When Judges Google Evidence, Do Inadmissible Evidence Remain “Unadmitted”?

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Yesterday, I was working on a jury instruction, a portion of it read:
“You must decide the facts based on the evidence admitted in this trial. Do not do any research on your own or as a group. Do not use dictionaries, the Internet, or other reference materials. Do not investigate the case or conduct any experiments. Do not contact anyone to assist you, such as a family accountant, doctor, or lawyer. Do not visit or view the scene of any event involved in this case. If you happen to pass by the scene, do not stop or investigate. All jurors must see or hear the same evidence at the same time. You must not let bias, sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion influence your decision”
–the same standard expected of Judges.

A Hard Call
But do Judges and Jurors follow this age-old tenet of the adversarial legal system in reaching decisions? What factors, besides the evidence presented at trial, influence Judges’ decisions? Their upbringing? Religious Beliefs? Political ideology? Why did the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia vote against gay marriage, predictably, and Sonia Sotomayor in its favor, naturally?

The scholarly analysis of judging has historically revolved around this central question: How much of judicial decision-making depends on legal reasoning? Do Judges, after finding the relevant facts of the case, consult legal rules and then arrive at their decision? What if instead of using legal rules to decide their cases, Judges rather use those rules to justify their decisions and not to arrive at them? What if instead of using only statutory legal rules, Judges often rely on policy principles not found in law books?

And a question peculiar to twenty-first century: What if Judges reach decisions based on evidence they found on the internet?

“Unhearing” Evidence
As instituted, the adversarial legal system expects a Judge, in ruling on a case, to ignore everything he knows and rule solely on evidence presented before it. So, for example, a Judge whose wife’s Ph.D research two years prior found with 99% certainty that talcum powder does not cause ovarian cancer, is expected to ignore his wife’s doctoral thesis (which he’d have heard tens of times over dinner) when sitting on a case between Johnson & Johnson and women alleging talcum powder caused them cancer. Except the defense does its home work, the Judge may be impelled to give judgment to Plaintiffs, contrary to his belief, and possibly, the truth.

But can a Judge, in fact, will himself to ignore the truth he knows and give evidence against it? Consider another part of the jury instructions:
“The attorneys’ questions are not evidence. Only the witnesses’ answers are evidence. You should not think that something is true just because an attorney’s question suggested that it was true.
Each side had the right to object to evidence offered by the other side. If I sustained an objection to a question, you must ignore the question. If the witness did not answer, you must not guess what he or she might have said or why I sustained the objection. If the witness already answered, you must ignore the answer.”

By the letters in bold, the Judge is in fact telling the jury to “unhear” an answer given to a question an objection to which he sustained. Can a jury really disregard such evidence if they found it compelling?

Here’s a scenario: In a trial in which a man is facing trial for murder for stabbing the deceased to death with a knife, the defense counsel has information that the Prosecution’s “eye witness” was not in fact at the scene of the incidence at the exact moment the incident allegedly occurred. During a cross-examination the Defense counsel asks the Prosection Witness:
Counsel: “So where were you at 4:40pm on Sunday, June 28, 2015?” The time the incident occurred.
Witness: “I was in my car outside the deceased’s house”
Counsel: “Where in the deceased’s house did the incident take place?”
Witness: “In his living room.”
Counsel: “At 4:40pm on Sunday, June 28, 2015, when you were in your car, could you see the victim’s living room?”
Witness: “No.”
Counsel: “You know the alleged incident took place at 4:40pm on June 28, 2015?”
Witness: “Yes.”
Counsel: “Please answer “yes” or “No” to the next question. If you were in your car at 4:40pm on June 28, 2015 and the victim’s living room was not visible to you, it is safe to say that you did not witness the incident which allegedly took place in the victim’s living room?”
Witness: “I will say I witnessed the incident because…”
Counsel: “Answer Yes or No!”
Witness: “While sitting in the car, I saw the accused run out from the victim’s house with a bloodied knife.”
Counsel: “Objection, Your Honour! Strike the answer, the answer is not responsive to the question.”
Court: “Objection sustained. Court Reporter, strike the answer. Jury disregard the last testimony from the witness.”

Meanwhile the damage had been done.

Not Every Relevant Evidence is Admissible
Before a court can admit an evidence, it must not only be relevant; it must also be admissible. So an evidence may be relevant but nonetheless inadmissible. Consider the so-called fruit of the poisonous tree in criminal cases. Fruit of the poisonous tree is a legal metaphor in the United States used to describe evidence that is obtained illegally.The logic of the terminology is that if the source (the “tree”) of the evidence or evidence itself is tainted, then anything gained (the “fruit”) from it is tainted as well. Such evidence is not generally admissible in court. So if, for example, police enters a suspect’s home without a search warrant and finds a murder weapon, except the circumstances under which the police entered the house fall under certain exceptions, as compelling an evidence as the murder weapon is, the court will not admit the evidence when the suspect stands trial.

In theory, in the adversarial legal system, however relevant an evidence a Judge found outside the judicial process is, he must ignore the evidence and make a decision based on the evidence and argument presented before him in court. A Judge should never descend into the arena. This rule is necessary to ensure the impartiality of Judges. It also helps appellate courts who must hear appeals based only on arguments made in the lower court.

Going the Extra Mile
While the law has since been laid down that Judges must rely on evidence presented in court, and not on their own investigations, the prevalence of internet makes it hard to draw the line. Can a Judge, for example, google a medical terminology to better understand a medical malpractice case? If the basis of the action is that the doctor did not promptly respond to a “Code Blue” call, can a Judge sitting on the case research on the meaning of the term and the average respond time to determine if the particular doctor is liable?

Without doubt, evidence got off google can sometimes give Judges a better picture than the evidence presented at trial. Here’s an example from a case I came across sometime ago. A man was sued by his Homeowners Association for dues. The man thought his house didn’t have a lot in common with the other homeowners to warrant their insistence that he paid dues for the maintenance of the neighborhood. A Declarations of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R). CC&R’s usually provide for how much dues the homeowners in the association will pay, what they can or cannot keep on their front lawns, etc. The goal of the CC&R in the case, which the homeowner argued he wasn’t bound to comply with, was to maintain the general aesthetics of the neighborhood which translates into good value for the homes.

For that case, after I’d heard the facts, I used Google earth to look at the neighborhood virtually. Viewing the neighborhood, I could see how a Judge’s opinion, if he viewed the neighborhood virtually like I did, could depend on the images captured by Google: If the neighborhood looked well maintained and had common walls, a Judge would be more inclined to rule that the homeowner pays his dues so that others don’t get discouraged and leave the neighborhood to go to ruins. If on the other hand Google Earth shows the neighborhood to be a slum in an inner city, a Judge could care less about the residential subdivision seeing there is nothing left to preserve.

The possibility that an extraneous evidence may sway a Judge is the reason judges are discouraged from investigating cases on their own. That is, a Judge t check the Facebook page of a Plaintiff in a sexual harassment case to see if she partied a lot and had it coming.

However, some Judges give in to the temptation. While researching for this post, I saw this comment left by someone who had read on a post on the subject: “There’s an Administrative Law Judge in my area who does driver license appeals. i.e., people are attempting to get their driver licenses back after a drunk driving conviction. Anyway, at the hearing on the record this Judge looks up the appellant’s Facebook and MySpace accounts. He’ll find pictures of them drinking, hanging out with people drinking, and make comments about how they were so shit faced drunk last Saturday.”

A Lawyer’s Duty
A lawyer has a duty to represent his client competently. Social media has become a way of life. So a lawyer has an obligation to research and make online investigations, both of his client and opposing party. Just as a lawyer advises his client to cover up tattoos, wear shirt and tie and maintain a decent appearance in court, he should also advise his client to not leave incriminating evidence on Facebook and have a ready explanation for ones not within his power to control. If a Judge gives a decision based on what the Judge found on Google, this may also be a ground for a lawyer to appeal a decision that is adverse to his client’s interest.

Not only do lawyers have to worry about an opposing counsel stumbling upon adverse evidence on social media, lawyers should consider that the ultimate arbiter may well believe that Judges do make laws– even if with the help of Google.

P.S: So what’s your opinion? Should Judges be allowed to google evidence?

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On Monday night, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a rousing speech that is still making headlines today. Compare this with the reaction last week when Melania Trump gave hers. Even before the crowd at the convention center learned that Melania plagiarized Ms. Obama’s speech, half of them were so uninspired by her speech that they left the arena shortly after her speech, midway into the Republican National Convention.

I too was uninspired. I thought that Melania’s speech was not as captivating as Michelle Obama’s was in 2012. So minutes after listening to her speech, I went on social media to see who else shared my sentiments. It didn’t take long to find one. A Facebook friend, a colleague, pointed out how Melania’s speech paled in comparison to Michelle’s. I argued that Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack and Michelle Obama make eloquent speakers probably because of their profession as lawyers. My friend responded that lawyers are only trained in the act of advocacy, not oratory. Later, in a private moment, I googled Websters–To advocate:to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly. My friend and I had this discussion last week. Since then, Bill Clinton, and Barack and Michelle Obama have given speeches this week that finished to resounding applause.

