effective.
Hellraiser - This film is original and scary. It paints a new picture of hell on earth. The only Clive Barker movie on the list but "Candyman" is listed as an honorable mention.
Rosemary's Baby - I purposely did not include older movies (this might explain the absence of "Psycho" from my list). This movie I made an exception for. Roman Polanski may be a good topic for my law related topics but this movie speaks for itself. It shows even an infant can be scary.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (the original) - Wes Craven made some scary movies. "Scream" and "The Serpent and the Rainbow" both deserve honorable mention. Yet, a monster that can enter your dreams is a monster well worth being afraid of. The bastard child of a hundred maniacs is one evil dude.

Top ten lists always provide room for argument. What scares me might not scare you. My life experience impacts my list. I am not a fan of your basic slasher film. I prefer a supernatural element to my movies. I could have easily made this a top twenty list and included all of those movies receiving honorable mention and listed below.

Honorable Mention: The Exorcist, Candyman, Alien, Friday the 13th, The 9th Gate, The Fog, Night of the Living Dead, Saw, Evil Dead, An American Werewolf in London.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Case 39 and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

I saw the movie Case 39. I guess I should say spoiler alert before I go on. This is not a movie I want to endorse or recommend but it did make me think about our legal system and how we deal with children.

The movie involves a woman who works for a social service agency concerned with abused and/or neglected children. The California equivalent to the Department of Children and Family Services. Emily (played by Renee Zellweger) is assigned to an unusual family. She feels the daughter is being abused. She ends up rushing to the home just as the child's parents are shoving the child into an oven.

The child is saved by Emily and her friend Detective Barron (Ian McShane). The result is that the parents are sent to a mental health facility and the child ends up living with the social worker. The child turns out to be an evil demon that feeds on death and misery.

Evil child movies always give me the Heebie-jeebies. The juxtaposition of the innocence of a child with the evil of an ageless creature is unsettling. This movie lacked the chills of The Omen or The Exorcist but the idea is the same.

The point I want to make is not that they don't make movies about possessed children as well as they did in the old days. The point is that our legal system has some severe limitations when dealing with children.

Emily is hard working and caring. That being said she had 39 cases in her caseload and limited time to spend on each. She also had no children of her own and had a difficult childhood. Thus, little real life experience concerning how to raise children. Although, fictional the description of Emily is not far from a realistic account of the problems facing social workers.

In these types of cases a social worker makes a decision based on a moment in time rather then over a period of years. I'm not saying they necessarily make the wrong decisions only that their decisions are based on limited information. The Courts have the same limitations. The Judge's understanding of the case is limited to the evidence presented by the parties. The Court often never hears from the children personally. There are certain exceptions to the hearsay rules in Illinois related to children in abuse cases. In addition it is not unusual for the parties not to seek the testimony of the children.

The hard cases are not the sever abuse cases or the drug exposed infants. The hard cases involve the close calls. Foster homes are often worse then leaving the child where she was at. Some foster homes contain other children who have been abused. These children may act out against other foster children in the home. Relative placements can also be troubling. If a mother abuses her child then giving the child to the grandmother who raised the abusive mother may be a mistake.

Supervision is also difficult. Social workers have a large caseload. It is difficult to monitor all the the placements. I court hearing every six months or so is no guarantee anyone is providing proper services and supervision to those involved. In addition case workers are often lacking in the experience and education to deal with children with sever psychological and emotional problems.

I don't have the statistics as to how many children who grow up in foster care end up having a successful and productive life. I will say based on my experience that many of them grow up to have their own children raised in foster care. I can also say that success stories are the exception and not the rule.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Antiques Roadshow - The Good The Bad and The Ugly

