Megan’s Law – It’s Only Half The Battle

Spend some time in any PTA meeting, Mommy & Me group, or even a playdate with friends and it isn’t long before the conversation turns into a worried discussion about Megan’s Law and the sex offender information that parents can now readily access with just a few clicks of their computer mouse.

Parents everywhere are feverishly checking these websites, sometimes weekly or even daily, to see if a registered sex offender resides nearby. Unfortunately, there are a few flaws in this perceived “safety net” that well-intentioned parents should know.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE proponent of Megan’s Law and the information it provides. I strongly believe that once a sex offender has been released back into the community, the public has the absolute right to know their whereabouts.

But… focusing solely on this component of child safety can do a serious disservice to our kids, IF we stop there.

A Basic Overview of Megan’s Law

Megan’s Law is a federal law, signed on May 17, 1996 by President Bill Clinton. It is named for 7 year old Megan Nicole Kanka of Hamilton Township, New Jersey, who tragically, was sexually abused and killed in 1994 by a twice-convicted pedophile who lived across the street from her home. Unaware of his presence and criminal history, Megan’s parents, Maureen and Richard Kanka, were devastated and outraged. They established the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation and lobbied government officials to create a law which would require all 50 states to release information regarding the presence of convicted sex offenders in our communities. In it’s most basic terms, the law mandates that the public has the right to know the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders once they have been released, and that all 50 states must make this information available to the public.

Many states have created a dedicated Megan’s Law website, to which the public can log onto through their own personal computer and research the data pertinent to their town or local community.

There are several ways you can check the Megan’s Law sex offender register in your state. In my home state of California, the website is meganslaw.ca.gov. To access the information in your state, you can visit familywatchdog.us. This website provides a free national sex offender registry link and also contains excellent safety information. You may also check your state’s Attorney General’s website, your State Police website, or visit megannicolekankafoundation.org.

Only Part of the Solution…

While Megan’s Law is an excellent awareness tool and provides vital information to the public, parents must remember that it can only do so much.

To begin with, a sex offender register is not a perfect system. In some instances, registered offenders may or may not actually be living where they are listed. Depending on which state you live in, you may even have some registered offenders whose whereabouts are not made public due to an exclusionary clause in the law. For example, some offenders fall into the “undisclosed category” – which means they areregistered with the state, but their information is not accessible on the website. According to the California Dept. of Justice, approximately 25% of registered offenders are excluded from public disclosure by law, depending on the type of crime that person has been convicted of.

More importantly, parents must remember that there are plenty of sex offenders out there who simply haven’t been caught, and therefore, are not listed on any register. As a result, we need to protect our kids from those who may be “flying under the radar” as it were.

What’s A Parent To Do?

Be a PRO-ACTIVE parent rather than a REACTIVE one. A PRO-ACTIVE parent can beat a sex offender at their own game. By now, many parents are somewhat familiar with the real statistic that 90% of child sexual abuse happens by someone the child knows, not by a stranger. Since that’s the real issue, it’s time we started looking at prevention education in a way actually protects our children.

Kids need to be taught how to recognize and defend their personal boundaries with adults they interact with. They need to understand what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior from a grown up (or even an older child), and what to do if they get a red flag or “uh-oh” feeling from someone’s improper actions.

In plain English, kids need to know what to do if “Coach Smith” tries to touch a private part of their body, or if a babysitter or relative wants to play a physical “touching game” that just feels weird or “yucky”. These are much more common scenarios than the stranger who may or may not be living down the street.

Megan’s Law is a good start in protecting our kids. Yet, it’s still only half the battle. With smart prevention education in conjunction with Megan’s Law, we can offer each other a real solution to keeping our children safe.

10 Prevention Tips for Parents

1. Don’t equate stranger with danger. Teach your child how to recognize a potentially dangerous action or situation instead. (“Thumbs up or thumbs down!”)

2. Be involved in your child’s activities. As a “visible parent”, you’ll have a better opportunity to observe how other adults interact with your child.