What makes a good speech? Instead of using her Monday or even 2012 convention speech, I looked online for Michelle’s 2008 Convention speech, her first as an aspiring first lady, just like Melania. I compared the first nine paragraph of Ms. Obama’s 2008 speech with Melania’s. What I found confirmed what I’ve always known: that techniques for effective advocacy can be learned. Here are five tips to help you in making your case–tips that have helped me in my job as an advocate.

1. Start with a story, a quote or a proposition
Your audience decides if you are worth listening to within few minutes of your speech. Captivate them with a story, a quote, a question or a proposition before you lose them. If you look back to memorable sermons from your childhood, you will find that you remember the sermon because of a story, a quote or something new you learned. Each of these makes a promise of something more to come thus making an audience eager to hear more.

Quotes are memorable because they capture in few words an idea that can take pages to convey. For example, a cousin lost her husband recently. I have been struggling with that loss for weeks. Last week, someone posted a picture of the widow and her children in mourning clothes and captioned it: “What cannot be avoided has to be endured.” That quote is one I’m not likely to forget.

A proposition states a theory to be analyzed. So if you start a speech by saying, for instance, “Diabetes is now an epidemic.” You are likely to engage an audience eager to find out what statistics, studies, etc. you are relying on to make that assertion.

When you start a speech by asking a question calling for your audience’s responses, you get the audience involved right away as they will naturally get busy figuring the answer to the question. Once you get them in, it will be harder to lose them.

Stories are my favorite for starting a speech. Here are the first three paragraphs from Michelle’s 2008 and Melania’s 2016 speech.

“As you might imagine, for Barack, running for president is nothing compared to that first game of basketball with my brother, Craig.

I can’t tell you how much it means to have Craig and my mom here tonight. Like Craig, I can feel my dad looking down on us, just as I’ve felt his presence in every grace-filled moment of my life.

At 6-foot-6, I’ve often felt like Craig was looking down on me too … literally. But the truth is, both when we were kids and today, he wasn’t looking down on me. He was watching over me.”

“It’s a very nice welcome and we’re excited to be with you at this historic convention.

I am so proud of your choice for President of the United States, my husband, Donald J. Trump.

And I can assure you, he is moved by this great honor.”

You can tell which of the two is more compelling. With Michelle’s, you are eager to hear more, wondering what Craig has to got to do with Obama winning the presidency. With Melanie’s, you will readily notice that she is stating the obvious, nothing exciting to make you eager to hear more.

2. Show Don’t Tell
Creative writers know that showing and telling is the difference between a good read and an uninteresting one. If you are writing a tribute for a parent for example, telling us that he was the best father and husband anybody could have prayed for is telling us nothing. Every grieving child says that. How about if you tell us that when you were a child, the day your mother went into labor to give birth to your (now) youngest sibling, your father took your mum to the hospital, came home, fed and tucked you and your younger sibling in bed all the while fingering his rosary, praying for your mother whom he couldn’t be with because your parents couldn’t afford a babysitter at the time.

While Melania generally talked about Trump’s love for America without telling us why she came to that conclusion, Michelle, in her 2008 speech, gave concrete examples of Obama’s love for America thus:

“It’s what he did all those years ago, on the streets of Chicago, setting up job training to get people back to work and after-school programs to keep kids safe — working block by block to help people lift up their families.

It’s what he did in the Illinois Senate, moving people from welfare to jobs, passing tax cuts for hard-working families, and making sure women get equal pay for equal work.

It’s what he’s done in the United States Senate, fighting to ensure the men and women who serve this country are welcomed home not just with medals and parades but with good jobs and benefits and health care — including mental health care.”

3. Concede Points to Your Opponent
An audience can tell when one is making an objective argument and when arguments are based on sentiments. When you want to make a case, being objective and presenting arguments in favor of the other side shows you have done your research. It shows yes, you get the other position, but having considered it, you feel your position is a better one.

Once, in a case we tried, an opposing counsel filed a motion with the court requesting attorney fees for over$80,000. This, when the case hadn’t ended as to all parties. Among other arguments we made opposing the motion, we admitted that the dismissed party was in fact entitled to attorney fees, but for less than $3,000. We however requested the court to deny the attorney fees entirely on account of the attorney’s greed in requesting so much when he was entitled to so little. The court ruled the motion in our favor based on this argument. Our conceding that the attorney is entitled to something made us sound fair and it was easy for the judge to agree with us.

Let’s also take Nigerian elections, for example. During the campaigns, Buhari’s supporters that argued that Jonathan may be a decent man but that he was too gentle for Nigeria etc. scored more points in my book than people who simply dismissed Jonathan as corrupt. With his personality, anybody can buy the first argument about the former president but not necessarily the latter argument.

4. Don’t Call Names
Similar to the previous argument, making condescending arguments against your opponent reflects poorly on you than it does on them. In Michelle’s Monday speech, he subtly discredited Trump without once mentioning his name. She merely argued the issues. Her proposition that America needs “someone who understands that the issues a president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters” was a subtle reference to Trump’s penchant for tweeting. Also her saying “So don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again” was in obvious reference to Trump whose campaign slogan is “Make America great again.” Yet when Trump was asked about Michelle’s speech, he said that Ms. Obama did an excellent job. Yes, Trump said so. So argue the issues. Don’t attack people.

I learned how important it is to avoid name-calling in law school when we were thought never to commit Fallacy Ad Hominem, i.e, attacking your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument. Yet, in my practice as a lawyer, I made that mistake once and I lost a motion. In other two cases where opposing counsels said not so nice things about me or my firm, they lost the motions too.

When one takes such cheap shot, the arbiter may conclude that the maker have no better argument to make or punish them for being so contemptuous. Anybody can call names; people are convinced more when you back up your arguments with facts. So instead of, for example, calling Buhari a dictator, go straight to the argument and give an example of how he made an executive order without consulting the National Assembly. That will make you sound intelligent and informed, giving you credibility.

5. Get a Law Degree
To advocate means to speak, plead, or argue in favor of. That is what you do each time you try to sell an idea. Lawyers are trained to be advocates. 25 of the 44 U.S. presidents have been attorneys. Need I say more?

Anne Mmeje is a lawyer licensed in Nigeria and California. She is also a freelance writer. To contact her email annemmeje@yahoo.com

Meet Chika Ugonwa, Lagos Immigration Lawyer and Entrepreneur

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Editor’s Note:In Nigeria, it is not often that you hear of a young lawyer whose clients don’t mind having her flight tickets included in their bills. Such privileges are accorded only Senior Advocates and highly experienced attorneys. But because of her specialized area of practice and her dedication to her clients, Chika Ugonwa, a young lawyer in her early thirties, is so sought-after that her practice takes her around the country. Chika (whose vision includes to establish a firm that will serve as a one stop shop for everything Travelling/Immigration inquiry and assistance in Nigeria; to establish bilateral relation with immigration firms all over the world, Embassies and High Commissions; and to build a strong brand on the foundation of Trust and Integrity) granted us this interview discussing her work as an Immigration Lawyer, the epidemic of human trafficking in Nigeria, and why she think laws protecting only women are unnecessary. She also expressed her desire to help women who are marginalized, pro bono. In her down time, Chika writes poems with such great rhymes you will want to give her some dimes. I hope Chika’s extraordinary courage and hard work inspires you, like it inspired me.

We are excited to do this interview with you. Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
Thanks for having me. My name is Chika Ugonwa. I am a Lawyer, a Graduate Manager, an Immigration Consultant and an Entrepreneur. In the past I worked with Abubakar Mustapha & Co. (Kaduna) and Threshold Barrister & Solicitors (Lagos). Presently, I am running my own firm Tnencucc Consulting in partnership with Reality Education Ltd (Port Harcourt), Rexcue Barrister and Solicitors (Lagos), and New Dimension Konsult (Kaduna).

Okay, now that sounds interesting. You are affiliated with three firms. What’s the arrangement like?
I started my Immigration Law practice in Lagos with Threshold Immigration Consult which is a subsidiary of Threshold Barristers & Solicitors. As you know, Legal practice is built on trust and in the course of the attorney-client relationship, one has access to client’s sensitive private and financial information. So when I moved to Abuja, a lot of my Lagos clients still sought me. My efforts to get them to work with other lawyers failed. That was where the partnership idea came from. After some attempts at trying to work with my clients in Lagos from Abuja, I realized that I could successfully serve clients anywhere.

For my clients who are based in Lagos for instance, they consult me through the phone or email. Then I do their work and send the finished work to my colleague (Rexcue Barrister and Solicitors Lagos), who ensures my clients properly endorse their documents. For some VIP clients who can afford to fly me to their location, I also go to them to finalize and prep them for Interview.

Overtime, through referrals, my clientèle grew; some clients trust whoever referred them enough to release personal information and pay professional fees without seeing me. Others don’t mind the cost to get a one-on-one meeting with me. When they can afford it, they come to me or if the fee is right I go to them using any of my partners’ office as a meeting point.

