Tag: Family Law

Free Speech and Domestic Violence

In family law, when a cyberstalking complaint consists of social media posts, free speech and domestic violence can clash. In a recent case, a domestic violence court prohibited one Florida lawyer’s social media comments about the other lawyers in her case.

Cyberstalking

Injunction Junction

Florida lawyer Ashley Krapacs filed a petition for a domestic violence injunction against her ex-boyfriend and represented herself at the DV hearing. Attorney Russel J. Williams represented her Ex.

After Krapac lost the hearing, on jurisdictional grounds, she wrote an article about the opposing lawyer, saying that he lied to the judge on the record during these proceedings. As a result, Williams hired his own attorney, Nisha Bacchus, to sue Krapacs for defamation.

Krapacs responded by writing several social media posts disparaging the new lawyer, Bacchus, with personal insults for representing Williams in the defamation suit against her.

Then Krapacs created a blog post which claimed Bacchus filed a frivolous lawsuit against her, accused her of being a bully, and included a vulgar insult. She tagged Bacchus in more posts and hurled insults at Bacchus and her law firm and identified the car Bacchus drove.

In one of her final Facebook posts, Krapacs stated she was going to connect with Bacchus’s former clients to sue her for malpractice. Bacchus sought to stop this by filing a petition for an injunction, alleging Krapacs was cyberstalking her.

The DV judge entered the injunction and limited Krapacs’ use of her office space since both Krapacs and Bacchus had offices in the same building. The judge also prohibited Krapacs from posting on social media about Bacchus and ordered her to take down all the offending posts about Bacchus.

Krapacs appealed.

Family Law and Free Speech

I’ve written about free speech in family law before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children, and that can involve restraints on free speech. Speech can be enjoined under our domestic violence laws.

Domestic violence injunctions prohibiting free speech are subject to constitutional challenge because they put the government’s weight behind that prohibition: a judge orders it, and the police enforce it.

Florida, the term “domestic violence” has a very specific meaning, and it is more inclusive than most people realize. It means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.

Domestic violence can also mean cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is harassment via electronic communications. A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree.

A credible threat means a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.

Cyberstalking and Free Speech

The appellate court felt Krapacs’ actions did not qualify as cyberstalking because they did not constitute a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over time evidencing a continuity of purpose.

Retagging in social media posts for four hours constituted, in the court’s view, one instance of qualifying conduct under the statute. The other acts Bacchus complained of were deemed to be constitutionally protected and did not qualify as additional instances of repeated stalking.

The court also found that the injunction prohibiting Krapacs “from posting Nisha Bacchus, Nisha Elizabeth Bacchus or any part thereof, on any social media or internet websites, and requiring her to take down all social media and internet posts that reference Nisha Bacchus was overbroad.

While the appellate court held that her comments could not be subject to an injunction, it did find that Krapacs was not immune from civil liability for her actions and could face money damages.

Then there’s the Florida Bar, which then filed an emergency suspension petition against Krapacs. The Bar viewed her social media tweets, posts and comments as arising out of the opposing lawyers’ representation of clients who were litigating against her.

The Bar called Krapacs strategy “terrorist legal tactics” and felt it was prejudicial to the administration of justice.

After a hearing, the referee recommended a two-year suspension from the Florida Bar. The Florida Supreme Court reviewed the case, disapproved of the two-year suspension, and instead disbarred her.

The opinion is here.

 

Free Speech and Family Law Clash

Free speech and family law clash again, as a Florida appellate court rules on just how far a judge can go in restraining an online stalker of a politician. Like the plot of Tiger King gone wrong, a Broward state senator filed an injunction against a convicted sex offender who also happens to be a public advocate on behalf of registered sex offenders.

Free Speech Family Law

Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin Redux

Lauren Frances Book is a Florida State Senator who also runs a non-profit called “Lauren’s Kids” to assist survivors of sexual abuse and to prevent its occurrence. Because of her own childhood experience as a victim, she has been an advocate for laws that support and maintain sex offender registries, and place residency restrictions on convicted offenders.

Derek Logue, like the senator, is also a public figure of sorts. After he was convicted of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in 2001, he co-founded what is described as the Anti-Registry Movement – which opposes sex offender laws.

