Episode 138 - Learning from Celebrity Mistakes
One of the things that Todd loves to do in his down time is to read the tabloids in search of great stories to discuss on the radio. We are just kidding. But, what we are not kidding about are the lessons we can learn from the stories that are reported in the news about certain celebrities and their family law cases. In today’s show, we look into the lawsuit filed against Scottie Pippen by his former girlfriend and discuss the legal pitfalls of living together without being married. We examine Ron White’s divorce in the context of pre-nuptial agreements, common law marriages, defenses to divorce, and enormous requests for alimony. We discuss Johnny Depp’s fifty million dollar lawsuit against his ex-wife for making false claims of family violence. We also learn about guardianships and conservatorships by looking at cases involving Brittney Spears and Stan Lee.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orson. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. And you're listening to The Meriwether & Tharp Show. Here you'll learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis, and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: Phew, I literally just-
Todd Orson: Wow. Literally out of breath on that.
Leh Meriwether: I ran in here!
Todd Orson: Wow.
Leh Meriwether: It's one of those ... I just ... one thing after another, I [crosstalk 00:00:38]-
Todd Orson: You've been sitting there the entire time. What are you talk ... Yeah, you didn't run anywhere.
Leh Meriwether: I really did just run in here.
Todd Orson: You got winded standing there.
Leh Meriwether: No, I didn't. Seriously, I did run in here. All right, didn't want to miss the show, you know?
Todd Orson: That would be bad.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. All right, Atlanta traffic, I mean, what are you going to do? Okay. Well, today, Todd what are we doing today?
Todd Orson: So-
Leh Meriwether: I got here late.
Todd Orson: ... here's the thought. The thought is every once in a while, what we do is we ... Obviously we talk about family law issues, divorce issues, things like that because it's kind of what we do. Kind of sometimes there's issues with-
Leh Meriwether: Kind of sometimes?
Todd Orson: Yeah, there's issues with celebrities and you know, so what we do is we analyze some of the issues that celebrities are going through because there are good lessons to be learned in how to do things and sometimes how not to do things, that we can sort of pull from their experiences and again, teach and help others to avoid those same problems.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, and just because they make lots of money doesn't mean that the issues and the facts or the law doesn't apply to everyone.
Todd Orson: That's right. That's right, so, that's what today's show is going to be about. Sort of like a ripped from the headlines kind of thing, we're going to take some of the current celebrity legal issues relating to the family or divorce, or other related issues, and we're going to sort of analyze those and we're going to apply Georgia law, and we're going to look at those issues and see how things should have been handled, could have been handled. And hopefully anyone listening, you're going to get some good information if this applies to you, how to govern yourself.
Leh Meriwether: Right. And so, a lot of states have laws on this. There's often some similarities amongst all the states with few exceptions, but the concepts are very similar. If you have a situation that's in another state, definitely talk to a lawyer about what to do. But this is going to give you some general background information about how to handle situations. And we'll highlight when ... Some of these happened in California, we'll highlight a couple of things that might be different here in Georgia.
Todd Orson: Yeah, and before we get started, I will say, building on what you just said, Leh, we say this rather often, that obviously, if are listening outside of Georgia, or even if you're listening in Georgia, the best thing to do, is not listen to us. No, I'm kidding.
Todd Orson: No, the best thing to do is to talk with an attorney in your jurisdiction. We try and give as much information as possible, and we try and bring all of our years of experience to help educate, but nothing can replace or should replace the need to look for and discuss with an attorney in your jurisdiction, the legal issue that you're dealing with. Especially if you're out of state.
Leh Meriwether: One more thing, and then we're going to get on to the [inaudible 00:03:37] patterns. You know, this is being recorded in 2019. You could be ... I know some ... We've been doing this for three years now, some of our shows, I've actually thought about taking them off air because the laws changed.
Todd Orson: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: Like, child support's an example. So, what we are saying today, as of August of 2019, may be different ... The law may be different-
Todd Orson: 20 minutes from now.
Leh Meriwether: [crosstalk 00:04:02] and i actually had that happen. I went to court in the morning, I won a summary judgment motion, I got back, I'm all excited, I'm like, "Yes, I won. This is fantastic." I got back to my office-
Todd Orson: And there was new law?
Leh Meriwether: ... and there was new law, and the judge reversed his ruling. So, he made a ruling from the bench, saw the case, and then reversed his ruling by 5:00 that afternoon.
Todd Orson: I would say that's funny, but if that didn't go your way-
Leh Meriwether: It did not go my way. But I will say for refile, the summary judgment, arguing ... I took that case, and sort of ... I was able ... So, I ultimately won, but the basis for which the judge granted my summary judgment was overturned.
