Monday, March 7, 2016

The Elephant in the Courtroom




The Florida Bar Young Lawyer Division (YLD) recently released a statement about the results of a survey in which 3,137 young female Florida attorneys shocking YLD President Gordon Glover, and Florida Bar President Ramón Abadin. The YLD includes attorneys who are 36 or younger or practicing for five years or less. The comments alone shocked many and sparked a movement to start Continuing Legal Education seminars, “Balancing in Heels: Self, Family, and the Practice of Law Interview Series;” “Balancing in Heels: Webinar Series;” and “Engage: The Women’s Power Summit.”

No woman is shocked:


Gentleman, I have news for you. These results come as no surprise to any of your female counterparts. And these seminars and webinars are kind of offensive. Women don't need education. We don't need to be empowered...we went to law school, and are killing it in our practice. I would say that the men need to be educated, but they don't. Everyone knows better. Everyone knows that women tend to have more responsibility at home than men. Some people (men and women) are just a**holes. Others are just oblivious to the fact that a young woman may be more intelligent, better educated, or better at their job than a man. OR they just simply forget that women actually pass the Bar too.

Nothing New:


The first woman to join the Florida Bar, Winifred Wentworth was turned down from every law firm in 1951. In 1967, the second woman to join the Bar heard the same message: "no girls allowed." Even Janet Reno, Harvard educated, was turned away from the Miami law firm that ultimately made her partner.

We recently connected with a great lawyer, Jack who passed the Bar 60 years ago. A true gentleman, he has never made us (two young female lawyers) feel like we were anything less than an equal. The fact remains, however that he had no women colleagues for the majority of his career. Female attorneys are new to him.

Younger attorneys studied in law school classrooms where the majority of the students are women, so they are less biased.   However,  as our careers progress, women tend to disappear from the practice, which leads all attorneys to make a harmful conclusion:  all female attorneys are a professional liability. 


Why the Bias?

Professional Liability:

I don't believe that most discrimination is rooted in the believe that men are better than women. It seems to be based in the sense that women are a bad investment because they are going to quit sooner either due to children or to pursue other goals.  

Honestly, I think there is some truth to this. A lot of women leave the profession or work in a less demanding position when kids come along.  Based on conversations that I have had with moms, this is not because they do not want to put in the work.  This is because it does not make economic sense to pay for childcare when you're only making enough to cover the cost of said childcare.  While it is OK not acknowledge the trend, the problem is assuming that all women are going to have kids or work less when kids are around. 

Women are Less Competent:

The bigger issue is not in the assumption that women will not take the job seriously, but the assumption that women are not as capable as men. I don't look at other attorneys and assume (based on appearance) that they are less capable or less intelligent than I am. So, the men and women who engage in the practice of discrediting young women are pathetic, weak, and not doing their job as well as I am as they underestimate me while I am preparing for their best effort.


Women, especially attractive women are presumed to be less qualified or not really a lawyer.  People tend to think that it's too hard to be pretty and smart.   However, very attractive women are dominating the legal profession every day.   Case on point: the supermodel/lawyer married to a certain George. 

Laura Smith
Laura Smith is an associate at Heaviside Reed Zaic.  Even if you don't recognize the name, you know the firm's work.  They represent consumers in medical products cases and against big pharma.  Like I said, she's killing it.   She writes: "As the acclaimed #Girlboss, Sophia Amoruso, said 'I believe that there is a silver lining in everything, and once you begin to see it, you'll need sunglasses to combat the glare.' Let them [hairy, old white dudes] wear sunglasses! Heck, I'll buy them all a pair." 

Ashley Hayes is an associate at de Beaubien, Knight, Simmons, Mantzaris & Neal, LLP.  Ashley was recently asked is she was the court reporter in a deposition. 

