Category Archives: Law & Law Enforcement

KABOOM!* An Unethical Loophole In The Justice System—And The Supreme Court Just Refused To Remove It

Screenshot_loophole

Radley Balko, the libertarian investigative reporter, reports in his Washington Post column on a sentencing anomaly I was blissfully ignorant of before, and was a happier man for it. He writes…

Think the government must convict you of a crime before it can punish you for it? Think again.Most Americans probably believe that the government must first convict you of a crime before it can impose a sentence on you for that crime. This is incorrect: When federal prosecutors throw a bunch of charges at someone but the jury convicts on only some of those charges, a federal judge can still sentence the defendant on the charges for which he was acquitted. In fact, the judge can even consider crimes for which the defendant has never been charged.

Balko was writing about Jones v. United States,  in which the jury found three Washington, D.C.not guilty of a conspiracy to run an “open air” market for large quantities of illegal drugs on the streets of the nation’s capital, convicting them only of selling small quantities of the drugs, a relatively minor offense.  The judge, however—think about this, now—decreed that his sentence could also take into account the conduct that had led to the more serious conspiracy charge —that is, exactly the charges that the jury had acquitted them of—gave the three men sentences ranging from 180 to 225 months, while the crimes they were found guilty of committing would justify something in the range of 33 to 71 months. Continue reading

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Filed under Kaboom!, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights

Now THIS Is An Unethical Pastor…

Forgiveness can only go so far, even in a church, and even for its pastor.

Good.

"So we're good, right? No hard feelings? No judging?"

“So we’re good, right? No hard feelings? No judging?”

In Alabama, Rev. Juan McFarland revealed to his Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church congregation, in three consecutive sermons beginning with Sunday Sept. 14, that he had  sex on the grounds of the church with several church members, used illegal drugs while serving as pastor, stealing some of the church’s money and being HIV positive, which he did not disclose to at least one of his sex partners.

With all of this, he expected to stay on as pastor; after all, he had confessed his sins. It took a court order to remove him.

It never ceases to amaze me what individuals used to power and influence think they can get away with as long as they eventually confess and say they are sorry. (Of course, they all have the shining example of Bill Clinton…) How much misconduct did McFarland think his flock could and should forgive? If he admitted that he was operating a terror cell from the church? That he was a serial killer? A cannibal? “Never mind, my son: we believe in redemption. God is merciful and forgiving”

When trust so abused can be reinstated with just a pro forma admission and an apology, it becomes nothing more than a tool for liars and manipulators to prey on the forgiving and gullible. Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and its leadership are to be congratulated for refusing to fall for the con.

______________________

Pointer: Res Ipsa Loquitur

Facts: AL 1, 2

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Religion and Philosophy, Romance and Relationships

On Forced Acceptance Of Same-Sex Marriage: The Slippery Slope Stops Here

Hitching-Post-Idaho

Donald and Evelyn Knapp, pictured above, are ordained ministers who conduct weddings at their for-profit chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, called “The Hitching Post.” After this year’s ruling by an Idaho federal judge that the state had to recognize  same-sex weddings, a City of Couer d’Alene deputy city attorney went on  local TV to say that for-profit wedding chapels could not legally turn away a gay couple without risking a misdemeanor citation. The Hitching Post, he noted, “would probably be considered a place of public accommodation that would be subject to the ordinance.” The Knapps say the the City Attorney’s office has made the same assertion in telephone conversations with them.

Now, the Volokh Conspiracy reports, the Knapps have moved for a temporary restraining order, arguing that applying the anti-discrimination ordinance to them would be unconstitutional and would also violate Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They have to win. As Professor Volokh, a First Amendment authority of fame and renown, explains, Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

From Ferguson To Fairness, Truth And Justice: Can’t Get There From Here

Cant get there

Hopeless.

