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Custody of Nonbiological Children—Burden and Proof Issues

In the matter of R.L. v. M.A., Case No.: 2740 EDA 2018, the Pennsylvania Superior Court delved into the leading edge of family law when it ruled upon whether an individual in a same-sex relationship can be awarded custody of a child with whom she has no biological relationship.

In R.L., the appellant, M.A., entered into a romantic relationship with R.L. (appellee) in 2012. During the relationship, the parties decided to impregnate the appellant via artificial insemination using sperm from the appellee’s brother.

The couple proceeded to prepare for the birth of the child by setting up the baby’s room and purchasing typical baby supplies. R.L. was present for the baby’s birth, chose the baby’s first name, and gave the baby her own surname. Not long after the child was born, the couple broke up.

Instead of litigating, the parties entered into an informal agreement for the custody of the child. The child lived primarily with the appellant and spent every other weekend with the appellee. This arrangement lasted until 2014 when the parties informally elected to equally share custody of the child. This 50/50 arrangement lasted nearly four years until R.L. called the daycare center where the appellant worked and which the child attended. R.L. complained that the appellant was having too much contact with the child while in daycare and even inappropriately (in her opinion) removed the child from the daycare premises.

In response to the above-mentioned telephone call, the appellant unilaterally discontinued their customary 50/50 arrangement, which led to R.L. filing a complaint for custody of the child. R.L. was granted in loco parentis over the child fairly quickly, which conferred R.L. standing to have custody of the child. The matter went to trial and the trial court entered an order granting each party equal custody, alternating on a weekly basis; the appellant appealed this order to Superior Court.

On appeal, the appellant argued that the appellee did not meet the burden of clear and convincing evidence that a nonparent should have custody equal to a parent, and that the court erred in weighing the evidence presented.

In support of her argument that appellee did not meet her burden of proof, the appellant argued that 23 Pa.C.S. Section 5327 requires a trial court to apply a presumption in favor of parents over nonparents, and, as a “nonparent,” the appellant did not meet her burden to overcome the presumption in favor of the appellee. The appellant also argued that the trial court erred in considering the parties’ informal shared custody arrangement when rending its decision.

In making its ruling, the Superior Court acknowledged that “even before the proceedings start, the evidentiary scale is tipped, and tipped hard, to the biological parents’ side.” In saying that, the Superior Court also recognized that this principle does “not preclude an award of custody to the nonparent.”

Additionally, the court made it clear that the “best interests” standard is still the touchstone when entering a child custody order. Furthermore, once someone is granted in loco parentis, she need not demonstrate that the other party is unfit, but rather merely demonstrate that it is in the best interests of the child (as proven by clear and convincing evidence) to be with the nonparent party.

The Superior Court ruled that the appellant did meet her burden of clear and convincing evidence, specifically by demonstrating that the parties lived out an agreed shared custody arrangement for a number of years, indeed most of the child’s life, and only discontinued that arrangement due to the appellee being upset over the appellant’s telephone call to the daycare center, as opposed to anything directly related to custody.

The Superior Court also indicated that the appellant’s interpretation of the law is incorrect. Namely, while the scales do tip heavily toward a parent over a nonparent, there is a distinction as to whether that nonparent is seeking shared, as opposed to primary, custody. As she was only seeking shared custody, the appellant only had the burden of clear and convincing evidence to bring the scales even with the appellee. Only if the appellant were seeking primary custody would she have to tip the scales hard toward herself under the burden of clear and convincing evidence.

Ultimately, a nonparent seeking shared custody of a child has to have standing and demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that such a custody arrangement is in the best interest of a child.

This article was originally published in The Legal Intelligencer on June 27, 2019 and can be found here.

What is the Global Economy?

Whenever the topic of the local economy is brought up, economic pundits quickly remind us that we live in a “global economy,” but what exactly does that mean? Does it mean that economic activity now takes place across the globe whereas it previously did not? Does it mean that economic activity occurs much more rapidly than it previously did? Does it mean that human society has changed to the point where the economies of different countries with different cultures are irrevocably linked together? The answer to each of these questions is no.

Global economic activity has been around for over 2,000 years. The speed at which economic activity takes place is certainly faster, but this increased speed is of little to no consequence to the small and medium-sized business—in other words the overwhelming majority of businesses in the world. In what way have our economies become linked together that the failure of a small percentage of the mortgages in the USA resulted in a world-wide economic crisis, the consequences of which are still affecting us after four years? Is this link something that is irrevocable? What does it really mean when economists talk about the “global economy,” and why is it brought up as some sort of argument against supporting the local economy?

