The Dylan Farrow-Woody Allen Saga – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post. In Part 1, I broke down the facts of this case. In case you missed it, after learning of the sexual abuse allegations against him, Woody Allen filed for custody of the adopted and biological children he had with Mia Farrow, including Dylan Farrow, his alleged sexual assault victim. Now, I’ll discuss the decision of the judge in that custody case as well as my own thoughts.

The judge in the custody case addressed all the facts and issued a very thorough 33-page decision. He found that Woody had done nothing more than provide financial support for the children. Woody didn’t know basic details of their everyday lives. He never dressed or bathed them, didn’t know their health history, didn’t know who their doctors are, didn’t even know their pets’ names or which children shared a bedroom. He had even less knowledge of their siblings and repeatedly differentiated between adopted and biological children. When Woody was asked why he should be granted custody, he rambled on for 11 pages worth of transcript and stated that he was a good father and Mia had intentionally turned the children against him.

The judge noted that Woody admitted he never considered the consequences of his relationship with Soon-Yi and that the therapists testified that he still doesn’t understand that what he did was wrong. He isolated her from her own family and disregarded the impact it would have on her, Mia, and the other children. The judge went on to say that Woody’s only response to Dylan’s claims of sexual abuse was to attack her mother without any credible support for his claims. As the judge stated, “his trial strategy has been to separate his children from their brothers and sisters; to turn the children against their mother; to divide adopted children from biological children; to incite the family against their household help; and to set household employees against each other. His self-absorption, his lack of judgment and his commitment to the continuation of his divisive assault, thereby impeding the healing of the injuries that he has already caused, warrant a careful monitoring of his future contact with the children.”

On the other hand, he found that there was no credible evidence to support the claim that Mia coached Dylan or that she wanted revenge for his relationship with Soon-Yi. He believed that Woody’s attempts to classify Mia as a “woman scorned” were an attempt to distract from his “failure to act as a responsible parent and adult.” He was also less certain than the team at Yale-New Haven that Woody did not sexually abuse Dylan. He noted that the team consisted of social workers and a pediatrician, that they destroyed their notes, sanitized their report, never saw the parents interact with the child, found there was no abuse without supporting data, and that they exceeded their role in the observations they made. The judge further stated that while we may never know what happened with Dylan, it’s clear that Woody’s relationship with her was grossly inappropriate and that measures needed to be taken to protect her.

Dylan recently renewed her allegations of sexual abuse. After Woody received a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Golden Globes, she issued an open letter to Hollywood, wondering what they would do if it was their daughter who’d been abused and questioning how the industry can reward and praise someone who has done something so vile.

Woody responded with his own statement, again accusing Mia of coaching Dylan and trying to get back at him for his relationship with Soon-Yi. Although Woody claimed that he had taken and passed a lie detector test, the truth is he refused to submit to one administered by the state police. He instead paid his own expert to conduct the test. Woody also claimed that he had been cleared of these allegations in the 1990s. Again, this isn’t the whole truth. After a thorough investigation, the prosecutor on the case chose not to pursue charges. Although he believed that there was sufficient probable cause to arrest Woody, he felt that Dylan was too fragile and did not want to put her through the stress of the trial, especially after all she’d gone through in the custody case.

All of this brings two questions to mind. First, are these the facts you’ve heard from the media? I know the stories I’ve seen are very different. The media is reporting as if this is old news and they don’t appear to be taking it very seriously. In fact, had I not done my own digging into this case, I never would have known about the scathing decision by the judge in the custody case or that he hadn’t actually been cleared in the past. Why? Why is the media so eager to sweep sexual abuse allegations under the rug? Why does it seem they just want us to forget about it? I understand people are innocent until proven guilty, and no one knows for sure what happened, but I find it disturbing and appalling that we as a society are so quick to dismiss a victim’s claims of sexual abuse. It’s even worse in a case like this where there seems to be evidence supporting the claims. The media is no better, as they’re quick to jump on the “woman scorned” bandwagon.

The second question is, what does this say about Hollywood? The allegations had NO effect on his career. Not only that, but his relationship with his girlfriend’s young adopted daughter had no effect. Actors continue to vie for roles in his movies and celebrate him and his accomplishments. The Lifetime Achievement Award and the speeches and standing ovation that came with it were just gross…there’s no other way to put it. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Dylan, if the accusations are indeed true, to watch an entire industry honor the man that violated her?