The New York Times has leaked details of the forensic evidence and police officer Darren Wilson’s account in the shooting of Michael Brown. This came from that paragon of professionalism, the Justice Department, which wants to make sure that those seeking to burn down Ferguson and lynch Wilson have time to process the fact that a civil rights violation charge against Wilson just isn’t going to happen. Why is this important? Maybe the leak is to cushion the blow and reduce the likelihood of violence. That would be the motive of a non-partisan, race-neutral agency. Maybe Justice wants to make sure African-Americans are angry before the mid-term elections, so they will vote. (Democratic pollsters are telling the party that if blacks stay home, the Republicans are going to win big.)  That. of course, would be unethical.

But so are leaks of federal investigations.

What the leaked information reveals is that there was a scuffle in the car, and Michael Brown, the 300 lb. teen who is always described as unarmed as if this means he was harmless, tried to grab Wilson’s pistol. He was shot in the arm as a result, and his blood was in the car and on Wilson’s gun. This prelude to Brown’s fatal shooting makes any conclusion that he was out to harm Brown because of his race impossible. Of course, it doesn’t prove he wasn’t out to kill a black kid either.

At this point, confirmation bias has completely taken over the Ferguson story, meaning that a combination of factors—police incompetence; a toxic racial culture in the city and region;  the racial distrust carefully nurtured by Democrats, the Obama Administration, and an irresponsible news media; anger and cynicism by non-black, non-race-baiters over the disgraceful George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin tragedy;  the slanted reporting of Brown’s shooting from the outset, and especially the full commitment of the civil rights establishment to make this incident the centerpiece of an attack on racial profiling and police violence against blacks regardless of whether the facts of the case justify it—now make any fair resolution of the incident impossible. They also guarantee that whatever occurs, the end result will be police anger, more racial division and distrust, and activists continuing to promote a false or misleading narrative as truth, just as in the Zimmerman-Martin debacle. It is hopeless.

We are at this horrible, irredeemable point because…

  • The team of the media, irresponsible black politicians, an unethical prosecutor, despicable grandstanding celebrities and President Obama made a national racial issue out Trayvon Martin’s death, where there were none, and another flash point was deemed to be just what the flagging Democratic election prospects needed.
  • The narrative of a black, young, college-bound, unarmed, “gentle giant” being “executed” in the street merely for “walking while black” by a white cop was widely publicized before facts that complicated the issues arose.
  • The police department in Ferguson, and the region generally, has a well-established record of harassing black citizens, and an environment of mistrust already existed.
  • The department waited an unconscionable amount of time before releasing any facts related to the shooting.
  • The department’s decision to leave Brown’s body lying in the street looked like deliberate disrespect and insensitivity, which it probably was.
  • Demonstrations began based on hearsay accounts of how Brown was killed, representing as fact what were third party accounts, some of which, like those of Brown’s companion, were far from unbiased.
  • The Ferguson police acted like the Chinese government in Tiananmen Square in handling the demonstrations, and gave the media a panorama of images showing white cops abusing black protesters, a la Selma, Alabama,
  • If a white cop shoots a black man, it is presumptively an act of racism in the eyes of many civil rights activists,
  • Attorney General Holder appeared to pick sides in an incident where he was duty-bound to be neutral (but, as he has said, he is a black man first),
  • The Justice Department agreed to investigate the incident for civil rights violations based solely on political expediency, knowing full well that it would not have sufficient evidence for an indictment.

Add to all of the above the fact that  the incident itself was messy and ambiguous, as police shootings often are:

  • Did Brown deserve to be stopped and arrested? Maybe.
  • Was he the angelic, harmful snowflake portrayed by his parents and the media? No.
  • Was he a legitimate threat to Wilson, at least when they struggled in the car? Yes.
  • Did Wilson have reason to fear for his well-being? Well, would you, if a 300 pound guy was trying to get control of a gun in close quarters? Of course.
  • If he had fatally shot Brown in the act of protecting himself in the car, would Wilson be in the clear legally, logically and ethically? Yes.
  • Since Brown’s attempt failed, did he deserve to be shot after he left the car? No.
  • Is it likely that Wilson was upset by the struggle in the car, angry, frightened, and not thinking clearly? Yes.
  • Would that excuse his killing Brown, if Brown were indeed in a surrender pose as some witnesses claim? No.
  • Would it mitigate his guilt? Yes.
  • If Brown, unarmed or not, charged Wilson after the car incident, would Wilson be justified in using deadly force? Probably.

