Divorce Mediation

Getting a divorce is never easy. The process of dividing assets is stressful and emotionally draining as well as costly and time consuming. Simply put, divorce court is not a pleasant place. Fortunately, if your marriage is ending, an alternative to divorce court exists: divorce mediation.

Mediation has several advantages over conventional divorce court. You will save time and money if you decide to go through the mediation process. You and your spouse can sidestep going to divorce court, which will shorten the process so you can get closure sooner. Also, you spare yourself a public battle over, what is oftentimes matters, that are very personal nature. It also cuts down the caseload for the overtaxed Family Court system, making the process more effective.

A mediator is a third party, who has no vested interest in the outcome of the proceedings, so the process is fair to everyone involved. They stand to gain nothing, and so they can remain completely objective. The objectivity allows them to see solutions to problems that the divorcing spouses and their attorneys would not normally consider.

Nothing a mediator suggests is binding unless both spouses agree to the terms. If a solution that is acceptable to both parties cannot be reached, then the spouses do not have to abide by what the mediator decides. In divorce court, whatever the judge says, goes. You are more likely to come to an acceptable agreement if you are able to participate in the negotiation every step of the way.

Divorce mediations are a confidential process. There is no court reporter in the room taking down everything you say. Any notes that the mediator takes are thrown away immediately after the process is complete. You will never have to worry about your “dirty laundry” being aired in public, and you will not have to face the embarrassment of talking about the worst aspects of your marriage in a courtroom.

If you choose mediation, ending your marriage can be simpler, more civil, and more civilized. While conventional divorce court often focuses on the conflict between spouses, mediation focuses on finding the resolution to the conflict. Coming to an agreement in the presence of an objective third party can make the process of divorce smoother, and will help everyone reach an acceptable agreement so you can end your marriage with dignity.

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Accident Reconstruction

If you’ve been injured in a serious car accident, accident reconstruction can be one of the most important aspects of a proper investigation. Accident reconstruction is the scientific process of analyzing car accidents. A good accident reconstructionist can provide evidence about how the car crash happened and may be especially important if no witnesses were present.

Accident reconstructionists vist the site of accidents, taking measurements, and closely examining the road and vehicles to determine areas of impact through gouge marks and other physical evidence. They carefully measure skid marks and crush on the vehicles to determine the cause of impact. Calculations concerning the conservation of linear momentum often play a key role in determining speed, direction of travel, braking and other extremely valuable information. A good accident reconstructionist (sometimes called an accident deconstructionist) also utilizes modern technology such as on-board computers (PCM), for crash data reporting (CDR). In some cases, especially involving police and law enforcement vehicles a dash-camera and digital photography can be used to determine who is at fault. Even if science and technology isn’t as common as it is on TV shows like CSI and Law and Order, it is nevertheless being used more than ever to provide legal evidence in ordinary courts around the country, like the ones that have jurisdiction over your case.

If your personal injury case goes to trial, accident reconstructionists can present their findings to juries as expert witnesses. With modern technology, instead of relying on the jury’s imagination to explain how an accident occurred, accident reconstructionists can physically show them in the form of forensic animation, a computer-generated accident video based upon their findings. Of course, with this new technology, it is possible for unethical accident reconstructionists to skew their findings to support the party who is at fault. Injured people can lose a case if their presentation isn’t as professional or slick as the other side, because it is easier to believe what you can see. For this very reason, if you’ve been injured in an accident, it is necessary to find an attorney with a knowledgeable network of accident reconstructionists, who can use science to help you present the facts of your case with polish. And, just as importantly, to refute biased accident reconstruction that has been engaged in by unscrupulous “experts.”

When you select a lawyer for a personal injury case, it is essential that you select someone with experience. But an almost equally important factor is selecting a lawyer with a network of professionals in other fields to call upon to help their clients. Having a good expert witness is often the factor that makes a difference in a lawsuit. At Roberts and Blackledge, we always put together a team of people so your case is always in the hands of a professional, no matter what specific field your case might involve. We make sure that full advantage is taken of new science and technology, so that it will serve you in your legal matter.