Todd Orson: Wow.
Leh Meriwether: So-
Todd Orson: All right. So, let's talk about a guy I used to love watching back in the day play basketball, Scottie Pippen, all right? Scottie Pippen, apparently he had a girlfriend, and this is back in the 80s, okay? Well, that girlfriend is taking him to court basically suing him because she's saying that she spend a whole bunch of money under the mistaken belief that he was going to compensate her and reimburse her, whatever, travel expenses, things that she incurred. And she is suing him and basically the way she's going about it is, she is filing in small claims court. And so, obviously that's not a divorce-
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orson: ... so, Leh, why are we bringing this one up?
Leh Meriwether: Well, because a lot of times people will get in a relationship with someone-
Todd Orson: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: ... and they'll combine finances or they will make assumptions, now she's claiming he said this. I wouldn't be surprised if he's going to say, "I never said that." Some people make assumptions about what's going to happen, and then the relationship falls apart, and then suddenly they find themselves in a horrible situation.
Leh Meriwether: Perfect example. A woman was ... This wasn't my case, I was actually in court when I was listening to the facts. A woman moved in with a man, and had his children. I think she had three children with him. He built a very successful business while they were together. The business wound up making ... I mean, it was like a 10 million dollar business. He had a retirement account, he had all this stuff. And then, one day he said, "Yeah, I don't want you in the house anymore."
Todd Orson: Let me guess. Everything's in his name. The house is in his name, the mortgage, the title, everything. Maybe even cars are in his name. Bank accounts in his name. Everything's in his name.
Todd Orson: Now, under Georgia law, if this were a divorce, she'd be entitled to half the business. She'd be entitled-
Leh Meriwether: Well, she'd have an equitable interest [crosstalk 00:06:46]-
Todd Orson: An equitable interest, correct, in the business, in cars, in homes, in any assets that were accumulated or obtained during the marriage. Problem is, they never married. And so, this is where ... I've had calls, I've had clients where they are coming in and they're like, "Look, we've been together for x number of years, and what am I entitled to?" And when we do the background research to understand the facts in the case, unfortunately sometimes we have to say, "You're not entitled to anything."
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. So, in this case, no alimony, no retirement. All these years ... I want to say they were together for 17 years. Well, she wasn't working that whole time, so she never built up a career. So, here she is out on the street, all they could get for her was child support? It was a horrible, horrible situation.
Leh Meriwether: Let me say this too, so in Georgia, there is no such thing, as of the ... I can't remember the date, but it was in the 90s-
Todd Orson: I think it was '97, maybe?
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, that sounds about right.
Todd Orson: Yeah.
Leh Meriwether: Where they did away with what's called common law Marriage-
Todd Orson: Other states do have it.
Leh Meriwether: They still, yes. So, it depends on the state. So, in some states, if you're together x number of years and you hold yourself out as a married couple, the state says, "You are now married." So, that's the thing with relationships. We see this too, the boyfriend/girlfriend move in together, they buy a house together, they have kids together, and then they break up. Well, how do we divide up the house? Well, in divorce court-
Todd Orson: Equitable division.
Leh Meriwether: ... there's equitable division.
Todd Orson: Right.
Leh Meriwether: So, each party has 100% interest in the assets. An equitable interest in the assets, and the court divides that up, and normally it's 50/50.
Todd Orson: So, here's the thing. Then, what do we take out of this? All right, what's the message? The message we're giving is not everyone who is dating someone must run out and get married. That's not what we're saying because that may not be your plan. Okay, that's fine. There's no judgment here. But you have to go into that relationship eyes wide open, and you need to be smart about how you manage finances, manage assets, and all of those things. If you're going to be in a relationship with somebody and you know that they basically are on a good career path, or what have you, and you're buying a home, and you're buying cars, and you're buying assets. Then, you should have something in writing. Something.
Todd Orson: You should come up with a way where you can communicate to that person, "Hey, I need to know I'm taken care of. If I'm going to have kids with you, and I'm going to start this family, but you don't want to get married. Okay. How are we going to deal with the fact that I want to own a part of the house. I want to own a car. I want to own ... I want to have access to bank accounts and things like that." You need to come up with a plan that's going to hopefully protect. But unfortunately, despite best efforts, you may not be as protected as you would be if you were married.