Congratulations on your achievements so far. Has law practice been what you expected? Many people go into law school with great ideas. Did the reality of law practice match your earlier expectations of what to expect from the practice of Law?
I don’t know about ‘many people.’ For me, I did not really go into the law program with great expectations or any expectations. The decision to study law was suggested by someone I could never say No to. In secondary school I was good in social sciences and art, my parents wanted me to be an accountant; my grandfather wanted Law. I chose Law. In University my goal was not to fail my grandfather, my parents who were paying for my education and myself. (In my family, my siblings and I are a bit competitive). Long story short: I did not have ‘earlier expectations.’ But having practiced for a while I expect so much more from colleagues, the Bar, the bench, and our legislators (our legislators are surrounded by lawyers, bills are drafted by lawyers so lawyers should be blamed for ALL the faults in our laws). The socio-economic fate of this country to a large extent lies with the legal profession and so it suffices to say we are to a large extent part of the problem of the country. We need strict ethics and conduct regulations.

What has been your greatest challenge practicing law in Nigeria?
Law practice is a very broad concept. The challenges a lawyer encounters are unique to his/her area of practice. My areas are Maritime, Civil, Family, Company and Immigration law practice. I can write a book on the challenges for each but for this interview I will only mention one challenge in Maritime practice which is ‘stagnancy’.

My former firm (Threshold barristers & Solicitors) had over 30 cases on different maritime matters. Apart from one of the matters that I got a default Judgement on, others ended up in settlement before I got the chance to taste my skills in trial. In court one day while I was moving yet another motion for discontinuance and adoption of parties’ terms of settlement, the Judge said (jokingly) that in his 20 years in the bench he was yet to deliver a final Judgement on a Maritime case.

In Maritime, litigation is instituted just to get the shippers/and or the insurance company to settle. Hence in rare cases where the matter goes all the way to trial, there are hardly sufficient judicial precedents to rely on.

But one may consider the cases settling a good thing, seeing how we are now advocating for alternative means of resolving disputes which reduces the stress and hostility associated with litigation. However, I can see how lack of precedence in case law is a disadvantage for the Maritime cases that do make it to trial. Of all the areas of law you mentioned you practice, which do you practice more?
I practice Immigration Law more. Thanks to Nigeria legal system, a lawyer in Nigeria can practice in any part of Nigeria. My Job takes me around the Country (and I hope someday beyond) and we attend to clients at any location within Nigeria.

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Are you surprised at how little or much your clients know about Immigration law?

Not at all; Immigration law practice is still a grey area of practice. I was fortunate to stumble into it myself. Its sounds alien when I discuss it with my colleagues. Apart from a few firms in Lagos I am not sure there are firms in other jurisdictions who engage in it. Imagine how many countries there are and the entry demands for those countries. Through this job, I have learned a lot and I am still learning.

Most people are not even aware of the need to consult a lawyer until it’s a bit late. Some clients come to us with terrible immigration record. There are cases of applicants with over ten refusal stamps in their passports. These are eligible applicants seeking entry for genuine purposes (e.g business, study, medical etc). Their applications are refused repeatedly because of poor or improper documentation. It’s sad considering that application fees are non refundable. A particular client who came to us after he had been refused over and over again only found out after he consulted us that he was serving a ten-year ban as a result of some forged documents an ‘agent’ used in his first application. His refusal letter always stated “refused under para.360H.” I had to explain to him that any refusal under S.360 attracts a ten-year ban. While we do our best to fix some, there are some cases, like the applicant serving a ten-year ban, we can’t fix.

Years ago, anyone in Nigeria could have multiple passports with different identities on each although it is illegal. However, that is no longer practicable in this era of E-passport and bio-metrics. It has now become imperative for people to consult an immigration lawyer first before applying for any visa.

Many Nigerians do not know that some lawyers specialize in Immigration Law practice. For their benefit, please what does a Nigerian Immigration Lawyer do?
You are right. And not a lot of people know that traveling across border is actually a right not a privilege. Let me not bore your readers with sections of UN Treaties and African Charters on Human right and other citations that uphold these rights.

In summary; A country cannot close its borders from entry to members of other territories. There are exceptions though.

We attend to Immigration issues bothering on;
Permanent migrants i.e spouses, children, parents etc. who seeks to join families overseas across border or regularize foreigners already in the country. Temporary Migrants which includes International Students, Work permits (eg. Canada Federal Skill migrant scheme, for professional migrants) etc. My firm is also an International Education facilitator. We work with schools in Europe, United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia etc. Then we have our cluster clientele: the short time Visitors. Tourist, family visitors, Medicals Visitors etc.

It is quite an interesting job. You will be amazed at the volume of immigration cases there are out there.

In addition to the above, we also organize trainings and seminars. News are often reported about mangled dead bodies found in international flights tyre compartments, like the stories here: http://www.nairaland.com/432392/desperate-man-sneaks-into-delta, http://old.nationaldailyng.com/news/crime/5988-arik-dead-body-uk-authorities-may-join-investigation. Some lose their lives at Sahara Desert or at sea, in desperate attempt to illegally migrate in quest for greener pastures. In the later instance, loved ones are saddled with the agony of not knowing for sure what happened to their wards–pain they will be forced to endure to their graves. Those who promote these inhuman practices for profit will never inform their clients of the risks involved. Through these seminars we educate the youths on the dangers of illegal migration, we warn them against patronising fraudsters who will promise them 1st world countries Visas just to reap them and they families off huge sums of money. We also create awareness on human trafficking.

I am truly amazed at your accomplishments. Chika Unaigwe’s novel On Black Sisters’ Street is an eye-opener on human trafficking in Nigeria and prostitution by Nigerians abroad. I am happy you are part of the group making efforts to stop this inhuman act. So in concrete terms, what type of services do you render to your clients?

1. We offer professional advisory services. Information is very important, especially since countries keep reviewing their immigration rules and regulations to protect their borders against economic migrants and terrorists. It is our duty to advise based on the prevailing rules and regulations. We also advise clients on their eligibility status.
2. We give packaging assistance; a lot of immigration process / application is done online and not many people know their way around the internet nor have the patience to be bothered with it, and the question may be a bit technical, so we do the actual application for clients who retain us to do so.
3. We also represent clients on appeals (via paper litigation) for clients who have been wrongfully refused. We prepare ground of appeal, witness statement(s) etc.
4. Further, we offer International Investors legal assistance through our partnership with other law firms abroad. We can help a client secure an investment abroad, or a foreigner secure investments here (Nigeria).

What is the most fulfilling case you have ever handled?
As a rule, I do not take on any case I am not passionate about. It is my passion that propels me to give my best. In my immigration practice however, one particular case comes to mind though. Client was a 17-year old boy at that time. He lost his mother at a young age. His mother was never married to his father. He was raised by his maternal grandmother who also later became deceased. His father was a Nigerian / Belgian permanently resident in Belgium. He wanted the client to join him. There were a lot of documentary challenges. Initially it looked like a hopeless case. The client, young and without assistance (other than professional fee his father paid to the firm), did all his best to assemble necessary documentation. He made several trips from Edo (where he was living at the time) to our firm in Lagos. The package took about 6 months to tidy up and another 6 months in the embassy. I was gearing up for appeals when the documents came out and his application was granted. This case was fulfilling for me because in the course of packaging the client’s application, I got to learn of his life story. He’d had a difficult life and I felt that he deserved a break. I was very happy he got his visa. He is doing very well in Belgium now.

I share your joy. I do find too that the cases we tend to love the most are not the ones we made most money from but the ones we helped our clients get life-changing results. Given your diverse practice, have you noticed any dissimilarity between Immigration Law and other areas of law practice?
Yes there are, for instance, one of the popular principles in law is that a person is ‘innocent until proven guilty’. In Immigration law the reverse is the case. In Immigration Law, it is an applicant’s duty to prove that his/her purpose is genuine before his/her request is granted. In other words, you are considered an Economic Migrant (especially if you are applying from an undeveloped country to a developed country) until evidence proves otherwise.

Another difference is that Immigration law is not guided by Precedence. Even where two clients have the same immigration challenges, solutions are rarely the same. Every application is unique to the applicant’s personal and economic circumstances.

Lagos State government recently uploaded the State Laws on the internet but requires people to make a certain payment before accessing them. What is your take on this? Shouldn’t people know, say the Criminal Code, without having to buy them, in order not to break the law.
I have always been of the opinion that basic laws (criminal law and fundamental human rights) should be introduced as subjects is senior secondary schools and that such laws be also made available to the masses especially since ignorance of the law is not a defence in law. Take this yahoo yahoo thing for example, a lot of youths who engage in it do it for the fun of it as much as for the money. They are ignorant of the fact that they are committing a felony nor the penalty it attracts. But the Government as usual is focused on generating revenue at the expense of the masses’ welfare.

The National Assembly did not pass the gender equality bill that was presented before it earlier this year. What effect do you think passing this law would have had on women’s right?
I have not read the bill though but I do not think it will have any substantive effect on women’s right. I am not aware of any law(in my jurisdiction) that is specifically discriminatory against women. The constitution provided for Fundamental HUMAN rights. The Criminal Code did not segregate crimes or penalties on gender. I am indifferent to the bill just like I am indifferent to the bill on domestic violence (when the criminal code has amply provided laws against physical and non-physical violence). I am indifferent to these laws and bills focusing on women simply because I think they amount to proliferation of laws. If we women are serious about our rights, we should stop expecting special treatment. It is our constitutionally giving right to challenge any law or practice that we feel is discriminatory towards us on basis of gender. Any woman who seeks to challenge such laws or practice will have my support pro bono.

