Five Questions and Answers About The Steven J. Braun Law Firm Halloween Party Outrage

Imagine: tasteless Halloween costumes!

Background: New York Times Joe Nocera is stirring up public outrage because some employees of a law firm involved in questionable foreclosure practices attended the firms 2010 Halloween party dressed as homeless people. Photos taken at the Steven J. Baum law firm’s Halloween party last year were passed along to Nocera by a former firm employee.  In one that was posed on the Times site, two party-goers are dressed as  homeless people, with one holding a sign that reads, “I lost my home and I was never served.” Nocera wrote that the costumes show an “appalling lack of compassion.”

Here are ten questions and answers regarding ethics issues raised by the incident.

1.  Question: Do the costumes show “an appalling lack of compassion”? Answer: No. They are Halloween costumes, meaning that the wearers are pretending to be something or someone other than what they are. Maybe they were meant to show sympathy. Maybe they were meant as satire. Maybe they were easy costumes to put together at the last minute. If the individuals wore those costumes to a party thrown by people who had lost their homes, that would show an appalling lack of compassion.

2. Question: Is it fair to make ethical judgements about costumes worn to private parties? Answer: No, except in the most extreme cases. It makes no sense to have a standard requiring private costumes, speech or entertainment to be appropriate for wider exposure. Baum told the press that this year’s party, held last week, raised money for the American Red Cross, and employees were warned they could not wear costumes that “might be interpreted as offensive.” Well, good luck with that. Witch costumes show “an appalling lack of compassion” for the victims of the Salem witch trials. Ghosts show disrespect for the dead. Zombies might be taken the wrong way by the handicapped or mentally challenged. PETA members will say that dressing like Shamu celebrates slavery. Halloween costumes among friends and colleagues should be exempt from charges of offensiveness by anyone not invited to the party.

3. Question: Was the former employee who passed on the photos to Nocera wrong to do so? Answer: Of course he was. It was a cowardly, vindictive, gratuitously mean thing to do without any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

4. Question: Was Nocera wrong to print the story? Answer: Yes. Why is what two unidentified employees of a law firm wear to a party when they are off work news? They aren’t public figures. They don’t speak for the firm; we don’t even know it they were lawyers, spouses, or paralegals. But bashing the legal profession is always popular, so Nocera felt that fairness was irrelevant.

5. Question: Does this mean that the Steven J. Baum law firm did nothing wrong?  Answer: No. When the firm was questioned about last year’s party, its response was to give the New York Times this statement: “It has been suggested that some employees dress in … attire that mocks or attempts to belittle the plight of those who have lost their homes. Nothing could be further from the truth.” It was lying, which is unethical and a lot more serious than tolerating some tasteless costumes at a party. Once the photos surfaced, the firm acknowledged the costumes and apologized, having shown the public that law firms and lawyers, despite their duty to tell the truth, are often perfectly willing to lie if they think they can get away with it.

18 Comments

Filed under Etiquette and manners, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, U.S. Society, Workplace

18 responses to “Five Questions and Answers About The Steven J. Braun Law Firm Halloween Party Outrage

  1. Jeff

    I wonder how popular Muhammad costumes would be…

  2. Sounds like a bunch of backpedaling because they got Caught and outed by a disgruntled employee. And good for his “Cowardice” for showing what really goes on behind the curtain and the real contempt that these people in the financial sector, ignorance or no, feel about those who are Victims of this planned demolition of our economy.

    As a “Cafeteria Catholic”, who will not give one dime to the Vatican bank or any parish ever again, if a former priest left the church and published a bunch of pics of “priests behaving badly” as priests have over and over again been shown to do ( again, by design ) – I would commend his behavior for exposing this attitude behind the veil of piety to show the predatory nature of the organization. And Predatory is the optimum word for these soul-less “Let’s have a homeless party” Jackasses that mock their prey. It’s as simple as that.

    So go ahead and try to rationalize – but this is an argument you can’t win. Compassion, empathy and altruism can’t and should not be profitable – that’s why we are alive, that is what we are all here existing together to learn. Deal with it.

    • Julian Hung

      *facepalm* Tastelessness is not synonymous with unethical, and therefore, if it was meant to be relatively private, it should remain that way; it’s just plain old common courtesy. I personally find all sorts of dark comedy pertaining to real world events to be absolutely hilarious, but it doesn’t mean that I think said events are positive in anyway.

      Also, that disgrunted employee would only be doing a public service if he actually took part in exposing how the firm actually screwed people over, instead of simply attempting to embarrass two of his co-workers for simple bad taste.

    • Wait, wait–let me get this straight, bbh: you are seriously comparing a priest sexually molesting a child with someone wearing a HALLOWEEN COSTUME? Your the one who is rationalizing—you’re rationallzing pathological confirmation bias.You want to believe the lawyers foreclose because they enjoy it, because that fits your weird conviction that people who make the financial systems work are inherently evil—so you read not only evil intent but evil consequences into a harmless, meaningless act…W-O-W. Is wearing a costume illegal? Nope. It is unethical, in that it harms anyone at all? No indeed. Do Halloween costumes communicate deep significance and true feelings? Apparently only when it suits a bogus narrative: I dress as a pirate..does that mean that I admire pirates? That I am mocking the modern day victims of pirates? That I mock the pirates themselves? That I approve of piracy? That I am in sympathy with their raping, murdering ways? I think it means that I want to dress like a pirate for the fun of it.
      Where do you work, a toll booth? Every profession I know of makes black humor jokes about the worst aspects of their work. Do doctors have your leave to dress as patients with horrible maladies or the victims of malpractice? Can asylum workers dress as a patient in a straightjacket? Can accountants dress as Bernie Maddoff? Can NY police dress as particularly ridiculous OWS demonstrators, or is that too “insensitive”?
      You can tell absolutely nothing from these costumes—you don’t even know what the women do. They just help you hang a label on them that you had written out and put on a pin long before any pictures came out. And you know, you could be right—but the Halloween costumes mean nothing, say nothing, prove nothing, and harm nobody.

