Small Acts of Tremendous Generosity

Perhaps an hour ago,  I got an email from my Rabbi stating that a close friend had lost her battle with cancer and had passed away this morning.  In our Jewish tradition, she will be buried quickly, at 3:00 this afternoon because tomorrow is Passover.    Ellen Rosenthal was the wife and best friend of my business adviser and partner, Allen, for more than 40 years.  She was intelligent, lovely, a loving mother and grandmother, an independent and strong thinker, and an important part of our congregation.    I am closer to Allen.  He is my mentor, a surrogate father, a spiritual student in the same class in our synagogue for a long time before I moved to New York and got married.  Our first project was a meditation CD based on the story of The Utterance.  Yet, Ellen was always patient about that project and a good listener about my “missions” which are invariably related to my desire to turn what is seemingly evil into something good… even when I rambled on and ranted more than I should have.

When my children went to live with their father in 2007; I was decidedly unhappy about it and my friends, and especially the Rosenthals, were looking out for me, while allowing me to maintain my dignity.  Ellen was quietly generous, sharing her family with me, and for years in a row, a place for me at the Passover table when I would otherwise have been alone.  She put up with frequent interruptions and demands on Allen’s time for our projects and my adjustment to life as a non-custodial mother.    A few years ago, while her mother Miriam was very ill, Ellen and I had to rush her home before the holiday began because she was too ill to make it through the Seder.  When Miriam finally passed away, Allen and Ellen gave me one of Miriam’s watches.  Miriam had survived for 16 long, agonizing, days through the unthinkable, without being able to even swallow any food, at the end of her life.   She certainly became a symbol of perseverance for me.

Last year Ellen was too sick to orchestrate Passover dinner, and I had optimistically hoped we’d be together with her well again this year.  But, a few weeks ago I was told that Ellen would not make it much longer and I’ve been planning when I would return to say good-bye and wait.

I can’t make it back in time for the funeral in a few short hours; and I can only hope that Ellen, who I am sure thought that her “small” kindnesses towards me were ordinary, truly understood how much the gift of inclusion was to me at such a transformational time of  my life.  I love her, and her family, like my own.

Our friends are calling furiously with plans and trying to find one another on the eve of the holiday.  Tears flowing…  and I pulled out Miriam’s watch and held it in my hand, and this time this watch is representative of how fleeting time is with our loved ones, and how it belies the importance of people who mean so much to you; the way that suddenly the time you thought you would have to say “thank you”, “I love you” or even “I am sorry” has evaporated.

Our loss of Ellen made me realize how very important it is for friends and family to know how to respond to someone who is in pain in the way that she did.  See, Ellen, gave a ‘small act of tremendous generosity’ with the gifts of a seat at her holiday dinner table; by counting on me to help her when she needed me; a willingness to listen sometimes; and sharing the people that she loved, and that love her, with me.

Yes, great acts are important, and wonderful if they can be managed, but sometimes it is the smallest, random, seemingly insignificant acts that bring a person relief, and a sense of belonging, and a sense of normalcy to an otherwise upside down world.   Ellen, thank you, you were a blessing in our worlds.

Is Technology the Key to Unveiling the True Face of Domestic Violence in the Courts?

Understanding Technological Evidence for the Legal Professional: 101 the Basics is a technology guide written specifically for attorneys, judges, paralegals, police and prosecutors.  The first section of the book examines a grave example of domestic violence in a child custody case in San Bernardino California in 2009.  The Tagle v. Garcia case ended with the death of the child and the father’s suicide, while exercising his “right” to have visitation with their nine-month-old baby.

The remainder of the book provides an easy to digest, basic overview of technology to help legal professionals better articulate search warrants to judges, and to help judges better understand the evidence presented on a day to day basis.  It is vitally important that courts in general understand technology and its integration into our daily lives.  However, it is a life and death matter that family court evaluators, attorneys and judges understand this technology as it applies to cases involving domestic violence and abuse.

What was it about the Tagle v. Garcia child custody case that made it so media worthy?  Katie Tagle attempted to submit ten different kinds of technologically based evidence.  Why?  A young woman in her early twenties, she has lived her entire life in a completely wired world.  Why would she even imagine a judge would not understand her world?

Perpetrators of domestic violence are successful because they rely upon the assertion of a public persona that contradicts their private use of violence and intimidation.  Their comfort level with this duality makes them better equipped for misrepresenting the truth in court.  Perpetrators privately use intimidation and threats of violence to control their targets.  Often, having control over the couples’ children is the most effective means, as a loving mother will do almost anything to protect her children from harm.  The use of electronic communication; emails, text messages, voice messages, and social media to keep tabs on the victim provide effective means of controlling them.  Both police and the courthouse players are drastically behind the learning curve when it comes to understanding the intent and authenticity of electronic evidence.