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Civil Rights and Constitutional Protection–Police Misconduct

The primary civil rights enforcement statute, 42 USC 1983, gives access to the courts to sue governmental parties, such as law enforcement, to defend a citizen whose Constitutional Rights have been violated. A person can bring an action for police misconduct or brutality in federal court to demand damages for rights violated in the process of arrest, imprisonment, personal injury or denial of medical care by the state. It is within your rights to file a lawsuit whether the municipal authorities, the county sheriff or even state and federal agencies exercise improper conduct.

This powerful statute says the following:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or theDistrict of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress…

Whether the case arises out of false identification, arrest without probable cause or use of excessive force (like using a firearm or tazer, or beating with a club or a flashlight when it is not warranted), if the person acting on behalf of the state or the government crosses the line and becomes a violator of the law, instead of an enforcer and protector under the law, then a citizen can seek remedy. The rights of Due Process guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protects individuals from abuse by the government. In other words, the law states that no one is above the law.

The Bill of Rights is perhaps the most important limitation on governmental power in the history of humanity. These limitations are part of what makes our country great—our government allows the people to oppose the government, so our system is truly “of the people, by the people, for the people.” We can exercise the rights guaranteed to us as citizens of the United States in the courts through judicial authority and civil rights legislation. It is true that some direct lawsuits have direct immunity from being prosecuted under the government, but a qualified lawyer can help guide you through the process of a civil rights claim.

Robin L. Roberts, managing partner at Roberts and Blackledge has handled dozens of civil rights lawsuits and claims in federal court. Our firm is small, but we believe in standing up for what is right, even if it opposes conventional authority.

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Everyone Should Have A Will

Death is a taboo topic. No one likes to think about the idea of dying, especially if they are young and completely healthy. We think about older or sick people making wills in preparation for death, so we assume that making an estate plan doesn’t apply to us. But as many of us have learned the hard way, we should always be prepared for anything life could throw at us, death included.

Recently, my brother-in-law’s family lost a loved one way before his time. Ben was 29 and had two small daughters. I don’t know whether he had a will or not, but it made me think about preparing an estate plan. Tragedy can strike at any time and it’s my job as a lawyer to help my clients and friends plan for the worst case scenario, even as we hope for the best.

If you have property or money that you want to direct to another person after your death, you should make a will. If you die without a will, the state you live in will decide who gets your property or money based on the law, rather than your wishes. For example, if you were unmarried with no children and died suddenly without a will, your parents would get your property—even if you were estranged from them.

Any time you have a life-changing event, you should review your will, and if necessary, make changes that reflect your present situation. If you get divorced, remarry, have children, or even buy a vacation home, you should have your will updated. Wills shouldn’t be kept secret—it will be much easier for your wishes to be carried out if the instructions are accessible and clear. Make sure your family knows where to find the latest copy of your will and keep it in a fireproof lock box.

As a young person, I don’t particularly like to think about death. On the other hand, if something bad happened, I would certainly want to minimize the expense and headache for my family. Taking the time to think about what you would want and planning for it might even make your mind easier. Please give us a call today to set up your estate plan!

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Debt Collection in Healthcare: Part III

Debt Collection in Healthcare: How to Collect Debts Efficiently and Legally

PART III: The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA)

What is the FDCPA?
The FDCPA was established to protect consumers from unfair treatment at the hands of debt collectors. Failure to comply with any part of the act’s strict guidelines and requirements can result in sizeable fines, penalties and judgments. Therefore it is critical that you become familiar with the FDCPA’s regulations to avoid legal action being taken against you and your organization. Not only do you need to understand and abide by collections law, but you need to know the strategies and techniques that will help you easily and effectively contact and deal with debtors.

Who is a debt collector under the FDCPA?
· The term “debt collector” means any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another. The term includes any creditor who, in the process of collecting his own debts, uses any name other than his own which would indicate that a third person is collecting or attempting to collect such debts.
· Although the statute does not expressly distinguish between a “debt collector” and a creditor collecting its own debts, the statute does specifically exclude from the definition of “debt collector” a person collecting or attempting to collect a “debt which was originated by such person.”