Leh Meriwether: Right. So, I mean, at that point though, if you're worried that you're not in a ... You don't want to get married to this person because you have a hesitations, don't do everything else that's almost exactly the same as marriage-
Todd Orson: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: I mean, just don't get into that relationship. End it. Sometimes it's hard. Some of the best marriage advice is, don't marry this person. You know, I've had ... recently handled a really difficult case, and from the context of what happened during the marriage, my client did nothing wrong. But at the end of the day, she had to take ownership for one part. Why did she marry this guy to begin with? And she did, because she's taking ownership of that so she never marries that kind of person again. And so, just be careful entering relationships. Like you said, eyes wide open. If this person's not the right person, or I don't want the stigma of marriage, well from a legal perspective, that's not a wise move.
Leh Meriwether: All right. But what is a wise move, is to listen to us next, when we talk about what happened in Ron White's divorce, and did he win his argument that he wasn't married?
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orson. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to the Meriwether & Tharp Show. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: Thank goodness I'm not out of breath this time.
Todd Orson: Yeah. Yeah, you look a lot better. Less pale. It's a good look.
Leh Meriwether: I was joking with my son yesterday about how I'm like the fat Flash. I'm really fast, but I'm just ... look like I'm not.
Todd Orson: Just because you can eat quickly doesn't mean you're the Flash.
Leh Meriwether: Okay. All right-
Todd Orson: All right. So, let's jump back in.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, so what we're talking about today, we're taking some celebrity cases that we've read articles about online, and we're analyzing them, the legal aspects, and what we can learn from them. Because we can all learn something from these cases. And some of them are really interesting. And the nice thing about celebrity cases, is they're all over the media. So, we can just pull the information off of there.
Leh Meriwether: Now, just to keep it real. We're going by what's been reported. We don't really know what's going on, and we don't know the real facts. We haven't read the pleadings, we're just going by what's been reported. So, we're not trying to say anybody's done anything right or wrong, we're just taking a learning lesson from the facts that we have read online. Because it's a little entertaining.
Todd Orson: That is the case.
Leh Meriwether: All right. Well, let's talk about Ron White.
Todd Orson: So, Ron White is going through a divorce. And his wife makes a very reasonable, maybe even a little low request for spousal support. I mean, how she's going to live on $81,000 a month, I personally have no idea. You know, that's almost food stamp land, all right? But $81,000 a month. So, his response to that is basically to question whether or not, and this is in Texas, whether or not there is a valid marriage, basically stating that they had talked about, prior to getting married, her signing a prenup. She never ended up signing the prenup. But anyway, they went through, they had the ceremony, and they, since that point in time, I think it was 2014, they ... I think '13 actually. They lived together as husband and wife, and so, again, fast forward, he's making the claim no marriage because she didn't sign the prenup.
Todd Orson: Well, Texas court comes back and says, "Hold on one second. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck," all right? You went through the marriage-
Leh Meriwether: Was that actually in the order?
Todd Orson: Well ...
Leh Meriwether: I got to see that order.
Todd Orson: If not, it should be. Yeah, that's why I'm not a judge. So, the judge is basically like, "Look, you went through the wedding, you lived together-
Leh Meriwether: [crosstalk 00:14:04]
Todd Orson: ... spent a whole bunch of money on the wedding, and now all of the sudden you want this court to basically pretend like there's no marriage because she didn't sign a prenup?" The result was that the court basically said, "You know what," sort of like we were saying before, "At the very least, there is a common law Marriage."
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orson: So, you've been holding yourselves out as husband and wife, and the court considered them married, so they can move forward with the divorce, and the wife can somehow keep fighting for that pittance. I'm sorry, am I ... is that ... Am I [crosstalk 00:14:41]-
Leh Meriwether: Do you know how much it costs to keep that yacht fueled?
Todd Orson: Yeah, right.
Leh Meriwether: With the captain on board and the staff-
Todd Orson: That's a good point. That's a good point. So, again, we already talked about it, so now let's bring it back home. Let's now analyze it the way we would here in Georgia. I mean, again, common law marriage, not a thing here anymore, okay? But I can say one thing, let's start just with one thing has nothing to do with the other. The fact that they didn't sign and even communicated about executing a prenup, but didn't do it, would not invalidate a marriage.
Leh Meriwether: No.
Todd Orson: So, if they went through all the other steps, the only other thing that I couldn't read or couldn't find, was whether or not they went through that ... They had the wedding, they had the ceremony, but did they not file anything with the court? And that's the only thing I don't know.
Leh Meriwether: [crosstalk 00:15:33] got a marriage license-
Todd Orson: Meaning got a marriage license and-
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, so, according to the article, he had an official, they hired someone who was licensed to officiate a marriage. And that was part of the court's analysis, one of the factors, so I'm guessing they never got the official marriage license?