I submit that the global economy is really nothing more than the fact that the banking industry and some very large companies have expanded to the point where they don’t really have any national loyalty. Any claim to a national identity is merely a facade; they hold no national allegiance and their only interest in any country is the ability to make a profit. The large international companies make claims of nationality, their headquarters have to be somewhere, but their operations, offices and factories span the globe. Their national claims often appear to nothing more than marketing in their countries of origin. They love free trade agreements because these allow them to lay off more expensive workers in their country of origin and replace them with less expensive workers in another. This increases their profits without regard to the impact in their home country or to their employees.

The only interest the international banks seem to have in any country is the ability to give it loans. It is true that some of them perform a specific function within a country that is integral to that country. The U.S. Federal Reserve controls the currency in the United States. Likewise with the Bank of England and the European Central Bank. However, all of these institutions participate in the funding of governments all around the world. When they do not do so directly, they act through an intermediate financial institution like the International Monetary Fund. They do not function for the benefit, even in a primary sense, of their supposed country.

Because so many countries have relinquished their sovereign right to control their own currencies to these international entities, and have become so indebted to them, they have become completely dependent on them. The claims that these banks have become “too big to fail” raises the question of why they are too big to fail. If they fail, the governments dependent on them fail with them. Without the seemingly endless lines of credit to fund them, governments would have to stop making promises to provide programs they cannot afford. That is a reality no politician wants exposed to the public. If a government had its loans called, it would be shown to be bankrupt. This is why the giant banks, rather than small businesses, had to be bailed out. In the case of global corporations, the ones “too big to fail” were those with extensive ties to the government through contracts and political influence (lobbying and economic power) that they could exert.

The “global economy” is nothing more than near complete dependence of governments on the global banks and international corporations. No State is prepared to operate without them. In other words, the “Global Economy” is not about providing for the economic needs of the community, the region, or even the state. It is not about the production of wealth for the people of a country. It is mainly about finance, which is only one part of economics, and maintaining the consolidated state of wealth on which governments depend so that they can redistribute that wealth through social programs. This may explain why the efforts to solve the economic crisis are ineffective and inadequate for the average family and business. Interest rates are not kept artificially low so that people can get out of debt, but so that they can remain in debt to the banks.

This situation, regardless of how emphatically the economic pundits would like us to believe otherwise, is not a necessary one, and it is certainly no argument against advocating for the local economy. After all, why should the cost of the groceries in your local market be influenced by something that happens in another country? The reason is that we have forgotten the value of the local economy, and, consequently, have lost the local economy itself. I am not discussing city planning and budgeting, that is not “the local economy.” The local economy is the ability of the local community to be self-sufficient and to support its own productive economic activity. It is the next logical expansion of the root meaning of economy in general—which is home management.

Take a look at the typical large city of today. From where do the products needed for daily life come? How would the families and businesses cope if a disaster in another region cut off their normal supply chain for food? For example, The city of Seattle is surrounded by smaller cities (urban areas) and suburban areas which do not produce anywhere near the amount of products used by its population. Seattlites sit in chairs and work at desks made in other cities and even other countries. They drink from cups, use pens and pencils, and wear clothes that are all made somewhere else. The surrounding rural areas do not produce anywhere near the amount of food needed to support the area. Seattlites are dependent upon remote suppliers, typically large industrialized farms which are the central providers for many large cities around the country and the world. When a production problem occurs on one of these giant farms, the ramifications are wide-spread. When another city experiences a disaster, the extra resources sent to assist them can create a shortage in other regions. The widespread dependence on centralized providers of basic necessities creates a situation where continued access to those necessities is more tenuous than most of us would like to believe.

Another example of widespread dependence on centralized production can be seen by a recent issue for the computer industry. Global free trade was supposed to make the market more diverse and ensure that we had a ready supply of needed items from anywhere in the world. What actually happened is that production of parts needed around the world became centralized, not just to single countries, but to single regions in those countries. The case to which I am referring is the manufacture of hard disks for computers. Flooding in one region of one country resulted in a worldwide shortage of hard disks, which impacted the ability of businesses around the world to maintain existing servers or install new ones.

In the past, a city viewed the surrounding rural community as an integral part of its life. The city provided goods and services for the rural community, and the rural community provided the basic necessities of food and other agricultural products needed by the city. In other words, each functioned as the primary market for the other and their combined economic activity established a complete, self-sufficient community in which families were able to provide for their needs and wants. Every producer and service provider in the community viewed the other members of the community as their primary customers. Rather than looking for cut-throat prices, they understood it was in their best interest to give their custom to local businesses. The best way to ensure their own economic success was to ensure the economic success of their customers. This works to make the local economy stable because most economic activity ends up being circular and self-supporting. I buy from you and you buy from me. By being each others’ customers, we keep each other in business, which allows both of us to remain each others’ customer.

