Areas of Practice
- Construction/Contract Litigation
No business person wants anything to do with litigation. Paying lawyers and going to court is almost always a distraction from what your business is all about. The unfortunate truth is that businesses sometimes have to protect their interests by either suing or defending against a lawsuit. As with most things in life, the best time to deal with possible lawsuits is before they happen.
First, pay attention to your own instincts. If a deal looks too good to be true, a thorough examination of the legal issues that may be attached to that deal may give you the information you need to make a good decision.
Second, act fast. Having a relationship with lawyers or a law firm that enables you to get the answers you need when you need them saves time, worry and, in the long run, money. If you are worrying that you might need a lawyer, you probably do, even if all the lawyer ends up telling you is that you are ok.
Third, get lawyers that have done it before. While the combined experience of the lawyers here at Courtney, Lee & Hamel P.C. is broad and substantial, we do not hesitate to bring in specialists if that is what our client’s need to deal with a particular legal issue. After all, a law firm is a service business.
We at Courtney, Lee & Hamel P.C. have assisted hundreds of business and business people over our more than 50 years. We can help your business avoid the legal bumps in the road, run more smoothly and make you more money. Call one of our business litigation attorneys today. There is no charge for the initial consultation.
Divorce, and issues that can arise after a divorce, are always emotionally difficult and can be legally complex. Often, divorcing couples can work out the important issues, gather the information required by the courts, present an agreement to the court and be divorced in just a few months with a minimum of emotional trauma. Sometimes coming to terms on the issues that are part of any divorce can take a substantial amount of time and negotiation. In a few cases, the parties cannot come to terms and court must settle things at the end of a trial.
Other situations involving family relationships also have a legal dimension that cannot be ignored. The law has evolved to the point where the parents of children born outside of marriage have the same rights, and the same responsibilities as married parents. The courts continue to broaden the recognition of some property and support rights in longer term non-marriage relationships. Many states, Massachusetts included, seem poised on the brink of recognizing some form of same sex marriage like relationship. New reproductive technology is redefining the traditional legal concepts of parent child relationships, adoption and parental responsibility.
We are prepared to help our clients navigate the sometimes confusing and always emotional landscape of divorce and family law with the experience, legal skills and compassion that will enable our clients to chart the best course to a fair and equitable conclusion.
The state has the power to step in and take custody of children if they are being neglected or abused by their parents or their parents are not protecting the children from abuse by other persons. In Massachusetts, the state agency that most often seeks to take custody of children is the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
DCF social workers can take emergency custody of children instantly, provided they go to court, almost always a branch of the Juvenile Court, immediately thereafter and a Judge of the Juvenile Court agrees that emergency custody was necessary. From that point forward, it is up to the Juvenile Court to decide when and if the child(ren) are reunited with the parent(s). This type of Juvenile Court case is called a Care and Protection Petition.
If you, as a parent, guardian or child, are named in a care and protection petition, you have the right to participate in the case at court. You also have the right to have a lawyer appointed to represent you if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer.
Another aspect of Juvenile Law is what is called, in Massachusetts, delinquency. Delinquency is simply criminal charged brought against persons 16 years old and under. Delinquency is similar to adult criminal law. The crimes charged, the constitutional rights, and most of the court procedures are the same. However, delinquency cases are not open to the public, and the sentences, or punishments, are different. Here again, a child, or juvenile, accused of being a delinquent person is entitled to have a lawyer appointed to represent them if they, or their family, cannot afford to hire a lawyer.
Employers are now held liable for the sexual misconduct of their employees. Sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful and it also unlawful for from someone to retaliate against an employee who has filed a complaint. Each business must develop and maintain a policy pertaining to sexual harassment and it must be distributed to every employee.
Either a male or female can be the harasser and the victim does not have to be of the opposite sex. The harasser can be a supervisor, co-worker or even a non-employee who is working in the same area as the victim. The definition of sexual harassment is defined as any un-welcomed sexual advances in return for advancement or employment.