I would like to say my object was worth a million dollars and that I’m moving to a tropical island. I would like to say that but it would be lying. We drove to Des Moines, Iowa and saw the Roadshow live and in person on August 7, 2010. The drive was over six hours so this was something we really wanted to do. Was it worth it? In some ways yes and in others no. Was it what I expected? In some ways yes and in others no.
When we arrived at Hy-Vee Hall I was surprised at how little hoopla surrounding the event. There were not a lot of huge signs, scalpers or snow cone venders. They did have a stream of people and objects going into the hall. The volunteers were pleasant and did a good job of getting us to the right place. Although the line was long, it moved very quickly and the people were polite and did not seem to mind waiting. I amused myself by looking at the people with the biggest items. These included a plane prop longer then I am tall and a huge copper bust three times as big as an ordinary head. I would like to have seen more items in line but most people boxed their items. They did have reruns of the show projected on screens throughout the room without sound but with sub-titles. The hall served sandwiches and snacks at a concession stand but nothing worth mentioning.
After the two hour wait in the first line we arrived at a tables with volunteers who divided us into categories. The objects we brought were silver, collectibles and a painting. Toys, posters, paintings and collectibles had the longest lines and silver and Asian art were the shortest lines. Up until this point the organization of the event and the demeanor of all the people involved were surprising excellent. Our tickets were for 3:00 p.m. and the first tickets were for 8:00 a.m. so everyone working for the show had to be tired by the time we got to them.
The set was surrounded by blue screens that formed a large circle. The long lines for each appraisal table were outside the blue screens, thus not visible to the tv viewer. I was surprised how open the set was. The filming was done right in the middle of all the appraisal tables that ringed the set. While we were in the "inside" line for paintings, Mark Walberg taped the introduction. Who knows maybe I will be in the background? The filming of objects selected for TV was done right in the middle of all the commotion.
I was also surprised that everyone I wanted to see was in the hall, Nicholas Lowry (or as my wife and I call him Penn since he looks like Penn from Penn and Teller), a Keno brother (or maybe both since they do look alike) and Noel Barrett were all there as well as most of the people you see on television every week
The experts sat behind a desk with a couple of books and most had a laptop computer. At each table were two to four experts. When an opening was available you would walk up to the appraiser. As I mentioned the filming took place at tables in the middle of the blue screened circle. Although items were filmed while I was there, I did not see an initial appraisal of an item that made it on to the television.
The first table we went to was the painting table. My wife who brought a painting, felt the appraiser seemed a bit short and disinterested. She felt some of the other experts were more engaged in their work of the day.
At this point I went to the silver table. This was fortunate since silver had only three people in line. I believe my expert was Nicholas Dawes. He was polite and spent a lot of time with me. I should point out there was no line at that point. Clearly my items did not “wow” him but he was still patient and explained things. He did suggest items that he felt would be good seek out that were similar to the items I collected. He also suggested a museum in New York I might like to go to.
The next stop was collectibles. My wife got in line first when I left for silver. Apparently a man had a seizure in the line next to her, and had to be taken out by ambulance. Another guest took pictures of him and was escorted out of the Roadshow (pictures are not allowed past the initial appraisal point and this man was taking pictures of everything. As for other odd events I heard a big piece of glass break and that certainly caused my heart to go out to someone.
At Collectibles my wife was happier with her appraiser, Mark Moran who said her item was not terribly valuable but was “cool”. He spent a fair amount of time discussing the item with her and suggesting ways she could determine a value on her own. The collectibles booth was my biggest disappointment of the show. I brought a medal with connections to the White House. I did my homework and could not find any idea of the value of the item on line. That is why I brought it to the show. The appraiser said after only a moment that he had not seen a similar item and thus could not give a value. I was very disappointed. I understand he was in a hurry and had a lot of people in line but he did not seem to make much of an effort. I would have been happy if he at least could point me in the right direction of another appraiser or dealer I could ask. I understand it was late in the day and there was a line but this was a disappointment.
If I were to go again I would certainly choose my items better. Rather then bringing collections of things I would bring my best item. I considered my collection of presidential items as one item. They did not. Also, they do not have the time to really consider a number of items. I also would not choose an item for which I could not find any information on the web. After all, these folks are doing a lot of the same research you and I would do. If I can’t find a similar item there is a good chance in two minutes they can’t either.
Was it worth the drive? For a one time adventure? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes, as long as I don’t have to drive six plus hours. Did it exceed my expectations? No, the appraisers are to busy to do real research. It also provided no opportunity to meet the appraisers or watch the appraisals of other items. I should also note that thousands of people go through each Roadshow stop. Only a few items are selected, The odds of even being considered for television are very low. That being said maybe we will get lucky. My wife and I visited the feedback booth and might be in the background of some appraisal so look for us. I would have also liked to see an Antiques Roadshow t-shirt stand. I am looking forward to watching the show now that I have the insider's scoop on what really goes on. I would love to see a behind-the-scenes show as well. From listening to Mark tape the introductions, we discovered the Des Moines shows will start off the season in January.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Antiques Roadshow