No, I'm not the Court Reporter:

Ashley Hayes
There is nothing wrong with being a paralegal, a stenographer, a secretary, an interpreter and assistant. There are some great people in these positions. The problem is that when people walk into a courtroom, a mediation, or a deposition, the majority of older men assume that the women in the room are the support staff.  When you bust your behind prepping for a deposition, nothing gets you more fired up than being mistaken for the support staff.

Opposing counsel tends to make the mistake less and less.  As far as opposing counsel goes, a part of my personal success is that I relish in my underestimation. If another attorney thinks that I am a dumb blonde, they are not paying attention when I am destroying their case and they are shocked when I win.  I would guess that they don't make the same mistake twice. 

The bigger concern are the clients.  Every woman who practices long enough will experience gender discrimination from a client. Here are some personal examples:
  • Many clients call me sweetheart;
  • Potential clients assume that I am the assistant or secretary to the attorney; and
  • Client who I was appointed to looked at me and said "oh, hell no!" and walked out of the conversation.

Changing Consumer Perception:

The gender bias isn't personally hurtful, or offensive, it's just annoying. It does, however hurt the profession because consumers do not have faith in female attorneys for the "tough" areas of law.  

Not long after the opening of our firm, I noticed that the majority of our clients were women. Other than family and friends, we only got calls from women. I was flattered that women trusted us, but I wondered where all the men were going. For an entire year, women dominated our client base. So we did something drastic, we brought in a man to parade on the front page of our website. Lo and behold, we have more male clients.

Convincing consumers that I am equally, if not more qualified to be their attorney is a very tough job. Theirs is the only opinion that matters. This is a business and I want to be hired. I have considered not wearing makeup to make myself less attractive, removing photos from our website, but we settled on just hiring a man. He's front and center in firm photos for a reason.

Where do we go from here: 


I don't know.  I can tell you where we should not go... stop creating offensive seminars that emphasize the problem.  This summer, I went to a conference. The host decided to facilitate yet another CLE for (or for the benefit of) women called...wait for it.... "The Crap People Say About Women but Won't Admit." The panel (all women) just started stereotyping women, and enraging everyone in the room. One man actually said, "this is making me very uncomfortable." To make matters worse, they tried to add humor to the program. It was awkward.

Again, women don't need to know what everyone thinks or actually says out loud.  We are fully aware.  Furthermore, we are not going to change people who simply think women are less able to be attorneys.   We need people in positions of authority in the legal profession who foster a culture of equality and zero-tolerance for gender discrimination.  And if you are discriminated against, you should walk out.  No job is worth your dignity. 








Sunday, March 6, 2016

How to make a change.

Every Monday, catch us on The Chat talking about legal issues affecting you!  If you don't like what you hear, write to your elected officials. You can find YOUR elected officials here and all Duval County officials here.

As a constituent, your voice matters.  Speak up! 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Rape Kits Soon Fast-Tracked in Florida

Attorney General Pam Bondi made rape kit testing a priority this session. This week, the Florida Senate unanimously pushed through a bill that requires testing within 120 days of submission.  The House is pushing through a bill to address funding.   

These bills became a priority after an exposé that revealed thousands of untested kids.  An audit in January revealed more than 13,000 untested rape kits.  The bills author cites justice for the victims as the motive for the bill.  It should be noted, that this bill could also exonerate the accused or convicted.

To keep up to date on the progress, check out EndTheBacklog.org

Erin Andrews' Day in Court

Eight years ago, the very private, and modest sports reporter, Erin Andrews was violated in a way that many of us will never understand.  Not only was she secretly recorded by a serial stalker, but her celebrity worked against her...more than 16 million people (and counting) viewed the illegally recorded video once the word got out that it existed.  Also, it can never be deleted everywhere according to experts.

One incident of video voyeurism is enough to send someone to prison for five years in Florida with enhanced penalties for subsequent offenses.  Whether you are famous or relatively unknown, the act can violate you to your core.  What's worse is when that video is forever memorialized online for the world to see.  The hope for any victim is that the least amount of people possible see it.  

