IRS says: Beware phone scam

New IRS phone scam threatens immediate arrest

IRS phone scam

art by Anecdoteak

by Norman Short, Partner
A new and vicious phone scam has reached the Puget Sound area in which the caller poses as an IRS (Internal Revenue Service) agent and dramatically threatens immediate arrest. I’ve received a report of a phone call made to one of our clients. The phony agent used a dramatic, threatening voice. He said that she owed back taxes and fees. If she didn’t pay that day with a prepaid card, she would be arrested at once. The threatening voice then recited her address and gave her a number to call to pay.

Needless to say, she was terrified. Fortunately, she had the presence of mind to check it out with the IRS.

IRS agents will not contact you by phone

There are very rare exceptions to this rule. If you do get a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, tell them you will call the IRS. Then, ask for identification, including badge number. No legitimate agent will object to your checking out his or her validity. Call the IRS verification number: 800-366-4484. These scams come and go and cost their victims millions financially, as well as emotional pain. The IRS just issued a warning a few days ago. So, be prepared and prepare others in your household to respond calmly to this vicious phone scam.

In fact, the IRS states:

The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

You may want to check out the IRS resource page on scams for more information. If you have been a victim of one of these scams, use this U. S. Treasury report form.

Norman Short, a Partner at GSJones Law Group, focuses on financial law. He earned an advanced law degree (LL.M) in tax law in 1992 and was admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court in 1995. He helps people with tax issues, business formation, and estate planning law.

Ginger Johnson speaks on saving medical records costs

Saving clients thousands on medical records

It used to cost thousands of dollars for lawyers to obtain medical records for clients. Then the HITECH Act mandated electronic health record use and set new rates. HITECH also speeds up processing of claims and lawsuits. The savings are enormous. It is also difficult to use. Too often medical providers apply the rates that Washington State allows, rather than the rates set by federal rules. Records that may cost several thousand dollars under state law, only cost a few dollars using the federal rules.

Ginger Johnson leads statewide training

GSJones paralegal Ginger Johnson has become an expert in obtaining these records. Recently she shared this knowledge as the featured speaker in a regular legal training series offered by the EAGLE Program of the Washington State Association for Justice.  Her presentation and Q&A was very well received. Several of the many paralegals in attendance wrote to praise the training.

Congratulations, Ginger!

Travel Information for Immigrants

Immigration Law

We advise all immigrants who are not U.S. citizens to refrain from travel outside the United States until the matter of the Travel Ban is settled, regardless of your country of origin. Even for people who have lawful permanent residency, there is an element of risk in returning to the U.S. The Executive Order requires overhauling the rules and procedures for vetting. Thus, the conditions for re-entry may change for every non-citizen over time. We are following the changes and will update our website immigration page as they change. Currently, the Travel Ban is on hold and people with Visas and permanent status are being allow entry. The administration has not announced if they will appeal the stay or hold on their ban. In the meantime, Judge Rickart in Seattle is proceeding with deciding whether or not the Travel Ban is constitutional.

Updates

2/15/17 – There are now at least three lawsuits in federal courts around the country and discovery will begin soon in two of those courts. The administration is giving stronger indications that it will rewrite the Travel Ban to make it more acceptable. There are indications that should they issue a new Travel Ban it will be challenged in federal court also. Should that happen, there is no agreement as to whether federal judges would halt the enforcement of the new order temporarily.

happiness and lawyers

Happiness and lawyers


We don’t usually associate happiness and lawyers. Yet consider: What does it take to make us happy? Many psychologists tell us that choice and control over our environment have a lot to do with our happiness. When we feel stuck in situations, we are unhappy. Many times we have choices that we refuse to see or refuse to use because we are afraid to act on them.

Sometimes visiting a lawyer can help us clarify our choices. Then we can take take on our roadblocks to happiness with an experienced guide beside us. In other words, we can make ourselves happier.

Give me some examples of happiness and lawyers

You may have a great idea for a business but have been holding back, because you don’t know what kind of business type is best. Now is a good to time set up an appointment with a business attorney.

Do your custody arrangements no longer work for your family? You’re tired of trying to work things out with your ex, right. Explaining things to your family law attorney and putting his or her experience to work for you may increase your family happiness.

Maybe making sure your family is taken care of if you should die is nagging at you. Getting a will or estate plan will end that nagging.

Did you receive an injury and believe that the other person was at fault? Schedule a session with a lawyer who can give you an honest assessment.

Are constant phone calls from debt collectors driving your crazy? Explore your options with an attorney who deals with consumer law.

Resolve that in 2017, you will take control of your life and be happy.

holiday child custody tips

Holiday child custody tips

by David Jones, Family Law Attorney and Partner, GSJones Law Group, P.S.


For divorced and separated parents Christmas time can be very difficult, especially the children. Holiday child custody issues add to the holiday craziness.

The holiday season can be crazy anyway, but when you add in the emotion of the parents wanting to spend quality time with their children, it can be overwhelming. The parents must remember it is also a very emotional time for the children. It can be all the more significant for young children of recently-separated parents.

First year after separation: Decrease children’s anxiety.