Am I, by saying this, arguing against global trade, or trade in general? Not at all. The merchants in the city engaged in trade, which not only brought in desired goods from distant lands, but also opened up those distant markets to any excess production of the local community. Because most economic activity was local, it was also resilient. Not only would a problem in another community have little impact on the overall local economic situation, but the local community could more directly assist that other community. This could circumvent the need for state or federal assistance for all but the most wide-spread of disasters.

If economic activity across the country was primarily local, the overall economy of the country would be self-sufficient because the local economies would be self-sufficient. The overall economy of the country would be stable because the local economies would be stable. The overall economy of the country would be resilient because the local economies would be resilient. There would still be regional and global trade because the desire for other goods would still be present, but there would not be a dependence on those goods.

By David W. Cooney and originally published in The Distributist Review on August 18, 2012 and can be found here.

Religious baker who refused to make a wedding cake for gay couple deserves protection whether you agree with him or not

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Philadelphia Inquirer which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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Our nation is seeing a surge of “corporate conscience,” where companies make decisions apart from their bottom line. This is good for all Americans. The New York Times recently described the growing “moral voice of corporate America” after a wave of companies, including Google, Airbnb, Uber, and PayPal, severed ties with white supremacist groups in response to the riots in Charlottesville.

This phenomenon is not new, nor is it limited to opposing white supremacy. For years,Pfizer has refused to sell some of its drugs to state prisons because the company doesn’t want them used in capital punishment. Chipotle refused to cater a Boy Scouts’ Jamboree because of the scouts’ then-policy about gay scout leaders. A gay coffee shop ownerrecently refused to serve a group of pro-life activists, ejecting them from his store. These business owners made moral choices about what they’re going to support.

A similar moral choice is at the heart of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case currently before the Supreme Court. The store’s owner, Jack Phillips, is a baker who is willing to sell any items off-the-shelf in his store to anyone, no questions asked. All he is asking is not to be compelled to use his artistic talent to create a custom-designed cake celebrating an event contrary to his deeply held beliefs. This is a standard that Phillips applies across the board. He does not create custom work that celebrates Halloween, divorce, profanity, or racism.

Phillips is not the first baker in Colorado who objected to using his talents to support something he disagreed with, but he’s the first one to be punished for it. Another Colorado bakery refused to create a Bible-themed cake that condemned homosexuality. But here, Colorado upheld these bakers’ rights, explaining that they shouldn’t be forced to create a cake they disagreed with. The state even said bakers have the right to decline to bake a cake for the Aryan Nations Church, or a cake denigrating the Koran.

This double standard was a cause of concern for multiple Supreme Court justices during the recent oral argument in Phillips’ case. Justice Alito called it “disturbing” that a baker could “refuse to create a cake with a message that is opposed to same-sex marriage,” but “when the tables are turned,” Phillips was “compelled to create a cake that expresses approval of same-sex marriage.” Justice Kennedy suggested that Colorado officials demonstrated “a significant aspect of hostility to a religion” and ironically, that the state had “been neither tolerant nor respectful of Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

Critics argue that his actions should not be entitled to protection because his denial of service was offensive. But this was not a consideration when the baker turned away the customer requesting a Bible cake, or when Chipotle refused to cater the Boy Scouts, or when the gay coffee shop owner ejected the Christian group. The Supreme Court has always said that offensive expression is still entitled to First Amendment protection. Otherwise, those who need constitutional protection the most — those with unpopular views — would be protected the least.

Phillips’ opponents also exaggerate his claim and assert that a ruling for Phillips would quickly take our country back to a Jim Crow era where large swaths of businesses are allowed to deny basic services to an entire class of Americans. But the Supreme Court has already laid out factors to protect against that type of discrimination.

When First Amendment rights must be balanced against norms of equal service, the ultimate question is whether the would-be customer can freely access the market for desired services or products. That is not an issue here. Many bakers were eager for the couple’s business; they even received offers for a free cake.

This case really boils down to the following question: Do we want to have a country where the government is allowed to pick one correct view on hot topics like marriage, and to force objecting organizations to use their talents and resources to support that position? Our Constitution prohibits that result. That’s why elsewhere, we prioritize the ability of organizations to speak out with a range of viewpoints on important moral issues. The chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, said it best: “Not every business decision is an economic one … [W]e are fighting for what we love and believe in, and that is the idealism and the aspiration of America.” Schultz is right: These expressive rights are an ideal worth fighting for. That’s why the Supreme Court should uphold this principle for Phillips, too.