The Antiques Roadshow

I’m planning to go to the Antiques Roadshow! I’m ready to cross it off my bucket list. What should I take to the show? It would be nice to have an item worth a lot of money but I don’t. Even if I did that is no guarantee the item will be selected for television. The book Antiques Roadshow Behind the Scenes by Marsha Bemko gives an insider’s view of how the show works. She tells the story of an individual who brought to the Roadshow a Honus Wagner baseball card. This particular card is considered the most valuable of all baseball cards. Copies have sold for well over a million dollars. Yet, the card did not make it onto the show. Why? The owner knew its value. Most collectors know it is worth a fortune. So why put it on television? To do so is simply not good TV. It does not surprise, educate or entertain the audiance.
If you have watched the show long enough you realize a good story and a good reaction from the guest are both as important as the object itself. I don’t have anything of great value. At least anything I’m aware of I searched the house as soon as I found out about the tickets. Believe it or not I could not locate a single Faberge egg, Tiffany lamp, or Patek Phillip watch. I checked everywhere but no luck.
Of the objects I own that have some limited value, I generally have some idea of their worth. Thus, it is pointless to have someone tell me what I already know. Why waste my one opportunity with this caliber of antique experts to have them tell me what I already know.
What I want to bring must be rare. Yet, rare may not be enough. Some things are rare because no one wants them. There are only fifty “The Law Office of Scott Lerner” tote bags in all the world. Are they rare? Yes. Are they valuable? No. Something is valuable because there is a demand for it. It all comes down to supply and demand. Thus, even with a very low supply, without the demand an item will have little value. So yes, I’m looking for rare, but at the same time, I want to pick something someone wants.
Being old is also nice but may not be the deciding factor. Supply and demand also might explain why being old is not the same as being valuable.Some things that are old are not worth as much as the same things that are new. Think of that freezer from the 1950's in your basement. Consider the value of a Star Wars or Beatles lunch box compared to a turn of the century lunch pail. Being old in no guarantee of being valuable. There was bad craftsmanship two hundred years ago as well as today. As a general rule I would prefer a 200 year old chair to the one I pick up at Walmart, but age alone is not enough.
Being cool, trendy and generally in demand is important. Remember beanie babies? Some things simply go out of fashion. I would guess Shirley Temple collectibles and Edgar Bergen collectibles will likely go down in value in the future. The fans of these individuals are growing older and new fans have not replaced them. Thus, I assume there will be less demand for these objects in the future. The legacy of Elvis and the Beatles goes on, but the average silent movie star has been forgotten.
For all the silent movie star collectors out there, remember I could be wrong. Just like the stock market or any other type of gambling, predicting the value of antiques requires a bit of fortune telling. Also, the economy plays a role in antique values. When the economy is bad fewer people have money to spend on unnecessary expenses. Let’s face it, an antique Rolex watch is cool but my cell phone keeps better time and requires less upkeep. The economy of the United States is not the only economy that matters. As an example the Chinese people have more disposable income then in the past. I would predict antiques with origins from China will increase in value in the future. .
Specific Ideas
I want to bring an item I have no idea of the value of. If I can look it up online then I will not bring it. I’ll have a room full of experts, and I intend to use them. A watch, a guitar, or any item with a price guide is not on my list.
I want the object to be small and not breakable. I live too far away to have them pick up my furniture and I don’t want to walk around with it. I also don’t want to walk around with a clock or any object that is large and breakable. That includes a tea set or a large vase.
I want it to be a part of a collection. The maximum number of objects you can bring is two. Yet, a collection counts as one. So if there is something I collect that is small such as pens, political pins, or match safes, then why not bring them all? That way I will get much more information and appraisals.
I want it to be interesting or fun. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like a Tiffany iridescent vase from the turn of the century. Such vases are beautiful and rare. That being said I have seen them on the Roadshow before and what more can you say about Louis Comfort Tiffany? I would rather bring in a rubber spleen from a famous zombie movie. It may be worth less money and involve less craftsmanship but it’s way more fun.
I don’t care about age. Lets face it, 18th century items or earlier raise eyebrows. 19th century items not so much. I don’t have any impressive items from the 1700's or earlier. So I am going to pick the item I think is the most impressive in and of itself. If I have a better item that is not as old I’ll bring that. Obviously that is not a hard and fast rule. Any Abraham Lincoln artifact is more impressive then a Kennedy item. Yet, not all Civil War items are impressive. As an example a Union Discharge document or a spent bullet has very limited value. At the same time some World War I and II can be very impressive.
I won’t bring anything that was intended to be collected. If it was made to be a collectible odds are it’s not worth much. Anything made by Franklin Mint, Hummel, Department 56, or Precious Moments is not going to make my list. This also includes comics and sports cards. Some of these items may be worth a lot, but most are not and none that I have.
I have not made my selection yet but will soon. Maybe these rules will help others pick their items. Who knows, maybe if I do a good job you will see me on television.
Send me an email before August 6, 2010 with great ideas for what to bring to the Roadshow. My email address is on my web site. The first three emails that include a name and physical address will get a genuine rare The Law Office of Scott Lerner tote bag. United State’s residents only. The author is not responsible for misdirected mail or email. I will only respond to the winners. All entries after August 6, 2010 will be deleted without being read.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Internet and the Law

