Inside the New Multnomah County Courthouse

Sneak A Peek Inside the New Multnomah County Courthouse

We are excited to share a sneak peek into the new public building with this 4 minute video.

  • SYK is a founding member of the MBF CourtSupport program, which is funding the CourtNavigator at the new Multnomah County Courthouse
  • SYK Partner Victoria Blachly is the secretary/treasurer for the Multnomah Bar Foundation (“MBF”), which is the charitable arm of the MBA
  • SYK Partner and manager Tim Resch is on the board for the Multnomah Bar Association (“MBA”)
  • SYK Partner Leslie Johnson is on the MBA Court Liaison Committee

Victoria Blachly: SYK AttorneyVictoria Blachly is a partner and chair of SYK’s Fiduciary Practice Group. She is a trial attorney, representing individual trustees, corporate trustees, beneficiaries, and personal representatives in often difficult and challenging cases.

New Podcast from Chris Cline at Riverview Trust Company

One of the #silverlinings of the 2020 COVID-19 situation is that people are doing some really creative things to help educate folks and make their communities better. In this occasional series, we like to highlight the neat things that friends of our firm are doing.

Christopher Cline is the President and CEO of Riverview Trust Company. Chris has been an important part of the local Trusts and Estates community for quite some time and we have a number of common clients. He just started a podcast to explain some of the basics of estate planning in a really user-friendly way. I like it because these are questions that clients may think are too basic to ask, but really need to know. I’m going to encourage my Mom to take a listen. Chris’s podcast is on Spotify now and will be on and Apple and Google soon. Definitely check it out!

https://riverviewtrust.com/resources/podcast/

Valerie Sasaki specializes in jurisdictional tax consulting, working closely with Fortune 50 companies involved in audits before the Oregon or Washington Departments of Revenue. She also works with business owners on tax, business, and estate planning issues in Oregon or Southwest Washington.

Emojis in Court: The Rise of Case References

Emoji Court

With colorful caricatures ranging from mind-blown facial expressions 🤯 to coconut shrimp 🍤, there are hundreds of emojis to express a multitude of different feelings, thoughts, and emotions. In the last decade, emoji have cemented a permanent place in the world of e-communications. Emoji now represent a diverse array of skin tones ✋✋🏻✋🏽✋🏿 and physical disability 🦾 🦿. Oxford Dictionaries’ 2015 Word of the Year was awarded to the Face with Tears of Joy Emoji 😂. It should stand as no surprise that everyone’s favorite new way to communicate has permeated its way into our legal system.

Let’s start with the prevalence of emoji in our virtual vernacular. According to Slate, 92{45ef85514356201a9665f05d22c09675e96dde607afc20c57d108fe109b047b6} of the online population uses emoji. As of 2016, 2.3 trillion mobile messages incorporate emoji annually as of 2016. That means nearly 10 trillion emoji-laced messages have been sent in the past four years.

According to The Verge, emoji and emoticon references in U.S. court cases rose exponentially between 2004 and 2019. Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, leading researcher on emoji references in court opinions, noted that 30{45ef85514356201a9665f05d22c09675e96dde607afc20c57d108fe109b047b6} of all U.S. Court opinions now reference emoji or emoticons. In 2017, an Israeli couple was charged thousands of dollars in fees after an Israeli judge ruled that their use of emoji to a landlord signaled an intent to rent his apartment. Who would have guessed a few years ago that a champagne bottle 🍾, squirrel 🐿, and comet ☄️ could constitute an agreement to rent an apartment?

According to Professor Eric Goldman, the use of emoji as evidence increased from 33{45ef85514356201a9665f05d22c09675e96dde607afc20c57d108fe109b047b6} in 2017 to 53{45ef85514356201a9665f05d22c09675e96dde607afc20c57d108fe109b047b6} in 2018. In some cases, emoji are described to jurors, rather than seen and interpreted themselves, and in other cases emoji are omitted from evidence, altogether. Emoji are most prevalent in sexual harassment, criminal, and workplace lawsuits. In the 2017 murder case of Commonwealth v. Castano, Massachusetts prosecutors argued that an emoji with “X” eyes 😵 showed that an individual who received the message knew that something was happening. In the sex trafficking case of The People v. Idris Bilal Jamerson, expert witnesses detailed how a series of sent emoji, including a crown 👑, high heels 👠, and money bags 💰 provided evidence of prostitution.