Channeling “Joe Exotic” and “Carol Baskin”, Logue travels to, organizes, and participates in various demonstrations and counter-demonstrations around the nation opposing the type of sex offender laws for which the senator advocates. He also has Facebook and Twitter accounts and internet websites. One website is “Floridians for Freedom: Ron and Lauren Book Exposed.”

Sen. Book has complained about Logue’s online comments:

“I think I found the official Laura Ahearn/ Lauren Book theme song” next to a link to a YouTube video for a song titled, “You Are A C—,” by Australian singer and comedian Kat McSnatch:

“Why don’t you shut that scabby c— mouth before I f— up your face.” The crude video also features an image of a tombstone that reads, “R.I.P. Annoying C—.”

On his website as well as other social media platforms he uploaded a picture of the senator’s home along with her address; a video for a song containing an obscene title, with lyrics that are “Not Safe For Work” posted on his Twitter page and a cartoon depicting a headstone with a vulgar insult and the phrase, “Died of Natural Causes.”

Sen. Book filed an injunction claiming she fears for her and her family’s safety following physical threats Logue allegedly made against her online and in person during two public events in 2015 and 2016. She wants to keep him from coming within 500 feet of her home and her offices.

The trial court granted the injunction without identifying which of the various occurrences supported it.

Florida Free Speech and Family Law

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children, and that can involve restraints on free speech. Speech can also be enjoined under our domestic violence laws. In Florida, the term “domestic violence” has a very specific meaning, and it is more inclusive than most people realize.

It means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.

It can also mean cyberstalking. A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree.

A credible threat means a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.

Tiger King 2

Logue appealed, saying his actions served a legitimate purpose advocating against legislation affecting sex offenders, his social media posts don’t constitute “a course of conduct directed at a specific person” and the senator’s subjective fear does not satisfy the objective “reasonable person” standard required by the statute.

The court found that here, although the posting of the vulgar song may have been directed at the senator, and was certainly intended to be insulting, it was not credibly or objectively threatening. Even if it were, an injunction is not the appropriate remedy.

The case presented an issue that goes to the foundation of our country— freedom of expression under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. While the senator was irritated by Logue’s actions, the Constitution protects the right of the political irritant to voice his opinions as much as it protects any citizen’s right to do so.

Publicly expressing anger toward an elected official is not a basis for entry of an injunction. In public debate, elected officials must tolerate insulting remarks—even angry, outrageous speech—to provide breathing room for the First Amendment.

Courts have acknowledged that what may be actionable in the context of interactions between private individuals are viewed differently in the context of political debate by public actors. Because the senator is a public figure and not a private citizen what constitutes harassment, credible threats, or even defamation against her is different.

The opinion is available here.

 

The Constitutional Right to “Divorce” and An Interesting Coronavirus Thought: World 2.0

There are a lot of intersections between the Constitution and family law. Two law professors offer one constitutional right not considered much: the right to unmarry. Some would refer to it as the right to bifurcate your divorce case. And as an interesting thought on the coronavirus, are we in World 2.0?

Constitutional Right Divorce

It’s a Constitution We’re Expounding

Reason discusses two law school professors, Brian L. Frye and Maybell Romero, want to marry. But they have a problem. They can’t marry each other because they’re both currently married to other people.

They want to end their existing marriages, and their spouses have even agreed to divorce. But the government will not allow them to re-marry until it decides to dissolve their current marriages.

The Constitution protects the fundamental right to marry the person of your choice, so long as the choice is mutual. But the government can and does regulate the dissolution of marriages.

While people can divorce, they need the government’s permission. A marriage isn’t over until a government official says it is. And a person cannot remarry until their divorce is final.

During the quarantine brought on by the coronavirus, the professors believe that people should be able to end a marriage immediately, and start a new one whenever they want as a matter of constitutional right.

Florida Bifurcation of Divorce

I’ve written about various family law issues before. Sometimes, people need a divorce, and like law professors, need one fast. Can you get an immediate divorce?

Put another way, when can a family law judge enter a dissolution of marriage final judgment, but reserve jurisdiction to determine all of the other issues in a divorce relating to custody, support, and property rights for later?