So if someone wants to apply for visitors’ visa to U.S. are you able to do that?
Yes. Like I said the bulk of our clients falls in the Visitors (short term travellers) category. We also serve clients who wish to travel to Canada, Australia, Europe etc .

Where can people get information and resources about Maritime Laws and Immigration Laws in Nigeria?
There are plethora of books and legislations on Maritime: NIMASA ACT 2007, Sabotage Act etc. For Immigration law, there is the Immigration Act but general rule , it is the Immigration rules and regulation of the country a client is seeking entry to that is relied on.

You practice Maritime law. What is the relationship between depreciation of the Naira and Importation?
The Naira depreciation is as a result of Nigeria’s heavy reliance on importation. Nigeria imports almost everything. If importation reduces, the Naira will appreciate.

Thank you, Chika. I enjoyed this interview and I learned quite a lot, and I’m sure our readers will too.
You are most welcome, Anne, and thanks again for having me. It is an Amazing job you are doing with the blog.

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Meet David Ifedilinwoke, Aba Real Estate Lawyer Who Played a Pivotal Role in My Most Fulfilling Case

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David Ifedilinwoke

Editor’s Note: It was 2010. I was in my mid-twenties practicing law in a private law firm in Aba, Nigeria. On this day, I had just finished a hearing in court and was getting my gown and wig ready to head towards the door when some young men approached me. I recognized them as prison inmates who had been granted freedom from the day’s proceedings; the Judge had dismissed the case against them after their attorney’s request for same on ground of lack of diligent prosecution. The young men who looked rather benign for armed robbery–the crime they were charged with– told me they had a friend in prison who needed an attorney. I wrote down their friend’s details and promised to pay him a visit in prison.

In the days that followed, I visited Aba prison and interviewed the inmate. I also obtained some records from the court which showed he didn’t commit a violent crime. A judge did grant him bail the day he was arraigned months before but he did not have a way to contact his family to furnish bail. The police who arrested him took away his cell phone thus preventing him from having access to the contacts on his phone.

David came into the case when I was brainstorming the best way to secure the client’s release. Because the inmate did not have family to pay his legal fees, David and I took the case pro bono. We were first and second year associates who though we’d read a lot of law books in law school, knew little about the practice of law. Dave offered to use his own money to get the services of a bondsman to secure our client’s freedom even though there was no guarantee he would get his money back. After further research, however, we realized that since the police had literally abandoned the case, we could ask the court to dismiss the case against our client entirely for want of diligent prosecution, thus rendering the issue of bail moot.

We made the request to the court and the case against our client was dismissed. Dave and I, two young lawyers who knew next to nothing about the law, got a man who had been behind bars for months (or even one year, I don’t remember now) his freedom. I still remember the scene at our office the day he was released. The newly-released inmate clutched plastic bags that contained his clothes tightly to his chest while our boss, the amazing Bertram Faotu, congratulated us on our success. I think it was David who also gave the young man transport fare to go back to his home, Calabar, a City in one of the South-South States of Nigeria.

It’s been about six years since this case and I have since worked in a law firm where we win hundreds of thousands of dollars for our clients. But no case has ever provided the same joy as that of using my training as a lawyer and privilege as a Christian (the Christian part requires an entire post to do it justice; Christ did play a role in that case) to set a prisoner free.

As part of my series to showcase young entrepreneurs and professionals, I interviewed David to catch up on his current work as a property consultant lawyer in Aba, Abia State, Nigeria, hoping to enlighten Aba residents of what they should know about landlord and tenant laws in Abia State

Please tell us about your professional background.
I graduated from University of Calabar with a Law degree in 2004 and thereafter proceeded to Nigerian Law School. I was admitted to Nigerian Bar in 2009 and have been in active practice since then with Eleuthera Chambers, Aba, a law firm that was founded by a former Deputy Director-General of Nigerian Law School, Ernest Ojukwu. Eleuthera Chambers specializes in Election Petitions, Oil and Gas Law, Environmental Pollution, Commercial Litigation, Property Management, Civil Litigation, Arbitration, Human Rights cases, Incorporation of Companies with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and Registering of Titles Deed at the Land Registry. The firm provides a full array of legal services.

You, in particular, specialize in real estate law and property management. What type of services does your law firm provide to landlords when hired as a property manager?
When hired as a property manager/consultant, we help a prospective landlord with purchasing of a property. If a landlord wants to sell a property, we can help find buyers, all the while ensuring the transaction is done in accordance with the law. When a landlord hires our firm to manage his rental property, depending on the extent of the services the landlord desires we provide for him, we can draft rental agreements, issue notices to tenants, collect rents and remit same to landlord, evict non-paying tenants or tenants violating the terms of the lease etc.

About what percentage of the rents generated from a property can a landlord expect to pay as fees to a property management attorney?
A Landlord may choose to pay his property management attorney 10% of the rent generated from the property or the attorney may, on the instruction of the landlord, have the tenants pay the attorney 10% of the rent in addition to the rent. In the second scenario, the landlord has nothing to lose as he gets his entire rent while the tenant bears the burden of paying for the professional management of the property. So the landlord dictates how a property management attorney in Aba gets paid.

So with the wide range of services you provide, an out-of-state landlord need not worry about the maintenance of his property once he puts you in charge?
Yes, because we basically do everything he would do if he were present. If a landlord is not resident in Aba, he can direct the tenants to contact us directly when there is an emergency. Regardless of whether the landlord is resident in Aba or not, once we take up management of a property, we direct tenants to communicate directly with us and not with our clients in all matters relating to their tenancy at the property. We undertake the maintenance of the property subject to the authority to manage given to us by the Landlord.

Why should landlords have rental agreements with their tenants?
Landlord tenancy agreement is vital in management of a property because it determines the nature of the tenancy, for example, whether it is a yearly tenancy or a month-to-month tenancy. When such terms are not expressly provided, it makes it is hard to define the nature of the relationship between the parties and this because a problem when time comes to evict a non-paying tenant. In essence, tenancy agreement governs the landlord-tenant relationship, stipulating their rights and obligations.

Do the terms of a rental agreement trump the provisions of the law where there is a conflict?
No. A tenancy agreement does not trump the provision of the law where the law is established to protect a tenant, like the requirement for mandatory statutory notices before evicting a tenant. As to those matters the law does not cover or covers but allows parties to make agreements contradicting the law, then the rental agreement is applicable in such cases. Law allows Landlord and tenant to agree on the period of Quit Notice in the event of eviction.

Some landlords resort to self-help to remove tenants who are not paying rent. Is there a remedy for a tenant who is evicted by his landlord without following due process?
Any tenant removed through self-help is advised to approach court for redress. The Law requires a landlord to follow due process before evicting a tenant. The court will award him damages accordingly.

In California where I practice now, the law requires a landlord to make repairs even when a tenant is in occupation. In other words, a landlord has an obligation to provide a habitable dwelling throughout the life of the tenancy. Does a landlord have a duty to repair under Abia State laws?
Yes. Landlords under the Abia State Recovery of Premises And Rent Control Law have a duty to repair their building and such is usually included in tenancy agreements.

What are the grounds for evicting a tenant in Abia State?
A tenant can be lawfully evicted in Abia State for breaching any of the covenants of the tenancy agreement; for non-payment of rent; if a landlord wants to make use of the premises; or if the landlord wants to make a major repair that will affect the building.

Evicting a tenant is quite technical. I remember a supreme court case where a landlord could not legally evict a tenant after five attempts. What are the steps a landlord must take before he can lawfully evict a tenant?
The procedure involves service of Statutory Notices on the tenant–the length of the notice depends on the nature of the tenancy; Service of Summons to the tenant; Presenting the case in court including fielding in witnesses to prove the case. After obtaining judgment in favour of the Landlord, then the bailiffs will be contacted to levy execution.

If a landlord appoints you as a property consultant, do you still charge him for legal services if you have to evict a tenant?
If we are to evict tenant from a property we are managing, we do not charge professional fees.The landlord only has to foot the bill for expenses incurred like filing fees, cost of execution, etc.

What defenses may a tenant have to an eviction proceeding?
Because a tenant is usually clearly in default before a landlord start eviction proceedings and a tenant cannot lie about such obvious fact, a tenant’s lawyer will usually only capitalize on irregularities, defects or mistakes on the face of the notices and the suit filed by the landlords lawyer to get the suit struck out.

Some landlords get suspicious notices from people claiming to be government agents asking for property taxes. How can a landlord know genuine tax demands from the fake ones?
Every landlord should send such notices to a lawyer who upon due inquiry will instruct the landlord whether to make a payment or not, and obtain clearance from the government upon such payment as proof of payment.

Your practice also extends to perfecting titles for land sale transactions. Please can you walk us though the legal process of buying a land to make sure good title is passed?
When a client consults us to acquire a property for him, we first conduct local search at the Land Registry in Umuahia to ensure the land is unencumbered, that is, that there is no other person or entity laying claim to the land. We also visit the property physically and look at the beacon numbers to compare it with the one at the Title Deed. We also make word of mouth inquiries regarding ownership of the property from people living close to the property.

