Family Law


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The Many Sides of Harry Lee Coe

June 23, 2017 by pgd1

Judge Morison Buck wrote the “Chips Off the Old Bench” column in the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s publication, Lawyer.  Judge Buck passed away in 2014; however his biographies of 58 Hillsborough County judges are preserved.  They make fascinating reading.1

Perhaps the most interesting is the biography of Harry Lee Coe.  The local daily newspapers, The Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times, the morning of July 14, 2000 reported:  Hillsborough County State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the left temple.  The life of a well-known, successful, and popular (with most people) figure whose public life spanned three decades was over; but questions remained: Why would a man in seemingly robust health at 68 whose political future appeared secure sacrifice his life?

Judge Coe attended High School in Lakeland, FL.  Recognition beyond Lakeland of his talent as a gifted athlete came when he received a combination baseball/basketball scholarship to the University of Florida.  His pitching record at University of Florida stood for many years, and he was the first pitcher to be inducted into the UF Sports Hall of Fame.  He signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers—the first individual from Lakeland to sign a major league contract; Boog Powell became the second Lakelander to be picked when he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched in the Detroit Tigers farm system for three years during the spring and summer seasons during the windup of his schooling at Gainesville.

In the late 1950s, while still attending law school at Stetson University, Harry Coe helped pay his way through that program by pitching baseball for the Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League.

Judge Coe ran the court over which he presided with firm determination to do what he felt was right and just.  Contrary to the tag “Hanging Harry” seized upon and played up by the press, he was considered to be fair, particularly dealing with young persons having no significant criminal history.  He believed in the familiar doctrine of “a second chance.”

Only Harry knew what prompted him to give up the prestige and security of his judgeship.  But he did that in 1992 when, as a Democrat, he challenged the incumbent, widely respected Republican, Bill James.  Harry Lee Coe was elected State Attorney.

Harry personally tried the case against Christopher Wilson.  After the verdict of guilty in the case, one of the news services released a photo of State Attorney Coe embracing the victim of the crime and his mother.  This was one of the most sensational criminal trials in Tampa’s history.  Harry made a masterful closing argument, and both defendants were convicted of all charges.  Shortly afterward, Judge Coe received a cherished letter from Gregory Peck.   In the letter, Peck compares Harry to the famous lawyer from To Kill A Mockingbird:

When I saw this photo in the N.Y. Times, I could not help identifying with you, and thinking that in this case, you have played the role of Atticus Finch in real life, taken on the challenge, and won an important victory for all of us.

Harry Coe’s obsession with gambling in greyhound racing became such a dominate force in his life that in his waning years it is undisputed that he caged money from his subordinate associates to support his pathological problem.

The National Council on Problem Gambling based in Washington, D.C., which maintains a 24-hour toll-free helpline for those needing help or information, reports there is a strong link between suicide and pathological gambling.  Las Vegas’ suicide rate is one of the highest in the world.

We will never understand fully why Harry Lee Coe took his life, but we can be grateful that such a fascinating and talented man walked this earth among us.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog, with some editorial changes, was taken from:  Buck, Morrison. “Harry Lee Coe 1932-2000.”  Retrieved from:

Dual Diagnosis

May 25, 2017 by pgd1

Dual diagnosis is a term for when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance abuse problem simultaneously.  A person experiencing a mental health condition may turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication to improve the troubling mental health symptoms they experience.  Research shows though that drugs and alcohol only make the symptoms of mental health conditions worse.

About a third of all people experiencing mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse.  These statistics are mirrored in the substance abuse community, where about a third of all alcohol abusers and more than half of all drug abusers report experiencing a mental illness.

The most common method of treatment for dual diagnosis today is integrated intervention, where a person receives care for both a specific mental illness and substance abuse.

A person experiencing a serious mental illness and dangerous or dependent patterns of abuse may benefit most from an inpatient rehabilitation center where he/she can receive concentrated medical and mental health care 24/7. Supportive housing, like group homes or sober houses, is another type of residential treatment center that is most helpful for people who are newly sober or trying to avoid relapse. These treatment centers allow for more freedom while still providing round-the-clock care.