Obviously Woody has never been convicted of anything. He has every right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, I don’t think we should all be so quick to judge the victim and praise the abuser (allegedly). We should err on the side of caution when these types of claims are made. And the media needs to report ALL the facts, not just the sensational ones. There are many lessons to be learned from this whole story. But at least now you know the facts and can draw your own conclusions.

The Dylan Farrow-Woody Allen Saga – Part 1

*****Because of the complexity of this story, this will be a two-part blog post. Part one will focus on the facts of the case. Part two will look at the legal decision from the 1990s, the recent renewal of the sexual abuse allegations, and my thoughts on the story.*****

I may be a criminal defense attorney, but I’m just as passionate about victim advocacy, especially victims of domestic and sexual violence. So, the story of Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen caught my attention. I know there are a ton of blog posts out there that discuss the case and I’m kind of late to the game, but I originally didn’t plan on writing about the topic. However, after reading what’s been published, I couldn’t stay silent any longer. The way this was reported, I assumed it was a new incident. The media made it seem as if Dylan is just now reporting alleged sexual molestation some 20 years after it happened. Woody Allen released a statement (which various outlets, including TMZ, carried) acting as if the allegations had been thoroughly investigated 20 years ago and he’d been cleared. It was reported as if Dylan had been coached by a woman scorned, Mia Farrow, who was upset because he left her for her own daughter (and Dylan’s sister). This isn’t exactly the case.

The Relationship

Mia Farrow and Woody Allen had somewhat of a complicated relationship. Mia entered the relationship with three biological children and three adopted children from her first marriage and another child she adopted after the marriage ended. Woody did not have any interest in the children and the two essentially lived separate lives so that Woody would not need to be involved in the children’s lives. Mia later adopted Moses and Dylan but Woody was not involved in the adoptions. A few months after Dylan’s adoption, Woody suddenly became very interested in Dylan and spending time with her. He still was not involved with the other children.

A few years later, Mia became pregnant with their son, Satchel. Although this was Woody’s child, he had no interest in the pregnancy. After the birth, Woody intensified his relationship with Dylan and Mia began expressing concern about his behavior towards her. She voiced concern that Woody looked at Dylan sexually, read to her in his bed while in his underwear, and allowed her to suck on his thumb. Several witnesses testified at the custody trial that Woody focused on Dylan and excluded the other children.

Initial Concern

In the fall of 1990, Mia had Dylan evaluated by a therapist, Dr. Coates. Mia expressed her concerns about Woody’s behavior. Dr. Coates understood the concern and indicated that the relationship was “inappropriately intense.” Dylan began therapy with another doctor, Dr. Schultz. Around that time, Woody adopted Dylan and her brother, Moses.

Although he never had interest in Mia’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi, before, Woody began hanging out with her more in 1990. In 1991, he began speaking with her daily as she was lonely and unhappy at college. In January 1992, Mia discovered six nude pictures of Soon-Yi at Woody’s home. Mia then learned of their sexual relationship. Of course, Mia was extremely angry and hurt and began proceedings to vacate the adoptions. Over the next few months, Mia gave Woody a family picture with skewers through the heart of the children and a knife through her heart, defaced and destroyed pictures of Woody and Soon-Yi, and called Woody a child molester (referring to Soon-Yi). In the summer of 1992, Soon-Yi was fired from her job as a camp counselor for spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone with Woody.

The Allegations

On August 4, 1992, Woody went to Mia’s Connecticut home to visit the children. Mia had previously told her babysitter, Ms. Groteke, that Woody was not to be left alone with the children. For a period of 15-20 minutes Ms. Groteke was unable to find Dylan or Woody. During a different portion of that day, another babysitter observed Woody kneeling in front of Dylan with his head on her lap, facing her body. Dylan was sitting on the couch staring vacantly ahead. Dylan was observed later that day without underwear on under her dress.