By Stephanie Barclay who is legal counsel at Becket, a public interest law firm that defends religious liberty for all faiths

Originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on January 19, 2018 and can be found here.

Superior Court Navigates ‘Twists and Turns’ in Case Involving Paternity Tests

Pennsylvania Superior Court recently heard a rather complex and tangled case regarding how, when and what significance a paternity test may have in determining the paternity of a child. In the matter of H.Z. v. M.B., 2019 Pa.Super. 33, the Superior Court offered insights that may be instructive for other similar matters, especially in cases where attempted clever tactics and intrigue are elements.

In H.Z., the mother, seeking child support, filed for paternity testing in New York shortly before the child was born in March 2005. The results of the testing excluded M.B., the putative father. Consequently the parties entered into a stipulation providing that the mother would discontinue her paternity and support actions against M.B. with prejudice.

Two years later, the mother hired a private investigator to surreptitiously secure a sample of the father’s DNA. Specifically, the investigator followed M.B. to a Starbucks where he picked M.B.’s discarded coffee cup out of a trash can, and submitted it for genetic testing that resulted in a finding of a probability of over 99 percent percent that M.B. is the father of the child.

About a year later, the results of the investigator’s test motivated the mother to file a new paternity case against M.B., this time in New Jersey, where the mother had relocated. The case was transferred to Pennsylvania as New Jersey had no jurisdiction over M.B., who was a resident of Pennsylvania. A few months later, the parties again entered into a stipulation dismissing the mother’s case.

Undeterred, the mother almost immediately filed a third case, this time in Montgomery County, to which M.B. filed preliminary objections, a motion to dismiss and a motion to stay the testing, primarily on the basis of res judicata. While M.B. successfully had the Starbucks test excluded as evidence, per a motion in limine, the case, for some reason, was not scheduled for a hearing until about five years later. After that hearing the trial court ordered M.B. to submit to genetic testing once again. The father appealed, primarily on the basis of res judicata. In an unpublished opinion, the Superior Court ruled that the stipulation entered in the New York matter was in violation of New York law and, therefore, not controlling.

Finally, after another year’s time, M.B. submitted to a buccal swab genetic test requested by the mother’s petition requesting blood and hair testing, which again excluded M.B. as the father of the child. Upon receiving the result of this test, M.B. requested the dismissal of the case. The mother countered by requesting M.B. to submit to more rigorous testing on the basis that M.B.’s DNA samples had irregularities, and M.B.’s genetic profiles in the various tests all differed from one another which, she averred, means they did not come from the same person. The parties subsequently filed various motions seeking sanctions and striking filings. A trial court hearing on these issues was finally scheduled for December 2017.

At the hearing, the mother called two officials from the Montgomery County Domestic Relations Office who testified that, despite many years of experience and their knowledge of  hundreds of cases, neither have had a case where the DNA sample they collected was insufficient for testing. In opposition to these witnesses, M.B. called a DNA lab director who testified that there was no evidence of tampering, no issues with the chain-of-custody of the DNA sample, and no issues with testing protocols. While the lab director did note that the DNA that was recently tested did degrade, she could not come to a definite conclusion as to why.

After some of the witnesses testified at the hearing (as described above), the trial court scheduled at least two more days of testimony. Without explanation or apparent reason, the trial court suddenly entered an order concluding that M.B. is the father and directed that an appropriate support order be awarded. M.B. immediately appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

On appeal, M.B. argued that the mother’s case should be dismissed on the basis that the Montgomery County test excluded him as father. M.B. specifically argued that a paternity hearing could only be scheduled if the results of a genetic test did not indicate that the putative father was not excluded from being the father. Consequently, per M.B.’s argument, in the instant matter, as the Montgomery County test excluded him as the father, the aforesaid rule required the mother’s case to be dismissed. The Superior Court rejected this argument and decided that the rule does not limit the scheduling of a hearing only when a test does not indicate an exclusion. The court also pointed out that the rule does not provide that a genetic test—by itself—is sufficient to establish paternity but, instead, indicates that a hearing on the reliability of genetic testing is permissible. The Superior Court also found that Rule 1910.15(d)(4) sets forth “a clear course of conduct addressing every possible result of the genetic testing” and M.B.’s request for dismissal was not relief afforded to him by the rule.

M.B. further argued that the Uniform Act on Blood Tests to Determine Paternity (23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 5104) eliminates any discretion on the part of the trial court to rule in this matter. Superior Court ruled that the aforesaid statute does not apply as no blood test ever took place in this matter, rejecting M.B.’s argument that it applies to all manner of genetic testing, not just blood testing.