Medication is a useful tool for treating a variety of mental illnesses.

Psychotherapy is almost always a large part of an effective dual diagnosis treatment plan. Education on a person’s illness and how their beliefs and behaviors influence their thoughts has been shown in countless studies to improve the symptoms of both mental illness and substance abuse.  Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular is effective in helping people with dual diagnosis learn how to cope and to change ineffective patterns of thinking.

In over thirty years of practicing law, I have encountered many individuals who suffer from a dual diagnosis.  It is not unusual to see these people when they are off their medications and not functioning well.  The point I make here is that there is help and hope for them.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog contains excerpts from “Dual Diagnosis”. Retrieved from:

How to Help a Mentally Ill Person Who Stops Taking Medication

May 18, 2017 by pgd1

One recurring problem that I observe in the practice of family law is when a person who suffers from mental illness stops taking medication.  With this problem in mind, I began to search for solutions.  This is what I found:

  1. About one-third of people with schizophrenia say that they stay on medicine primarily because other people think it’s important.  For them, the influence of other people, rather than believing the medication is needed, is the key factor that promotes compliance.
  2. Persuasion is better than coercion.  Forcing someone to take medication by threats is, at best, a temporary solution that is best left for acute (emergency) situations.  It is better to try to find a way to persuade a person to take medication.
  3. Families should be genuinely sympathetic about the side effect problems and the distress they can cause.  Ignoring the side effect complaints won’t make them go away; indifference may make a person feel neglected or misunderstood.
  4. Prescribing clinicians frequently do not often detect or ask about noncompliance and are not always good at recognizing when patients stop their medication.  They may not recognize noncompliance until the person becomes psychotic and starts reacting to hallucinations.  Therefore, you cannot rely solely on a doctor’s assessment of the situation.  Nonetheless, if possible, it is important to maintain routine contact with the doctor to discuss, among other things, compliance issues.
  5. When someone relapses, it may be very hard to tell whether the biggest problem is that the medicine doesn’t work well enough (nonresponse) or the person is not taking the medication (noncompliance). It is very important to clarify the true cause of relapse because nonresponse to medicine would be handled very differently than noncompliance.1

The failure of individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to take prescribed medications can often leads to relapse of symptoms, re-hospitalizations, and homelessness.  It is important to have an awareness of the problem of mentally ill people who tend to stop taking medication.  We should apply these strategies to help these valued members of our society.

by Patrick Gafney

by Patrick Gafney

1 Weiden, Dr. Peter. “How to help someone who stops taking their medicines”.  Retrieved from:

Marrying Outside of One’s Religion

March 16, 2017 by pgd1

In the United States, it is not uncommon for people to marry outside of their religion. However, Indonesia is one of about two dozen countries with no provision for civil marriages. Others include Israel and almost all of the Arab states.

In these countries, only unions conducted according to officially recognized religions can be registered.  In Indonesia, for example, children of unregistered unions cannot get birth certificates, without which they struggle to receive health care or schooling.

According to The Economist magazine, some couples of differing faiths, or none, go abroad for a civil ceremony.  Each year about 3,000 couples from the Middle East get married in Cyprus, which brands itself the “island of love”.

It has been suggested that part of the problem is political. Governments often fear angering politically powerful religious groups. In Lebanon, marriages and other matters of family law, such as divorce and inheritance, are left to religious courts of 18 Muslim, Christian and other sects.

Religious leaders fear that an interfaith marriage would end up with one of the partners converting.  In many places, anyone who dares to wed across religious lines faces ostracism, and perhaps violence.1

Such restrictions against the freedom to marry seem unfair to us in the West. I have witnessed many successful marriages that crossed these artificial barriers.  Who knows the ways of the human heart?

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 “Where Rashid and Juliet Can’t Wed”.  The Economist.  February 18, 2017, p. 52.

Character is Important

January 13, 2017 by pgd1

George Washington was not an intellectual giant like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison.  Compared with most other founders, he was not well educated (he attended school for only about five years), and, unlike many of them, he disliked abstract philosophical discussions.

