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Sarnia Demonstration

January 26, 2012 permalink

Protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Sarnia. Their objections related to separation and divorce cases, centering on family lawyer George McFadyen. The article mentions cases in which McFadyen keeps a case going for a long time while sending bills to his client. McFadyen is also in bed with a judge, his wife Anne McFadyen.



Jason Morningstar and Kathy Morningstar
Jason Morningstar and his mother, Kathy Morningstar, participate in a Canadians For Family Law Reform protest in Sarnia on Thursday.

Protesters demand family law reform

Members of a local activist group demonstrated outside Sarnia’s courthouse and the office of a city lawyer Thursday to protest what they said is a 'broken family law system.'

To honking cars driving by, at least two dozen members of Canadians For Family Law Reform help up signs claiming the legal system has made their divorces a nightmare.

Among their targets was family lawyer George McFadyen, who they said drags out legal proceedings to the detriment of local families. In an interview with the Observer, McFadyen denied the allegations.

“I think most of the complaints of the group are unfounded,” he said in his office later Thursday. “They are based on factual inaccuracies...”

Family law is a term that covers legal proceedings between two parties involved in a divorce, dealing with issues such as child custody and the division of assets and property.

The protesters said the current family law system results in lawyers creating unnecessary conflict between the two parties, dragging out divorce proceedings in order to make more money.

Co-organizer Dave Burgess, 51, said some family law lawyers tell their clients to demand more and more from their ex, convincing them to make more claims against them than they would have done otherwise.

What results are bankruptcies, psychological trauma for children and gruelling court battles that can last 10 years or more, said Burgess.

After the courthouse, about half the demonstrators took their protest to the Napier Street law office of McFadyen.

Sarnia police attended the scene several times, reminding the demonstrators to remain on public property and picket peacefully.

Those present alleged McFadyen drags out family legal proceedings to earn higher legal fees, causing upheaval for the children involved.

“George has ruined my family life,” said Jason Morningstar, who fought to get joint custody of two children. “He’s bankrupted me.”

Graham Pickett said he hired McFadyen to represent him in custody proceedings for his three children.

“I fired George,” he said. “I had 14 adjournments.”

Pickett said after they parted ways it took him a year and a half to defend himself successfully in court.

McFadyen said he couldn’t comment on specific cases, citing client confidentiality. But he told The Observer the provincial legislature has set out rules that ensure cases “move through the system on a fairly expeditious manner.”

Any backlog at the Sarnia courthouse is the result of not enough judges, McFadyen said, and criminal proceedings there often have priority over family law.

“I have to say the judges are working hard,” he said. “We just need more judges available.”

Family law lawyers in general have more complex cases, he added. They have to deal not only with the breakup of a marriage but the emotions, finances, and often children that come with it.

The protesters also claimed a conflict of interest at the Sarnia courthouse. McFadyen’s wife, Anne McFadyen, sits on the bench of the Ontario Court of Justice.

McFadyen said while his wife does work at the courthouse, said his cases are primarily heard in the Superior Court of Justice.

“On the few occasions that I do appear in Ontario Court of Justice, I appear in front of different justices,” he said.

Co-organizer Dave Burgess said more information about mediation should be provided to couples entering divorce. Mediation is a lower-cost alternative in which the couple and a mediator decide on a post-nuptial agreement, without an antagonistic court case.

“It is up to the people in Sarnia courthouses, and courthouses all across this country, to perpetuate mediation and to put lawyers who are only in it for the money — not the children and not the people involved — on the back seat.”

Source: Sarnia Observer

The Observer published a rebuttal to some of the comments by family lawyer George McFadyen in the report above.



Lawyers comments sad reflection on state of family law

Sir: In the front page article on Friday, Jan. 27, Sarnia lawyer George McFadyen comments that a lack of judges is responsible for much of the problem with the local family law system. That demonstrates where he, and many other family lawyer’s minds, are really at.

Family lawyers should be trying to defuse conflict, look for middle ground, foster communication, and only use court as a last resort. Then there would be no strain whatsoever on the court system. Sure, more judges would allow for more court appearances in a shorter period of time, but for whose benefit? Lawyers would make more money, and the poor saps that need a fair resolution would go bankrupt faster!

Mr. McFadyen refers to the complexities of family law, the emotions and the finances. If he knows these are the issues, why do some family lawyers exacerbate the situation by recommending cutting off communication with your spouse, and making the whole process as adversarial as possible? There is no risk to the lawyer who promises his client the world, only to lose in the end. Unrealistic expectations can cause a client to be mislead for years and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

The judges need to forget their roots and be given guidelines by the province that push back at lawyers who litigate every step of the way. Lawyers should be held accountable by the courts to try and settle outside of the courtroom. That includes the use of alternatives such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and the collaborative law process that can be made available to couples ending a relationship.

In the end, it’s not just time and money that are being wasted, it’s people’s lives. And the most vulnerable, the children, end up being the ones who suffer the most.

William French
Bright's Grove

Source: Sarnia Observer