If the land is a communal land, we make sure that the head of the community and principal members of the community consent to the sale. If title is clear, then we draw up the deed, have the parties and witnesses sign it, and then register the property in our client’s name.

How much can a client buying a land in Abia State expect to pay his lawyer for helping him comply with all the legal requirements for buying land?
Lawyers in Aba charge various rates, 5% on the average. Besides the lawyer’s fees, the buyer also has to pay the government for the registration and perfection of the title. In Abia State, Nigeria, how much the buyer pays for registration is dependent on the location and worth of the property.

Aba residents complain of poor infrastructure; what has the NBA Aba Branch done to ensure the executive arm of the government is accountable to the people of Abia State?
NBA Aba is trying its best and the present Government is now improving in terms of roads construction and payment of salaries to civil servants etc.

Recently, a friend in Lagos told me that the landlord of a real commercial property she was leasing wanted to evict her just after two years of her establishing a business on the property and after she has built an impressive client base. Meanwhile, the landlord collected two years rent from her upfront when she moved in. When I researched, I discovered it was actually a crime in most part of Lagos for a landlord to collect two years rent in advance. Does Abia State have rent control laws?
Yes, Abia State has Recovery of Premises and Rent Control Law but does not make two years advance payment a crime.

In 2014, You petitioned Abia Sate Governor about two undergraduates who were arrested by a Vigilante Group but whose whereabouts could not be accounted for neither by the police, the vigilante group, nor the army whom the vigilante first claimed they transferred the boys to. How did that case end?
Unfortunately, the boys were never found after investigation so the case was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The perpetrators are now facing charges for kidnapping and murder.

Thank you for enlightening us on these issues. Some people may have further questions for you after reading this. Please, how may they contact you?
Our office is located at Hospital Road. My phone number is +234 803 596 3898. Our website is http://www.ofy-lawyers.com/. And we get emails through eleutherachambers@yahoo.com

Thank you very much for granting this interview, Dave. I know how busy you are.
You are welcome.

Disclaimer: The Above is given for general information only and does not constitute a legal advice. Please consult your lawyer if you have any legal problem as no two cases are the same. Moreover, laws change constantly and only your lawyer can advise you of the current law at any given time.

Hulk Hogan’s $140 Million Lawsuit Win Against Gawker, A Win for Privacy

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In this post, I condemned the unethical manner media companies like TMZ conduct their businesses–by feeding on the misery and weakness of celebrities. So when last month I read The New Yorker’s The Digital Dirt How TMZ gets the videos and photos that celebrities want to hide, I gave a fist pump excited that the tables were turning on TMZ. While reading the feature I was struck by the writer’s narration that when he approached Harvey Levin (TMZ’s Managing Editor) during his investigations, Levin expressed displeasure over the fact that the journalist had been contacting current and former TMZ employees for the feature, and instead of granting an interview Levin referred the writer to his publicist. I wondered if Levin realized the irony that while he aggressively digs for dirt on celebrities and send paparazzi to harass and follow them around, he won’t himself grant as much as an interview. After reading the feature, I hoped the Feds would investigate TMZ for possible violation of privacy laws.

While I waited for the Feds to act, last week I was exhilarated when a jury awarded Hulk Hogan (former wrestler) $140 million (Hogan only asked for $100 million) against Gawker, a media company that operates very much like TMZ.

Hulk Hogan had sued Gawker for publishing a sex tape that showed him having sex with the wife of a friend of his at the time, Todd Clem. While his sexual indiscretion is reprehensible, it is not for Gawker to act as a moral police. Consider what dirt(literally and otherwise) would be uncovered of each of us if there is a secret video recording our every action. (For example, though most people look down their nose at nose-picking, a survey shows that 91% of people do it when no one is looking.)Hogan sobbed as the verdict was announced. This verdict will definitely send a cautionary signal to online publishers. In an interview he gave after the trial, He said he sued not to make money but to send a message.

While media houses are easily held for defamation when they publish untrue and harmful stories about a person, it has been tricky to win an invasion of privacy claim due to its conflict with the first amendment right to free speech. In an invasion of privacy claim, a Plaintiff is saying though what you published is true, I expected a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding this subject but you published it and caused me damage. It is especially hard for celebrities to win privacy tort actions because it is argued that having decided to be in the public eye, they have given up any expectation they have of privacy.

The tort of intrusion which is one form of privacy tort encompasses not-consented-to physical intrusion into the home, hospital room or other place the privacy of which is legally recognized, as well as unwarranted sensory intrusions such as eavesdropping, wiretapping, and visual or photographic spying.

The element of intrusion is not met when the plaintiff has merely been observed, or even photographed or recorded, in a public place. Rather, the plaintiff must show the defendant penetrated some zone of physical or sensory privacy surrounding, or obtained unwanted access to data about the plaintiff. This element, that the act must have taken place in a private space, may be the reason Solange and Jay Z (Solange punching and kicking Jay Z), and Ray Rice (Dragging out his unconscious wife from an elevator) may not succeed in a privacy lawsuit against TMZ for their publication of the infamous videos. Though an elevator is an enclosed space, it was within a public area. So if you pick your nose while in the elevator alone (or break the wind) you do so at your peril.

In the Hogan case, Gawker and their attorney’s arrogance and lack of remorse may have played a role in the jury’s decision. In his closing statement for the defense, Gawker’s attorney insisted that uncovering the sometimes less-than-laudatory activities of public figures “is what journalists do, and at the end of the day it’s what we want journalists to do.” This statement rubbed the jurors who sat on the case the wrong way. After the trial, the jurors cited this statement and said that it spoke of the defense’s arrogance. One of the jurors cited that the defense was also “very flippant” during the depositions (I suppose the deposition was read in court).

A juror’s advice to Gawker founder when asked by an interviewer? ‘Don’t demean yourself by going for the vulgar and the lewd and the trashy. Stick to the newsworthy journalism — you understand what that is.’ When asked what his advice to Gawker is, another juror said, “Put yourself in their shoes, if you have the ability to do that,” before saying, “I don’t even know if they even have the heart to be able to do that. It’s just amazing, everything I listened to, that they have no heart. No soul. It’s all about the almighty dollar, and it’s sick.”

I couldn’t have said it better than the jurors. While is is easy to condemn Gawker for their exposure of celebrity secrets, I find that in real life, it is hard to keep juicy stories to oneself. If we take time to scrutinize every story we share, we will find that we spread harmful gossips and rumors about others as much as TMZ and Gawker do. For example, if you hear that a girlfriend who is neither engaged nor unwed is pregnant, will you pass this information on to mutual friends?

As a rule of the thumb, before you speak THINK, that is, Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? It must pass all five musters. If it isn’t any of these, Keep it to yourself. This is the argument I made in this post.

Congratulations to Hogan! So what’s your opinion? Are you happy Hogan’s secret tape was leaked? Do you feel it was a just punishment for his sexual indiscretion and that the jury verdict is like paying him for committing adultery? Some people have taken this position. Please let me know what you think in the comments section.

A Reader Sent Me This Heartbreaking Story About His Sister in Response to My Blog on Immigration-Marriage Fraud

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Editor’s note: When I was writing this post I was worried that it may come off as judgmental, that people who engage in the act condemned in it will dismiss it as a self-righteous post by someone who has never been in their shoes, a privileged girl who would not understand what leads a man to rob a woman of her heart, wealth, and body. After I published the post, I did get a comment that stopped short of saying just that.

However, this story a reader sent me is further proof that marriage fraud leaves it its wake victims who cannot wrap around their head the fact that a man who slept with them for years never in fact loved them; that all the while he said he loved them, he was merely tolerating them; that all the while they went through the highs and lows of marriage, the man secretly cursed them wondering when the green card will arrive in the mail.

I’m no saint. I have had my share of missteps in life as has each one for us. That said, I hope that sharing stories like this will deter someone from using women as objects that can be dispensed with after they have served their purpose. Below is the story a reader sent me. I’m sure you will be moved by it as much as I was.

‘Hi Anne, I read your write up on marriage fraud. My younger Sister and my only sister got married to this guy six years ago. He was working in one of the big banks in Nigeria and they had a daughter together. Two years after their marriage, my sister’s husband (Odili, not real name) was nowhere to be found. We searched for him everywhere and even reported to the police. We informed the family, but we noticed they were not as worried, then we suspected they knew something about his whereabouts. Though this was difficult to conceive because my sister and her husband had no fight or misunderstanding prior to his disappearance. He was supposed to be on leave at that time so his office couldn’t do much. After a few weeks, his elder brother called my sister to inform her that her husband was in the US. But Odili never called or wrote until after four months. He wrote me a personal letter apologizing for his actions and giving me a list of baseless reasons why he did what he did.

‘My sister always believied that one day he will come back to his senses because she thought he loved her and he didn’t have the face for confrontation at that time. It was later when she searched for their marriage certificate that it dawned on her that Odili was gone for long time or maybe forever. Tell me, how do think my sister was able to cope? What about her daughter growing up without a father? What happens to the loan Odili collected from the bank to buy a car? It was tough for me because I was always traveling from the north to the west just to give my sister some comfort in those difficult times. At one time she contemplated suicide but thank God that the Holy spirit spoke to her.