The next day, the babysitter told Mia what she had seen. Mia asked Dylan about it, and Dylan confirmed the incident, adding that when she tried to get up Woody reached under her and grabbed her buttocks. Mia videotaped Dylan’s statements because she believed that her concerns about Woody weren’t being taken seriously by the therapists. Mia then called her attorney who told her to take Dylan to the pediatrician. It took a couple visits before Dylan repeated the story. It was also alleged that Woody sexually assaulted her in the attic.

Dr. Coates was notified of the accusation, which he in turn relayed to Woody and the New York City Child Welfare Administration. Woody filed for custody of Dylan and Satchel 7 days later. Dr. Schultz, who was on the payroll of Woody, first told child welfare that Dylan had started to tell her about the abuse but she needed more time to explore the subject with her. However, Dr. Schultz told others that Dylan never told her she was sexually assaulted.

Yale-New Haven Hospital was asked to evaluate Dylan to see if she appeared to be a victim of sexual assault. They concluded that Dylan had not been sexually assaulted. However, this conclusion is questionable, as the 3 people on the panel destroyed their notes prior to drafting their report, the doctor actually issuing the opinion never even spoke with Dylan, and all but one person on the panel refused to testify under oath about their findings.

After he learned of the allegations, Woody filed for full custody of Dylan, Moses, and Satchel. The judge in that case issued a 33-page decision which I will discuss in part 2 of this blog post. For now, you can see how Woody may have groomed Dylan to become his victim. Also, although Soon-Yi would say she was a willing participant, Woody’s relationship with her was inappropriate and his behavior predatory. It’s not surprising, though, that Woody would target two children who had been having behavioral and social problems. This is fairly common in sexual abuse and domestic violence situations. Check out part 2 where I’ll detail the judge’s findings and impressions of both parents as well as address Woody’s treatment by Hollywood and the recent media coverage of the case.

Challenging a DUI Serum Blood Test

You’ve been pulled over for a possible DUI. You’re taken in for a blood test and it comes back that your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is above a .08%. End of story, right? Wrong. What people don’t realize is that different laboratories are approved by the state for different kinds of testing. Specifically, some labs are approved for testing on whole blood. Other labs are certified for testing of serum. What does this mean for you when challenging your DUI case?

When looking at lab paperwork, it’s vital that you check to see what the lab is approved to test and then confirm that that is indeed what they tested. For instance, if the lab where your blood was tested is approved for whole blood testing, make sure that’s what they tested. If they performed a serum test, you automatically have a challenge to that bloodwork, as they can only perform the test they’re approved for. If they’re approved for serum testing and that’s what they tested, there are very specific things the Commonwealth must show in order to prove their case.

First, a little scientific background. What’s the difference between a whole blood test and a serum test? When a lab performs a whole blood test, the lab tech literally just takes your blood sample and puts it directly into the machine. A serum test is different. Some labs use machines that are not able to handle a whole blood sample; the sample is too dense and will clog the machine. Therefore, because of the machine they use, they are only approved to test on serum. To do this, the lab tech will take the sample, place it in a centrifuge, and essentially spin it until the blood components are separated. The serum from the blood ends up at the top of the test tube. Rather than put the entire blood sample through the machine, the lab tech takes a sample of just the serum and runs that through the machine. Because serum is less dense than whole blood, the BAC that’s calculated will be higher than what your actual whole blood BAC is, and that’s the number we’re concerned with. To get to a whole blood BAC, the machine then uses a conversion factor to convert the serum BAC to a whole blood BAC. That number is what’s used to charge you with DUI. But how do you challenge the number that comes from the serum test?

First and foremost, don’t stipulate to the lab work. Make them bring in the technologist to testify. Why? Because there are very specific things they must prove in order for the BAC generated to be sufficient to prove DUI. The Commonwealth has to show more than a generated number and a conversion factor used. Under Commonwealth v. Karns, they have to show that the conversion factor is scientifically reliable and that it’s generally accepted in the scientific community. Commonwealth v. Renninger also states that it isn’t enough that a machine is used and that the lab is approved for the testing; more testimony is needed regarding the conversion factor.