The third consecutive judge in the Tagle v. Garcia case failed to provide Ms. Tagle a permanent order of protection after two months of repeatedly requesting protection from the legal system.   Judge Lemkau went so far as to call Ms. Tagle a liar multiple times within a five minute hearing, and to accuse her of “manufacturing” the electronic evidence.  Judge Lemkau has repeatedly asserted that it was not his responsibility to verify the veracity of her evidence when he refused to protect Wyatt and Katie.  Yet isn’t assessing, or “judging” the authenticity of evidence what they do in a myriad of other ways?   While many may argue that the courts can not afford to handle “high conflict cases” differently, what were the real costs of failing to address the domestic violence as a criminal issue and a safety issue to Ms. Tagle and their son Wyatt?

  • The most obvious costs were the lives of both Wyatt and Stephen Garcia; something that could have easily been prevented.
  • The devastating loss to Wyatt’s mother Katie Tagle, and both the Tagle and Garcia families.
  • The financial cost of a helicopter assisted high speed chase of eight police cruisers across icy roads in a ski resort area.
  • The risk to the community when Stephen Garcia recklessly unleashed his rage.
  • The professional devastation of Judge Lemkau’s judicial career and the personal sense of guilt and responsibility he privately suffers.
  • The devastating effect upon Judge Lemkau’s family witnessing his demonization as a “baby killer” in their community.
  • The erosion of trust and respect of the legal system in their community as well as across the country.

As a non-custodial mother, I had the experience of “not being heard” when I attempted to present what seemed painfully obvious electronic evidence to attorneys, judges, GALs, therapists, and other parties in my own custody case in 2006.  The reverberations shook my life for years to come.  I made a serious strategic error in terms of my assumption that the legal profession would be on top of the application of technology, and its evidence, within both the criminal and family court systems.  Many other people, exposed to countless examples of forensic science on television naturally assume the real world legal system is equipped to handle our technical evidence too.

Think again.  Hardly anything could be further from the truth.

Consider where we are in the legal learning curve, and the average age of the participants;  we have the people with the greatest technology gap, holding the most powerful positions.  Juxtaposed, the people with the least amount of power and legal savvy live with the most technical integration in their lives.  Judges, who are naturally often 25 to 50 years older than legal parties; have the least technical integration and comprehension within their professional and personal lives.   The isolating nature of their work prevents them from using this integration in the same way the rest of society does.   Judges and litigants could not possibly be further apart.

Legal professionals must have a “real world” comparison in order to understand the intent behind the communication.  An email is the equivalent of a letter that was posted through the US Postal Service.  A blog entry, or email posting is the same as publishing an article in a magazine or newspaper.  A text message is like a note passed between students in class.  Social Media is like gossiping in the hallways at work or school, and the audience is controlled by the person posting the content.  The Internet is tightly controlled, and it isn’t that hard to trace where, and who, posted information.  Cell phones also provide vital geographic and chronological data.  Using a combination of this data, law enforcement and the courts have the ability to authenticate almost any type of electronic evidence.

Policemen need to be able to articulate the technical issues surrounding a hidden network embedded within the walls of a pedophiles home when asking for a search warrant; they must know how to detect a network that gives access to the horde of pornographic photographs of children.  Right now, most police have the ability to authenticate threatening email communications from their squad cards, but the software and training has not been implemented.  Attorneys can not possibly understand what their clients are sharing, beyond their hysteria, if they don’t know how to dissect the technology behind what was presented by their client.  A Judge’s ability to discern the authenticity, intent and veracity of technologically based evidence is genuinely a life and death issue, and the credibility of our justice system, and lives of our families depend on their ability to get it right quickly.

Liora Farkovitz is a business and product development strategist, and the author of “Understanding Technological Evidence for the Legal Professional: 101 the Basics”. It was edited by Mindy Nemoff, a virtual paralegal.  This guide is the first step towards addressing this urgent need.  TechnologicalEvidence.com is  releasing CLE courses to train courthouse professionals in the most basic aspects of technology.  We’ll be training police, attorneys, judges, advocates and even litigants online and in person.  We’re happy to speak at public engagements, or to provide customized on-site training for any professional group.  We are interested in learning of your “real life” electronic evidence stories as well.  Please click here to visit our site for current resources and special offers.