Emoji even come in a variety of dialects. Different companies can represent emoji on their platforms in different ways. In a study comparing Android and Apple users’ interpretation of emoji, Google users reported a grinning face as meaning blissful happiness, while Apple users thought it symbolized a readiness to fight. One can only imagine the flurry of misinterpretation defenses and novel legal arguments that such interpretations will cause.

As we continue to express ourselves through emoji, they will continue to permeate our society further and further. In a few years, emoji-interpreting expert witnesses will become more resourceful in the court room and the debate around what certain emoji mean will become a greater focus of legal arguments by lawyers across the world.

Victoria Blachly: SYK AttorneyVictoria Blachly is a partner at SYK, and an experienced fiduciary litigator that works with many elderly clients, cases and causes. She is also a proud Board Member for the Oregon Alzheimer’s Association Chapter.

Peter Esho is a Chaldean-American law student in his final year at Lewis & Clark Law School, and a senior law clerk at Samuels Yoelin Kantor. Born and raised in Michigan, he moved to Portland to attend Lewis & Clark. Peter enjoys kayaking and playing guitar, and his primary legal interests are in intellectual property and business law.

Firm and Attorneys Recognized by 2020 Chambers & Partners

This year, Samuels Yoelin Kantor was recognized by Chambers and Partners – High Net Worth: Private Wealth Law Department. Not only was the firm as a whole recognized, but three SYK partners were also individually recognized.

Stephen Kantor and Victoria Blachly were included again this year. In addition, Eric Wieland was included for the first time as an “Up and Coming” individual.

The firm as a whole as included as a Band 2 Private Wealth Law firm (only 6 firms were included in the Oregon Private Wealth Law list).

Danger: Stressed Out Lawyers Ahead (Tips & Tricks Also Provided)

As a form of self-help therapy for dealing with a global pandemic, I reached out to numerous legal friends and colleagues to learn how they are coping with COVID-19 and this lack of control that we are all struggling with. My article, COVID-19 Lawyer Stress: SOS, was published last month in the Multnomah Bar Association’s newsletter. Some of the takeaways include:

  • Zoom meetings, both for work and for fun, are covered.
  • Hobbies like cooking, music, reading, cutting your own hair or even passing the time by watching crazy squirrel feeders are addressed.
  • The benefits of fitness, yoga, meditation and mindfulness strikes a chord for many.
  • While some people find stress relief with structure, yet others need sustained breaks for stress relief.

We are all in the same ocean paddling as fast as we can, but we are just in different boats right now. When I asked one friend how she was doing, she responded, “I vacillate between coping remarkably and failing miserably.” Another responded, “I have been on a roller coaster…some good days; some bad days.” And yet another said, “But in an honest moment I would say that like other tragedy-like periods in my life, my personal go-to mode is to lean in and plow through it with action (being called to the moment), and in the process I don’t really take good care of myself. The signs are all over the place, but my brain instinctively works that way. The intentional piece is real – the will is what I am fighting now.” And it’s not just our stress, but stress for our families: “It’s been a process to digest, this entire process so far, and I cried when they announced school was closed for the year.”

Yet another attorney reported there can be moments of peace, “but then my little energy of flame goes out and I am back to barely keeping my head above water.” Another attorney said, “It has been like watching a tidal wave come in to shore and now being tossed about as the wave hit the shore, waiting to resurface to catch my breath.” And the stress is not just for what we are enduring now, but what is to come. Another friend shared, “Right now, I am stressed about going back to the office before there are effective treatments or a vaccine.”

Can’t we all identify with these statements – some days, or some moments, seem fine, or even if they are not, we take action and plow through? That’s what problem-solving lawyers do, right? But we don’t have control right now and the truth is, we never did. Keep talking to others. Keep connecting in your own way. Keep trying. It’s okay to ask for help, particularly when we are all missing or grieving something. Strive for progress, not perfection – and we will be together soon.

Victoria Blachly: SYK AttorneyVictoria Blachly is a partner at SYK, and an experienced fiduciary litigator that works with many elderly clients, cases and causes. She is also a proud Board Member for the Oregon Alzheimer’s Association Chapter.