M.B. then argued that 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 4343 also requires the dismissal of an action for paternity when a man is excluded from paternity after genetic testing. The court rejected this argument as well, pointing out that the statute cited by M.B. actually directly opposes his argument. The Superior Court noted that the statute “does not provide that genetic tests are conclusive of the issue of paternity,” but such a determination may only be made by “a court in a civil action.” Additionally, the statute also allows for additional testing if a party contests the initial test.

M.B. proffered a cursory argument that additional testing would violate his Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. However, as he did not raise this argument in a timely manner, the Superior Court did not consider it. Instead, it indicated that additional testing may be permitted if the first test can be demonstrated to be unreliable by the preponderance of the evidence.

M.B. finally argued that the trial court abused its discretion by basing its ruling on excluded evidence (the Starbucks cup) and the Montgomery County test (which he argued had no facts to suggest it was unreliable). The Superior Court was sympathetic to this particular argument, however it directed its focus to the fact that the trial court never completed the record due to inexplicably entering an order before finishing the hearing. As a result, the court could not sufficiently review the facts and evidence in the case as it was left incomplete. Indeed, the Superior Court ruled that 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 4343 affords the mother the right to an additional genetic test at her own expense as a matter of right.

After all of the twists and turns in this case, the Superior Court ruled that the trial court committed an abuse of discretion when it ruled that M.B. is the father as the hearing was not complete. The Superior Court ultimately ruled that an additional test is to be administered if no stipulation between the parties is reached. If the new test indicates M.B. is the father, then a hearing may be scheduled to determine the reliability of the test. If M.B. is excluded as the father, then the parties may proceed to a hearing on the issue of paternity. If any additional testing is requested, then evidence of any prior tests’ unreliability must be presented, and Fourth Amendment implications can be considered. As a result, the trial court’s order was vacated and the matter was remanded for further proceedings and testing.

May this case be a warning to those who think that genetic testing to determine paternity speaks conclusively as to who a child’s father is or is not. While modern technology has made significant contributions in this area, there still remains sufficient doubt to warrant other forms of evidence and inquiry before a court.

This article was originally published in The Legal Intelligencer on March 19, 2019 and can be found here.

Who is fighting the war on science?

Every now and again I come across something that warrants posting here.  I have seen a recent proliferation of articles in respected publications pointing out, bemoaning, and/or highlighting increasing problems with the trustworthiness of the alleged findings of the contemporary scientific community.  I find these articles to be particularly interesting given how our society looks to science as a (the?) source of ultimate truths (often as a mutually exclusive alternative to spirituality).  This sort of scientism may be misplaced, and these articles delve into the pitfalls that come with such an approach.

Here are the links the other articles I posted on this subject:

Be edified.

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Ministerial Exception Defense Rejected In Suit To Apply Labor Code To Preschool Teachers

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Su v. Stephen S. Wise Temple, (CA App., March 8, 2019), a California state appellate court held that teachers in a Reform Jewish Temple’s preschool are not covered by the ministerial exception rule.  In the case, California’s Labor Commissioner sued on behalf of 40 teachers alleging that the school violated the state’s Labor Code by failing to provide rest breaks, uninterrupted meal breaks, and overtime pay.In rejecting the Temple’s ministerial exception defense, the majority said in part:

Although the Temple’s preschool curriculum has both secular and religious content, its teachers are not required to have any formal Jewish education, to be knowledgeable about Jewish belief and practice, or to adhere to the Temple’s theology.  Further, the Temple does not refer to its teachers as “ministers” or the equivalent, nor do the teachers refer to themselves as such. Accordingly, we conclude the teachers are not “ministers” for purposes of the ministerial exception.

Presiding Judge Edmon filed a concurring opinion contending that the court need not reach the question of whether the teachers held “ministerial” positions, saying in part:

I would conclude that the Temple has not demonstrated that the ministerial exception has any application to the present dispute, which does not touch on the Temple’s freedom to choose its ministers or to practice its beliefs….

[T]he constitutional imperative against encroaching on a church’s selection of its ministers does not, as a logical matter, suggest that churches must be exempted from all laws that would regulate the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers. Given the number and variety of federal and state employment laws, it stands to reason that some laws will impose a greater burden on religious interests than will others. Accordingly, courts can, without doctrinal inconsistency, exempt churches from the application of some employment laws without exempting churches from all such laws.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Beware those scientific studies — most are wrong, researcher warns

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article that warrants posting here.  I have seen a recent proliferation of articles in respected publications pointing out, bemoaning, and/or highlighting increasing problems with the trustworthiness of the alleged findings of the contemporary scientific community.  I find these articles to be particularly interesting given how our society looks to science as a (the?) source of ultimate truths (often as a mutually exclusive alternative to spirituality).  This sort of scientism may be misplaced, and these articles delve into the pitfalls that come with such an approach.