But the activists don’t care, literally don’t care, about any of this. For them, the issue is simple. A white cop in a racist police department shot an unarmed black teen to death, and that means that it was a racially motivated murder.

The police and their mostly conservative defenders also don’t care about the details. Once again, a dedicated public servant who put his life on the line was forced to use deadly force against a dangerous thug who attacked him, and because the cop is white, is being persecuted and unjustly maligned.

Everyone is poised to see what they want to see, believe what supports their biases and agendas, and shout loudly about injustice regardless of what occurs, fertilizing the ground for the next incident they can exploit, along with cynical politicians.

Good job, everybody.

And how exactly does all this make society better?

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Sources: New York Times 1, 2; Fox News

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Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Race

Alleged Fraud And Corruption In Holder’s Justice Department: Why Isn’t This Considered News?

A drunken pumpkin riot! Now THAT'S News!

A drunken pumpkin riot! Now THAT’S News!

Possible answers to the question posed above:

1. Because everyone already knows that the Justice Department is corrupt and Eric Holder is an incompetent political hack.

2. There was a huge pumpkin festival riot in Keane, New Hampshire!

3. The news media is so biased that it will even treat an astounding judicial ruling as a made-up “conservative media” story.

4. It’s just more evidence of how abysmally the Obama administration is being run, and an election is coming up.

5. The world has gone mad.

I think any of them are plausible explanations.

Whichever it is, I guess I am honored to be able to help break some news, as it is not usually an Ethics Alarms function. This story has made it to exactly one news source as I write this, the New York Observor, though a few conservative blogs are noting it. Read the story itself and the links here.

Meanwhile, I’ll summarize:

Two former Assistant United States Attorneys say Holder ‘s Justice Department engaged in deceit and corruption  in pursuing  its litigation against Sierra Pacific Industries, a California lumber company. Responding to the allegations—and remember that false allegations of this magnitude would mean the end of these lawyers legal careers– Federal District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. has ordered the recusal of every federal judge in the Eastern District of California, on the theory that since the court may have been defrauded by the government,  an outside judge is needed to handle the matter to avoid a conflict of interest. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement

Cruel Activism: The Gay Rights Attack On Cynthia and Robert Gifford

The-Gifford-Barn-in-Schaghticoke-NY

It is said that close cases make bad law, and they often make bad ethics too. Legally, the culpability of Cynthia and Robert Gifford is not at all certain. Ethically, however, as right as they may be on the law, the conduct of their persecutors, same-sex couple Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, has been unnecessary, without compassion, vindictive and cruel.

The Giffords are active Christians who own Liberty Ridge Farm, located in Schaghticoke in upstate New York. They supplement the farm’s revenue with attractions designed for kids and families, including a pumpkin patch, a corn stalk maze and a rustic barn for parties and weddings. That rustic barn has three stories. The Giffords reside on the top floor, with the bottom floor designed for events, and the second floor consisting of rooms for activities relating to their preparation and management.

When Cynthia Gifford received a phone call from Melissa McCarthy inquiring about having her wedding at the farm, Cynthia invited her to visit and assess the venue.In the follow-up phone call, McCarthy revealed for the first time that the affair would be a same-sex wedding. Cynthia explained that the family’s faith held that marriages can only be a union of a man and a woman, so they did not make their farm available for ceremonies. She said, however, that the couple was welcome to hold the wedding reception there.

Apparently expecting this response, Jennifer and Melissa surreptitiously recorded the phone call. Armed with the recording, they contacted the New York Civil Liberties Union who immediately filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Giffords on their behalf.