Department of Unemployment Assistance Claims – The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) administers the Unemployment Insurance program, providing temporary assistance to unemployed Massachusetts workers.
Eligibility – Generally, benefits are available for eligible workers who have become unemployed through no fault of their own, and who are able to work and are actively looking for a job. Specific earning eligibility standards must be met and are available through the DUA.
If you are fired – Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 151A, governs the unemployment insurance program. According to the law, you may be eligible if you were fired for poor performance. However, if your employer is able to show that you were fired for deliberate misconduct or violation of a company rule, you may be disqualified.
If you quit your job – According to the law, if you left your job voluntarily with good cause (attributable to your employer) or for an urgent or compelling personal reason, you may be eligible. However, you must meet all the requirements of the law, including being able to work if a job were offered to you. If you are disqualified for any reason, you have the right to file an appeal, and to be represented by a lawyer.
Claim Appeal Process – If you have been disqualified from collecting unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, or if there is a determination that affects your claim, you have the right to request and be granted a hearing.
In most cases a hearing will be the only opportunity you have to personally present evidence in support of your claim for UI benefits. The review examiner, the person who conducts DUA hearings, will base the decision solely on testimony and evidence presented at the hearing. Therefore, it is important for you to prepare thoroughly for your hearing so that you can present the best possible case to support your claim.
At your hearing, you have the right to be represented by a lawyer. Mary F. Courtney, Esq. can assist you with appealing your disqualification, present evidence and representing your case at your hearing.
Applying for and, if necessary, appealing a denial of social security benefits can be confusing and frustrating.
Our attorneys can assist you from initial application to and through hearings and appeals. We can help you get the benefits you deserve.
- Estate Planning
Your estate includes all of your assets or property which is distributed to your living relatives or heirs upon your death. Probate is the legal process in which a court oversees the distribution of these assets. The estates of people with or without wills go through probate. There are many ways to structure your finances so that significant assets pass outside the probate process.
A will can help reduce the probate period is very important for parents with children who are minors since guardian arrangements are usually made in a will. There are also several types of taxes that must be paid on an estate including: federal estate, federal gift, state estate and state inheritance taxes.
We serve clients whose needs require the full range of available estate planning techniques, including complex dispositive plans which incorporate sophisticated tax planning. We also provide fiduciary probate administration services to clients.
- Personal Injury
Everyday we are placed in situations where we can get hurt. Sometimes it is a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In some instances someone may be legally responsible for your injuries. Someone can be held liable only if it can be proved that there was negligence. Personal Injury Law has become a much criticized area of the law. The courts are burdened with suits against individuals, companies, cites and large corporations.
When a person is injured, the amount of damages he or she is entitled to depends on the extent of the injuries, economic losses due to the injury, proof of negligence and what else contributed to the injury. Damages may be awarded by a judge or jury, but most are settled out of court through negotiations.
Darren M. Lee, and Mary F. Courtney have extensive experience with personal injury cases. Courtney, Lee & Hamel P.C. stand ready to help when you or a loved one is hurt.
- Real Estate
In our real estate practice, the Firm represents commercial borrowers in acquiring, constructing and financing real estate projects. We also represent buyers and sellers in connection with residential real estate transactions and represent banks and other lenders in commercial lending transactions.
Specifically related to the purchase of residential properties we perform a title search, and prepare the title insurance policy required by the lender. We also acquire all real estate tax information from the tax collector, request a plot plan from the surveyor, calculate all closing adjustments, and prepare all loan closing documents. Our legal fee for these services will be disclosed ahead of time and you can expect the additional costs of the title abstract, title insurance, Municipal Lien Certificate, plot plan, recording costs and other disbursements.
Occasionally, events such as unexpected title problems or the rescheduling of the closing may cause an increase in our fee. If this occurs, we will let you know. We request your homeowner’s insurance binder or policy and a paid receipt for the premium for the first year of ownership prior to closing. The policy must be effective on or before the closing date and must name you as the insured and your bank and “its successors and/or assigns, as their interest may appear”, as the mortgage holder. Financing commitment will indicate exactly how this language should read. The insurance coverage must be for an amount equal to or greater than the amount of the mortgage loan or indicate 100 percent replacement cost on the policy.