‘The bank was after my sister for the loan Odili collected and I hadn’t such money at that time. Years later my sister has moved on with her life accepting her fate and hoping for the best life has to offer. My sister is doing fine but she isn’t interested in marriage anymore (so she says) though I know she needs a man in her life. It’s not easy bringing up a child alone.

‘Subsequently, a lady (an African American) called my sister crying. She first got in contact with my sister on Facebook. She was in pain because she was married to a Nigerian man (Odili) who was already married in Nigeria. Odili promised her heaven on earth and she was madly in love with him. Today we hear Odili has left this American woman and he is planning a “real” marriage with a “real” woman. Odili’s friend called my sister to confirm Odili is marrying another woman in Nigeria.

‘Anne, this story is another side of the one you told. I have never taken time to narrate the story in detail as I have done now. I am doing this because I am ready to forgive Odili and I appreciate your work. Share if you may, as I know so many women are in same problem all because of this “American dream”. Thank you for taking time to read. God bless you.’

P.S: I immensely thank the reader who shared this story. He also requested some words of advice from readers to his heartbroken sister. Personally, I’ll keep the victims in my prayers. Our reader’s sister is a child of God and I know that God will give her strength to recover from this heartbreak and ultimately fulfill God’s plan for her life.

Marrying For Green Card, Is It Worth It?

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A few months ago, I got a call from a colleague about one of his friends, Ike (not real name). Ike had gotten himself in a mess. A Nigerian living as an illegal immigrant in the United States, Ike had recently married a U.S.legal resident and only months into the marriage, his wife caught him exchanging inappropriate messages and pictures with another woman. Ike’s wife was raising hell.

While Ike’s wife had filed an adjustment of status application for Ike to get his green card, the application had not been approved. During the phone conversation, my colleague was concerned more about how the recent development might affect Ike’s immigration status; little was said about how reprehensible Ike’s actions were and how betrayed his wife must feel. I deduced that Ike married the U.S. resident just to get his green card through her; that his wife was an innocent victim of immigration fraud.

Also recently, I spoke with another young man living in the U.S. illegally. He was living with an American woman he was engaged to, had a fiancee in Nigeria, and was distressed that his European wife (he married her when he lived in Europe just to get her country’s passport) who was still clearly in love with him had refused to divorce him. This young man in his twenties had three women in his life who believed he loved them. He would divorce the American girl once he got permanent residency in the U.S. regardless of her feelings. I didn’t approve of his actions and I told him that much.

Around the same time I had the conversation with the young man, I was having a chat with someone when I casually asked the person whether her relative who was living in the U.S. was married. She gave me a flippant response: ‘Yes, but not the real one.’

‘Not the real one’ could mean either that the relative entered into a contract with an American who gets paid between 5,000 and 50,000 dollars to pretend to be his wife for two to three years, long enough for him to get his green card, or that the relative duped the ‘wife’ into believing his intentions are true but would divorce him once his papers are approved, just like the young man I mentioned earlier plan to do.

I do not approve of and will not be part of any form of immigration fraud. That said, I find the second scenario more reprehensible. When a man deceives a woman (I read that women deceive men too) into believing he loves her just to get a green card, he dupes not just a faceless government agency (as happens in the first scenario where both parties collude to commit the fraud), but he also dupes the woman into giving him her heart and body–her most priced possessions.

While researching for this post, I read a taped conversation that a victim of such fraud sent to USCIS. In this case, the immigrant spouse had a second language in which he often spoke with a fiancee he had left in his home country prior to migrating to the U.S. The U.S. wife had to use an interpreter before she found out that all the time her husband claimed he loved her, he had a ‘real’ fiancee patiently waiting for him. Why the ‘real’ partners would be complicit in such schemes is beyond me.

The taped conversation which the victim sent to USCIS to revoke her husband’s (Tony) visa went as follows (Sonja was the ‘real’ fiance in the fraudster’s home country) :
Sonja: “Do you promise that when you come back, you won’t bring her [Angela – the U.S wife]?”
Tony: “Don’t be stupid, how can I bring her?”
Sonja: “When are you coming?”
Tony: “Angela suspects something. She told me I must have a girlfriend back in Macedonia, but don’t worry, one more year until I get my permanent green card and after that she can pull my [expletive]! Until then, we have to wait, baby, what can we do?”
Sonja: “One whole year we have to wait?”
Tony: “Yes, but what can we do? I’m coming to see you, I love to see you, to feel you, to make love to you. I need you!”
Sonja: “ I need you too!”
Tony: “ So you need to wait and be calm! Bye for now. I love you!”

You can imagine how used the U.S. wife must feel. I discussed this sort of immigration fraud with a friend expressing how appalled I was by it. But my friend advised not to judge as most people who do it see it as a last resort. Often, she said, they are desperate and risk deportation if they don’t find a lady to marry. Having heard this perspective from my friend, I now understand how dire the situation is for those who follow that route. Nevertheless, I still appeal to your conscience to not dupe a woman for green card for the following reasons: First–the golden rule–don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you (or your daughter). Imagine that 22 years from now, you give out your daughter in marriage and two months after her wedding she comes crying to you that he just realized the man was fake, that he used her to get his papers. If you cannot bear this thought, then please don’t do it to another person’s child.

Second, you can be sent to jail for immigration fraud if you are found out. Note in particular that Polygamy is a ground for deportation.

Third, by engaging in visa fraud, deceiving and juggling two or more women at the same time, you complicate your life in so many ways. If the woman you married to get a green card has a child for you, you tie yourself up for at least eighteen years with child support and custody battles. That is one sure way to not live the American dream. Recently, I read about the tragic story of this Nigerian Couple in Baltimore. Allegedly, the woman had married the man without knowing he was previously married in Nigeria and had three kids. When she found out that the man had been lying all along and now wanted to bring his Nigerian family to the U.S., she moved out of the house. Ultimately, the man killed the U.S. wife and himself over a domestic dispute.

You shouldn’t engage in visa fraud for the additional reason that when you do it, it affects the chances of other people who genuinely find love in and want to migrate to foreign countries. For example, because this sort of fraud is perpetrated more by men than women, I find that girls in the U.S. are often advised against marrying men from Nigeria. But Nigerian women marry U.S. residents in large numbers and nobody raises an eyebrow. (This is one of the reasons I don’t envy men. Immigration benefits aside, a woman has a better chance of marrying well than a man does).

Blaming your duping a woman into marriage for green card on harsh economic conditions in your home country is like justifying robbery by poor people. The woman you marry for green card did not cause you poor (pun intended) lot in life; the argument that you wouldn’t have done it but for desperation is a lame attempt to assuage your conscience.

There are other ways–even if more difficult ways–to get green cards. People get green cards through lottery, employment, as religious workers, etc. But if you consider that marrying a citizen is the only way to avoid deportation, marry someone you love who has the qualities you want. If, for example, you want to have kids, don’t marry a woman that is past menopause except you are willing to adopt. You cannot have your cake and eat it.

For the innocent victims, here are ways to know if that person professing love wants to marry you for card or for love. This website lists the following as signs to watch out for:

1. They don’t introduce you to any friends and family. If your mate is keeping you in hiding, it could be that he/she doesn’t want others to find out about you. If you are suspicious, suggest to your mate that you want to have a big wedding in his home country. His reaction could be telling. And in this era of social media, whether he updates his status on Facebook to show he is involved with you and posts pictures of both of you could be an indication that he is either real or fake. When he posts pictures of the two of you, watch out for comments from his friends that may be suggestive of things he won’t tell you. For example if the age difference between the two of you is wide and such is not popular in his culture, it could be your mate is using you as a passport (pun intended) to a foreign country.

2. They are always asking you for money or things. If after being with your mate for just a few months, you are kind of getting that feeling that you are a personal cash cow, chances are you are. People who marry for green card are often desperate and are usually financially dependent on their victim. If he is financially sufficient in the firs place, he probably wouldn’t be seeking to migrate. Don’t be deceived by flamboyant looks (empty vessels make the loudest noise); that is not what you are looking for. You want to make sure he has a stable job and is not just seeking to escape his hard life by using you as a means. While there is nothing wrong with one’s fortune changing through marriage, that shouldn’t be the primary motivation.

3. He/she is a habitual liar. If your partner keeps changing their story, such as telling you they don’t have any children, and confessing the truth only after you run into a picture, you should be wary of his intentions. If he tells you that he is the chief executive officer of his own company, but after months of dating, you’ve come to find out that they don’t even have a steady job,don’t hang around him any further. If your mate is lying about these things, then chances are they are also lying about their love for you.

4. He/she gets upset when you suggest you both live in his Home Country after tying the knot. If your lover always gets upset whenever you suggest that both of you try and make life in his home country instead of living in your country, it may be an indication that you are just a means of escape from his hard life. For them, you are basically putting a spoke in the wheel of their plans to live the charming life in another country. If he keeps inquiring about your legal status within a short time of meeting you, he may be after your green card not you. To gauge his intentions, if you have nothing against telling a white lie, then you may tell him you have no legal status just to see if he sticks around. If he doesn’t, you are better off.