FINRA Issues Warning: Pandemic Volatility Highlights Oil-Linked ETPs Unsuitable for Some Investors

FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, issued an eye-catching warning in Regulatory Notice 20-14 about a particularly complex and risky type of security: Oil and Gas Exchange Traded Products, or ETPs. High concentrations in the oil and gas sector, especially with complex, risky, and volatile products like ETPs, may become a frequent subject for investor litigation in the upcoming year and fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic. To quote FINRA, “the performance of such products may be linked to unfamiliar indices or reference benchmarks, making them difficult for the average investor to comprehend.”

Oil and Gas-linked ETPs

These products are engineered to be complicated, risky, and volatile. While potentially paying out well above conservative fixed income investments, they carry the risk of massive and sudden drops in valuation. ETPs may be indexed to futures contracts or other market benchmarks, so their “value” is a few steps away from the actual daily value of the underlying commodity. More exotic offerings include leveraged and inverse commodities-linked ETPs, which seek to deliver multiples or the opposite of the return of an oil linked index.

This particular underlying commodity – oil – comes with its own set of risks. The benchmark price of oil was already under severe downward pressure at the end of 2019, before the jolting drop in demand from the impact of COVID-19. The combination has meant that one ETP shed 41{45ef85514356201a9665f05d22c09675e96dde607afc20c57d108fe109b047b6} of its value in one week in April. Others have been forced to liquidate, or reconfigure their investment objectives.

It’s all there in FINRA’s authoritative detail in RN 20-14, should you want a refresher on the oil market’s conditions of “contango” (future prospects dim), or “backwardation” (with good investment opportunities) or “super-contango” (where we were in April).

Suitability

Scratching your head over “contango”? The term itself is a good warning sign. The average retail investor looking to put their retirement savings in a safe, moderate or conservative portfolio, should not be making decisions that require a technical dictionary for every other word. And if a financial professional cannot adequately analyze and explain the function and risks of betting on the futures market with an ETP, or why that is an appropriate risk compared to other investments, the recommendation may fail FINRA’s suitability standard.

FINRA has been clear in interpreting its own Rule 2111 regarding suitability: if a broker does not sufficiently understand the product, then a recommendation to purchase that product is not suitable for ANY investor:

A member’s or associated person’s reasonable diligence must provide the member or associated person with an understanding of the potential risks and rewards associated with the recommended security or strategy. The lack of such an understanding when recommending a security or strategy violates the suitability rule.

I noted in a prior post that it is wise to review investment statements during market volatility. When the market is acting like a roller coaster, it can reveal otherwise hidden problem areas. That might include over-concentration in a certain sector, or investments in complex products such as commodity-linked ETPs. Unsuitable investment recommendations may lead to claims against an advisor or firm for recoverable losses.

And if you are a financial advisor taking on a new client with a portfolio that has been inappropriately allocated, consider suggesting to your client a confidential review with a securities attorney. You may be able to help your client recover some of the damage caused by a prior advisor’s poor investment recommendations.

Darlene Pasieczny, AttorneyDarlene Pasieczny is a fiduciary and securities litigator at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP.  She represents clients in Oregon and Washington with matters regarding trust and estate disputes, financial elder abuse cases, and securities litigation. She also represents investors nationwide in FINRA arbitration to recover losses caused unlawful broker conduct.  Her article, New Tools Help Financial Professionals Prevent Elder Abuse, was featured in the January 2019, Oregon State Bar Elder Law Newsletter.

Upholding Justice for Older Americans: Free National Webinar

June 15, 2020 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. You have the opportunity to learn from federal government leaders how they are seeking global solutions for elder abuse. The 90 minute free webinar starts at 10:00 AM on June 15.

Hope to “see” you there.

“Elder abuse is a global social issue which affects the health and human rights of millions of older persons around the world, and an issue which deserves the attention of the international community. The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 66/127, designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It represents the one day in the year when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to some of our older generations.” – The United Nations 

Victoria Blachly: SYK AttorneyVictoria Blachly is a partner at SYK, and an experienced fiduciary litigator that works with many elderly clients, cases and causes. She is also a proud Board Member for the Oregon Alzheimer’s Association Chapter.

Helpful Video on Paycheck Protection Program Forgiveness Application

Senior Loneliness Line

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and how our clients can maximize the amount that is forgiven. While this is a bit of a moving target, our friends at Geffen Mesher have put together a helpful video on working through the Small Business Association’s (SBA) PPP Forgiveness Application that we wanted to commend to your attention. View the video here.

Valerie Sasaki specializes in jurisdictional tax consulting, working closely with Fortune 50 companies involved in audits before the Oregon or Washington Departments of Revenue. She also works with business owners on tax, business, and estate planning issues in Oregon or Southwest Washington.

