Women in the Judiciary – VBA Blawg

Follow the link below to read the recap of the Women in Judiciary event that took place on Wednesday, December 12th!


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MHTT Featured in this Month’s Edition of “Business People – Vermont”

Murdoch Hughes Twarog Tarnelli, Attorneys at Law PC, is featured in the June 2018 Edition of Business People – Vermont.  The Article, titled “True Conviction: Like much of the law it practices, this firm considers itself a family” by Phyl Newbeck, describes the firm dynamic, history, and profiles each partner.  Read the full article HERE.


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Tarnelli Becomes Partner

MURDOCH HUGHES & TWAROG Attorneys at Law, P.C., is pleased to announce that Michelle A. Tarnelli became a partner with the firm on January 1, 2018.

Ms. Tarnelli concentrates in the areas of adoption law, assisted reproductive technology (ART) law, and family law. Ms. Tarnelli’s adoption practice includes interstate adoptions, relative adoptions, stepparent adoptions, and contested termination of parental rights proceedings in Vermont probate courts. She represents clients in ART matters including gestational carrier agreements, gamete donor contracts, embryo donation agreements, and birth certificate amendments. Her family law practice includes divorce, parentage, non-resident civil union dissolution, and family court appeals.

Ms. Tarnelli graduated cum laude from Fordham University and magna cum laude from Vermont Law School. Her law review note, Joint Custody Presumption in Vermont: A Proposal for Co-Parenting, 36 Vt. L. R. 1015 (2012) was published in the Vermont Law Review. She has been with the firm since 2011, first as an intern and law clerk, and then became an associate in 2012 upon her admission to the Vermont Bar.


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Kurt M. Hughes Has Been Recognized Among the Top in his Industry by Noticed


BURLINGTON, Vt. – March 20, 2018 – (Newswire.com)
Kurt M. Hughes, Attorney at Law, Murdoch Hughes & Twarog, has joined Noticed, an invitation-only service for distinguished professionals. Hughes has been chosen as a Distinguished Lawyer based on peer reviews and ratings, dozens of recognitions, and accomplishments achieved throughout his career.
Hughes outshines others in his field due to his extensive educational background, numerous awards and recognitions, and career longevity. A native of Long Branch, New Jersey, Hughes earned his Juris Doctorate from Vermont Law School in 1984 and joined Murdoch Hughes & Twarog in 1988 after working as a prosecutor in the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office.
With over 25 years dedicated to law, Hughes brings a wealth of knowledge to his industry, and, in particular, to his area of specialization, family law. When asked why he decided to pursue a career in law, Hughes said:
“From an early age, I recognized that our legal system was the very foundation of civilized society. Without lawsand the people that write, enforce, and interpret themthe country could not exist. I wanted to be a part of that system, to help maintain it and make it stronger.”
Since beginning with the firm, he has practiced in a broad range of legal matters that span state and federal criminal defense, plaintiff’s personal injury, family law, divorce, adoption law, and assisted reproductive technology (ART). Today, Hughes primarily focuses on the areas of family, adoption, and ART law.
Throughout his career, Hughes has distinguished himself as a preeminent attorney in his niche area of family law. He was one of the first Vermont lawyers to become a Fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (AAAA) and the first to become a Fellow of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys (AAARTA), both of which are invitation-only national associations. Recently, Hughes launched Vermont’s first local surrogacy matching organization, the Vermont Surrogacy Network.
As a thought leader in his field, Hughes is not only a skillful and compassionate advocate for his clients, he is also an integral figure in helping the state draft policy related to adoption and ART law. In particular, he notes:
“I was on the study committee that helped to write Vermont’s new parentage act, which is now before the Vermont Senate after having passed the House 148 – 1. It will be the first revision to Vermont’s parentage laws in more than 30 years, and includes the creation of a “de facto” path to parentage, new provisions for genetic testing, and chapters on gamete donation and surrogacy.”
Hughes was selected by his peers for inclusion in New England Super Lawyers in the area of family law in 2017 and was recognized by Vermont Senator Patrick J. Leahy as an Angel in Adoption at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) in 2015. In 2014, Hughes was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers after an exhaustive vetting process that limits membership to the top 1% of lawyers in each state.
For more information, visit Hughes’ profile on the Noticed website here:  https://noticed.co/members/kurt-m-hughes/28befa132bbcd06b