5. Your new lover tries to rush you into marriage. You hardly know each other, but yet he/she has already settled on the perfect date for the wedding. There is no outward proof of his/her professed love and affection for you and instead of whispering words of affirmation to you, most of your conversations surround what will happen when the ‘papers’ come through. If this is the state of your relationship, don’t marry him. You will regret it later.

6. Your friend tells you he/she is using you. It’s hard to see a person’s fault when you are blinded by love, but if your friends and family tell your that your mate is using you, then chances are that they probably might be. The least you could do is to assess what they have said.

I hope this entry helps at least one person. I wrote this piece because of the experiences I shared and also because I’ve noticed that girls that are legal residents in foreign countries are wary of men from developed countries. This affects the number of men that are able to migrate to developed countries through marriage. The trend can be reversed. If you are a man and you need a green card, find a girl that is a legal resident, marry her, and most importantly, stay with her.

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Legal Reasons Why You Should Consider Deleting Your Facebook Account

Some months ago, I got a phone call from a married Facebook friend (She is more than a friend in real life). She was worried about a video–the content of which was akin to porn–that had been posted on her Facebook wall without her consent or knowledge. Though she didn’t know the actors in the video, she was embarrassed by it. She needed information on know to delete the offending video from her timeline. (Interestingly, Facebook buttons that keep Mark Zuckerberg’s invention in business, such as ‘like’ and ‘add friends’, are readily visible and accessible to users while the features that help keep users safe and out of trouble aren’t. Except one is tech savvy, they would need help locating the ‘unfriend’, ‘delete’, ‘block’ or ‘untag’ buttons on Facebook). With the help of Google, I found the relevant information and instructed my friend on how to take down the post, much to her relief. Later, I wondered how it would cause scandal if, given their pervasive presence on social media and how equally vulnerable they are as a result, renowned Christian pastors become victims of such hack.

Around the same time my friend got her account hacked, a newly married man in his thirties, decided, against what should be his better judgment, to put up pictures of a beautiful 19-year-old girl I knew and claimed the 19-year-old was his ‘ex’. The young girl was related to me and since I considered the post defamatory against her, though I barely know the young man, I called him out on his actions through comments to the post thereby clearing the girl’s name. I was furious as I had previously warned him, through a courteous private Facebook message, against misappropriating the girl’s name and image. I also wondered if the gentleman realized the implication of his post, including conclusions that could send him in jail for abuse of a minor.

Besides one’s online presence making one susceptible to an attack on one’s reputation by others, posts people send out themselves could make them liable in damages and could be used as evidence against them in courts. Given that the Internet is relatively new, some users are not yet well aware of what consequences some of their posts today may have on them in future. If you consider that Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands is only now coming under great scrutiny more than twenty years after the book was published, then before you hit every post or send button on your Facebook page, you will ponder first in what way it might impact you in twenty years’ time when you could say, be running for a political office.

Social media content is increasingly being admitted in courts as proof to establish facts. As of 2012, there were about 700 cases in the U.S. pending on appeal over the admission of social media evidence. Mind you, this was only at the appellate, not trial, courts. Similarly, I read that Facebook plays a role in one-third of divorce cases. A 2012 survey of divorce attorneys found that 80% of them say they look for evidence on social media. For example, a picture of a man behind the wheels of a brand new Mercedes may determine how much more the wife’s attorney insists he pays for alimony and child support. Evidence on Facebook of illegal activities such as drug use may result in denial of child custody. In one case, a wife claimed car accident injuries (and resultant surgery) had left her unable to work, thereby justifying monthly alimony payments. Her spouse countered with evidence from her Facebook and MySpace accounts detailing her active belly dancing exploits four years after the surgery, which the judge accepted and ultimately used to deny the wife the lifetime monthly support checks she sought from her ex-husband.

Social Media posts are also used as evidence in workers compensation and personal injury cases to counter any claim of physical harm and the extent of damage Plaintiff suffered. “Photographs and comments suggesting Plaintiff may have recently ridden a mule,” posted on Facebook was used by the defense, in one case, to argue against the plaintiff’s claims that a car accident had left him physically and psychologically injured. In one worker’s compensation case, a forklift driver at a warehouse in the US said that he hurt his leg at work and claimed damages for lost wages. His employers told the Court they believed his Facebook and MySpace pages indicated that his leg was not as damaged as he claimed, and asked the court to give it his passwords for those pages so they could check.

Incriminating evidence from social media is also used by prosecutors to nail accused persons. Rap music posted on Facebook by a suspect was used in one criminal case as evidence of rape, harassment and threat of deadly harm. Recently, a Twitter user who killed someone while driving posted the body of his victim on twitter just moments after the accident. Undoubtedly, a jury will be more likely to mete out a harsher sentence if defense counsel does not succeed in excluding the admission of the video in evidence through a motion in limine.

Deleting Facebook posts after-the-fact to prevent the negative effects of incriminating posts is not an option. By intentionally deleting relevant information especially in the face of an impending litigation, one would have potentially engaged in the destruction of important evidence and could subject themselves to even more trouble if the Court discovers the actions. In at least one instance, a Court fined both a party and his attorney for “cleaning up” a Facebook page to remove harmful posts and pictures

Coincidentally, while I was writing this, I read this post on BellaNaija about a woman seeking to use pictures posted on BN of her husband’s pre-wedding photos with another woman as evidence in court. Those pre-wedding photos no doubt are solid evidence for a divorce case and possible bigamy charge against the man if the facts alleged are true.

To be sure, social media has its advantages. However, only a responsible use will guarantee one doesn’t get sent to jail over a seeming innocuous post. Once you put something on the World Wide Web, it’s there forever. Even if you delete it seconds after posting it, someone might have taken a snapshot of it, and it may still haunt you in the future. And then, there is the power of subpoena that can be issued against Facebook.

In conclusion, you need to be careful about what you put on the Internet because you never know how it is going to be used against you in future.

Linda Ikeji’s N600,000,000 House: The Law of Compensation, The Streisand Effect etc.

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Last year, I blogged about Linda’s purchase of a 24 million Naira car and how she was such an inspiration to young people. In the blog, I told a story of how Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo suggested that blogging wasn’t a job when political blogger Omojuwa told him he blogged for a living. Linda’s latest acquisition of a N600,000, 000 (You read that right, six hundred million Naira) mansion in Banana Island is proof that just like Ota farm, blogging can make one a billionaire. How did Linda go from a thirty-year-old broke hustler to a thirty-five-year old billionaire (I guess it’s safe to assume she’s worth that much)?

The Law of Compensation
In this 2012 interview with Toolz, Linda told a story of how she started blogging as a hobby with no intention of making money from it. According to her, after blogging for several years and as her readership grew, she started getting inquiries from businesses about her advert rates. After she overcame her shock that people were willing to pay her for doing what she loved, she asked around and was surprised at how much people made from blogging. She felt guilty asking for the going rate and instead told the businesses to pay her much less than the industry rates. Given her recent acquisition however, I am sure Linda has let go of her guilt.

As Linda’s story shows, most successful people set out to serve and provide value to others and are often amazed when riches follow as result. Chimamanda Adichie once said that she hasn’t lost her sense of wonder that she is making money from writing. She said that even if she never got published, she would have been somewhere writing in addition to whatever her 9-5 job happened to be. A corollary to the proposition that success follows service is the Law of Compensation.

The Law of Compensation states:’Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.’ Since, reading about this law, I have a better perspective of why celebrities make more money than common folks. So, while an actress like Kaley Cuoco makes one million dollars for each episode of Big Bang Theory (The show has huge ratings), a Certified Nurse Assistant who does an obviously more noble and valuable job earns 12 dollars an hour. The Law of Compensation is the reason inventors like Mack Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are among the richest people in the world–Facebook has over one billion users.

Now that you understand the Law of Compensation, you see how invalid the argument that Linda couldn’t have made all that money from blogging is? That even though it may seem unfair that Linda made so much money from gossiping and literally copying and pasting posts from celebrities’ social media accounts, she earned it. Each day, hundreds of thousands of people visit Linda Ikeji’s blog. Arguably she has a wider readership than many of the mainstream media outlets in Nigeria. Her blog is probably even more influential. Because millions of people visit Linda’s blog every month, advertisers seek her out to sell their products. While writing this post, I visited her website and saw adverts from big name brands like MTN, GTB,LG,Dettol,Sky Bank, UBA etc. Linda is successful because her blog is serving millions of people. So if you want to become rich, find a way to make your business serve more people. For example, you can advertise more to acquire new customers.

On Linda’s Decision to Make Her Success Known
Some people opine that Linda’s announcement of her latest acquisition is ill-advised. While I understand the concern for her safety and the fact that modesty is a great virtue to have, there are other consideration that may have informed Linda’s decision to announce. First, Laura, her younger sister had hinted to the new house via social media. Apparently, she couldn’t contain her excitement that she was would soon become Mike Adenuga’s neigbour. That said, Linda had her own reasons too. Anybody in the blogging business knows how traffic to one’s website determines the success or otherwise of one’s blog. That alone is an incentive for even the most modest to do a blog that will yield more customers. As proof, the post in Linda’s blog announcing the Banana Island house has about ten times more comments than an average post on her blog. People who didn’t know about her will do now and will become customers and that means more money for Linda.