3. Screen caregivers and babysitters carefully. Always check references – no matter who they come recommended by.

4. Pay attention to clues and cues in other adults’ behavior around your child. A predator’s grooming tricks can be very subtle at first. For example, is there someone who continually tries to arrange “alone time” with your child, often working very hard to create the opportunity by using flattery or suggesting outings that don’t include you?

5. Listen to your child, especially if they consistently don’t want to be around a particular person, such as a babysitter, relative, or family friend. They may be sensing “a red flag” that you are unaware of.

6. Let children decide for themselves how they want to express affection. Do not force them to a hug or kiss another person if they don’t want to.

7. Spend quality time with your children. Kids who are starved for affection or attention can be vulnerable targets for a child molester or predator.

8. Be alert to anyone who insists on being physical with your child (hugging, kissing, tickling, wrestling, touching) especially when the child seems uneasy or has asked them to stop.

9. Let children know they have the right to say NO to any unwanted touches or physical attention. It’s okay to say NO even to a grownup or a bigger kid, and then immediately tell a grownup they trust (like mom or dad) as soon as they can.

10. Review and practice basic safety skills with your children often. Children need to hear the information more than just once to really understand.

The Lawyer Business Coach: Humor Means Health! Are Lawyers ‘Legal Eagles’ Or ‘Legal Beagles’?

Yes, I’m a lawyer. Please don’t hold it against me. Many people don’t like lawyers. They say they seldom return phone calls. Others complain that they charge too much money. Many say they don’t speak plain English, and instead speak what is sometimes called ‘legal gobbledegook.’ Some even think lawyers are all crooks.

Many people think lawyers should be eliminated altogether. But America loves lawyers. We have more lawyers, per capita here, than any other nation in the world. When I passed the bar and started law practice, the registration number I was assigned was 2,386. That’s how many lawyers there were in Colorado, USA. If I were to tell you how many Colorado lawyers there are today you wouldn’t believe me and you would think I was lying. By the way, you do know how to tell if a lawyer is lying don’t you? If his mouth is moving.

Again, many people think lawyers should be eliminated altogether. Shakespeare, in Hamlet, has the line, “The first order of business should be to kill all the lawyers.” Heaven forbid! Pogo, our cartoon philosopher friend, gave us an alternative: “Let’s just shorten their legal pads.” This sounds like a much more realistic idea to me. Doesn’t it to you too?

I write different types of articles: business, spiritual, and human development. I call myself ‘The Lawyer Business Coach,’ and ‘The Gospel Coach.’ Most people can understand me writing law-business articles. But many can’t understand me writing spiritual articles. I’ve had people say, “How can you be a lawyer, and a Christian too? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?”

At a funeral service the minister said, “Here lies a lawyer, and a good Christian man.” One fellow asked the minister: “Did they bury two men in the same grave?” But, yes, I do write spiritual articles. My focus is living daily life in the power of the finished work of the gospel of Jesus.

My purpose in these humor articles is simply to give you a greater fondness for us lawyers. Maybe just a greater tolerance for us? Take your pick. Don’t forget to hug your lawyer today. On second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea. Ignore that counsel.

Remember, lawyers are people too. Well, at least most of us. And at least most of the time. Whichever is greater. Or least. Or perhaps both.

Those Legal EAGLES (or is that ‘BEAGLES’?)

Lawyers are the legal eagles of society! We are the custodians of liberty!! We are the protectors of the people!!! We are the stalwarts of justice!!!! We are the upholders of the Constitution!!!!! And if you believe this, then I also have some ocean-front property in Denver, Colorado I want to sell you too.

We all know what an eagle is. It’s a large, gorgeous, strong bird that is the symbol of America herself. We lawyers like to consider ourselves legal eagles. We also all know what beagles are. It is defined as a dog who is a small hound, with a smooth, lavish coat, short legs and drooping ears. They also have a wide throat, and produce a deep growl or fierce bark. This describes a lot of lawyers I know.

It’s Hard For Lawyers To Stay Motivated

It’s especially hard for us lawyers to stay motivated because of all the negative lawyer jokes we hear all the time. I wish people would go back to Pollock jokes. But then I’m not so sure about this either, because Sir Frederick Pollock was a famous English lawyer barrister, and jurist.