What I’ve done in several of my cases is argued that the witness the Commonwealth brings in (the lab technologist) must be qualified as an expert in order to testify about conversion factor. Usually, the lab tech has very little advanced education and minimal, if any, advanced knowledge about conversion factors. Because it’s a scientific concept that requires more knowledge than the average layperson, I argue that any testimony about conversion would be expert testimony. Because of the lab tech’s limited knowledge base, they usually can’t meet the requirements for expert qualification. Therefore, if they can’t testify about conversion, they can’t meet the requirements of Karns and Renninger.

Some judges will refuse to qualify the lab tech as an expert and won’t allow them to testify about conversion factor. If that happens, you’re golden. Without that testimony about scientific reliability and acceptance, the Commonwealth can’t meet their burden. If you do end up with a guilty verdict, you’ve set your case up perfectly for appeal. I have run into a judge or two, however, that will say that conversion testimony is not expert testimony and allow the lab tech to blindly testify about scientific reliability and acceptance. In that situation, create a record! You need to gear up for appeal. Make sure you get all your arguments on the record, cite to published case law, force the prosecutor to put on record what they’re using to support their argument that the testimony should be allowed, and make sure the judge clarifies on the record the reasons for his decisions. In at least one county, they’ve relied on unpublished, non-precedential case law to override the binding case law. This is an abuse of discretion and will absolutely help you in winning on appeal.

Of course, this isn’t the only way to challenge the bloodwork. You should always look at the chromatograms and look for things like contamination, machine malfunction, etc. But especially in cases where the chromatograms are acceptable or for people who may not know enough to analyze them, this is a much simpler way to challenge serum blood tests. It takes the argument in a different direction when you need a more unique or out-of-the-box idea for challenging a blood result. Even if you don’t prevail at trial, you can set your case up for a successful appeal. Just be prepared with your arguments, case law, and basis for your objection, and you’ll greatly increase your chances of obtaining a successful outcome.

What is an Advocate?

“Common Law” is a blog meant to provide legal information for the everyday advocate. This statement led to an interesting conversation this weekend. While talking with some friends, we started discussing what I do for a living and what I want out of my career. I said that I want to provide individualized legal representation to everyday people, educate them about the law so that they can be active in their case, and advocate on behalf of my clients. However, the conversation turned to something I took for granted: I assumed that everybody knew what an advocate does. What I didn’t realize was how little people actually know about the role of an advocate.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines advocate as “someone who argues for or supports a cause or policy; a person who works for a cause or group; a person who argues for the cause of another person in a court of law.” To me, an advocate, quite simply, is someone who looks out for and protects the best interests of another. I always thought this definition was common knowledge; what I soon realized was that it isn’t so common. I started asking around and discovered that when asked the question, “What is an advocate?” almost everybody I asked hesitated before answering the question. Some honestly didn’t know what, exactly, an advocate does (although they at least knew it was something good); others knew the answer, but said they couldn’t put it into words. Well, advocacy is something everybody needs to do for themselves on a daily basis, especially when caught up in a legal situation. So, I think I need to clarify what an advocate is.

As a criminal defense attorney, I advocate for my clients every single day. I always start this job by meeting with my clients and discussing their goals for their case, then tailoring my representation to meet those goals. Sometimes people want to beat their charges completely; other times, they know they did something wrong and simply want to mitigate the consequences they face. In any event, I always take the time to explain the process and ask for my client’s opinions on his or her case. Why? Because the old saying is true – you are your own best advocate. No one knows how the results I obtain are going to affect your life better than you. You have to live with the results.

So, my role as an advocate is to work to achieve the goals my client desires, ensure that his rights are protected throughout the process, and basically make sure he knows he has someone on his side fighting for him. I do this in a variety of ways. I file pre-trial motions when I think evidence shouldn’t be admitted. I negotiate with my adversary and make recommendations to my client in order to come to a resolution that limits my client’s exposure to adverse consequences or that secures a positive result. I make arguments in favor of my client every day. I do everything I can to achieve the best possible outcome for my client. That is advocacy.

In my opinion, everybody needs an advocate. This is true is so many areas – medical, legal, and just everyday life. Everybody deserves to have someone on their side, fighting for what’s best for them. I do it every day, and I’ll continue to do it until I’m old and gray. Why? Because I love it, and few things are more satisfying than when somebody thanks me just for being on their side. It’s the best part about being a lawyer. And now, you’ll always know exactly what an advocate is.