Todd Orson: Which a lot of states will have rules even on that. I mean, if you applied for the certificate, but it never got filed with the court, there is sometimes ... You may have the ability to file it at a later date. You know, it's almost like a ... It was a mistake. Like-
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, a technicality.
Todd Orson: Yeah, it was a technicality, and therefore, there might be the ability ... But nonetheless, the court-
Leh Meriwether: But in Georgia, the concept of a common law marriage was that two people moved in together, and after seven years, they said, "All right, now if you've been living together for seven years, you're married."
Todd Orson: Right.
Leh Meriwether: So, that was the concept, my understanding of the common law marriage. So, I mean, this one ... Now, maybe the concept's different in Texas, I don't know Texas law. But it definitely sounds like they went through all the steps, and they held themselves out to be married. What I'm curious about is how did they file their tax returns. Because if they filed as married, to me, you're swearing under oath to that.
Todd Orson: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, something tells me that there was enough evidence to convince this court that this was something of a ridiculous argument to try, and at this late day, pretend like you're not legally married. Listen, Ron, let me get real for a second. Next time, make sure somebody signs the prenup-
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, going back to what I said-
Todd Orson: Don't do it.
Leh Meriwether: ... you know, sometimes the best advice is never get married, don't get married to that person.
Todd Orson: Yeah, and we've had both, right? We've had people come in for prenups, and get to a point where they negotiate the terms of a prenup, they sign, they get married. Fantastic. But we've also had the situations where we try to negotiate the terms, and one party or the other, or both, just don't accept the terms. And then, from there, I can say, I've had some people unfortunately call off the marriage. I've had some people say, "You know what? I still want to get married."
Todd Orson: And all we can do as attorneys is say ... I represented one person who was the person that didn't have the assets. So, it was like, "Look, just understand, if you get married, the way that this prenup reads, you could be married for 15 years and walk away with nothing." And that's not acceptable, especially if you've now had children, you've walked away from a career, all of these things. But sometimes people are like, "I don't think that'll ever happen, and I'm going to take the chance." Okay, as long as it's an educated chance that you're taking.
Leh Meriwether: Right. That goes back to, remember the prenup case we talked about ... what's her name? She was one of the singers for Dixie Chicks, Adrienne-
Todd Orson: Yeah, I know what you're talking about. Yeah, we have a show where we talked about that.
Leh Meriwether: Yes, and he was arguing to undo the prenup, but at one point in his career, he was making a lot of money. He should have been asking all that away.
Todd Orson: Yeah, that was his choice to enter into that prenup. That was more of like a ... I'm going to call it a contractual discussion we were having, where if, look, if you didn't like the terms, then you shouldn't have entered into the agreement. But it's not for a court to second guess the terms of a contract after the fact simply because you no longer think it's fair.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. All right. Let's talk about Johnny Depp.
Todd Orson: How can we not talk about Johnny Depp? Johnny. Well, Johnny, as you know, Johnny has been accused of a whole bunch of stuff by Ms. Heard, and I think it is one of those-
Leh Meriwether: His ex-wife.
Todd Orson: His ex-wife. It's one of those situations where it's sort of like, who do you believe, right? Johnny says she's crazy, she says he's crazy. She says he's violent, he says she's violent. Well, so, here's where it gets a little bit deeper.
Leh Meriwether: She started talking about what he did as Jack Sparrow.
Todd Orson: Yeah, well ... Yeah, exactly.
Leh Meriwether: How did the court ever let that become a [crosstalk 00:19:36] kidding.
Todd Orson: Yeah. No, so, what happened was Ms. Heard made all these allegations of him attacking her and injuring her and all of that, and went public with these stories. Well, okay, now you fast forward, and the divorce might be over, but now Jack Sparrow is firing a broadside, and is basically like, "You know what? You hurt my career," and filed a defamation lawsuit against her for %0 million dollars, basically saying, "I lost my job as Jack Sparrow, and some other things that ... It affected my career because you made these comments about me, and it has hurt my career."
Leh Meriwether: Now, apparently, he's got some pretty ... According to the article-
Todd Orson: Yeah, according to the article.
Leh Meriwether: ... he's got some pretty strong ... As I read this, he has a litany of third party witnesses and 87 newly obtained surveillance camera videos-
Todd Orson: Which is sort of interesting if these are hidden surveillance cameras. I know that wouldn't fly in Georgia. But the bottom line is, he's saying that there were witnesses, there were-
Leh Meriwether: Well, it didn't say hidden. So, maybe they were in the building.
