Blogs > The Law Blogger

The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Passport Denied When Parent Owes Support Arrears

You are a non-custodial parent planning a vacation to Cancun with your kids. Your passport has lapsed and you apply for a new one, along with your children. Instead of receiving your passport, you get a letter from the Secretary of State denying your applications. Why?

Because you owe more than $2500 in child support, and because the custodial parent must assent to the passports for the kids. Child support enforcement has had a federal component for several years now.

Back in 2001, the U.S. government mandated that states align their child support accounts with state-wide computer programs. In Michigan, all county Friends of the Court have implemented the Michigan Child Support Enforcement System (MiCSES). MiCSES then certifies the support owed and reports those in arrears over $2500 to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, which is under the U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services (DHS). Next, DHS notifies the State Department which denies the passport application.

Also, in cases of divorce or custody disputes, both parents must execute passport applications for children under age 14 pursuant to the federal Two Parent Consent Law passed back in July 2001.

Once you are on the State Department's list, you do not automatically come off, even when the arrears are paid. Eventually, your passport will lapse and you will be unable to get a new one without a hassle. In addition, you may be stopped at the boarder unable to leave or re-enter the country. If this occurs, the DHS has summarized the steps you should take on its useful website:

The MiCSES state-wide computer program has several automatic enforcement components in addition to passport denial. The computer automatically reports certified arrears to the U.S. Treasury and the State of Michigan for tax refund intercepts. Arrears are also automatically reported to credit bureaus.

If you are owed child support, or want to address an arrearage, contact our law office to discuss your options.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Law Firms Going Paperless, Slowly

Slowly but surely. That cliche best describes the pace at which area law firms are eliminating the paper clutter from their law offices.

As Southeast Michigan touts innovations such as "Automation Alley", the sluggish pace of paper elimination is frustrating to many legal practitioners. Colorado and a handful of other states already have state-wide paperless court systems. The federal courts have been paperless for years. In Oakland County, however, only a few judges have electronic filing as an e-pilot program. Fortunately, the experiment seems to be working.

In March 2003, Judge Joan E. Young, then the chief judge of the Oakland Circuit's family court, offered a standing-room-only presentation on the timeline for the court's so-called e-filing system. The audience consisted of attorney members of the Oakland County Bar Association, and courthouse staffers. In her presentation, Judge Young cautiously predicted that e-filing would be in place, in some form, by the end of 2004. She warned, however, that budget issues, tech contracts and other variables could slow the process.

Judge Young's timeline proved accurate and her concerns, well-founded. A partial implementation of the e-filing system took root in late 2004, with several circuit judges actively participating in the e-filing system. After lengthily budget debates, Oakland County hired a different IT contractor than the federal court's outstanding PACER system. The WIZNET system, selected by the Oakland County courts, works very well. Unlike PACER, however, users "pay per use" when accessing documents. PACER is free.

During the past 18-months, law firms have attempted to close the technology gap, and get their offices on board with e-filing. Despite court-ordered e-filing requirements, problems persist.

While a simple matter to transmit a basic pleading via email to the court and parties, complicated exhibits in a variety of sizes and shapes pose challenges. Also, some tribunals (such as case evaluators and mediators) will not accept e-filings. Some attorneys have not upgraded their Adobe Acrobat programs, essential for e-filing compatibility. Other attorneys cling to hard-copy files as a form of legal security blanket. Still other attorneys, incredibly, do not have computers. Many insurance defense attorneys refuse to sign stipulated orders with an agreed upon electronic protocol for filing pleadings and transmitting documents.

Perhaps the biggest frustration for attorneys is they have to maintain both file media, paper and electronic, while they wait for the "standard of care" to catch-up. This wastes effort and savages efficiency.

Despite these challenges, some cutting-edge practitioners are rising to the occasion. The paperless-file is not a trend but rather, reality. Law firms can eliminate wasteful consumption of paper and cut the costs of processing, storing and eventually eliminating paper files.

The flow of information comes ever-faster in the modern law office. Attorneys can manage this information much better if they do not have to worry about old-fashioned paper.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Oakland Sheriff's Marine Division Downsizing

You had to see this coming. In this era of government funding shortfalls, and given Brooks Patterson's ever watchful budgetary eye, the Oakland County Sheriff's Marine Division takes a funding hit.

Watercraft enthusiasts using Oakland County's many navigable lakes have all seen the Sheriff's white runabouts (with blue flashing stem-light) patrolling the county waterways on busy weekends and holidays. These units have probably kept a dampener on serious drunk driving by watercraft operators.