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Frank Twarog: A steady hand at Hinesburg town meeting

Frank Twarog, a partner with MURDOCH HUGHES & TWAROG, Attorneys at Law, P.C. was recently featured in the March 1, 2018 edition of “The Citizen” a local newspaper serving the towns of Charlotte and Hinesburg, Vermont for his role as Town Moderator in Hinesburg. See the full article at the link below:

Frank Twarog: A steady hand at Hinesburg town meeting

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Hughes Helps Author Vermont’s New Parentage Act – H.562

Kurt M. Hughes, a partner with MURDOCH HUGHES & TWAROG Attorneys at Law, P.C., and a Fellow of the Academy of Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys, was recently a guest on Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition, and has been testifying before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees regarding Vermont’s new parentage act, H.562 (now pending before the senate after passing the house 148 – 1) which he helped to author.

This legislation is a giant step forward for Vermont, responding to the changing landscape of family formation in the State today, and providing solutions for many of the problems that have repeatedly faced our family courts, the history of which have been reported in Vermont Supreme Court opinions over the last twenty years, including the notorious Miller-Jenkins case, and most recently the case of Sinnot v. Peck . The legislation will also bring Vermont into harmony with recently passed legislation in Maine and New Hampshire, while Massachusetts is hard at work on a similar bill.

For the first time, Vermonters who grow their families through assisted reproductive technologies will have a simple procedure to establish legal parentage of children born through sperm and egg donation and gestational surrogacy. The all-important parentage orders made available under Chapters 7 and 8 this bill will provide much needed legal stability for children born through assisted fertility procedures from the moment of birth.

This bill utilizes the best parts of the Maine Parentage Act, and the newly minted 2017 Uniform Parentage Act as its foundation. It was customized for Vermont’s needs by leading practitioners in the Vermont legal and medical communities who have had decades of experience in the field. Vermont’s parentage laws, were last updated more than thirty years ago.

This new legislation gives added legal security to so-called de facto parents, assisted fertility and surrogacy clients. Kurt also concentrates in the Family Law, Adoption Law and Assisted Reproductive Technology. He is the co-owner of Vermont Surrogacy Network, which matches gestational carriers with intended parents in the U.S. and internationally.

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Twarog to Receive 2018 Pro Bono Award

Frank Twarog, a partner with MURDOCH HUGHES & TWAROG Attorneys at Law, P.C., will receive the 2018 Pro Bono Service Award at the VBA’s Mid-Year meeting on March 23, 2018.

Frank was nominated by Kim Jordan, a legal advocate at Steps to End Domestic Violence, for his volunteer work with survivors of domestic violence.  Ms. Jordan wrote “Frank’s legal representation has made a world of difference in helping domestic violence survivors feel safe, heard, and on their way to an independent, sustainable life for them and their children.”

Throughout his career, Frank has dedicated a substantial portion of his practice to providing pro bono and volunteer services for indigent clients in the community.  As a Guardian ad Litem, an attorney for children, and an advocate for the homeless, Frank regularly appears on behalf of those who often feel that they do not have a voice in the legal system.

Over the past two decades, Frank has volunteered hundreds of hours to the Town of Hinesburg, serving as Town Moderator, Town Agent, Peck Estate Trustee, Chair of the Recreation Commission, and founder and past-Chair of the Trails Committee.  He regularly volunteers at the Hinesburg Community School, serving as a member of PIE (Partnership in Education) and as a coach to a variety of educational and sports teams.

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Missouri Proposed Legislation Would Throw All Forms of Assisted Reproductive Technology Into Legal Chaos

A bill now pending before the Missouri House Children and Families Committee, HB 2558, and a similar bill pending in the senate, would severely undermine the legal underpinnings of all gestational surrogacy contracts in the state, and throw all forms of assisted reproductive technology into complete and utter chaos. The bill places “in vitro human embryos” into the same statutory framework with custody actions for children in the Missouri family court system. It requires courts to consider the “best interests” of the embryo, and presumes that it is in the embryo’s best interests to be transferred to someone who will give the embryo the best chance to develop and grow.