Am I subject to the FDCPA?
· Simple question, complicated answer.
· The general answer is NO. If you are collecting a debt that your facility originated, you are considered a creditor and NOT subject to the FDCPA.
· However, you must be using your facility’s name in all collection attempts. If a facility itself attempts to collect the debts as a parent company, then the facility may become a “debt collector” and subject to the strict requirements of the FDCPA.

What is prohibited by the FDCPA?

The act prohibits certain types of “abusive and deceptive: conduct when attempting to collect debts, including the following:
· Hours for contact: contacting consumers by telephone outside the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. local time
· Failure to cease communication upon request: communicating with consumers in any way (other than litigation) after receiving written notice that said consumer wishes no further communication or refuses to pay the alleged debt, with certain exceptions, including advising that collection efforts are being terminated or that
· Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously: with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.
· Communicating with consumers at their place of employment after having been advised that this is unacceptable or prohibited by the employer.
· Contacting a consumer know to be represented by an attorney.
· Seeking unjustified amounts, wich would include demanding any amounts not permitted under an applicable contract or as provided under applicable law.
· Threatening arrest or legal action that is either not permitted or not actually contemplated..
· Abusive or profane language used in the course of communication related to debt.
· Communication with third parties: revealing or discussing the nature or debts with third parties (other than the consumer’s spouse or attorney)
o Collection agencies are allowed to contact neighbors of co-workers but only to obtain location information;
o Contact by embarrassing media, such as communicating with a consumer regarding a debt by post card, or suing any envelope when communicating with a consumer any use of the mails or by telegram, except that a debt collector may use his business name if such name does not indicate that he is in the debt collection business.
· Reporting false information on a consumer’s credit report or threatening to do so in the process of collection
· Communicating with consumer after request for validation has been made: communicating with the consumer or the pursuing collection efforts by the debt collector after receipt of a consumer’s written request for verification of a debt made within the 30 day validation period

FDCPA requires debt collectors to:
· Identify themselves and notify the consumer in every communication that the communication is from a debt collector, and in the initial communication that ny information obtained will be used to effect collection of the debt.
· Give the name and address of the original creditor (company to which the debt was originally payable) upon the consumer’s written request made within 30 days of the receipt of the §1692g notice
· Notify the consumer of their right to dispute the debt, in part or in full, with the debt collector.
o The 30-day §1692g notice is required to be sent by debt collectors within five days of the initial communication with the consumer, if a consumer needs a written dispute or request for verification within 30 days of receiving the §1692g notice, then the debt collector must either mail the consumer the requested verification information or cease collection efforts altogether.
o Such asserted disputes must also be reported by the creditor to any credit bureau that reports the debt. Consumers may still dispute a debt verbally or after the thirty-day period has elapsed, but doing so waives the right to compel the debt collector to produce verification of the debt. Verification should include at a minimum the amount owed and the name and address of the original creditor.

In a nutshell…
· All mail or collection attempts must be made in the name of each individual care center, or you may be subject to the stringent requirements of the FDCPA
· Always identify yourself as a representative from the care facility to which the debt is owed.
· If your facility originated the debt you are a creditor collecting your own debt and not subject to the FDCPA.

It is more beneficial to be categorized as a creditor:
· Less liability
· More techniques available for effective collection
· Did we mention LESS LIABILITY? Oh, okay. Well, LESS LIABILITY

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Debt Collection in Healthcare: Part II

Debt Collection in Healthcare: How to Collect Debts Efficiently and Legally

PART II: Techniques to improve your debt collection now.

CLEARLY OUTLINE RESPONSIBILITY FOR PAYMENT.
Make sure you have a Terms of Payment procedure visibly posted at the front of the office. New patients need to clearly understand what they are expected to pay up-front. This needs to be clarified before services are rendered.

