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United States Far Too Apathetic About Mass Shootings

Jeb Bush and Donald Trump both chalk up the recent spate of mass shootings to “stuff happens“. That’s leadership?

President Obama said it best:

Tragically there is simply no political will to change our gun culture and more massacres like this and Sandy Hook will be just another day in America.

Allison Layton Sentenced To 18 Months In Federal Prison

Allison Layton, who defrauded and embezzled would-be parents of their life savings, was sentended today:

The owner of a Glendora egg donation and surrogacy company was sentenced Monday to a year and a half in federal prison for cheating would-be parents, egg donors and surrogates out of nearly $270,000. Allison Layton, 38, was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release after she is released from prison. A restitution hearing was set for Oct. 22.

Layton, who also used the name Allison Jarvie, pleaded guilty in February to a federal wire fraud charge. She owned Miracles Egg Donation, which claimed to handle the logistics of the donation and surrogacy process, and operated it out of her living room, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Between August 2008 and January 2012, would-be parents — who in the surrogacy and egg donation world are known as intended parents — paid thousands of dollars for egg donation and surrogacy services that Miracles promised to coordinate, federal prosecutors said. Layton took tens of thousands of dollars from intended parents. But instead of putting the funds into escrow accounts to be withdrawn only for certain costs related to surrogacy or egg donation, she used the money for her own personal expenses or to cover unpaid costs related to other clients, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

As a result of Layton’s misappropriation of client funds, egg donors, surrogates, attorneys and others often weren’t paid for all the services they provided, and intended parents often did not receive all the services for which they had paid, according to court documents. At least one investor in Miracles also lost money.

When the donors, surrogates and intended parents sought to recover their money and costs, Layton would lull them into believing they would be repaid through false assurances that payments had already been made or would be made soon, court papers show.

Highly Anticipated Ruling In San Francisco Embryo Disposition Trial Expected Soon

Another update on our trial in San Francisco and the likely impact of the court’s ruling:

Dr. Mimi C. Lee and Stephen E. Findley had not been married long when he began to have doubts about the relationship. Now divorced, he is fighting to prevent her from having a child with their frozen embryos, made after Lee was diagnosed with cancer.

The case, to be decided in the next several weeks, is likely to lead to the first legal rules in California for resolving embryo disputes. If Lee prevails, Findley could be forced to become a parent against his will. If Findley wins, it is extremely unlikely that Lee, now 46, will ever have a genetically related child….

In a dozen similar disputes outside California, not one state high court has permitted someone to use an embryo over an estranged partner’s objections.

But trial courts in Pennsylvania and Maryland — and an intermediate appeals court in Illinois — have in recent years ruled in favor of women who had suffered cancer and could not have biological children without the embryos.

There are an estimated 1 million frozen embryos in the U.S., but the law has been slow to catch up with technology. Legally, a person who wants to preserve fertility is less vulnerable if he or she stores frozen eggs or sperm, experts say. Medically, that person’s chances of having a child are better if an embryo is created.

Eventually, medical advances may eliminate the differing success rates.

“Technology got us into this problem, and technology will get us out,” said Judith Daar, a professor at Whittier Law School, a clinical medicine professor at UC Irvine and chair of the ethics committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “The partners can walk away, she with her eggs and he with his sperm. And then they can fight over other things, like who gets the cat.”

Surrogacy Beyond Borders Shut Down?

Could another reproductive tourism facility be closed? According to news reports, yes.

Former Raiders Cornerback Joselio Hanson Wins Primary Custody of Daughter

Last week delivered a great reason to celebrate, both for football fans and for fathers everywhere, as former Oakland Raiders cornerback Joselio Hanson won primary custody of his nine-year-old daughter.

Hanson retired from football in 2013 after a 10-year NFL career, including two seasons with the Raiders, seven with the Philadelphia Eagles, and one with the San Francisco 49ers. The cornerback’s custody dispute began over a year ago, after he retired, when his daughter’s mother attempted to deny him visitation.

Hanson told San Bernadino County Superior Court Judge Michael Knish that with football now behind him, he was prepared to take on a new role as a full-time, stay-at-home dad. His focus, he said, was on providing his daughter with the opportunity for a first-rate education.

Hanson lives in Calabasas, California, an upscale community in the hills west of the San Fernando Valley. The Las Virgenes Unified School District, which covers Calabasas, consistently ranks among the state’s top school districts. Hanson’s daughter had been living with her mother in San Bernadino County, attending a lower-ranked school with fewer educational resources, and had been struggling academically.


In court last Monday Judge Knish cited “the best interests of the child” and finalized the family’s custody arrangements, granting primary custody to Hanson, and offering Hanson’s daughter the opportunity to attend school in Calabasas.

The Hanson ruling demonstrates the wisdom of the current standards for family law. Unlike previous eras, when courts would default to providing primary custody to mothers, today judges are squarely focused on the best interest of the child. That thoughtful standard has opened up new opportunities for separated fathers and shifted the courts away from a custody system that used to place mothers’ interests first and children’s needs second.

With the media spotlight now on Hanson’s victory, the cornerback may be inspiring a new generation of fathers not to give up on custody but instead to get their heads — and their legal teams — in the game and fight for their children’s best interests.