Todd Orson: Yeah. But look, let's now bring it back to Georgia, and cases that we have handled, and will probably handle in the future. People need to understand and I think we should probably spend a little bit more time on this, so maybe after the break, we'll talk further. But what we're going to really be hammering home is that you have to be careful of what you do and say during these cases. Emotions run high, and you do things, you end up saying things, or posting things publicly, and what you do or say or post can come back and bite you.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, especially with someone who you know makes millions of dollars a year, and if you go out there and lie, and it's to the point where it's called libel, you could be sued. And we'll talk a little bit more about that when we come back.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orson. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to the Meriwether & Tharp show. If you want to check us out online, if you want to check out ... If you want to read more about us, you can check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: I don't know [inaudible 00:22:11] I'm still winded I guess.
Todd Orson: Oh, yeah. Seriously, sit down. Take the load off. So, we're talking about ... The last thing, before the break, a defamation/libel case filed by Johnny Depp against his ex-wife Amber Heard. 50 million dollars.
Todd Orson: Now, yes, somebody might be listening to that and saying, "Well, I'm not Jack Sparrow. And I don't play Jack on TV or in the movies. And so, I don't have to worry about a 50 million dollar lawsuit." But everything is relative, right?
Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Todd Orson: That's Johnny Depp, who's an actor that, if the behavior in question did materially impact him, it could be to the tune of millions, okay? We're not saying you will be sued for 50 million dollars.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orson: But you could be sued and trust me when I say, there is a cost associated with that. Whether it is a cost in terms of time because it's maybe not a valid lawsuit, but you still have to go to court, and file petitions, and answers, and all the motions, and potentially hire an attorney where you're going to incur costs.
Leh Meriwether: Or maybe you're dependent on the spouse's income, and because of the family violence restraining order, they lose their job, and now you don't have the means of supporting yourself.
Todd Orson: Or you get sued and you have to pay 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000. Look, if you-
Leh Meriwether: Let's be clear here though, we're talking about false allegations. We're not trying to minimize family violence by any stretch-
Todd Orson: Oh, god. No. Absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: ... this is just ... we're talking about ... Because there's two things that really drive me crazy. False allegations of sexual abuse in the middle of a divorce, and then, false allegations of physical violence or family violence in the middle of a divorce. Those two things ... It's very upsetting for obvious reasons, but when you waste the court's time and everyone's time with a false allegation, the last thing you want to do is sort of desensitize these judges to real problems. Why the Family Violence Act was made to begin with.
Todd Orson: I, as a former prosecutor, I always wished that courts would come down a little bit harder on alleged victims who brought criminal charges against people, and it was then later determined that they were just lying.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orson: Not mistaken identity or anything like that that happens, but just lies. Because someone's life and liberty hangs in the balance. And out of spite or for some other reason, you bring a false claim against someone. And there are false report of a crime, there are crimes, but sometimes they're not filed against those people.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orson: If I were a judge, I'd be almost demanding it, that I think that if someone will put someone's life and liberty in jeopardy, I think they should pay for that because that's ... Someone could literally go to prison based on that lie. And with TPOs, a TPO could be entered or whatever.
Todd Orson: So, going back to Johnny Depp, it may not be 50 million, but trust me, we have had cases where people have either brought actions against our clients. I personally, have never brought a defamation claim against someone because it's just not something that I think is good practice as a divorce lawyer to be going down that path. But we've had clients that have wanted to, or have done it, and I'm just telling you right now, just be very careful. You get angry, and you want to post something, just know it can come back and it can bite you. You post the wrong thing, you may be suddenly stuck in additional litigation dealing with that post.
Leh Meriwether: And it used to be, at one point, there was sort of a ... I can't remember if it was actually the law, or an unwritten rule that if it was something that was said in the context of a litigation that it wasn't defamation or libel, but cases like this, and I think there was a few in Georgia, where they are filing these actions now, and they're winning damages where it seems like that's now out the window.
Todd Orson: Well, there's a big difference between filing a motion with the court where you make a claim, that maybe that claim is later deemed untrue. And during the pendency of a divorce, you are going to Facebook, or going into social media, and posting all of those same allegations so that the world can see it, and then all of the sudden, you get slapped with some kind of a lawsuit. So, there's a difference between those two things.
Leh Meriwether: And I have had a case where after the family violence hearing, it was so apparent that the alleged victim had falsified everything, that the judge awarded my client all their attorney's fees back.
Todd Orson: Wow.