More and more people have come to me with issues related to the Internet. In divorce cases it is not at all unusual to find individuals making statements or providing photographs on social networking websites that are harmful to their case. It is harmful for people seeking custody to talk about or provide information concerning drug use or other inappropriate behavior.

In Illinois the grounds for the dissolution of marriage should not have an impact on the property distribution. That being said risky Internet dating behavior could have an impact in a custody fight. Exposing children to strangers or people you have only met online can be risky behavior.

Another common issue relates to online auctions. I collect unusual items. Thus, I spend time on online auctions. I have been involved with a number of divorce cases where a party will claim to have no income but will have a lot of activity buying and selling on auction websites. This may show an additional source of income, dissipation of marital assets, or simply make you wonder where the money is coming from to buy this stuff.

Criminal law is also impacted by the Internet. People are far more concerned about criminal records. The Internet makes it very easy for employers to discover past convictions or even past charges that may have been dismissed. As a result I have had more calls concerning sealing or expunging criminal records.

It is also risky behavior to post photographs or provide admissions of criminal behavior on line. The government may be able to obtain a subpoena based on the photographs. What you post on the web is not private and you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Over all the Internet is great. It is a useful tool. If not for the Internet you wouldn't be able to read this blog. It is important to read blogs like mine to obtain general information and to have fun. If you have a legal problem talk to a lawyer. Don't apply general advice to a specific problem.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why do smart people talk to the police?

Everyone with a television knows the Miranda Warnings. Miranda vs. Arizona was decided over forty years ago. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (Supreme Court 1966). Yet, even very smart people give statements to the police. Why is that?
Perhaps the first reason is that the police are good at what they do. They have been doing this for years. They have had training. It is a mistake to believe you're going to be able to control the situation.
The second reason is that you were raised to cooperate with authority figures. People tend to want to cooperate. People mistakenly believe that cooperation will be rewarded .
The third reason is that people believe if they make a statement the police will drop the case. The officers like to encourage communication by saying "Well, if you don't want to give a statement then I guess we will have to consider his or her statement alone." or "Don't you want to tell your side of the story?"
Most of the time the police have already sided with the first person they spoke to. Subsequent statements rarely have any impact on that decision. If someone is hurt or property damaged it is very unlikely the police are going to just let it go. Someone is going to be arrested most of the time.
Remember a confession is not always a confession. Television has helped me through some tough times. That being said it is often misleading when it comes to crime shows. The police don't always look for someone to blurt out, "I did it!". Just admitting you were there proves a good portion of the government's case.
A statement maybe taken out of context. You may not know all the facts. You don't want to create room for confusion or speculation for a jury down the road by making a statement at all.
Did you ever wonder why lie detector tests are used so often? In Illinois criminal proceedings they are not admissible. A polygraph test is unreliability. So why are they offered? The reason is simple if the government can get you to talk they have already won.
Also, if you do make a statement how do you know the police will accurately quote you? I have a t-shirt as well as a sign in my office that reads, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you.". The reason I bought the t-shirt is that it is funny. The reason it is funny is because it is true. I have been doing this for a long time and It is very rare for someone charged with a crime to agree that the police reports reflected accurately what was said and done. Even recorded statements are often tainted by the officers coaching and preparing the defendant prior to turning on the tape.
So, what do you do? Your first step should always be to call The Law Office of Scott Lerner. Your next step should be to inform the officers in an unambiguous manner that you do not wish to talk unless your lawyer is present. Do not initiate any further conversation. If you can't afford a private attorney then ask for the public defender to be appointed.
If the matter goes to court you will have an opportunity to present your side of the story. You will be able to call witnesses and to testify if you so desire. So take a deep breath and be patient.