Powerful Words: Positive and Negative Language

Susan Russel shares, through the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, how powerful both positive or negative language can be. These tips are helpful to keep in mind, whether you are managing a difficult legal situation with your counsel or even if you are managing a quarantine.

Negative and powerless language can sound like:

  • I “have” to deal with this (victim, lack of control)
  • They are the reason (blaming others)
  • Here’s another problem (problems not solutions focused)
  • I doubt it will work (lack of faith in systems, self, or team)
  • I hope we can make it work (lack of commitment)
  • I have no control over what is happening (lack of control)

Positive language that empowers us and others, sounds like:

  • I “get” to test this new technology out (opportunity focused)
  • We “can” reinvent what we do (belief in ability, systems, self and team)
  • We “will” get through this (committed, confident, action-oriented)
  • Let’s discuss solutions and modify our systems (solutions and systems focused)
  • Let’s identify our actions (in action and in control)”

Victoria Blachly: SYK AttorneyVictoria Blachly is a partner at SYK, and an experienced fiduciary litigator that works with many elderly clients, cases and causes. She is also a proud Board Member for the Oregon Alzheimer’s Association Chapter.

Where’s My Stimulus Check?

The IRS sent out the first wave of stimulus payments this  past week to around 80 million Americans. In order to speed up the process, the IRS has prioritized sending payments to Americans that have previously submitted their direct deposit information with the agency. Those that have not authorized a direct deposit account with the IRS will receive their stimulus payment in paper check form. However, the IRS estimates that it only has the capacity to mail out 5 million checks a week, so many Americans will not receive their payment until likely August or later.

Based on the income level eligibility requirements, at least 90{45ef85514356201a9665f05d22c09675e96dde607afc20c57d108fe109b047b6} of Americans should qualify for at least some amount of stimulus payment. If you think you should have received your stimulus payment by now, here are several reasons why the IRS has delayed your payment.

Social Security Recipients

For recipients of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the IRS has announced that payments will appear alongside normal monthly benefits. Recipients are not required to file a tax return to receive payment and will receive their stimulus payment in the same format (direct deposit or paper check) of their normally received benefits.

Direct Deposit Not Authorized

Even if you filed your tax return electronically the last two years, the IRS may still not have direct deposit information saved for you. The IRS has only saved direct deposit information for those that have received a federal refund in 2018 and/or 2019. If you owed the IRS in either of those years, your direct deposit information may no longer be stored. The IRS is not using bank account information it used to withdraw from your account if you owed money. To check if you need to submit your direct deposit information, the IRS has set up a web portal for entering that information and checking on the status of your payment.

Change of Filing Status or Bank Account Information

Even if you received a refund and filed electronically, a change of filing status or a change in your direct deposit account could also delay your stimulus payment. For example, if you got married in 2019 and filed married jointly for the first time, or got divorced in 2019, and filed single for the first time in a while, the IRS may no longer have accurate direct deposit information on record. Similarly, if you changed banks or switched account numbers, the IRS will no longer have correct direct deposit information for you. Using the IRS Get My Payment Portal can verify if the IRS needs updated banking information.

Current Return Still Processing

Though the IRS extended filing of individual federal returns until July 15, 2020, many Americans still made efforts to file their 2019 returns in line with the normal April 15 due date. Due to the shutdown, the IRS has prioritized processing stimulus payments for Americans and has largely slowed down return processing for the next few weeks. Many service centers across the country have also closed entirely. If the IRS has receipt of your 2019 return but has not processed it yet, this may also delay your stimulus payment.

Non-filers

Millions of lower-income Americans who do not normally meet the income thresholds required for filing will need to also contact the IRS. Through use of a separate web portal entitled Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here, non-filers will need to confirm their identities and provide bank account information or address information to receive a stimulus payment.

Watch for Fraud

Remember that the IRS will never call you, email you, or otherwise contact you directly for your sensitive personal information. The IRS web portals will require you to enter information such as your social security number, your routing and bank account numbers, and other personal information. Otherwise this information should not be shared through any other method.

Nicholas Rogers - Attorney

Nicholas D. Rogers joins SYK Estate Planning and Taxation practice with a passion for helping individuals, small business and nonprofits. His practice includes a focus on estate planning, federal and state tax controversy, business formation and planning, as well as trust and estate administration.