In a highly unusual procedure, there’s also a trifurcated dissolution. The family law court first dissolves the marriage. Then separates the remainder of the financial issues, and reserves on timesharing and child support for the children.

The real issue is bifurcation, and it is a split procedure of entering a final judgment to divorce and keep power over the case to determine all the other issues. The practice is rare and limited to special cases.

In general, family law judges try to avoid this kind of split procedure. The law is designed for one final judgment and one appeal of divorce. Splitting the process can cause a lot of legal and procedural problems which result in delay and additional expense to people.

So, in Florida this split procedure is really only used when it is clearly necessary for the best interests of the parties or their children. The convenience of two law professors to remarry would not justify its use.

The Constitutional Right to Divorce

Because of the quarantine, Professors Frye and Romero hit on a timely and recurring problem in family law: people are stuck in marriages they want out of, but cannot remarry until a government official has permitted it.

State law determines who can marry, when they can marry, and how they can marry, subject to constitutional limitations. Different states have regulated marriage differently, some more liberally than others.

Historically, the regulation of marriage and divorce has been very unjust. In Pace v. Alabama (1883), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a state law prohibiting interracial sexual conduct did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) held that state laws prohibiting interracial marriage were constitutional. Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) ended the ban. We just went through a similar tortured history with same sex marriage.

In part because of the history of unjust state laws, the professors believe people should be able to end a marriage whenever they want. In fact, they believe it is a constitutional right.

If marriage is a fundamental right, then unmarriage must also be a fundamental right. After all, the Supreme Court held in Obergefell that marriage is a fundamental right because it expresses individual autonomy and honors the mutual desire of two people to be joined in perpetual union.

When you file a marriage certificate, you are married (ed. Florida has a 3-day waiting period after issuance of the license before you can get married). But when you file a divorce petition, you aren’t divorced.

The fundamental right to marry recognizes that the Constitution prohibits the government from telling people who they have a right to love, and requires the government to make the economic and social benefits of marriage available to everyone who wants to exercise them.

Interesting Coronavirus Thoughts: World 2.0

Interesting thoughts from the website Marginal Revolution. We are living in a new age. But is it World 2.0?

World 1.0 World 2.0
Physical Digital
Suit, tie, wristwatch, office Good lighting, microphone, webcam
Commute + traffic jams Home + family
Cities Internet
$100k for college Not paying $100k for a webinar
Too much technology Too little technology
Assume some government competence Assume zero government competence
WHO Who?
20th century 21st century

The abstract on the “Right to Unmarry” is here.

Speaking at the Family Courthouse

What an honor to speak at the Family Division Courthouse Lunch & Learn series, co-hosted by Family Court Services and the First Family Law Inn of Court. The discussion, attended by family law attorneys judicial officers, and professionals, was on the new technological changes that impact everyone in family court, in addition to the annual Town Hall presented by the Honorable Judge Scott Bernstein.

Family Law

Family Law Technology

Technology is constantly changing our lives, and may times for the better! The Eleventh Judicial Circuit is rolling out “courtMAP” this month. CourtMap is a new online Management and Access Platform that combines eCourtesy with online scheduling, online notification/confirmation, and allows judges to create and e-File orders. courtMAP also allows parties to self-schedule their case events – motion calendar, special sets, and trials – and attach the documentation previously submitted via eCourtesy.

Family Court Services and Kidside

KidSide, Inc., has been developed to raise and secure funds to provide the best possible services and facilities to the children of Miami-Dade County who have suffered through the conflict of their parents’ divorce or other litigation in the Family and Domestic Violence Courts. By working with Family Court Services, a unit of the Miami-Dade County Eleventh Circuit Court, Family Division, KidSide strives to ensure that the best interests of the children are considered by parents and the Court.

More information about Kidside is available here.

 

Make Your Holiday a Happy Holiday

The family law offices of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. will close at 12 PM on Tuesday, December 24 for the Christmas holiday and will have limited office hours until January 2, 2020. We wish you and your family a Happy Chanukah, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! Below are some tips to help make your family holiday a happy holiday this year.