      • dagrunedaho

        Seriously!? U believe what u are writing here? Satire? I guess what people are reacting to is the tastelessness of the theme. Illegal? No. Illustrative for å greater underlying ethical problem? Most definitely.

        The problem has never been about lawyers having a sick pleasure in ruining someones life . The problem is the sick pleasure some people have in making money – at any cost.

        • I. If I can take the time to read your comment, “U” can take the time to write out “you.” This isn’t Twitter.
          2. A Halloween costume shows NOTHING, means nothing, proves nothing. If someone thinks its in bad taste, or if it is in bad taste, that shows that the wearer picked a costume that some people think is in bad taste.
          3. A Halloween party themed according to what a business has been engaged in is not unusual. You don’t like the business. Don’t do it then.
          4. I know a lot of lawyers, and know none that take “sick pleasure” in making money as a result of the miseries of others. Who qualifies for this condemnation? U.S. Marshals? Police and sheriffs, who have to remove evicted people? Collection agencies. who have to dun people for bills they haven’t paid? Prosecutors? IRS agents? INS agents? Or do you think people should just be able to default on obligations with no consequences whatsoever? People who make their livings playing a part in a system are not unethical to do so, and making fun of what they do—including the people they have to do it to—is one form of release. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and making it out to be proof of a black heart is worse than anything the party-goers did. It’s stereotyping, and unfair.

  3. margie

    “‘It has been suggested that some employees dress in … attire that mocks or attempts to belittle the plight of those who have lost their homes. Nothing could be further from the truth.’ It was lying, which is unethical…”

    In your answer to Question 1., you yourself wrote: “Maybe they were meant to show sympathy. ” I can imagine the possibility that the costumes were a way for the employees to protest the practices of their employers without directly confronting them about it. If that was the case, then the statement of the firm to the newspaper was not a lie.

    • Except that the firm made the statement before the photos surfaced, so it was, in effect, denying that the costumes were what they were. My hypothetical simply suggest that one cannot assume with certainty what the costume-wearer’s intent was to a sufficient degree to go into the columnist’s high dudgeon. But we all know that the costumes were not a protest…it’s just that theoretically, they could have been.

      Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if the firm had claimed that they were a protest?

  4. Pingback: Foreclosure firm’s party mocks homeowners | My Blog

  5. Pingback: Foreclosure firm’s party mocks homeowners | Columbus Investment Properties

  6. http://embed.5min.com/517191012/

    Like I said above, if this was participants at the firm having a Halloween party and a few heartless jackasses showed up as homeless people that would be one thing – but this was a homeless themed Halloween party – and that is the difference… These people are making their living off of the misery and misfortune of others, and they are openly mocking them. If there’s a better definition of Vulture, please clue me in *facepalm*.

    Molesting Priests included – I’ve done my fair share of research – the church has this as built into their “behind the sacristy” culture, and the protection of this “secret” per se is the reasoning behind their protectionist actions.

    http://www.funnyhub.com/pictures/pages/dirty-priest-costume.html

    Anyone can wear a costume dressing up as a priest with a little boy performing fellatio – but if a diocese held a Halloween party ( ha ha, it’d never happen ) and 2-4 actual priests dressed that way – well, there’d probably be some outrage if their photos were leaked.

    I think this is the difference between the “Right” and the “Left” – case in point the FauxNews “Half Hour Comedy Hour” that flopped after a month… its just the mean-spiritness of it that sucks. And it’s not funny! It goes along the line of thinking “Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean you should do it”. Satire humor is lost on those who take themselves a bit too seriously, or have an extremist point of view. And compassion, empathy and altruism again is not practiced by this mindset.

    I’m all for humor – believe me. Reality is Absurd. the Omniverse™ has a delicious sense of humor and especially Irony.. that’s the spice of life. And I agree with just about all the points Julian and you make, Jack – and they have every right to mock the pain and misery that puts food on their tables and gasoline in their Hummers. That doesn’t make it correct behavior.

    And what does BBH stand for? Beavis and Butthead? Bros before Hoes? Brown Brothers Harriman? Google that last one.

    • “And I agree with just about all the points Julian and you make, Jack – and they have every right to mock the pain and misery that puts food on their tables and gasoline in their Hummers. That doesn’t make it correct behavior.”

      It doesn’t make it incorrect behavior either. It would be incorrect for you. It simply doesn’t prove what you think it proves. If a puckish mortician had a themed party in which everyone came as recently dead public figures, would that show a lack of compassion for the families–WHO WOULDN”T BE THERE!—, or just be a professional in-joke? Yes, it’s in bad taste. It doesn’t prove they are bad, uncompassionate, cold-hearted people…but death is worse than foreclosure.

      Cheap shot-cheap shot-cheap shot….

  7. Antonio

    Apologist…

  8. Kathy

    It’s very telling that this former employee’s “outrage” did not come to light until a year later, and after they were fired. It seems more like a personal vendetta than doing the “right thing”.

  9. Kathy

    Was blameblakeart there? How does he/she know that this was a homeless themed Halloween party, and not just a regular Halloween party?

    Well, as long as we are assuming things; I find it very telling that it took a year for this FORMER employee to leak the pictures to the media. If they were so “outraged” by the poor judgement of their fellow employees, why did they wait a year to bring this to light. Gee, do you think they got fired? I would bet on it.

    It’s nothing but a personal vendetta to make themselves feel better. And that is the saddest thing about this whole NON story.

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