Leh Meriwether: So, it wound up costing that person ... And this was a very unusual case because he was going to lose his job, so there was a lot put into it. But I think it was like 4 or $5,000. So, that's not normally how much it costs for us to do a defense, but this particular one was an exception. And the judge recognized it and awarded all of it. All right.
Todd Orson: All right. What's next?
Leh Meriwether: Speaking of not telling the truth, or maybe not thinking things through, we're going to talk about another situation where somebody ... Let me take a step back-
Todd Orson: [crosstalk 00:27:22] take a step back, let's just jump in.
Leh Meriwether: All right. So, in this case, there was also someone who said something that they either were lying about, or didn't think things all the way through. But in this case, there was a former model's young son needed surgery for a rare brain condition, but the child's boy band dad said his ex-girlfriend was lying about the condition.
Leh Meriwether: So, this child ... what was it? Do you remember what ... Oh, it was ...
Todd Orson: Chiari malformations.
Leh Meriwether: Okay. So, it's a structural-
Todd Orson: Or maybe Chiari, I don't know.
Leh Meriwether: It's a structural defect in the base of the skull at the cerebellum, where that part of the brain controls balance. So, normally the cerebellum and parts of the brainstem sit above an opening in the skull; the same opening that allows the spinal cord to pass through it. Well, it was messed up in the way it was sitting in his skull which caused horrible balance issues-
Todd Orson: Yeah, nausea, vomiting-
Leh Meriwether: Right. He couldn't stand up.
Todd Orson: Yeah. So, it was terrible. I mean, something that a small child shouldn't have to deal with-
Leh Meriwether: Anybody shouldn't have to deal with.
Todd Orson: ... and specifically, let's talk about who we're talking about. So, the people in question are one person, Jamie "JJ" Hamblett, of the British boy band Union J, one of my faves. I have all the albums. Not really. but had a child with a former model. And basically, what happened was the former model was ... let's see, the former model, who was that? Let's ... Caterina Andorfer Lopez, okay? And Caterina, I apologize if I butchered your name-
Leh Meriwether: At least it was you this time.
Todd Orson: Yeah. But Caterina had, it sounds like, primary custody of this child. And the child was sick, she went to doctors, she did what she needed to do, and that resulted in her having ... The child needed three surgeries, and had two of them, and before the third one could occur, Mr. Music Guy basically contacted New York Child Protective Services and said that not only did their child not have that medical condition, but the person who was really sick was Caterina. That she was basically mentally and psychologically unwell.
Todd Orson: Well, what ended up happening was, apparently and allegedly, without much investigation, they took the child away from Caterina. The child could not get that third surgery, placed the child with an aunt and grandmother. And then, there was some legal battle back and forth. But like five months later, after the child was ... it says, "Bedridden," because the condition was so bad, finally, determined that mom was not psychologically and emotionally impaired. Returned the child to her care and the child was able to go and have that surgery and have the condition taken care of.
Leh Meriwether: And my understanding is, she filed a 10 million dollar lawsuit against-
Todd Orson: Or, one is planned. Correct.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah.
Todd Orson: Yeah, the-
Leh Meriwether: Child Welfare Agency for not properly investigating.
Todd Orson: Yeah, I mean, look, agencies ... I'm not going to turn this into either an attack or defense of child protective services in any state, they do a lot of great work, and sometimes things fall through the cracks.
Leh Meriwether: I think she needs to include him ... The problem is, you want to include the dad-
Todd Orson: I know.
Leh Meriwether: ... but at the same time, he's also the dad.
Todd Orson: Yeah.
Leh Meriwether: It's one of those sticky situations. But I'm wondering if this situation ... I'd love to hear more facts about this story, because I'd be willing to bet that he wasn't going to the doctors appointments with her.
Todd Orson: And probably not.
Leh Meriwether: And probably never saw the x-rays, probably never somewhere the MRIs. I mean, all you have to ... Here's the thing, before you file some crazy or make some crazy accusation, ask her, "Hey, can I take our son, I'd like to get a second opinion, or a third opinion?" And take the son to another doctor, have other ... have another investigation done because I would be willing to bet that ... Because this doctor came and testified said, "I would not do a crazy ... a difficult surgery like that if the child didn't need it."
Todd Orson: Yeah. And doing it this way, what he potentially did, was ruined his credibility with the court in any future custody related issues.
Leh Meriwether: Oh, yeah.
Todd Orson: Basically, what I'd be saying to someone is, "Go about this the right way." If you are a part of the conversation about what help your child needs, and you're going to the doctors, and you don't agree with what the other parent who maybe has decision making authority is going to do, i.e. surgery, you can file actions with the court. You can try and take legal steps to stop that from happening, but you'd have to go into court, prove that it's not in their best interest, that it would be dangerous, whatever. But that's the correct way. Now, his credibility is shot.