So what do you do?  The local prosecutor will likely take this offense very seriously, and justice will likely be served.  But no justice or amount of money will ever make you whole after such a atrocious invasion of privacy.  It may, however, prevent the responsible parties and third parties from allowing the violation to happen again.

Erin Andrews' trial for the civil lawsuit that she filed against the hotel she was at when the offense occurred started last week.  The hotel, she claims, is to blame because they released her room number to the inquiring criminal who sought her out and followed her there.  A hospitality expert (yep, those exist) testified earlier in the week that giving out that information is a cardinal sin in the hotel industry. 

Last week we heard from her father who explains that Erin Andrews is a shell of the person that she used to be. Today, Erin Andrews will take the stand to explain how this act has forever altered her life and negatively affected her.   Rather than quietly struggle, she is standing up for victims everywhere.   Her struggled has inspired Tennessee legislators to pass a bill requiring that voyeurs register as sex offenders.  It only took them 8 years, $75 million and infinite media attention to make the change.  The point is, that they are making a change.  

Our thoughts and prayers are with Erin Andrews as she pushes through the end of this very public trial.  

If you have been the victim of a crime that was made possible by a third party never held accountable, call us at 904-516-5560 or visit www.plataschott.com.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

50/50 Custody May Soon be the Default in Florida

Family Law is notoriously contentious.  The emotion of a divorce or child custody battle is unlike any other area of law.  The parties intimately know each other and they are most able to annoy/destroy the other party.  The attorneys on either side are generally above the fray, but sometimes even the attorneys can get emotionally involved.  Problems abound.  

The Big Fight:


When children are involved, time-sharing (a/k/a "custody") is generally the main issue. Everyone wants "full custody," "sole custody," which is now called majority time-sharing in Florida even if they don't really want majority time-sharing.  That's what everyone is fighting over.  The time-sharing split affects other parts of child-rearing including whether a parent must pay child support, and whether a parent gets the child-rearing credit for their taxes each year.  

Demanding Majority Time-Sharing:


Guess what?  When you go to court and demand majority time-sharing, you're actually hurting your case. Florida law encourages equal time-sharing, which is still rare.   The law also encourages that the parent support a relationship with the other parent.  This can be very difficult for some parents.

The Pros and Cons of Discretion:


Judges have discretion, which is affected by their personal beliefs on parenting.  This leaves at least one parent unhappy, and every good lawyer knows that you do not want the judge to make the final decision.  No one wins.

One legislator who knows first-hand the pain of a divorce with children is making a move to take away some judicial discretion.  

50/50 Default?


A bill is moving through the Florida Legislature to default time-sharing to equal with the judge's ability to modify based on 22 factors including child's preference, travel time and parent's request. Unfortunately, this is coupled with an alimony overhaul that could lead to it dying.  A 50/50 default is...interesting.  We live in a world where everyone still tends to believe mom is best equipped to raise a child whether they admit it or not.  This is obviously the most equitable start to any divorce.  

Of course, there are critics.  The "best interest of the child" is still the standard.  Passing a child back and forth may not be the best.  Also, for very young children, breastfeeding experts are pointing out the logisticsimpossibilities of this. 

The Verdict?


Some "experts" are saying joint custody is always best, and others are saying joint custody is never best.   The bottom line is that when it comes to an individual child, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach.  The system is very flawed, and a judge, lawyer, a hired gun, and sometimes even their parent doesn't know best.  The effort to make the system better is appreciated, but we aren't sold that this is the best start.  

If you have questions about your child-custody battle, call us.  We aren't going to sell you a dream. We are going to be real with you about the Family Courts.  For more information, call 904-516-5560, or visit www.plataschott.com. 


Which parent gets the tax deduction?

April 15 is right around the corner and many of our clients are wondering: who gets to claim the child on their taxes? Parents may claim children under the age of 19, or under the age of 24 if the child is attending school full-time. See the information below to make sure that you are not missing out of your child-rearing credits. 