Here are the links the other articles I posted on this subject:

Be edified.

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Washington (AFP) – A few years ago, two researchers took the 50 most-used ingredients in a cook book and studied how many had been linked with a cancer risk or benefit, based on a variety of studies published in scientific journals.

The result? Forty out of 50, including salt, flour, parsley and sugar. “Is everything we eat associated with cancer?” the researchers wondered in a 2013 article based on their findings.

Their investigation touched on a known but persistent problem in the research world: too few studies have large enough samples to support generalized conclusions.

But pressure on researchers, competition between journals and the media’s insatiable appetite for new studies announcing revolutionary breakthroughs has meant such articles continue to be published.

“The majority of papers that get published, even in serious journals, are pretty sloppy,” said John Ioannidis, professor of medicine at Stanford University, who specializes in the study of scientific studies.

This sworn enemy of bad research published a widely cited article in 2005 entitled: “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.”

Since then, he says, only limited progress has been made.

Some journals now insist that authors pre-register their research protocol and supply their raw data, which makes it harder for researchers to manipulate findings in order to reach a certain conclusion. It also allows other to verify or replicate their studies.

Because when studies are replicated, they rarely come up with the same results. Only a third of the 100 studies published in three top psychology journals could be successfully replicated in a large 2015 test.

Medicine, epidemiology, population science and nutritional studies fare no better, Ioannidis said, when attempts are made to replicate them.

“Across biomedical science and beyond, scientists do not get trained sufficiently on statistics and on methodology,” Ioannidis said.

Too many studies are based solely on a few individuals, making it difficult to draw wider conclusions because the samplings have so little hope of being representative.

– Coffee and Red Wine –

“Diet is one of the most horrible areas of biomedical investigation,” professor Ioannidis added — and not just due to conflicts of interest with various food industries.

“Measuring diet is extremely difficult,” he stressed. How can we precisely quantify what people eat?

In this field, researchers often go in wild search of correlations within huge databases, without so much as a starting hypothesis.

Even when the methodology is good, with the gold standard being a study where participants are chosen at random, the execution can fall short.

A famous 2013 study on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet against heart disease had to be retracted in June by the most prestigious of medical journals, the New England Journal of Medicine, because not all participants were randomly recruited; the results have been revised downwards.

So what should we take away from the flood of studies published every day?

Ioannidis recommends asking the following questions: is this something that has been seen just once, or in multiple studies? Is it a small or a large study? Is this a randomized experiment? Who funded it? Are the researchers transparent?

These precautions are fundamental in medicine, where bad studies have contributed to the adoption of treatments that are at best ineffective, and at worst harmful.

In their book “Ending Medical Reversal,” Vinayak Prasad and Adam Cifu offer terrifying examples of practices adopted on the basis of studies that went on to be invalidated, such as opening a brain artery with stents to reduce the risk of a new stroke.

It was only after 10 years that a robust, randomized study showed that the practice actually increased the risk of stroke.

The solution lies in the collective tightening of standards by all players in the research world, not just journals but also universities, public funding agencies. But these institutions all operate in competitive environments.

“The incentives for everyone in the system are pointed in the wrong direction,” Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction Watch, which covers the withdrawal of scientific articles, tells AFP. “We try to encourage a culture, an atmosphere where you are rewarded for being transparent.”

The problem also comes from the media, which according to Oransky needs to better explain the uncertainties inherent in scientific research, and resist sensationalism.

“We’re talking mostly about the endless terrible studies on coffee, chocolate and red wine,” he said.

“Why are we still writing about those? We have to stop with that.”

Originally published on July 5, 2018 on Yahoo and can be found here.

 

City Settles Firefighter’s Religious Discrimination Suit

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

The city of Utica, New York has settled a religious accommodation lawsuit that was filed against it by a firefighter who refuses to cut his hair after taking a Nazirite vow.  Under the settlement announced Friday, firefighter John Brooks has been granted a religious accommodation from the fire department’s grooming policy. A press release from First Liberty announced the settlement. First Liberty’s website has more on the case.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Will a Philly woman lose her home because of Family Court delays?

It seemed almost too good to be true: Mary Beth Novak found a job in Montgomery County as a police officer and a home she could afford in Royersford, in a good school district, just in time for her daughter to start fifth grade. No more scrambling to arrange transportation from her Northeast Philadelphia home to Catholic school in Bucks County — a commute that went from difficult last year to impossible now that Novak works out of town.