Leh Meriwether: Right. Because he went to the Child Welfare Agency and whatnot. Hey, up next, we're going to talk about Stan Lee. We're going to get in to all the Marvel movies, we're going to talk about the divorces that went on in there ... No, I'm just kidding. We're going to talk about some issues that Stan Lee encountered towards the end of his life.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orson. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to the Meriwether & Tharp show. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. And if you want to hear past episodes, you can also go to divorceteamradio.com.
Todd Orson: All right. So, last segment. So, let's jump right in. And before we get to Stan, one of my personal heroes, I'm going to talk about another one of my heroes. No. No, I'm kidding. I'm going to talk about Britney Spears.
Leh Meriwether: Aw.
Todd Orson: Well, come one. How do you not? So, we're going to talk about guardianships and conservatorships, all right? So, Britney had some issues.
Leh Meriwether: Some?
Todd Orson: Allegedly, let me be very clear-
Leh Meriwether: They reported it a lot.
Todd Orson: Yeah, it was ... So, the whole shaved head era, and all that kind of stuff. But Britney had some issues, all right? Well, she rebounded, and you know, the music career took off again. She had a gig in Vegas. Apparently since that meltdown, whatever you want to define it as, and now, I mean, she earned through that effort, 600 and something million, although there's now a question as to why she only has about 50 million left.
Todd Orson: But point it-
Leh Meriwether: It's because of K-Fed.
Todd Orson: Yeah, don't even get me started. At least I respect Britney and her work effort. But the point is that because of the issues that she was dealing with. The health, or whatever you want to call it, issues, what was put in place through a California court was what's called a conservatorship. Basically, her father was named as a conservator and really what that is, is somebody who is put in control of an aspect of someone's life.
Todd Orson: Now, usually it is a financial conservatorship. In Georgia, we have financial conservatorships. In California, if you can meet a certain threshold of proof, if you will, then it could actually be almost like health conservatorship-
Leh Meriwether: Where you almost become the parent ... I mean, the person becomes a minor almost.
Todd Orson: Yeah, almost like a minor, where they can dictate what doctors you go see and medicines you take, and whatever. And so, he was named as conservator, and controls down to everything-
Leh Meriwether: And to be clear, here in Georgia, it's conservatorship for the financial side, and guardianship for the legal and the medical side.
Todd Orson: Right. And so, what she's doing now, is she is now petitioning the court, trying to get out from under that conservatorship. Basically saying, "I don't need that level of control anymore. I may not be perfect, but I'm a heck of a lot better, and I need to regain some control over my life." And don't know where that's going to go as of yet. But I think it's an interesting conversation because we also have conservatorships over the finances, like you were talking about, and guardianships, which are more over an incapacitated person that requires that level of help to manage just their life, forget about finances.
Leh Meriwether: Right. Make sure they take their medicine. But you usually see it in people that have been on this earth a long time. You don't usually see it with someone young like Britney spears.
Todd Orson: Yeah, and what we also have here in terms of conservatorships, and for anyone listening, where it may apply is if you are involved in a divorce and there is, let's say, a company, a privately owned company that is owned and operated by your spouse, let's say. And there is fear that there is some malfeasance, there is some irresponsible spending, or taking money out of the company-
Leh Meriwether: Right. It has to be a little more than a fear. You have to actually have some proof-
Todd Orson: You have to have some evidence.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah.
Todd Orson: Then you can petition the court for a conservator to be appointed who will step in and almost become like a [inaudible 00:37:02] a CFO, maybe even CEO kind of person really just to step in and all those financial decisions and the spending and what have you, will flow through that person to make sure, at least during the pendency of the case, that nothing improper is being done. So, that brings us then, to Stan Lee, okay?
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orson: What a life this man has led, or did lead rather. Mourn his passing, all right, but the legacy he leaves behind is incredible. But Stan, towards the end of his life needed a lot of help. And he was unfortunately, as opposed to this situation with Britney, where somebody was named as a conservator, Stan didn't have that level of help. His wife of 70 years-
Leh Meriwether: That's amazing.
Todd Orson: ... passed away before he did.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, July of 2017.
Todd Orson: And she was providing a lot of that care and help and all of that, but when she was gone, unfortunately, it was left up to Stan. And Stan was not 100%.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, apparently by the ... He was 95 as of last year-
Todd Orson: Yeah.