If it is the first Christmas since the separation and the children are, say 12 or under, know that the children will be unsure what will happen during the holidays. Thus, they will be filled with anxiety about the holidays. In some cases, they may even be blaming themselves for the break-up. Especially at this time of year, traditionally full of joy and family, the child may feel guilty about the separation of the family.

Guidelines

There are as many holiday scenarios as there are families. Here are some general guidelines. The younger the child and the more recent the break, the more important these guidelines become.

  1. Shield children from details of divorce.
  2. Don’t involve children in custody discussions.
  3. Don’t ask children what they want.
  4. Put the children’s best interests above your own.
  5. Try to divide time equitably with your ex, given the situation
  6. If disagreements arise about child custody that remain unresolved, make accommodations necessary with your ex and consult your custody attorney in the new year about resolving the matter for the future.

Note for parents that don’t celebrate Christmas

The specific examples in this guide focus on families that celebrate Christmas. All families will find that the general guidelines outlined above will be helpful. Families with more than one faith tradition may find it more difficult to iron out the difficulties on the fly. It is especially important in multi faith environments to work out details in advance.

Shield children from details of the divorce and negotiations over custody

In all cases, parents should not discuss the divorce action with their children. That guideline in more important during the holidays. The best the parents can do is work together to put the children first and schedule time with both parents to spend with the children without involving the children in the discussions or asking them what they want to do.

Equitable arrangements

If there are no reasons to restrict anyone’s visits during the holiday season, it is best to equalize the time each parent is spending with the children. Of course for young children. the golden time is Christmas morning. This time should be alternated on an odd/even basis with the children.

In parenting plans, when there are no reasons to restrict parents and where they live close to one another, I advocate dividing the winter break for school age children. I encourage my clients to propose that one parent gets the first half of winter break starting the day school lets out. Set the transfer time for Christmas Day at around 2:00 pm.

The other parent returns the day before the children go back to school, if they are the non-custodial parent. This plan has the advantage of each parent having part of Christmas with one getting the golden time in the morning and the other getting the children for Christmas Dinner.

While one parent will get both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, the offset is that the other parent gets the longer period of time before school starts. Each year the parents alternate having the child first. I also advise that the parent who is not getting Christmas Eve and Christmas morning gets Thanksgiving for that year from Wednesday to Sunday.

Tweaks for holiday child custody issues

Family traditions may require changes to this simple plan. Maybe one parent’s family celebrates Christmas with a get together every Christmas Eve or Christmas Eve service is important. The parent with the Christmas Eve tradition may keep the children until late on the 24th with the other parent keeping the children for all of Christmas Day.

The parents without the children on Christmas morning may also decide to do gift exchange on the 26th.

The parents can also count out the days on winter break and make the exchange on the middle day at a certain time.

Solving distance problems

For short distances, say Kitsap County to Spokane, I still encourage my clients to split winter break on an odd/even basis. If the distance is Kitsap County to Philadelphia, for instance, it may be best to alternate winter break annually, rather split the break in two.

The type of long distance plan you choose will depend on age and emotional make up of children.

The judges will agree to any of the above schedules, if the parents agree to it.

Don’t involve children in planning

I always encourage my clients to work out the schedule on their own without input or discussions with the children. This can be done in person, if the parents can still communicate. If in-person communication causes yelling matches, use email. If  communication is even more difficult, use Our Family Wizard.  The program provides a tool for parents who cannot get along to communicate with each other calmly and effectively. It also provides other services such as shared medical records.

Have a wonderful holiday full of joy. Act in the spirit of the season, if disagreements arise. And consult your custody attorney in January to prevent the problems next holiday.

4 ways to break a lease

lease“Can I break my lease?” was the first question posed by a Facebook friend. We created an opportunity for people to suggest topics they would like more information about. If you need to get out of your lease, Washington State law has four loopholes for renters with leases. If none of these fit your situation, look for a way to minimize your financial loss at the end of this post.

The options are pretty stringent.

You may break your lease:

  1. If you enter active uniformed federal service after you sign the lease. This federal law protects you if you enter the Armed Forces, commissioned corps of NOAA, or of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard. It also applies if you are in service and receive orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy with a military unit for a period of not less than 90 days.
  2. If your house or apartment is unlivable. The law covers such major problems as a lack of water or heat in the winter. Using this remedy is cumbersome and time consuming. As a result, avoid going through the whole process, if possible. Consider consulting an attorney or a free legal clinic.
  3. If you are a victim of domestic violence or stalking. You must report the crime. But once you do, the process is much easier than other options and the crime victims unit of the police department or prosecutor’s office will help you.
  4. If your landlord harasses you or violates your privacy. Strict laws govern when and how your landlord may enter your dwelling. They must give two days notice, unless showing the dwelling to potential renters.  In that case, they must give one day notice. Fair housing law prohibits sexual harassment by your landlord. Be sure to make notes of dates and what is said and done. Then report them to the Washington State Human Rights Commission.  Physical or threatening sexual harassment should be reported to the police.