Such patrols will be eliminated after this season, according to the Sheriff's Department. This cutback does not mean the end of the Marine Division. But now, townships and municipalities will have to contract with the Sheriff if their waterway(s) are to be patrolled by the Marine Division.

The Macomb and Wayne County Sheriff Marine Divisions have international waterways to patrol as part of their mission. They both work with the U.S. Coast Guard and now, Homeland Security. In Oakland County, however, the primary focus of the Sheriff's Marine Division is safe boating. That goal has been achieved by enforcing the drunk driving laws on the lakes.

One of the challenges to this enforcement is the patchwork of local ordinances governing alcohol on the various lakes. Some Oakland County lakes, like Orchard Lake, prohibit alcohol. Many others, however, not only allow alcohol, the boat driver can have a beverage in his lap while operating the vessel.

Now, with the removal of most Oakland County Marine Division patrols, our waterways may become more dangerous, as some boaters (by nature, out there to have a good time) elect to imbibe more alcohol.

If you've recently been ticketed by one of the Oakland County Sheriff's Marine patrols, and would like to discuss your options, give us a call.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Divorce in the NFL

Maximum temptation; continuous travel; lots of money. These are just some of the factors that contribute to the excessive divorce-rate among players in the NFL.

There are no solid statistics, but an unofficial poll along with anecdotal evidence puts the divorce-rate for NFL players at 70% according to a recent NYT article; significantly higher than the overall divorce-rate of about 50%.

Another statistic, perhaps correlated to the high rate of divorce among players, is that within two-years of their retirement, a shocking 78% of these NFL players are bankrupt, unemployed or divorced. There are good reasons for this.

Among professional athletes, football players have a rough row to hoe. They suffer more physical pain on average than in other sports due to the aggressive high-speed nature of their game. They have the shortest average career among all pro athletes; three and a half seasons according to the Players' Association. Contracts for the average player, while lucrative, are usually non-guaranteed and contain significant injury clauses. These stressors can transfer to the player's marriage.

The recent shooting death of one of the league's preeminent quarterbacks, Steve McNair, brings to a head the significance of an NFL player's retirement. McNair was widely perceived as the consummate family man. Married, but killed by his girlfriend, he is one player who sadly will not be adding to the NFL divorce-rate.

Most of us would blame McNair for his own fate. Some insiders, on the other hand, point to several factors that increase the toxicity of marriages among NFL players: rampant infidelity, the "trophy-wife" concept, women who target professional athletes, player entourages that tend to suppress the intimacy required if a marriage is to work.

Perhaps most significant is the painful transition of the athlete from the gridiron to retirement. Issues of self-worth come into play among a group of macho athletes not used to focused self-awareness and who have a seemingly genetic resistance to counseling.

Mothers, don't let your girls grow-up to be NFL wives...

Prescription Privacy Rights

When we fill a prescription, most of us believe that action, along with our identity, is private. In fact, the name and dosage of the drug, the prescribing physician, and your own name and social security number become a commodity bought and sold in the medical data-mining industry.

A little-known provision buried in February's federal stimulus legislation, however, now requires pharmacy benefit managers, bankers, and medical claim processors to comply with Federal privacy and security regs. The new law is being fitted with federal regulations designed to give private rights some teeth; and violations a real bite.

Both Walgreens and CVS have been defending recent litigation claiming violations of patients' rights to privacy relative to their medical prescriptions. These corporate defendants have asserted that the information sold either has been encrypted or "de-identified"; a process where the patient's name is removed from the rest of the data.

In addition, the data-mining industry asserts that de-identified health data is critical for medical as well as for quality assurance measures such as tracking the side effects of drugs. The problem is manifest when computer-savy lawbreakers "re-identify" the data by cross-referencing several databases to link one's identity to one's roster of prescriptions. Once repackaged in this manner, the data becomes a valuable commodity in the medical data industry.

Another portion of the stimulus package of note to this post is the $20 billion incentive for physicians to digitize their records over the next five-years. Companies such as Google, Microsoft and WebMD all stand to gain from the information processing aspects of this digital push. Both WebMD and Microsoft acknowledge that the new Federal privacy rules apply to their companies. Google asserts, on the other hand, that its users are subject only to their privacy policy which is agreed to as a precondition to logging on.

Thus, the stage is set for a clash between the proponents of national medical database digitization and our basic right to privacy. The recent high-profile case of Farah Fawcett brought attention to the problem posed by data thieves. Ms Fawcett's cancer treatment records were illegally obtained and sold to the media.
While the digitization and transfer of data are now crucial to the health industry, strict privacy safeguards are needed. The question is, will they be enforced?

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