Now this dream, which seemed tantalizingly close, is vanishing like a mirage. Novak is bracing to back out of the house purchase, and lose close to $8,000 — her deposit and related costs. And she still isn’t sure where her daughter will be going to school next month, or how she’ll get her there.

The problem is that even though she has primary custody and support from a counselor who Novak and her ex had agreed to defer to in case of disputes, her daughter’s father has opposed the move that would take her an hour’s drive away. And, though Philadelphia Family Court is required under state law to provide an expedited hearing to resolve relocation disputes, her court date is not until next March.

“I had no idea all this stuff could happen,” Novak said. “I don’t know what to do.”

Novak is one of thousands of parents affected by a backlog in the court’s Domestic Relations section that attorneys call “unconscionable,” “tragic,” and “unbearable,” given that in some cases parents are being denied access to their children, or are losing jobs and homes while they wait for the court to weigh in.

“It’s extremely frustrating for the parents, but also really tragic for the children,” said Susan Pearlstein, co-supervisor of the Family Law Unit at Philadelphia Legal Assistance. “Things become so contentious and stressful when you have to deal with this lack of access and waiting to go though the court. The impact on children can’t be overstated.”

Attorneys who work in the system point to a slew of contributing factors: a shortage of judges and other staff; inadequate opportunities for emergency hearings; inefficient processes that allow cases to bounce almost endlessly between courtrooms; and the foibles of elected judges who may have little or no experience in family law.

Seven lawyers who practice in the court said court dates are now being set nine months or more in the future. (Family Court dockets are not accessible to the public.) A spokesperson for the court, Martin O’Rourke, said he did “not believe” there is a nine-month backlog but said any delays are due to vacancies on the bench.

“They’re working diligently, and doing the best they can being two judges short,” O’Rourke said, adding that as of Tuesday, Judge Stella Tsai is going to be temporarily reassigned to the court for six months to help work through the backlog.

Family Court has been down a judge since January 2016, when Judge Angeles Roca was suspended for intervening in a tax case involving her son. Her seat, one of six vacancies in Philadelphia, has been officially open since November 2017. A spokesperson for Gov. Wolf, who must nominate replacement judges for state Senate approval, said in an email that “discussions with the Senate are ongoing.”

Making matters worse, Judge Mark Cohen — the former state representative elected as judge in 2015, despite a not-recommended rating from the Bar Association and no experience in practicing law — has been on an extended leave since May 15 and expected to be out until sometime in October. He had been specially assigned to handle relocation cases.

O’Rourke said that up until Cohen took ill in May, relocation cases were being heard within two months. Now, he added, the court is working quickly to prioritize and reschedule these cases.

Gary Mezzy, Novak’s lawyer, noted that state rules require expedited hearings in relocation cases. “I’ve seen this rule followed in every other local county,” he said. “This constitutes a major statutory violation of litigants’ rights.”

A lack of resources

In 2017, there were 76,000 filings in Philadelphia Family Court’s Domestic Relations section, including 21,800 custody filings in Philadelphia.

Lawyers say that’s an extraordinary workload for the designated quota of just 11 judges.

A judicial-needs assessment conducted by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts last year found that the court has approximately the correct number of judges for its caseload.

But that doesn’t account for complicating factors, like the fact that more than 85 percent of people appearing in Family Court don’t have lawyers, which drags out proceedings.

“There’s a lack of resources on a lot of levels,” Pearlstein said, noting, for example, that there are just two Spanish-language interpreters at Family Court. For families speaking other languages, delays related to getting an interpreter are even more problematic.

Attorneys say delays go well beyond relocation cases and began long before the current vacancies.

Sarah Katz, of Temple’s Family Law Litigation Clinic, said that, in recent years, the court has increased the ranks of its custody masters, lower-level officials who can resolve a limited number of issues. That helped, she said.

“But the things that need to go in front of a judge are things like requests for primary custody, which usually means there’s something serious going on — some accusation of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse. There’s some urgency to the situation, and those are the types of cases that aren’t being heard.”

Megan Watson, a lawyer with Berner Klaw & Watson, has been collecting examples. In one recent case, a party filed a complaint for custody in September 2017. They appeared before a custody master, where they agreed to a temporary custody order in November 2017. A judge trial was scheduled for August 2018, and then, due to a conflict, was rescheduled for March 2019.

By contrast, state rules set much shorter deadlines: 180 days after filing for a judge trial to be scheduled, 90 days after that for the judge trial to occur, and 15 days after that for a judge to issue a decision.

“They never do that, and nobody enforces it,” lawyer Richard Bost said. “Eight months for a hearing to be scheduled in front of a judge has probably been the norm for the last three years or so.”