Leh Meriwether: ... and his memory was bad, he had macular degeneration. So, he couldn't read or drive. It was that bad. So, how in the world can you read a contract if you can't read what's on the page?
Todd Orson: Exactly. I can tell you right now, god willing, I make it to 95, I don't want to see a contract. I will pre sign up for a conservator, how about that? But the difference here is that unfortunately, there was only a guardian appointed to assist. Actually, I think like a guardian ad litem. But a guardian was appointed to help out Stan-
Leh Meriwether: On his health.
Todd Orson: ... on his health. Not a conservator to help manage his finances. That opened up a void, if you will, and several people were then appointed. One was a former PR person, but there were allegations that he may have mishandled that relationship and mishandled finances. He got, allegedly hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts-
Leh Meriwether: [crosstalk 00:39:14]
Todd Orson: ... that Stan gave to him, and he's like [crosstalk 00:39:16]-
Leh Meriwether: That's what he says, yeah.
Todd Orson: Yeah, that they were gifts. Okay. So then, out goes the PR person, in comes his daughter. Stan's daughter. And there's allegations that maybe she was doing some things. And again, we don't know. I'm not saying it as if this is the truth. But she's then out, and a third person steps in. And basically, some of the criticism that I've read is, had a conservator been appointed, then everything would have had to flow, including all business dealings, through the conservator which would have taken Stan out of it, and hopefully it would have been someone appointed by a court that is under a much more rigorous duty to protect Stan and the financial estate. And maybe Stan wouldn't have been ... Not saying he was, but at least in danger of being taken advantage of.
Leh Meriwether: Right. Well, there's three separate lawsuits that have been filed asserting both fraud and elder abuse.
Todd Orson: Yeah.
Leh Meriwether: So, there has been a lot that went on that resulted in these lawsuits. I'm not sure since he's ... I don't know if [inaudible 00:40:20] going on now that he's passed, but I'm sure his whole estates been pulled into probate court.
Leh Meriwether: Well, in Georgia, I don't know about other states, but in Georgia, guardianships ... We're talking about for elderly, and conservatorships, are handled through the probate court. And so, they will appoint someone. Basically, you have to file an action usually. And where I usually see it is either a sibling who's younger, will bring an action saying the person's incapacitated and can no longer handle themselves. And the court will actually ... we don't do this this often, so I'm ... I had to go double check the statute, but I have done a couple of them. And the court will appoint a psychologist to come out and investigate, and then depending on the report by the psychologist, the court will appoint, and sometimes you can suggest a conservator and/or guardian. Sometimes it's both. A lot of time it's both.
Todd Orson: But the good thing is, the person who's going to be appointed in those situations, usually they understand they're under the scrutiny of the court, and therefore, they know that everything that they do has to be, in essence, documented if you will, and if they engage in any hanky panky, it could land them in some really hot water.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, they could be held in contempt-
Todd Orson: Yeah, as opposed to here, it was people that were somewhat related to, or, and related either by blood or through work, you know, that potentially had their own agendas and maybe they were doing things less to protect Stan, and more to protect their future finances.
Leh Meriwether: Right. And a lot of times you want a third party, neutral, who has nothing to gain by playing games. They get paid by the hour. Because a lot of times it's lawyers that come in. And some people say, "Well, isn't there still an incentive to sort of siphon money off?" Well, first of, you're being watched by the courts. And secondly, the kind of money you could siphon off from that over the life of a career of most people that appointed conservators is ... You would lose your career, and possibly your freedom is there was a criminal element to it if you took that money.
Leh Meriwether: So, there actually is a disincentive to try to take any money and to be completely above board, and have integrity, and this article about Stan Lee, had he had a conservator step in, that he may have been ... you know, his current estate would be worth more today.
Todd Orson: Yeah. So, the point on this, or these stories is that these are options: guardianships, conservatorships. These are things that might apply to you and you don't have to be Stan Lee, you know-
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orson: ... I'm sure he is very wealthy. You don't have to be Stan Lee and have those types of assets for it to apply. You just need to talk to an attorney. If you think that it applies, and that that level of protection is required, then there are attorneys out there that can help.
Leh Meriwether: And I've seen people who aren't Stan Lee, but they lost their entire retirement because they got an email saying, "I need some help. I'm ..." you know, one of those ones from Africa or Russia, and they said, "Oh, if you put some money in here," the next thing you know, there's nothing left-
Todd Orson: Wait, I shouldn't have sent that check? I am working right now with a Nigerian Prince.
Leh Meriwether: On that note, that about wraps up this show. Thanks so much for listening.