The Giffords argue that this was not a matter of discrimination, but religious practice. They had hosted events for gay clients before, and employed gays. “The Giffords’ objection was to hosting and participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians,” their lawyer said.

They lost. Bronx administrative Law Judge Migdalia Pares rejected Giffords’ claim that the farm, which is also their home, is not a place of public accommodation and is therefore not subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of New York’s Human Rights Law. She ruled that Liberty Ridge qualifies as a public accommodation because it regularly collects fees for space, facilities, services and meals, so it cannot be considered “distinctly private.”  The fact that the Giffords reside at Gifford Barn does not render it private. The Giffords were ordered to pay $13,000 in fines and restitution.

The Giffords are appealing.

The Giffords, according to the judge, “unlawfully discriminated against complainants solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.” Another way of looking at it is that Jennifer and Melissa, now married, discriminated against the Giffords solely on the basis of their religious beliefs. Why couldn’t they agree to respect the Giffords’ religious beliefs, and use the property for the wedding reception only, having the actual ceremony elsewhere? Would that really be such a hardship, or a compromise in principles? Indeed, if the nation and committed progressives really aspire to tolerance, diversity and mutual compassion and understanding, why wouldn’t that be the ethical, desirable, reasonable compromise?

I know the response to that question, of course. This was a matter of principle. This would send a message. Crushing the Giffords was necessary to show that all opposition to same sex marriage would eventually be crushed under the advance of history. Never mind that these were not anti-gay bigots, and that they have as much right to practice their faith as a lesbian couple has a right to wed. This is a zero sum game, apparently. Besides the law—probably–supports McCarthy and Erwin.

I think the actions of Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin violate the Second Niggardly Principle, which is a rule of kindness, compromise and common sense. It holds…

“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

The couple’s legitimate objectives in this case were to get married and celebrate the marriage in an attractive venue. I don’t think setting out to punish a couple for belonging to a religion that doesn’t accept same sex marriage is a legitimate objective, nor is turning their lives upside down, nor forcing them into the maw of litigation to bend them to their will. Does the gay rights movement really feel that all those who have not yet accepted the justice and inevitability of same-sex marriage must be exposed and made to suffer? It seems that this is McCarthy and  Erwin believe, and what this case will come to stand for.

If so, I think the story of the Giffords will do more harm than good, hardening opposition, confirming suspicion, undermining trust and ultimately making acceptance for gay couples harder, however it turns out in the courts. Just because you have the law on your side doesn’t mean you have to use it when doing so involves unnecessary harm to others. Gays want compassion, kindness, tolerance and fairness. It would help if they showed a willingness to give as well as receive.

______________________
Pointer: Steven Mark Pilling

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Charity, Citizenship, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

Those Unethical Noncompete Clauses

noncompetesIt would not unseat the presumptive and early-declared winner of the 2014 Ethics Alarms Corporate Asshole  Of The Year Award (of which, by the way, there is new news: the consumer Comcast got fired for complaining about its lousy service is suing), but sandwich chain Jimmy John’s outrageous noncompete clause in its employee contracts puts it in an enviable position of strength to be runner-up Corporate Asshole, if that is its aspiration.

It must be. Non-compete clauses are roundly detested in the law, often illegal, and frequently struck down by courts as unconscionable. They are justified, if at all, when an employee has a management-level position in a high tech or sophisticated knowledge and innovation field, or when he or she is a prominent industry figure  who could instantly harm a company by leaving and launching direct competition. Increasingly, however, companies have been using tight job markets to foist noncompete provisions on lowly service employees too, as fine-print additions to contracts that the employee is unlikely to have thoroughly read or understand. The New York Times reported on a Massachusetts man who sprayed pesticides on lawns for a living, and who had to sign a two-year noncompete agreement to do it. A  standard textbook editor was required to sign an agreement banning him from working for another publisher for six-months if he left his position. A marketing firm pressured a newly-minted Boston University grad to sign a one-year noncompete pledge for an entry-level social media job, and a even summer interns at an electronics firm had to agree to a yearlong ban. Continue reading

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