His moral character, especially his refusal to yield to temptation, set him apart from most others in the late 18th century.  To many, the crowning achievement of Washington’s character was his simultaneous resignation in 1783 as the commander in chief of the American army and his retirement from the world of politics.  Throughout the Western world, his unprecedented relinquishing of power (which he did a second time when he declined a third term as president) was widely heralded.

Unlike other victorious generals, he did not expect a political or financial reward for his military exploits.  The Virginian had a sterling reputation for integrity and honor, dedication to duty and his country, and remaining above the political fray.

Many admirers considered Washington’s self-control the key facet of his character.  He could master events because he had mastered himself.  Despite being surrounded by fear, despair, indecisiveness, treason, and the threat of mutiny, he remained confident and steadfast.1

As a family law attorney, I recognize that George Washington’s qualities would serve most attorneys and clients well.  His ability to stay calm in a storm is quality to which we can all aspire.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog contains excerpts from:  Smith, Gary S. “The Character of George Washington”.  The Center for Vision and Values, Grove City College.  March 15, 2010.

Thomas Jefferson’s Choice

January 5, 2017 by pgd1

With five simple words in the Declaration of Independence– “all men are created equal”–Thomas Jefferson undid Aristotle’s ancient formula: “from the hour of their birth some men are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”1

Jefferson’s words had a great effect.  Massachusetts freed its slaves on the strength of his wording.  Jefferson’s words were weaved into the state constitution of 1780.

However by the 1790s, Jefferson’s emancipation efforts had stopped.  At that time Jefferson was mortgaging his slaves to build Monticello.  In contrast, George Washington was scraping together financing for the emancipation at Mount Vernon which he finally accomplished in his will.

Washington’s emancipation of his slaves stands for the idea that if you claim to have principles, you must live by them.  Jefferson’s treatment of his own slaves reveals a dark character flaw and hypocrisy.

A reflection on the choices made by both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington is instructive. There are certain choices that we all make that will ultimately reveal who we are and what we stand for.

In the practice of family law, I help clients make difficult choices realizing that these choices will echo into the future.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 The content of this blog was borrowed in large part from the following article:  Wiencek, Henry.  “The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson”.  Smithsonian Magazine.  October 2012.

The Importance of “Grit”

December 15, 2016 by pgd1

Ned Pepper: “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”
Rooster Cogburn: “Fill your hands you sonofabitch.”

                                                                    Charles Portis, True Grit

True Grit is a 1968 novel by Charles Portis.  It is told from the perspective of Mattie Ross, who recalls the time when she was fourteen and sought retribution for the murder of her father.

The novel was adapted to film in 1969.  It starred John Wayne, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn.  In the story, Mattie is convinced that Rooster Cogburn has “grit” and is best suited for the job of hunting down her father’s murderer.

Both the movie and the book are excellent.  The quote above, and other great dialogue was lifted directly from the book and placed in the screenplay.

Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.  She is an expert on the subject of Grit.  In fact, she thinks talent is overrated.  More important, she suggests, is a blend of persistence and passion—grit.  She believes that grit involves finding and fostering a purpose.

“Talent counts, [but] effort counts twice” says Duckworth.1

I have found that a certain measure of grit is a virtue.  People who persevere against the odds have an advantage.  I think of the great Winston Churchill, who stated, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

We all encounter challenges in life.  These can take different forms.  The form I deal with as a professional is the challenge of divorce.  For most, divorce is a major life event.  It can bring inordinate amounts of stress.  With the stress, some are afflicted with self-doubt.  They wonder how they are going to make it through the process, and what life is going to be like on the other side.  For these folks and for everyone else, I suggest the importance of “grit”.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Duckworth, Angela.  “Grit:  The Power and Passion of Perseverance”.  Scribner, 2016.

The Importance of Words

November 3, 2016 by pgd1

Before you speak, let your words
Pass through three gates.
At the first gate, ask yourself,
‘Is it true?’
At the second ask,
‘Is it necessary?’
At the third gate ask
‘Is it kind?’

-Sufi saying

As human beings, we are all a work in progress. What would happen if a person made a resolution never to hurt the feelings of another?  That person would fail.