I feed myself this stuff because it’s so hard for us lawyers to stay motivated. That is, unless we are suing someone. Why? Because we lawyers are the most enthusiastically negative people in the world. But it’s not without cause.

In defense of lawyers (most of whom need a lot of defense), do you have any idea how difficult it is to stay motivated, enthusiastic, or ‘up’ when you face one negative person or situation after another, hour after hour, all day long?

Law offices are negative, because they consist of lawyers. Also, a lawyers’ secretary is often down in the bumps because of her boss. After all, how would you feel if you were a legal secretary and you were ready to leave work for the day. You pop your head into your bosses’ office and say, “Hey boss, have a good day!” He snarls back at you: “Don’t tell ME what to do!”

That’s how it is in most lawyers’ offices. Wouldn’t this negative atmosphere rub off on you too if you had to work in it constantly?

Of course, clients are usually negative because of the things they are facing – criminal matters, traffic violations, divorces, bankruptcies, corporate problems, contract breeches, and many, many other types of things. When you’re a lawyer, you must handle those negative clients – and then fight with other lawyers and judges on top of that.

At the end of the case you often have to fight your client to collect your fee. Especially if you lose! What a business. It is no wonder lawyers are negative people.

Practicing law is a lot like practicing prostitution. In both cases, the value of services rendered drastically declines – once those services have been performed. It’s because clients don’t like to pay once services have been performed that makes many lawyers collect their fees in advance.

So, we lawyers spend all of our days fighting with everyone we come into contact with. Then we spend our nights worried about the next day’s activities. And you thought being a lawyer was just a lot of fun and games, didn’t you?

Next time we’ll talk about the mixed messages that lawyers often give people.

Personal Injury 101: The Lawyer’s Role

Personal injury lawyers are like dentists: they figure in a lot of jokes, but when you need one, there’s no substitute. Whether it’s a motor vehicle accident, a slip-and-fall in a store or mall, an illness or injury caused by a product, or a piano falling from the fourteenth floor, an attorney specializing in personal injury represents the injured party.

FACTS ABOUT PERSONAL INJURY LAW
When dealing with injury law, a lawyer has some obligations to the client. He must keep his finances and bank accounts completely separate from those related to the case. For example, if opposing counsel (the lawyers on the other side) pay a lawyer $15.00 to copy some records, she cannot put that $15.00 in her pocket. That would be called “commingling” and it is against the law.

Attorney-client privilege is also crucial in injury law. This is another term for confidentiality, just as you expect from a doctor. If you tell your lawyer a fact that might damage your case, he cannot reveal that fact to anyone, whether in public or private.

You must have documented physical, mental, or financial injuries, or you do not have a case.

Once a client has signed with a lawyer, a formal Complaint is filed with the court, outlining what has happened, who is responsible and why. The Complaint also provides a dollar amount to settle the case. To arrive at this figure, the attorney or her staff will research the injuring party, determine how much insurance coverage they have, and tally up your “specials,” or medical bills, directly relating to the accident.

There’s no cost to hire a personal injury lawyer, and the client does not pay a fee until the case is settled to everyone’s satisfaction.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT ATTORNEY
Your personal injury lawyer should be sober and serious. He should keep regular hours and return phone calls promptly. She should answer all your questions and translate the complex jargon known as “legalese” into everyday English. Rude, bullying lawyers may be fun on TV, but in real life a client deserves and should demand professional appearance, demeanor, and respect from an attorney.

TECHNOLOGY & THE LAW
The rise of technology has had an impact on law and the way it is practiced. Your attorney may choose to communicate via e-mail or text messaging. She may maintain a web site or a social-media page that provides information or serves as a forum. It’s wise to ask attorneys how technology impacts their practice and what, if anything, you need to know to keep track of your case.

Every moment of the day and night, an accident happens to someone somewhere. When you have been injured, talk to several lawyers, get recommendations, and choose the one who seems most interested in you and most knowledgeable about your situation. Suing someone is never pleasant, but the process does not have to be a nightmare, if you hire a competent, pleasant, and smart personal injury attorney.