Happy Holiday2

Before the arrival of the holidays is the time to resolve child custody and timesharing problems so you can enjoy your family on the holidays with minimum stress. Here are suggestions to make your holiday timesharing issues a little easier:

  • Alternate. Some families alternate the holiday every other year. If you get the kids this year, next year will be the other parent’s turn. Having a regular plan to fall back on can eliminate the potential for what is fair.
  • Be flexible. An easy holiday schedule for everyone may require some changes from the normal visitation schedule.
  • Be respectful. You may not want to be friends anymore, but you need to figure out how to communicate with your ex without all the emotional baggage.
  • Don’t mix issues. Do not bring up unrelated issues which could make a problem free Christmas dinner impossible. Set aside your differences until after the holiday season.
  • Pick your battles. Christmas may even be more important to you than Easter is to your ex-spouse. Don’t fight just for the sake of fighting.
  • Protect the children. Your children’s memories of Christmas morning should be about family, food and fun. They should not be forced to witness you and another parent arguing.
  • Plan. Start talking about the holiday visitation schedule sooner rather than later, the longer you wait the harder it can be.

Going through separation, divorce and family law issues during the holidays is always stressful. But, the weather has cooled and the kids are on vacation. Try to make the holidays the best time of year.

 

Daubert Webinar Available for Download

For anyone who is interested in downloading my Florida Bar Family Law Section sponsored presentation on “The Return of Daubert” from this past Halloween, and could not get the materials, you can download it from the Florida Bar website here – and get CLE. Florida’s changing expert witness rules impact everyone who practices in divorce and family law. The Webinar will explain why the new old law is here to stay.

Divorce Expert

The Frye Pan

People rely on all sorts of expert witnesses in divorce and family law cases, maybe more than most areas of law. Routinely, people will come to trial with accountants, psychologists, and other experts in tow.

Since 1923 courts have relied on the Frye Rule, which states that expert opinion based on a scientific technique is only admissible where the technique is generally accepted as reliable in the scientific community.

In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a new standard which requires trial judges to screen expert testimony for relevance and reliability. The “Daubert test” developed in three product liabilities cases. The plaintiffs tried to introduce expert testimony to prove products caused their damages. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately tightened the rules for admitting expert testimony.

Constitutional Problems

In 2013, the Florida Legislature amended the Florida Evidence Code to start following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Daubert standard for the admission of expert testimony and the basis for an expert’s opinion. When the legislature passes a law encroaching on courtroom practice and procedure, the laws are unconstitutional. However, the Legislature can enact substantive laws.

When one branch of government encroaches on another branch, Florida traditionally applies a “strict separation of powers doctrine.” Given that the Evidence Code contains both substantive and procedural provisions, there is a question whether the Legislature violated the separation of powers doctrine.

The Florida Evidence Code contains both substantive and procedural provisions, so there was a suspicion that the Legislature violated the separation of powers doctrine when it amended the code this way. My new article about the way the Constitutional problem was resolved by the Florida Supreme Court is available here.

Return of Daubert

This summer, the Florida Supreme Court weighed in on the new evidence law and found it constitutional. Rejecting the recent complaints about the Daubert standard, the Florida Supreme Court remarked that Daubert has been routinely applied in federal courts since 1993, a majority of states adhere to the Daubert standard, and caselaw after Daubert shows that the rejection of expert testimony is the exception rather than the rule.

Effective immediately, the Florida Supreme Court has adopted the Legislatures’ 2013 amendments to section 90.702 as procedural rules of evidence, and adopted the amendment to section 90.704 to the extent it is procedural.

Florida’s new-ish Daubert standard is the set of factors used to determine the admissibility of expert witness testimony in court. Under the Daubert standard, the trial judge serves as the gatekeeper who determines whether an expert’s evidence is deemed reliable and relevant.

Trial judges in Florida now have to use the Daubert test to assess whether an expert witness’ testimony is 1) based on scientifically valid reasoning and 2) whether it has been properly applied to the facts at issue. Failure to comply with the Daubert standard can result in exclusion of an expert’s testimony.

The Webinar is available here.

 

New Article: Daubert House

My new article on the changes to our expert witness rules, which impact all family law and divorce cases, is now available at the Family Law Section website. Daubert House not only discusses Florida’s changes to the expert witness rules, it mixes in references to National Lampoon’s Animal House for reasons those familiar with the Florida Supreme Court’s recent opinion will understand.

family law daubert

Were the Changes Even Constitutional?