Moreover, Linda told her story to inspire young women. In this very inspirational post where she showed her house to her fans, she wrote about how only five years ago, on her thirtieth birthday, she turned to God broke, sad and depressed. It’s hard to imagine that she’s had such financial success in only five years and that is why she chose to encourage young people struggling to find financial stability. Linda has never wavered in her determination to encourage women to make it on their own without looking to men to provide their financial needs. Her ‘I’d rather be self made’ project is only one of her several projects aimed at empowering young people and rewarding her readers. While there may be valid reasons to keep her success secret, I applaud Linda’s courage in making it known.

On the Theory that Nigerians are Obsessed with Wealth
In one of the blogs celebrating Linda’s success, a non-Nigerian observed that Nigerians are obsessed with wealth. They ((I don’t know the gender) questioned the validity of the argument that Linda’s success is an inspiration and a good example to youths. They wondered why we don’t place more emphasis on non-tangible values. While I agree that Nigerians place too much emphasis on material wealth, I also realize that having enough money in the bank is very important. Even if one doesn’t aspire to richness because of the comfort and relative peace of mind it provides, one may aspire to it for altruistic purpose of helping others. I once read that with all his good intentions, the rich Samaritan in the bible couldn’t have helped the wounded man if he had no money to take the man to the hospital. So no one should feel ashamed of their desire to be rich and successful. It is a valid dream to have.

Why Linda Must Now Protect Her Assets
Shortly after Linda bought her car last year, Google shut down her blog following allegations and complaints of copyright infringements. I expect that following her recent disclosure, Linda may face a couple of setbacks and probably lawsuits. Nigerians are becoming more aware of their rights and thus more litigious. Recently, Abike Dabiri filed a N500,000,000 lawsuit for defamation against Diamond Bank and Punch Newspaper for publishing her name as a debtor. Chaz B’s widow hired lawyers over allegations that St. Nichola’s hospital were negligent in treating her husband which led to his death.

Given the possibility the Linda will get sued, Linda should first, hire a good lawyer; second, make her blog a separate entity so her personal funds won’t be reached if a huge verdict is given against her blog ; and lastly, get a good insurance policy to cover her liability in case she gets sued.

On the Ethicality of Her Blog
Some have said Linda cannot attribute her success to God when her blog is premised on gossips and false rumors that hurt other people. But if you watch her interviews, Linda seem to be a humble and nice person. However, several months ago, I made a personal decision to stop visiting Linda Ikeji’s blog for the same reason I stopped watching TMZ and Wendy William’s show – at that time in life, I felt they weren’t helping me get where I wanted to be professionally and personally. In place of Linda’s blog, I started reading Bellanaija because it aligns more with my preferences and interests.

That said, Linda is an inspiration to me and she has explained that her conscience guides her in what she publishes and what she censors–she doesn’t publish comments she finds in her judgement to be harmful to others. If that is the case, it would be unfair to judge her. Moreover, even when one have reservations about the content of her blog, one cannot discount its entertainment value.

On Why Celebrities Don’t Sue for Defamation
Many celebrities including RMD have chosen to reproach Linda via Twitter rather than bring a lawsuit for defamation. Here could be the reason they choose not to see. First: The Streisand Effect which is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. In other words, suing Linda for a defamatory remark will make more people aware of the defamatory remark. For example, I didn’t know that Abike Dabiri’s name was on the debtors’ list until she filed a lawsuit to clear her name–her lawsuit made more headlines than the debtor’s list.

Second reason a celebrity may choose not to sue for defamation is that truth is a defense to defamation. So however disparaging a story is, if it is true, the aggrieved party cannot win in court. Moreover in some jurisdictions, a public person have a higher burden of proving that the defamatory remark was not just negligently published but with malice or reckless disregard for its truth. So it is easier for a private person to win a lawsuit than for a celebrity who makes a living by living in the public eye.

Third, the money and time spent in litigation may not be worth it especially because attorney fees in Nigeria are not contingent on the attorney winning a client’s case. (I hope to do a blog on why that law should be relaxed). On the other hand, a well contested litigation may hurt a public figure as the trial may necessitate the party airing even more of their dirty laundry.

Finally, opinion is not defamatory. So if Linda posts: ‘A smokes weed’, it may be defamatory if A doesn’t smoke weed. But if instead Linda says ‘Could A be Smoking Weed?’ and goes on to post a picture of A with something like weed wrapped between her fingers, leaving it to readers to draw their own conclusion, it is not defamatory even if turns out A was merely holding a rolled harmless sheet of paper. Same Story. Different legal consequences.

Once more, Congratulations to Linda on her blog. She is such an inspiration. And you, please keep the law of compensation in mind in whatever your business might be. I hope you too will get to the top! Ciao!

20 Fun Facts to Remember on the Twentieth Anniversary of O. J. Simpson Trial

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1. The case has been described as the most publicized criminal trial in American history.

2. Simpson was acquitted after a trial that lasted more than eight months.

3. Robert Kardashian (Kim Kardashian’s father) was a member of Simpson’s defense team.

4. Over 20 helicopter joined in the police chase that led to his arrest and the chase was watched on live television by over 90 million viewers.

5. When the chase ended in Simpson’s Bronco home, the police found “$8,000 in cash, a change of clothing, a loaded .357 Magnum, a passport, family pictures, and a fake goatee and mustache.

6. Neither the footage of the Bronco chase nor the items found in the Bronco were shown to the jury as evidence in the trial.

7. The 1995 criminal trial of O.J. Simpson was televised for 134 days. The TV exposure made celebrities of many of the figures in the trial, including the presiding judge, Lance Ito.

8. The prosecution opened its case by playing a 9-1-1 call that Nicole Brown Simpson had made on January 1, 1989. She expressed fear that Simpson would physically harm her, and he could be heard yelling at her in the background.

9. The jury for the trial had 10 women and two men, of which there were nine black people, two white people, and one Hispanic person.

10. Simpson’s defense, dubbed the “Dream Team” by reporters, was said to cost between US$3 million and $6 million.

11. On June 15, 1995, defense attorney Johnnie Cochran goaded assistant prosecutor Christopher Darden into asking Simpson to put on the leather glove that was found at the scene of the crime.

12. The prosecution had earlier decided against asking Simpson to try on the gloves because (according to prosecutors) the glove had been soaked in blood from Simpson, Brown and Goldman, and frozen and unfrozen several times.

13. The leather glove seemed too tight for Simpson to put on easily, especially over the sanitary gloves he wore underneath. Uelmen (member of the defense team) came up with and Cochran repeated a quip he had used several times in relation to other points in his closing arguments, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”.

14. Fears grew that race riots would erupt all over Los Angeles and the rest of the country if Simpson was convicted of the murders. As a result, all L.A. police officers were put on 12-hour shifts, and a line of over 100 police officers on horseback surrounded the L.A. county courthouse on the day of the verdict, in case of rioting by the crowd.

15. At 10 a.m. on October 3, 1995, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, after only three hours of deliberation.

16. An estimated 100 million people worldwide stopped what they were doing to watch or listen to the verdict announcement. Long-distance telephone call volume declined by 58% and trading volume on the New York Stock Exchange by 41%, water usage decreased as people avoided using bathrooms, and government officials postponed meetings. So much work stopped that the verdict cost an estimated $480 million in lost productivity.

17. In post-trial interviews with the jurors, a few said that they believed Simpson probably did commit the murders, but that the prosecution failed to prove their case.

18. In 1997, relatives of the victims brought a civil suit for wrongful death against Simpson. During the civil trial, evidence regarding Simpson’s failure of a lie detector test about the murders was introduced. In addition, a photo of O.J., taken while he was attending a Buffalo Bills game in 1993 was produced and showed him wearing Bruno Magli shoes, the same type of shoes which investigators stated the killer of Goldman and Brown was wearing when the murders were committed. The photo was then presented as evidence against him, as O.J. had previously denied ever wearing such shoes.

19. The jury in the civil trial awarded the victims’ families $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

20. On December 5, 2008, Simpson was sentenced to a total of thirty-three years in prison for unrelated charges of kidnapping and robbery which took place in September 2007. Simpson is presently serving the sentence.

I hope this post piqued your interest enough to make you want to refresh your memory or familiarize yourself with the facts of the most celebrated case in America. Here’s is a Wikipedia Link. I hope it also gives you an insight into how the judicial system works. Like a Judge said recently during a Settlement Conference I attended, the ends of the judicial process in not necessarily justice, but finality. I guess only Simpson will ever know if he did it.

P.S: The standard of proof in a criminal case is proof beyond reasonable doubt. Hence, in California for example, all twelve jurors must assent for there to be a conviction.On the other hand, the burden of proof in a civil case is preponderance of the evidence (balance of probabilities), therefore, only nine votes are required in California. The difference in the number of juror votes required for a prosecution verdict may explain why there was a verdict against Simpson in the civil case but not in the criminal case.