First, the bill creates an additional “custody” action where it should be crafting a separate embryo disposition statute. Today, most cryo-preserved embryos undergo a “flash freeze” on day 3, being less than 16 cells. Embryos that were frozen several years ago would have been frozen no later than day 5. In determining the legal status of these pre-implanted cryopreserved embryos, the Tennessee Supreme Court, in one of the first embryo disposition cases decisions in Davis v. Davis in 1992 concluded that pre-embryos are not, strictly speaking, either “persons” or “property,” but occupy an interim category that entitles them to special respect because of their potential to develop to birth. No court or legislature has elevated embryos to a legal status of “person” or declared its sole best interest “to be transferred to develop to birth.” Not only would this bill entirely ignore the fitness of the party seeking to bring the embryo to birth, but it would mandate a “one size fits all” disposition approach in every case, regardless of the particular circumstances.

Instead of mandating a single statutory analysis applicable to all embryo disputes, a better approach would be to require all patients to execute a written embryo disposition agreement. Almost all IVF clinics require patients to sign an embryo disposition form prior to the creation of any embryos indicating their choice for disposing of any untransferred embryos. Among the dispositional choice include freezing the embryos for the patients’ subsequent use, donating them to another family to use, donating them to science, or degenerating them. These dispositional directives also address what to do in the event of the death or divorce of the intended parents, including whether the remaining embryos can be used by just one of the parties to create more children. The American Medical Association recommends this approach. AMA Code of Medical Ethics Op. 2.131 (June 1994). In almost all cases where a prior written disposition agreement exists, those agreements have been upheld and enforced by the courts. Without written directives, courts wrestle with determining the parties’ intent at the time the embryos were created and balancing the needs of each of the intended parents. There is a well-established body of case law from around the country with a variety of approaches to resolving these dispositional disputes. Two opinions by the Illinois appellate courts in Szafranski I (2013 Ill. App.) and Szafranski v. Dunston (2015 Ill. App.) provide an excellent overview of embryo disposition cases. An example of an embryo disposition statue from Florida accompanies this letter.

Second, this bill would completely negate any agreements governing parentage in sperm and egg donation contracts, gestational surrogacy agreements, and embryo disposition agreements. There is no more private decision by individuals and couples than the power to decide when and how they will become parents. By creating a custody cause of action over embryos, instead of a carefully crafted embryo disposition statute, this bill will disempower Missouri citizens from planning their own fertility treatments. How far back will this bill apply: to all existing frozen embryos in Missouri or only those frozen from enactment of the bill forward? How many families and clinics would be forced into these disputes that they believed were resolved by written disposition agreements? What government public policy or interest is promoted by establishing a policy that 16 cell embryos have a “best interest” to be transferred and developed? What studies support this conclusion? How many years will embryos be frozen in legal limbo, and who will be required to pay for their indefinite storage? What if the best interest of the embryo is not to be transferred and developed in a particular case? What if the winning donor is not a fit parent, not capable of supporting a child, or dangerous to a child?

This bill takes very personal and constitutionally protected family building decisions out of the hands of the intended parents, prohibits them from making other appropriate dispositional choices for their embryos, limits their choices regarding their future family building options, voids all prior agreements, and permits one gamete donor to force the other to procreate over his or her objection. It also restricts the courts’ ability to balance the rights and interests of the parties by mandating that the courts’ decisions be presumptively based on who will transfer and develop the embryos to birth.

Finally, this bill would open the floodgates to litigation in Missouri courts to custody actions by sperm and egg donors, as well as gestational surrogates carrying a child not genetically related to her (even though the statute excludes from the definition of “in vitro human embryo” human embryos located within a female womb). It would completely deprive intended parents who have created embryos to have a family using either donated egg or sperm of any legal security over their embryos. Indeed, by allowing “any other party involved in the negotiations for the creation of the in vitro human embryo at issue” to have standing to petition the courts to intervene, the statute invites doctors, lawyers, IVF clinics, donor and surrogacy matching programs, social workers, friends and relatives to intervene in a custody dispute that should involve only the intended parents. The family courts are already burdened with litigation involving the best interests of children in custody disputes – children who have already been born. To now foist upon these courts the added responsibility of litigating the custody of sixteen-cell embryos would be fiscally irresponsible and would deprive existing families of already scarce resources.

This bill would be an absolute catastrophe for infertile couples in Missouri, or anyone using a gestational carrier or gamete donor from Missouri. RESOLVE (the National Infertility Association representing 7.3 million Americans, including more than 128,000 Missouri residents), ASRM (the American Society for Reproductive Medicine) and AAARTA (the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys) have all gone on record strongly opposing this bill.