In amending the Florida Evidence Code, the Legislature bound Florida courts to the Daubert standard for the admission of expert testimony and opinions. However, those changes were short lived. The Florida Bar Board of Governors and several Florida Bar committees strongly opposed the changes.

Up until recently, there was also the controversy lingering about the constitutionality of what the Florida Legislature did. While the Legislature can enact substantive law, only the Supreme Court can regulate courtroom practice and procedure.

The trick is that the Evidence Code contains both substantive and procedural provisions. If the Legislative branch encroached on the judicial branch, the changes are subject to a strict separation of powers doctrine review.

In response, the Florida Supreme Court declined to adopt the Daubert Amendment to the extent that it is procedural, due to the constitutional concerns raised. The Florida Supreme Court instead left it for a proper case or controversy.

That case was DeLisle v. Crane. The Florida Supreme Court found that the Legislative amendments to Section 90.702 were not substantive because they did not “create, define, or regulate a right”, but was procedural rulemaking instead.

Additionally, the Court held that the Daubert amendment conflicted with the exiting Frye rule because Frye and Daubert were competing methods to determine the reliability of expert testimony. Once again, Frye was the appropriate test in Florida courts. Unknown to everyone, Frye was on “Double Secret Probation.”

Faber College

After our new governor was sworn into office, he appointed three new Florida Supreme Court justices. This year, the Florida Supreme Court, without re-addressing the correctness of its own ruling in DeLisle, chose to recede from its prior decision not to adopt the Legislature’s Daubert amendments.

The dissent, made reference to the movie Animal House:“Like the little-known codicil in the Faber College constitution . . .” in objecting to the manner in which the majority of the Florida Supreme Court re-adopted Daubert.

Effective immediately, the Florida Supreme Court adopted the Legislatures’ 2013 amendments to section 90.702 as procedural rules of evidence, and adopted the amendment to section 90.704 to the extent it is procedural.

The article is available on the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section website here.

 

Speaking on Halloween and Daubert

This Halloween I will be co-presenting a webinar with the Hon. Samantha Ruiz Cohen. The presentation is sponsored by the Florida Bar Family Law Section. The webinar will discuss Florida’s dark, lonely road to a new standard for admitting expert testimony: Daubert Returns.

Daubert

The presentation addresses the changes to §90.702 and §90.704; how the new Daubert standard differs from Florida’s old Frye rule; the Constitutional problem, appellate cases applying the new standard; how the judge’s role has changed; and the new Rules’ impact on the admissibility of expert testimony in family law cases.

The webinar will take place tomorrow, October 31, 2019 beginning at noon.

Did I mention the witches?

There is still time to register by clicking here.

 

Upcoming Webinar

For any interested readers, I will be speaking with the Hon. Samantha Ruiz Cohen at a webinar hosted by the Florida Bar Family Law Section. The webinar will discuss Florida’s twisting road to the current standard for admitting expert testimony in family law and divorce cases.

fla-supreme-ct

The presentation addresses the statutory changes to §90.702 and §90.704; how the new Daubert standard differs from Florida’s old Frye rule; the now-settled Constitutional problem, some appellate cases applying the new standard; how the judge’s role in admitting expert testimony has changed; and the new Rules’ impact on the admissibility of expert testimony in Family Law cases.

You can register by clicking here.

 

Speaking Engagement on Family Law

It was an honor to speak today in front of a ‘standing room only’ audience at the Family Division Courthouse. The presentation was hosted by the 11th Judicial Circuit’s Family Court Services, as part of their Lunch & Learn Series. I co-presented with my colleague Evan Marks, on Florida’s twisting road to the correct standard for admitting expert testimony in family law and divorce cases called: “Daubert Returns.”

Family Law Speech

The presentation was based, in part, on an article to be published this Fall in the Florida Bar Commentator, “Daubert House.” The presentation addressed the statutory changes to §90.702 and §90.704; how the new Daubert standard differs from the old Frye rule; the now-settled Constitutional problem, Florida appellate cases applying the new standard; how the judge’s role in admitting expert testimony has changed; and the new Rules’ impact on the admissibility of expert testimony in Family Law cases.