Authority to Make Healthcare Decisions
Decisions can be legally made by:
· The patient (if mentally and physically competent)
· A designated agent under an advanced healthcare directive
· Healthcare surrogate (under MS Code. Ann Sec. 41-41-211)

Helpful facts to know about collecting debt:
· The longer an account goes unpaid, the more difficult it becomes to collect.
· Timing is everything. No account, with the exception of the government or certain medical claims should be uncollected for more than 90 days.
· By 120 days, very serious measures should be taken. After the original billing goes out, a notice should be sent once the due date has passed.

Keep up the good work!
· Notices should be sent out at 30/60/90 days.
· Utilize collection letters.
· Phone calls should be attempted to reach the responsible party.

Make the phone calls count!
· Confidence: When calling past-due customers or debtors, communicating confidence is key. You have to stay in control of the call, and the only way to do this is by being confident and prepared.
· Documentation: Document all collection efforts, including when you called, with whom you spoke, and what was said. Also include anything else you think might be important to someone who might call or take a call from the debtor, so they know the status of the account and the payment.

Tips for making debt collection calls:
· Smile: Come up with a greeting that says you’re pleasant and confident. When your customer answers the phone and realizes you’re calling about a past due invoice, they’re not going to he happy. You want to portray confidence and not a dull, boring message. Smile when you talk on the phone; it will be noticeable in your voice.
· Speak Up: You voice should be lound enough to be heard and convey confidence—not too loud but not too soft. You want your debtor to hear you and understand what you’re saying.
· Focus: Maintain virtual eye contact by staying focused on the call. Don’t check your email or watch other people in the office. Sit up straight in your chair and imagine that the debtor is sitting across from you.
· Relax: Use your face, voice and posture to portray your confidence over the phone and in person.

If you use these techniques, you’ll collect more money and have better results from the collection calls you make. Make your calls in the most effective way the first time, so you don’t have to continue making them—and risk letting the debtor take control of the call.

For suggestions in developing long-range debt collection solutions, see Part I: Changes You Can Make In Your Debt Collection Policies and Procedures

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Debt Collection in Healthcare: Part I

Debt Collection in Healthcare: How to Collect Debts Efficiently and Legally

Collecting money owed to your organization can be an exercise in frustration if you’re not familiar with strategies that get results and keep you legally compliant with government guidelines. This three-part series will help you make changes in your debt collection policies and procedures to increase effectiveness, aid you in collecting debt right now, and educate you about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

PART I: Changes you can make in your debt collection policies and procedures.

Make sure you get all the facts.
· Collect ample and accurate patient information during the admissions process.
· Get the work information, address, phone number of the patient AND the information concerning the person checking them in or signing as the responsible party.
· The more information you can get, the better for collection purposes.
· The more points of contact you can establish with the patient’s family or caretakers, the better. If the account becomes delinquent, this will aid collection efforts.

Consider different payment options.
· Checks
· Cash
· Credit Cards
· Debit Cards
· Automatic Bank Draft

Solutions for checks bouncing:
· Credit Reporting services such as Equifax
· Service such as Telecheck or other providers that utilize leading risk assessment technology, extensive check writer negative and activity databases to evaluate the risk of accepting a check.

Daily Practice pointer for checks:
Scan or copy each check received from a patient. This ensures that you have access to account information contained on the check should the check bounce or the account later become delinquent. For instance, this information can be used for garnishment of the account.

What is Risk Assessment Technology?
· Services use leading risk assessment technology, extensive check writer negative and activity databases to evaluate the risk of accepting a check.
· Some companies offer verification and warranty service options so you can determine the risk coverage level that is right for your organization.
· Electronic check acceptance (ECA), checks can be converted to electronic transactions at the POS to streamline processing and get you the money you are owed faster.
Advantages of using a Risk Assessment system:
· Make fewer trips to the bank.
· Reduce bank fees and processing costs.
· Improve cash flow and operational efficiencies.
· Streamline back office operations.
· Reduce the risk of lost, stolen or damaged checks.
· Protect your customers’ personal information.

Pre-Authorization of Credit Card:
Consider adding a provision to the payment policy which give the facility the right to hold a credit card number and to charge that card in the event that the account becomes more than 30 days past due.