We will schedule the date and time of the closing with you and will advise you of the amount of funds you will need, if any, to complete this transaction. Your funds must be in the form of a certified or cashier’s check made payable to you and endorsed at the closing. After the closing, we will provide you with copies of all documentation and a complete summary of the final adjustments and costs of this transaction.
You should contact all utility companies prior to the closing so that they will transfer service to you as of the date of the closing. Also, it is a usual requirement that a seller vacate the residence and that it be left broom-clean at or prior to the closing. You have the right to re-inspect the premises prior to the closing and we strongly recommend that you do so. This inspection should be done in the presence of your real estate agent. You should call your agent to schedule the inspection.
If your new house has oil heat, you will reimburse the seller at the closing for all oil in the oil tank. The standard size oil tank is 275 gallons, but some houses have two or more tanks. Please confirm this with your real estate agent if you are not sure what size tank or tanks are present at your new house. The practice is to fill the tank within a few days of the closing and credit the seller for 260 gallons of fuel at the most recent delivery price.
- Zoning and Land Use
Our attorneys have the experience and expertise to guide real estate developers, commercial developers, homebuilders and property owners through all types of administrative and regulatory proceedings associated with zoning and land use in Berkshire County and the surrounding communities. Understanding how land use and zoning laws apply to property or land is extremely important in any real estate decision that you make. We are familiar with the regulations that govern zoning and land use requirements and we provide counsel to our clients in preparing applications, seeking approval, and pursuing necessary appeals.
Zoning permitting and litigation:
Nonconforming uses, lots and structures
Site plan review
Challenges to standing
Land use litigation:
Adverse possession and prescriptive easements
Rights of first refusal
Actions to quiet title
- Probate Administration
Representation in connection with Probate proceedings including procuring appointment of the Executor or Administrator; coordination of the settlement process and assistance with (I) the marshaling of assets; (II) payment of debts; (III) liquidation of investments; and distribution to heirs.
Preparation and filing of all necessary State and Federal Estate Tax Returns; application of the optimal marital deduction including disclaimer planning to insure estate tax liability is reduced to the lowest extent possible; and representation in connection with IRS or Massachusetts estate tax reviewer audit.
We offer an array of services including the implementation of estate planning strategies which incorporate the use of Trusts to avoid Probate and reduce estate taxes. We also provide assistance with medicaid eligibility and asset preservation planning designed to address catastrophic long term care expenses.
On rare occasions where there are no family members available, attorneys at our Firm have served as Guardians for disabled and/or affirmed survivors providing assistance with financial matters, custodial care as well as oversight and review of medical treatment.
Guardianship/Conservatorship of an Adult
If an adult becomes unable to make essential decisions about his or her finances, personal care, and medical/health due to a clinically diagnosed circumstance, the Massachusetts Probate Court is empowered to appoint a Guardian and/or Conservator for the adult. The Guardian or Conservator’s statutory duty is to make decisions that are in the best interest of the adult while applying the least restrictive structure and supporting the adult’s self-reliance and independence.
Developmental Disability and Guardianship/Conservatorship
When a child with an developmental disability turns eighteen years old, they are now considered, in the eyes of the law, a competent adult with full legal rights to make important decisions regarding their finances, housing, health, education, and medical treatment. You as their parents are no longer able to make legal decisions on your child’s behalf or have access to their personal records. Let us educate you on available resources on developmental disability, Conservatorship and Guardianship as a protective arrangement.
Alternative to Guardianship: A Health Care Proxy and an Advanced Care Directive
As a legally competent adult, you have the right to make your own decisions regarding your finances, medical treatment, and health care and appoint someone of your choosing to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Conversely, if you have not appointed a Health Care Agent and you become incapacitated, the Massachusetts Probate Court is empowered to appoint a Guardian to protect your independence and make personal and medical decisions that are in your best interest. The execution of a Health Care Proxy while still competent can be an empowering alternative to the Guardianship process.