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Gestational Surrogacy Contracts Upheld in Pennsylvania

Two days ago, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled that gestational surrogacy contracts were enforceable in that state, despite the absence of any legislation. The court turned back the efforts of Sherri Shepherd to evade her parental responsibilities for a child born to a Pennsylvania carrier. Ms. Shepherd and her husband had created an embryo with the husband’s sperm and a donor egg which they obtained through a reputable and experienced donor program, Tiny Treasures. They had located the gestational carrier with the assistance of Reproductive Possibilities, Melissa Brisman’s gestational carrier program in New Jersey.

The appeals court rejected Ms. Shepherd’s claim that gestational carrier agreements should be found to be void as against public policy. The court noted that Ms. Brisman had arranged hundreds of gestational carrier births in Pennsylvania, and that Pennsylvania’s Department of Health had a policies and procedures in place regarding assisted conception and the creation of birth certificates in such cases. The court also took note of the well drafted contracts, both for the gestational carrier agreement and the egg donor agreement, which made it clear that neither the donor nor the carrier had any parental rights to a child born as a result of the agreements. The contracts also explicitly spelled out the intent of Ms. Shepherd and her husband to be the legal parent of any child born to the gestational carrier that they had chosen. Ms. Shepherd and her husband had also sent emails to the carrier expressing their gratitude for what she was doing for them, attended medical appointments and ultrasounds, and made it abundantly clear by their actions and words that they intended to be the parents of the child.

This case provides important persuasive authority for gestational carriers in all states that do not have a statute explicitly controlling gestational carrier arrangements. The carrier for Ms. Shepherd faced the daunting prospect of hospital bills for the child, and also claims for child support from California where Ms. Shepherd’s estranged husband had relocated (since Ms. Shepherd had refused to place the child on her health insurance).

Like Pennsylvania, Vermont’s Department of Health has long had policies and procedures in place governing the amendment of birth certificates and gestational carrier arrangements. Gestational carrier births have been occurring in Vermont for more than fifteen years. We also have a growing body of Vermont Supreme Court case law which has determined parentage based on the expressed intent of the parties, such as in the Miller-Jenkins case which I have discussed in earlier blogs. The Baby S. case certainly reinforces the need for well drafted contracts in these arrangements to ensure that the intent of the parties throughout the process is enforced when a child is born.

Ms. Sheperd’s actions were, in my opinion, reprehensible and amoral. It is a common fear among intended parents of that gestational carriers might refused to turn a child over to them after a birth. However, this is extremely rare nationally, and has never happened in Vermont. The majority of the reported cases around the country involve litigation between the intended parents.

As we approach Thanksgiving this year, this case gives us something else to be thankful for, that is the enhanced enforceability of properly drawn gestational carrier agreements, and the stability provided for the gestational carriers and the children born as a result of these agreements. We are also thankful for the extraordinary legal efforts of the attorneys involved in this case on behalf of the carrier and Ms. Shepherd’s husband, and for the final legal work of Melissa Brisman who drafted the gestational carrier agreement and who was an important witness at the trial. Thanks also to Tiffany Palmer, Esq., who represented the husband, and Craig Bluestein, Esq. the guardian ad litem.

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Non-Biological Same-Sex Parents Encouraged to Adopt Despite Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage

NPR recently hosted a discussion regarding the handful of states refusing to place both parents’ names on the birth certificate of a child born to same-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court decision does mention the benefit of the legalization of same-sex marriage and birth certificates, but litigation is pending in some states as to whether they are required to do so.

In Vermont, a child born during a marriage is presumed the child of both parents, regardless of their genders. Both parents of a same-sex couple may also be placed on that child’s birth certificate born in Vermont. However, depending on the couple’s choices in assisted reproduction, the birth certificate may first have to be amended by a Vermont-issued court order.

During the story, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) recommends that, despite being on the marriage and birth certificates, non-biological same-sex parents should still legally adopt their children. This is due to the inconsistency or lack of assisted reproduction laws. The NCLR says that non-biological parents remain vulnerable, and that “this fight for family equality is the next phase of same-sex rights.”

To listen to the NPR story, please visit:


To learn more about the NCLR initiative for family equality, please visit:


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