Professor Dan Markel was murdered in his driveway in 2014, and while the men who pulled the trigger are in jail today, the “middle woman” who allegedly set the hitmen on a collision course with Markel awaits retrial and the family that prosecutors claim paid for the hit are not only free but enjoy unfettered access to Markel’s kids.
After Dan’s murder, sole custody of his children fell to his ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, even though prosecutors continue to argue that Adelson’s brother arranged the killing in a bid to… get Wendi sole custody of the kids. Adelson then changed their last name and cut off their contact with Markel’s family.
Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes just introduced legislation to remedy at least the last part of the ongoing horror. The Grandparent Visitation Rights bill would give grandparents access to petition the courts for visitation rights, something they mostly lack at present as long as the children have a living parent. The one exception comes from a 2015 law that gave grandparents the right to petition for visitation if the remaining living parent is convicted of a felony, which creates a gap in a legal morass like the Markel killing where prosecutors are holding out the Adelsons as unindicted coconspirators at this point.
“This is, at its core, an access to courts issue. The ability for grandparents to petition courts is no guarantee of visitation,” Brandes stressed. “Rather, courts must remain strongly deferential to the living parent’s authority and must take into consideration the relevant factors prior to determining what is or isn’t appropriate.”
A press release for the announcement of the bill notes that advocates see it as a means “to create a disincentive for other families who may see murder as a way to gain total control of children” which is a tragically sad sentence to suggest that we need to set up additional procedural disincentives to get people to abide by the whole “don’t murder people” rule. You’d think that one would hold up without additional window dressing, right?
On the other hand, the threshold for a grandparent’s successful showing under this new law is certainly lower than the constitutional requirements for a criminal conviction. So this might actually have some teeth for anyone who thinks they’ve worked out the perfect crime but also don’t want to ever see their mother-in-law again.
It’s the “wrongful death” tort for people whose only real wish is seeing their grandkids again. While that may not sound as powerful a disincentive to murder as life in prison, for some people the probability of a family law defeat might functionally outweigh the magnitude of a criminal sentence.
Earlier: The Dan Markel Case: Answers To Your FAQs
Trial Begins In Murder-For-Hire Plot That Killed Law School Professor
The Dan Markel Case: Trial Approaches
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.
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