Hanson was represented in court by attorney Dean Masserman, a founding partner of our firm, Vorzimer Masserman.

After Daughter’s Birth, Gay Dad Can’t Leave Thailand

A gay family from Florida finds itself in a horrible predicament that should concern couples of all stripes who have turned to surrogacy to create their families. Gordan Lake and his husband connected with a surrogacy agency in Thailand, and on January 17, their dream of fatherhood came true when a Thai surrogate gave birth to their daughter Carmen.

According to reporter Mel Spencer, who broke the story for Gay Star News, that dream of fatherhood soon became a nightmare of red tape and legalized discrimination after the surrogate discovered that Lake’s spouse is a man. Uncomfortable with two men raising the baby, the surrogate withdrew her commitment to the arrangement, refusing to sign any papers after Carmen’s birth.

Thailand’s laws do provide some protections for intended parents but only if those parents are “husband and wife,” a gender-specific requirement that left Lake and his daughter in the lurch, without a clear path to return home to the U.S.

As Lake explains in the GSN article:

“In principle the provision is written to do the right thing and give parental rights to [intended] parents, but since it says ‘husband and wife’ we don’t know how [the Thai courts] will rule given we are ‘husband and husband.’

“We will be forced to go through this court procedure, facing another year and half in Thailand, with complete uncertainty of how [the statute] will be interpreted.”

In order to cover the mounting costs of legal proceedings, and accommodation in Thailand, the couple are appealing for donations, but they also hope to change the phrasing in the new Thai law so it does not only include “husband” and “wife.”

As things stand, [Lake] says the U.S. embassy is unable to take any further action, so he and his husband are campaigning to get Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on their side in order to help speed the decision-making process along.

“We are involving Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama because we think they will be sympathetic to our call and be able to reason with the right people to be able to initiate this engagement with the Thai authorities,” [Lake] said.

“Carmen is an American citizen, and she should be protected by the U.S.”

Lake’s horrific predicament should serve as a warning to all couples seeking to expand their families through surrogacy. First, couples should know that surrogacy arrangements abroad can present unexpected challenges, especially in nations where opposition to surrogacy and opposition to gay rights run high. Second, you can protect your family by working with experts that — like our firm, Vorzimer Masserman — bring to the table a comprehensive knowledge of the surrogacy laws in the surrogate mother’s home state.

Laws on surrogacy vary wildly from state to state and from nation to nation, and if you’re not working with experts who know those laws, your dream of parenthood could quickly become the nightmare that the Lake family is now facing.

Ex-Wife Testifies in Frozen Embryo Case

A divorced couple’s tense battle over the fate of their frozen embryos took an unexpected turn yesterday. The case of Stephen Findley and Mimi Lee has been playing out in San Francisco Superior Court under the watchful eye of the national media.

Findley and Lee received in vitro fertilization treatments at UCSF’s Center for Reproductive Health. The couple froze five embryos and signed a document to dispose of the embryos in case of a divorce. Now that the couple has divorced, Findley has sought to dispose of the embryos, in accordance with the contract. Lee has asked the court to set aside the signed contract and grant her permission to use the embryos.

UCSF’s attorney Dean Masserman cross-examining Lee

During his testimony earlier in the week, Findley, a successful financial analyst, described crass statements that Lee made about the financial value of the embryos, as she pressed Findley to state exactly how many millions of dollars the embryos were worth to him. Lee took the stand yesterday, admitted to making those statements, and broke down into tears.

Lee was cross-examined by Dean Masserman of our firm, Vorzimer Masserman, which represents UCSF in the case. Reporter Marisa Kendall of The Recorder described Masserman’s pointed exchange with Lee:

Under questioning by [Masserman], Lee told the court she sometimes signs documents without reading them all the way through. For example, she said she never reads the contracts that come with her iPhone updates.

“Well, it’s not an iPhone contract, OK?” Masserman snapped, prompting one of several objections by Lee’s lawyers to his “argumentative” questioning.

Lee testified that during her work as an anesthesiologist she often saw medical consent forms changed or adjusted. Furthermore, in the form she signed, there was language suggesting the form could be amended.

“You read it closely enough to get that part out of it,” Masserman said.

Lee responded she understood there were situations in which “we could change our minds.”

Masserman clapped his hands. “You just said we,” he shot back.

Masserman and Findley’s attorney, Joseph Crawford of Hanson Crawford Crum Family Law Group, have argued that both parties would need to consent to any changes in the directives on the form. Asked why she hadn’t frozen her eggs, Lee responded that her doctor had advised that freezing embryos would lead to a greater chance of a successful birth.

During his testimony, Findley had stated that Lee read the UCSF contract and solidified the couple’s wishes by checking the “thaw and discard” box. During cross-examination, Lee refused to concede that she had checked that box. “I don’t recall,” Lee replied when asked who made the check mark. “It could be mine. It could be Steve’s.”