Is there a court order?


If you do not have a court order regarding time-sharing, then mom is most likely going to be entitled to make the claim. Why? Because if you were married and there is no order, then you are still married and you file jointly.  If you were never married, a child's biological mother is generally undisputed whereas the paternity of a child may have to be established.  


The custodial parent typically gets to claim:


If you have a court order, the parent who has the child the most of the time generally gets to claim unless the order says otherwise.  However, the parent who does not have the child as much, may have a claim if that parent pays most of the child support. 

However, if you have a court order that allows the non-custodial parent to make the claim, this is the process: 

The custodial parent must sign a Form 8332 stating that they will not claim the child for the year.  The non-custodial parent attaches that Form to their own taxes. 

You can download that form here and send it to the other parent. We suggest sending a stamped return envelope so you get it back as soon as possible. Keep in mind that the custodial parent may revoke the Form at any time. If this is in contempt of a court order, call your attorney!  

If you are in the process of negotiating a court order for a parenting plan, and you have negotiated that you are going to get to make a claim as the non-custodial parent, make sure your attorney specifically states in the final order that the other parent must sign the Form 8332 and have it to you no later than January 31st of the year that you are filing your taxes with the child-rearing credit. 


What happens if both parents claim a child on their taxes?


The first person who makes the claim may get the credit, or the IRS may kick both tax returns back and review the claims through the audit process.  If they review it, they will consider, (1) who has majority time-sharing, (2) who makes the most money, and (3) whether both parents are required to file taxes.

Audits are serious and you can be penalized for underpayment if you make a claim when you are not supposed to. Make sure you're within your rights before you make the claim.  

If you are the custodial parent and you are court-ordered to sign the Form 8332, but you refuse, you could be held in contempt of court.


The take-away:


If you are the non-custodial parent and there is no court order about time-sharing, you need to get one done before the end of 2016.  Otherwise that is 19-24 years of missed child-rearing credits. Call a Family Law attorney today to learn your rights.   

If you have more questions about Family Law, call Plata Schott Law today at 904-516-5560.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Client Profiles: A.R.

*Results are not typical. No lawyer can guarantee any particular outcome. Results vary from case to case.*

Mr. R has lived in the United States for 14 years.  He has never been in trouble and maintains steady employment.  He had nothing on his record. Prior to his arrest, Mr. R was working toward taking the Citizenship Test this year. 

In the Fall of 2015, he was pulled over late at night for a suspected DUI.  The only reason that Mr. R was stopped was that Mr. R slowly changed lanes on the Hart Expressway "for no apparent reason" over the course of 12-15 seconds.  When Mr. R was stopped, the officers asked Mr. R to do field sobriety exercises, and he refused.  They asked him to take a breath test, and he refused.  Still, he was arrested for a DUI based on very little evidence that he was impaired.

 It should be noted that it is not a crime to drink alcohol and drive in Florida.  It is a crime to have a blood alcohol content of more than .08 or for your normal faculties to be impaired. Mr. R told the officers that he had one beer at a friends house not long before the stop.  The officer reported that he smelled alcohol and that was the basis for the arrest.  There was simply not enough evidence in this case.  

With no evidence of impairment, Mr. R was immediately placed into deportation proceedings because he is not a citizen.  A DUI is a crime of moral turpitude that disqualifies someone from becoming a citizen. However, Mr. R was not convicted of a crime yet.

We provided the State Attorney with mitigation or good information about Mr. R, but the State Attorney was unwilling to make a deal that would keep Mr. R from being deported "because he refused the take a breath test."

We looked closely at the stop and ultimately decided that the officer probably did not have enough to initiate the stop. We argued the motion and the judge agreed, he should not have been stopped.

Mr. R is a free man today who is still entitled to become a citizen.  His story is an important lesson to people arrested for a DUI.  It doesn't take much to be arrested, but it takes a lot for the State to get the conviction for a DUI.  Don't roll over. Fight your DUI!