Credit Checks:
Consider adding a provision to the agreement or a separate agreement, which authorizes the facility or its agents to conduct a full credit check at the time of admission or if the account becomes delinquent by over 30 days.

Advantages of using an Automatic Bank Draft:

For Your Business
· Enhanced customer service through a non-interest bearing payment option.
· Saves your business money compared to paying credit card fees. It is much more cost-effective to have customers utilize the automatic bank draft option because it is set as a flat fee, NOT a percentage like credit card fees.
· Helps managers lower A/R percentages.
· Reduces billing and collection letters.
· Reduces collection work for managers so they can focus on new business.

For Patients and their families
· Convenient
· Less worry. Life is stressful enough without the worry of paying bills on time.
· No phone tag.
· No late fees.
· No reminder calls.
· No credit card interest.
· No costly last-minute trips to deliver payment.

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Roberts and Blackledge case featured on Courthouse News

Our most recent filing in Federal Court was featured today on the front page of Courthouse News.

Cop Rape                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Greene County Sheriff’s Officer Gerald Wayne Pugh forcibly raped a girl in his squad car after a high school football game, and still works for the sheriff at Greene County High School, the girl and her mother claim in Federal Court.

To see the page, please visit the New Complaints section on the Courthouse News page, at http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/03/03/New_Complaints.htm

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Roberts Appointed to Mississippi Opera Board

Robin Roberts, a local attorney with the firm of Roberts and Blackledge, has been elected to serve on the board of directors of Mississippi Opera. Roberts, has been active in Hattiesburg as a performer, supporter of the arts and legal advisor to arts organizations. He has served as legal counsel for the Mississippi Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, the Mississippi Music Teachers Association and the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Roberts is a charter member of the Hattiesburg Concert Association and has served on the advisory board of Carey Dinner Theatre.

Roberts is married to soprano Connie Day Roberts, an active performer and a Professor of Music at William Carey University. She also serves on the Mississippi Opera Board, as well as the board of Festival South.

Jay Dean, Conductor of the USM Symphony Orchestra, is in his first year as artistic director at Mississippi Opera, now the 10th oldest Opera company in the United States. Under Dean’s leadership, the board has actively been seeking members throughout the state of Mississippi.

The Mississippi Opera will present The Barber of Seville at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson, Mississippi on Saturday, April 9, 2011, at 7:30 p.m.

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Travel Restrictions in Child Custody Agreements

In years past, it has been a common practice to include provisions in child custody agreements stating that each parent of a child must gain the other’s approval before moving a certain distance away from one another. At first glance, this may seem like a reasonable request. And if neither party has any desire to move away from a small, local set of friends or family, such an agreement is no hardship. However, our society has become increasingly mobile.  Every day, millions of people commute to work, often in different cities from where we live. It’s no longer unusual for ordinary people to rack up hundreds, often thousands of frequent flier miles within the course of a year.  And in a depressed economy where jobs are scarce, more and more people are forced to relocate to ensure their employment for the continued well-being of their children. 

Therefore, in light of our society’s technological advances in the field of travel, it has become impractical to place restrictions on mobility and travel in child custody agreements. Courts across the country and in Mississippi have found such restrictions to be not only impractical, but also unconstitutional.

 In Bell v. Bell, the Mississippi Supreme Court refused to enforce an agreement between parents stating that their children be reared in a specific community. The right to travel is specifically granted in the Constitution, so it violates a person’s constitutional rights if an agreement prohibits their mobility.

 When a custodial parent relocates and puts large distances between the non-custodial parent and child, many times the knee jerk reaction is to seek a custody modification. A change in the visitation schedule may be necessary to ensure that a child continues to see his or her parents in a fair approximation of an original custody agreement.  But with the new case law in place, a custodial parent’s relocation is insufficient grounds for modification of child custody. 

Although it has been ruled unconstitutional to restrict a custodial parent’s relocation, the important thing to remember is that family courts always consider what is in the best interests of the child. The court system encourages parents to cooperate with one another, and to remember to look out for a child’s best interests as well, when making the difficult decision of any relocation.

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