There is a process to request an emergency hearing for issues that can’t wait.

The problem is,  Pearlstein said, “in order to get an emergency, a child has to be practically dying.”

Recently, she was denied an emergency hearing for a woman who had primary custody of an 8-month-old, but who had not seen the child in a month because the father, who was supposed to have custody on weekends only, was withholding access. Also not considered an emergency was a case in which a third party with no custody claim was keeping a child from its parents — even though doing so could be considered “interference with the custody of a child,” a felony under Pennsylvania law.

Some of those cases would qualify for expedited hearings, lawyers said. But it can take six or eight weeks to get an expedited date — and, because they’re generally very brief hearings without time for full testimony, the orders made there are only temporary.

In cases like Novak’s, expedited hearings aren’t much help. Hers is scheduled for Aug. 29, a full month after the scheduled closing on her house and two days after her daughter was to start at her new school. Even if she does follow through with the hearing and get permission to relocate temporarily, she might be forced to move back to Philadelphia at her full hearing in March.

Pearlstein said that’s happened before, sometimes in the case of clients fleeing domestic violence or homelessness.

“Their option is to give the child to the other parent in the interim, or come back and be homeless and figure out what to do,” she said.

In other cases, the delays effectively mean parents never get to argue their case.

Lawyer Ann Funge said that was the case for a client of hers: His ex had moved with their kids to Bucks County, even though it meant he could only see them every other weekend, instead of every day.

After a year waiting to see a judge, he decided fighting was no longer in the best interest of his children.

“They were already taken away from their school, away from their friends, and they’ve reestablished themselves someplace else,” Funge said.

Further bogging down the system, lawyers say, is the way in which some judges manage their courtrooms.

Diana Pivenshteyn, a mother of two from Somerton, first appeared in Family Court in March 2017 in a custody dispute with her estranged husband. That hearing was continued to November. After the judge had to move on to other matters, she gave a new date: this coming August. To this day, no permanent custody order has been put in place for her daughters, who are 2 and 7.

Pivenshteyn said she’s borrowed thousands of dollars to pay for representation for these ongoing court dates.

“This is my nightmare for two years,” she said.

‘Hard to fix a broken system’

Court administrators and lawyers agree that filling the vacancies would be an important first step.

“But it’s not just about the vacancies. There are other underlying problems,” said Watson, the lawyer with Berner Klaw & Watson. “It is very hard to fix a broken system when you are dealing with so many people. I get that.”

She and others said there’s a need for more staff at all levels, for an emergency-hearing system that addresses what they say are often real, emergent crises, but also for a more thoughtful structuring of the courthouse. (In the bigger picture, she said, it also underscores the need for merit-based selection of judges.)

For example, although state rules outline a “one family, one judge” policy, in Philadelphia, cases frequently bounce between courtrooms. That means a judge may be reluctant to make a decision stepping on another’s toes, or he may have to tread ground already covered at previous hearings. It also means a parent who doesn’t like a judge’s decision can simply file a new petition for custody and hope for a different judge.

“One of the problems is repeat filings, and the court has taken no action to reduce those,” lawyer Lawrence Abel said.

O’Rourke, the spokesperson for the court, said the court is also building a custody mediation center at the courthouse to provide affordable access to mediation and, hopefully, resolve more disputes without a judge.

Watson said that, given the outsize effects of stress and anxiety on a child’s developing brain, it’s an urgent problem.

“You can think of the ways a child would be impacted by not knowing, ‘Where am I going to live?’ ” she said. “If there is any case that should be decided quickly, it’s custody.”

By Samantha Melamed and published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on July 18, 2018 and can be found here.

Christian School May Use Oregon’s Religious Exemption To Reject Jewish Faculty Applicant

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In King v. Warner Pacific College, (OR App, Feb. 21, 2019), an Oregon state appellate court held that a Christian college’s refusal to hire a Jewish applicant for a position as adjunct professor of psychology falls within the religious preference exemption to Oregon’s non-discrimination law.  ORS 659A.006(4)provides:

It is not an unlawful employment practice for a bona fide … religious institution, including … a school… to prefer an employee, or an applicant for employment, of one religious sect or persuasion over another if:  (a) The religious sect or persuasion to which the employee or applicant belongs is the same as that of the … institution; … [and]  (c) The employment involved is closely connected with or related to the primary purposes of the … institution….

The court held that the exemption allows the school to reject a non-Christian applicant and await a later hiring cycle to fill the position, or to assign the work to an existing Christian employee.  A majority of the judges also held that this particular faculty position met the requirement of being closely connected to the school’s religious purpose.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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