Landlords must re-rent

Most of the ways to break a lease involve a lot of time and trouble. And there are plenty of great reasons that may make moving a good plan that aren’t covered by the laws. You may change jobs or get a raise and find your dream house. You may get married or or add to your family. The easiest way out is to get your place rented to someone else. You remain on the hook for the rent until the time your place is re-rented or the lease ends.

Your landlord must make reasonable effort to re-rent your place. That’s the law. Once that happens, your lease obligation ends. Give your landlord a hand for even faster relief. Post the availability of your place on facebook and other social media. Spread the word at work, school and church.

Helpful references

Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

With deep gratitude for the awesome gifts of a glorious universe and our lives,
may we live to bless the world and each other with our care.
Amen

The Partners and Staff

Beware Jury Duty Scam

The Kitsap County Sheriff warns of a phone scam. A man is phoning folks in the West Sound area and informing them that they need to pay a large sum of money to avoid going to court for failure to show for jury duty.  A few of the details are summarized below, based on the Sheriff’s warning. The details may change as the scammer makes changes. If you get any kind of notice that you owe a court fee for a violation, check with the court or the sheriff’s office, before taking action.

Details

Contact: by phone

Caller: man who identifies as a court investigator with the Sheriff’s Department, sound credible

Threat: Warrant issued for your arrest

Demand:  avoid arrest and erase (or “quash”) the warrant by paying a sum of money via a prepaid card, such as Green Dot prepaid Visa or MasterCard debit card, MoneyPak card, etc.

Usual amount: $2,000

Read the official notice.

Yasmin Clark & Tort Reform

tort reform vs children

Peter Klashorst (1957) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tort reform limits justice for children

by John Groseclose, Partner

Tort reform has been sold to us as an easy way to reduce high medical costs and frivolous lawsuits.  More accurately, tort reform limits the ability for ordinary people to get justice in our courts. It also makes us less safe. A tort is harm caused to a person by the actions or inactions of a person or corporation.

Here’s the story of young Yasmin Clark.

There are several forms that tort reform takes. One form raises the criteria so high that those harmed can’t file for relief at all. Consider the case of Yasmin Clark.

Yasmin was hospitalized as a toddler and again at 5 years old for severe lead poisoning due to inhaled paint particles. She had 10 times the level that recently raised the alarm in children in Flint, MI. She continues to suffer significant irreversible neurological damage due to the neurotoxin lead, according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf in 2006, after the second hospitalization. Cognitive and developmental damage is well documented, even at levels lower than Yasmin’s.

Tort reform could deny Yasmin her day in court.

Symptoms of lead poisoningTen years after she filed a lawsuit, her guardian ad litem and she continue to fight for justice and the funds she needs counteract the damage done to her by the lead paint. The case has not yet come to trial. There have been many delays and several causes. One of the most egregious is the tort reform measures passed in Wisconsin while the case was in the courts.

Two “reform” measures are under a pay-for-play cloud

In 2011, several politicians in Wisconsin were facing a recall election. They had an urgent need to replenish campaign war chests. New evidence shows that they turned to paint manufactures with cases before Wisconsin courts, among others. A special investigation ordered by a judge into campaign funding uncovered emails and other documents that relate to what appears to be a pay-for-play scheme to raise funds.

NL, a defendant in Yasmin’s lawsuit, donates $750,000

The governor immediately asked his chief fundraiser for a plan. Among her first recommendations via email were to go after the “national tort reform community” for donations. The appeal she named was legislation. She specifically named IRL, presumably the IRL Group Limited which produces paint.

One of the major contributors to the campaign fund was Contran Corp, which owned NL Industries. NL is a paint manufacturer. Before the recall, the legislature had passed a “tort reform” law which made it impossible to sue paint manufactures. It required that the victim be able to prove that the airborne lead they inhaled was manufactured by the specific paint company. Since lead paint is very old and mostly in building that were rented, it is impossible to prove. It would have prevented Yasmin’s lawsuit altogether, if she had not filed five years earlier.

New law attempted when last of $750,000 arrived

The legislation, which did not pass at that time, was design to make the earlier ban retroactive. It meant that Yasmin could not recover the damages lead paint had caused.

Yet, RL persisted until the law was passed. In 2013, with the help of a RL lobbyist, they enacted the law that bars Wisconsin children who have been damaged by lead paint from getting medical bills, rehabilitation and living costs paid. This time it included Jasmin and all the other children in her lawsuit.

After 10 years there are still more delays

Both versions of the Wisconsin tort reform laws are being appealed. Waiting for the appeals to take place is yet another delay in a long list of delays for Jasmin and the other children. Their lawsuit was returned from the state Supreme Court to the Court of Appeals, recently based on a separate technical issue. Remember, these delays and appeals all are occurring before Jasmin’s case ever gets a hearing. At this rate, Jasmin may never get the compensation she needs and deserves.

Another function of these kinds of legislation is to run out the clock so that those who put our safety in jeopardy never have to pay. It makes the calculations when corporations know they are producing a harmful product easy. With tort reform laws in place it is cheaper to sell defective products and pay out small amount to those who are hurt or killed, than it is to make the changes needed to create a safe product.