Harris County District Court judges Clinton “Chip Wells”, left, Julia Maldonado, Linda Dunson and associate Judge Jim Evans, right, during a panel discussion on the University of Houston campus.
Oct. 9, 2019 – Lawyers who practice adoption, child custody, marital, and divorce law took in practical considerations from members of the judiciary and other colleagues at the recent, “Highlights: Family Law Year in Review 2019” conference. The two-day event, was presented by the University of Houston Law Center and Family Lawyers of Texas, and held in the Student Center South ballroom on the University of Houston campus.
“On behalf of Dean Leonard M. Baynes and the University of Houston Law Center, we were happy to welcome alumni and other attorneys at the Family Law Year in Review,” said Tanisha Green, Director of Continuing Legal Education. “We hope they attend future CLEs at the Law Center.”
“This is the first year that the Family Lawyers of Texas and the University of Houston Law Center are doing this together,” added Kimberly Dawn Levi of the Levi Law Firm, PLLC. “The Law Center graciously gave up its time, talent, knowledge and resources to make this event a success.”
The opening speaker was Bill De La Garza, who discussed the importance of professionalism in family law. He encouraged attendees to show civility and respect to clients, opposing counsel and the court. The second presenter was former judge Roy Moore who gave a presentation on modifying custody at temporary orders.
The first panel discussion featured the following members of the Gulf Coast Family Judiciary:
- 309th Family Court Judge Linda Dunson
- 312th Family Court Judge Clinton E. Wells, Jr.
- 507th Family Court Judge Julia Maldonado
- 507th Family Court Associate Judge Jim Evans.
Maldonado advised attorneys to practice social media etiquette, and to refrain from sharing information about ongoing legal matters.
“One of my biggest pet peeves is when attorneys post about the trial in my courtroom on Facebook while they’re in trial,” she said. “Once the case is over and you want to do that, then that’s up to you. But doing that during the case itself is unethical, and not something you should be doing.”
Among other topics, the judges discussed the concept of parental alienation and how they respond to it in their court.
“Parent alienation is not new, and attorneys play a very, very important role,” Dunson said. “They have to maintain a degree of reason, even in situations that may not be reasonable. Investigate allegations made by your client, fight for them zealously, but don’t always believe what they say. Sometimes attorneys listen to their clients, take that information and start swinging. Try to be reasonable because at the end of the day you have to assess what would cause more harm to the child.”
“The person that is best situated to help the parent address their parent alienation and bad behavior is the attorney for that parent,” Evans remarked. “Courts have a difficult time ascertaining the truth more than attorneys do, because lawyers hear all of the inadmissible evidence. I would suggest lawyers really do have a big role to play in addressing this issue. Judge Maldonado and I both take it very seriously in the 507th. Remedies become difficult after the alienation has gone on for a long time. There is a point at which the child has become successfully alienated that experts say the child can’t effectively be returned to the alienated parent even if that’s what fairness and justice demands.”
“I am intolerant of parental alienation,” Wells added. “If I see it, I hold that party responsible for it.”
The next topic, “Saving Family and Winning Sanctions against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services,” was delivered by Dennis Slate. Former judge Paula Vlahakos examined current impacts of Chapter 7 on child custody evaluations. The final speaker of day one, Judge Michael ‘David’ Sydow, Jr., led a presentation on what every family lawyer needs in their evidence toolkit.
The second day of the event began with former judge David Farr who outlined the ins and outs of calculating child support. He was followed by former judges Alyssa Lemkuil and John Schmude, who examined enforcement essentials. Stephanie Proffitt’s talk focused on interim attorney fees. Lemkuil took the stage a second time and provided tips for a successful mediation.
Myrna Gregory spoke about when family law attorneys are appointed by the court. Warren Cole addressed attendees on how to draft techniques for premarital and marital property agreements. Warren Cole’s talk was about drafting techniques for premarital and marital property agreements.
The second panel discussion included remarks from eight family law judges:
- 245th Family Court Judge Tristan Longino
- 246th Family Court Judge Angela Graves-Harrington
- 247th Family Court Judge Janice Berg
- 257th Family Court Judge Sandra Peake
- 280th Family Protective Order Court Judge Barbara Stalder
- 308th Family Court Judge Gloria E. López
- 310th Family Court Judge Sonya Heath
- 311th Family Court Judge Germaine Tanner.
Common themes discussed by the judges included promptness, and advising attorneys to communicate with opposing counsel in a professional manner.
After the panel, Greg Enos lectured the audience in his talk, “Standing: Asserting and Attacking Non-parent Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship.” Schmude spoke again on what family law attorneys need to know about legal ethics. Bill Stradley advised lawyers about the intersection of criminal and family law, and how advocates can protect their clients. Judge Eileen Gaffney’s discussion was titled, “Challenging the Amicus.” Bryn Poland’s talk covered Medicaid coverage for long-term care. The final topic was about case law and legislative updates, with Stacey Valdez serving as the speaker.
Sponsors for the event included: the Kutty Law Firm, Bill de la Garza & Associates, Proffitt & Associates, Texas Investigative Security Network, The Levi Law Firm, Dr. Laurence Abrams & Dr. Barbara Abrams of the Houston Psychology Center, Stewart & Hurst, Tom King, Briggs & Veselka Co. and Brazilian Financial and Tax Services.