Further coverage of the case was provided by KGO (ABC News-San Francisco):

Ex-Wife Set to Testify in Embryo Trial

Mimi Lee, the ex-wife of financial analyst Stephen Findley, is set to testify in the divorced couple’s high-profile battle over their frozen embryos. The couple received IVF treatments at UCSF’s Center for Reproductive Health, where they signed documents committing to dispose of the frozen embryos in the event of a divorce. After separating, Findley sought to have the embryos disposed of in accordance with their contract. Lee is seeking to use the embryos to bear children.

With the nation watching, the couple returns today to San Francisco Superior Court to settle the dispute. The hearing is expected to wrap up early next week, after which time Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo will issue a written ruling.

During his testimony, Findley explained his reluctance to parent a child with Lee, who, he said, has pressured him for millions of dollars during the course of their divorce. “[It would be] difficult for me to be forced to be a parent outside our marriage,” he stated, adding that he did not expect the remaining embryos to spark a bitter dispute. “I didn’t think the embryos were an issue in the divorce case because I remember the agreement we signed.”

In her upcoming testimony, Lee is expected to argue that her signed agreement to dispose of the embryos should be waived.

Attorney Dean Masserman of our firm, Vorzimer Masserman, is representing UCSF in this case and expects to start his cross-examination today. Dean has been providing updates on the proceedings at @FamilyLawLA. Further details can be found in the San Jose Mercury News.

‘Groundbreaking’ Embryo Case Draws Fresh Attention to Law Regulating IVF Treatments

Turn on your TV this week or open up your internet, and you’re sure to come across the San Francisco frozen embryo case. Stephen Findley and Mimi Lee underwent in vitro fertilization treatments at UCSF’s Center for Reproductive Health and froze five of their embryos. Now that the couple has divorced, Findley wants the embryos discarded; Lee would like to use the embryos. The national media has been calling their case “groundbreaking.”

But is it really? Having worked with assisted reproduction for decades, this case, at its essence, is really nothing more than a standard contractual dispute. Before undergoing the IVF treatments, Findley and Lee signed a legal contract at UCSF stating if the couple broke up, they were committed to disposing of their remaining embryos. Creating and signing these agreements is a standard step at any reputable California fertility clinic. In fact, these embryo disposition agreements are required by law.

California Health and Safety Code § 125315 states that fertility clinics “shall provide a form to the male and female partner … that sets forth advanced written directives regarding the disposition of embryos.” The Code is quite comprehensive, laying out numerous options for couples to select “[in] the event of separation or divorce of the partners” — everything from making the embryos available to one of the partners, to donating the embryos, disposing of them, or crafting their own action plan for the unused embryos.

By entering into a disposition agreement for the unused embryos, UCSF, Findley and Lee complied with this law.

The question in this case, then, is not a groundbreaking debate about “Whose embryos are they?” It’s really a simple, contractual matter: Findley and Lee signed and agreed to an embryo disposition plan. Now the court is called upon to support that action plan — and validate the wisdom of our state’s thoughtful, comprehensive safety code — by holding both parties to their signed agreement.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this case, it should be that it is essential that everyone proceeding with any form of assisted reproduction, have a valid and enforceable Reproductive Estate Plan in place.

As the trial continues, you can follow live updates on Twitter at @FamilyLawLA.

Embryo Trial Begins in San Francisco

A divorced Bay Area couple clashed yesterday in San Francisco Superior Court, in a potentially precedent-setting battle over their five frozen embryos. As reported here yesterday, pianist Mimi Lee and her ex-husband, Stephen Findley, visited UCSF’s Center for Reproductive Health and, with the help of in vitro fertilization technology, created and froze five embryos. Now that the couple has separated, Findley wants to dispose of their embryos, in accordance with the contract that the couple signed at UCSF. Lee wants to use the embryos to bear children.

Lee underwent successful chemotherapy treatments after the couple created the embryos. In court yesterday Lee’s attorney, Maxwell Pritt, asserted that, due to those treatments, the frozen embryos represented her last chance to procreate. The opportunity to procreate, Pritt argued, is a cherished Constitutional right, “one of the central liberties guaranteed by our Constitution.” Many prestigious legal scholars, however, construe that right far more narrowly.


On the stand yesterday, Findley described how the couple read and signed a contract at UCSF before undergoing in vitro treatments. In the contract, the couple agreed to destroy their embryos if their relationship ended. Lee should be held to that signed agreement, Findley said. “The very purpose of the documents was to make [our intentions] clear,” he stated.

Lee asserts that the agreement she signed at UCSF should not be seen as a binding contract between herself and her ex-husband. As ABC News’ chief legal analyst Dan Abrams explains, Lee’s arguments are pushing against accepted understandings of the law. The contract “that she signed was very clear on this issue,” notes Abrams, “which makes it still a very difficult argument for her legally.”

Our firm, Vorzimer Masserman, represents UCSF, which maintains that Lee should be legally committed to the couple’s signed agreement.

Lee is expected to testify today. For more on the hearing, check out ABC News’ excellent coverage of the trial.


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Welcome to The Spin Doctor

Blogging about the legal, social and political issues of the day with an emphasis on reproductive rights and bioethics.

Recent Posts

California Court to Settle Dispute Over Frozen Embryos
July 13, 2015
By Joshua Kors
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