He would fail because it is one thing to have an intention.  It is something else to carry an intention out successfully.  This is true in many aspects of life.  It is particularly true for people going through divorce or who are in the post-divorce period.

When I sit and talk with clients, I find myself asking the question: “What part of this problem can we control?”  It is a good question.  Many times the answer is that we can only control what we say.

In the work I do, what is said and how it is said is very important.  I’ve come to observe that careful language is necessary to live a life unburdened by conflict.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

What We Can Learn From Chickens

October 27, 2016 by pgd1

William Muir of Purdue University has studied the behavior of chickens.  He was interested in productivity.  It is easy to measure in chickens because you just count the eggs.  He wanted to know what could make his chickens more productive, so he devised an experiment. Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations.

Then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding.

After six generations had passed, what did he find?  The first group, the average group, was doing just fine.  They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically.  What about the second group?  Well, all but three were dead.  They’d pecked the rest to death.  The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest. 1

According to Margaret Heffernan, for the past 50 years, we’ve run most organizations and some societies along the superchicken model.  We’ve thought that success is achieved by picking the superstars, the brightest people in the room, and giving them all the resources and all the power.  The result has been just the same as in William Muir’s experiment:  aggression, dysfunction and waste. If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.

The legal profession is another example of the superchicken model, especially when we view the activity of lawyers engaged in litigation. We have an adversarial legal system. Litigation leads clients to choose superlawyers. These lawyers create value for their client’s in a very inefficient way—by defeating, suppressing their opponent.

I’ve had the privilege to talk to persons who have been through nasty, expensive divorces.  No matter the outcome, it is difficult to label either party the “winner” in such a case. The clients are spent emotionally and financially.

I have found that there is a better way.  When lawyers engage in problem solving with an emphasis on cooperation, they create social capital for their clients. Social capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central, transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation, and services are rendered for a common good. 2  After a divorce, it remains a high priority for many clients to retain a respectful, even friendly relationship with their ex-spouse; the existence of common interests, such as children and grandchildren, call for this.

Collaborative law is an increasingly popular way for people to handle the problem of marriage dissolution. This approach starts with the premise that the parties will not litigate.

When a divorce is necessary, discernment is required to avoid the wrong result.  In other words, when you set out to retain your superlawyer, make sure he or she is not a superchicken.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Heffernan, Margaret.  “Forget the Pecking Order at Work”.  Retrieved from:  June 2015.

2 Wikipedia.  Social Capital.

Contract Theory and Family Law

October 20, 2016 by pgd1

Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmstrom won the Nobel prize in economics last week for their research on contract theory.

In the late 1970′s, Holmstrom showed how the optimal contract carefully weighs risks against incentives.

In the 1980′s, Hart contributed to a branch of contract theory that dealt with the optimal allocation of control rights: which party to the contract should be entitled to make decisions in which circumstances. 1

Much of the energy of family lawyers is spent in getting the parties to an agreement, a contract.  This is generally perceived to be in the best interests of the client.

Entering a contract that resolves a family law dispute is inexpensive and efficient when compared to the alternative of litigation.  It is also the method of dispute resolution that gives the parties the most input.

I have tried many cases before judges.  In none of those instances did the judge have superior knowledge than the parties regarding the issues before the court.  The notion that a divorcing couple would prefer to give the decision making authority over the most important and intimate aspects of their lives to a stranger is nonsensical.

Then, many events that occur in a family law context are nonsensical.  Some folks can’t get to a place where common sense prevails.  These people live lives that seem like a surrealistic reality television.

These make for “interesting” cases–and you never want to be a client in an interesting case.  It will cost you a lot in terms of emotional turbulence and fees spent on lawyers and experts.

Reaching an agreement is not an easy task. To get to closure, each party must have incentive to do so.  These incentives include a consideration of how decisions involving children and property are to be made and which party makes the decision.  Proficient mediators and collaborative lawyers spend significant time evaluating each party’s incentives.  The allocation of control rights is observed as an important aspect of divorce resolution.

Contracts are involved in many aspects of post modern life. These aspects involve the resolution of family law disputes.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 “Contract theory earns pair Nobel Economics Prize.”  Jamaica Observer.  October 12, 2016.

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