Category Archives: Law & Law Enforcement
Laws affect our lives too much to be concocted by dolts. If elected officials are going to restrict our freedom, they have an obligation to do so only with good cause, careful consideration, precision, and after making certain that unintended consequences will be minimal.
On the other hand, elected official could just say “What the hell, let’s see how this turns out,” and be like the Chicago City Council, which passed an ordinance banning the sale of pure breed dogs.
This is as nice an example of good intentions gone stupid as we are ever likely to see. The intent is to cut off the supply of dogs from s0-called puppy mills, which are rightly regarded as too often cruel and irresponsible. However, in pursuit of that elusive goal, the city council didn’t bother to craft a law that addressed the problem effectively, or that even made sense.
“Pardon me: if you accept the proposition that the government targets organizations for IRS scrutiny because of their political views, and you still say things like ‘why take the Fifth if you have nothing to hide’, then you’re either an idiot or a dishonest partisan hack.”
—-Attorney-blogger Ken White, discussing former IRS official Lois Lerner’s refusal to testify in front of Rep. Daryl Issa’s House Government Oversight Committee
Elaborating on the point before this statement, Ken points out why this is so:
“You take the Fifth because the government can’t be trusted. You take the Fifth because what the truth is, and what the government thinks the truth is, are two very different things. You take the Fifth because even if you didn’t do anything wrong your statements can be used as building blocks in dishonest, or malicious, or politically motivated prosecutions against you. You take the Fifth because if you answer questions truthfully the government may still decide you are lying and prosecute you for lying.”
Got it. Or, you take the Fifth because you really did engage in illegal activity in a coordinated effort to obstruct legal political action for partisan motives, on orders from someone with close ties to the White House, which still may be the case.
In the same post, Ken explains that Lerner may have waived her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, or may not. If she has, then she is in contempt of Congress. If she hasn’t, she isn’t.
My observations on this slow-motion ethics train wreck: Continue reading
Just as I’ve been desperately trying to explain that lawyers do not represent bad people because they like them or want to loose them upon the world, here comes innovative Pittsburgh lawyer Daniel Muessig, whose clever TV ad proclaims that this is exactly what he wants to do. Here it is:
Is this an ethical ad? According to the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, it is within the conduct permitted by the state’s legal ethics rules. The ad isn’t misleading. It doesn’t make promises the lawyer cannot keep. It doesn’t represent dramatic recreations as fact, or use broad metaphors and exaggerations. (Lawyer ads are held to a standard of literalness that presumes the public has never see any other kinds of advertising in their entire lives.) Once upon a time the various state bar advertising regulations included prohibitions on “undignified” communications, or those that undermined public trust in the profession, but those days are long past: the standards were necessarily vague, and breached free speech principles.
So we have this: a lawyer who appeals to his future criminal clients by saying that he thinks like a criminal, believes laws are arbitrary, that other lawyers will “blow them off” and that he visits jails frequently because that’s where his friends are. He attacks his own colleagues and profession, denigrates the rule of law he is sworn to uphold, and seeks the trust of criminals not because of his duty as a professional, but because he’s just like them. Muessig is willing to undermine the law-abiding public’s belief in the justice system and the reputation of his profession and his colleagues in order to acquire clients. I’m sure his strategy will work, too. Continue reading
The degree to which our media pundits fail to grasp the essential nature of the rule of law remains confounding, and this is another in a long line of examples. Worse, the lower court in this weird case failed to grasp it as well.
You see, there is conduct that is obviously wrong, which we call unethical. Some of that conduct is so wrong, so harmful, and so difficult to discourage with social opprobrium and informal enforcement alone that we pass laws against it, both to signal strong disapproval but also to add serious negative reinforcement, in the form of tangible punishment, to the mix. Then the wrongful conduct becomes both unethical and illegal. If we skip the essential intermediate step of writing and duly passing the law that designate the conduct as illegal, however, we have established a dangerous, indeed frightening precedent. Then we have created a society where one can be imprisoned or fined for conduct that is regarded as unethical without a law in place that empowers the state to take such actions against citizens who engage in it. Ethics, unlike law, especially on the margins, is never etched in stone. Once society starts imprisoning individuals based on ethics alone, none of us are safe.
Yet this morning I was subjected to the protests of one TV commentator after another who derided the absolutely correct decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to uphold this principle by throwing out the conviction of Michael Robertson, a sick sleaze-ball who was arrested in August 2010 by Boston transit police who had set up a sting after getting reports that he was using his cellphone to take photos and video up female riders’ skirts and dresses: Continue reading
Holy crap! Here is a courtroom stunt you don’t see everyday…or ever.
The dramatic bribery trial of Rhode Island defense lawyer Donna Uhlmann and co-defendant Jamaal Dublin took a hard left turn into “Boston Legal” territory and beyond with the, well, creative closing argument of Dublin’s lawyer, Christopher T. Millea. It was so creative, he was nearly held in contempt of court.
“You see, all of this has to do with the throwing of feces,” said Millea, cleverly reminding the jury of the bizarre conduct of a key state witness who once threw his own excrement at a prison guard. “The state wants to throw as much against the wall to see what sticks, just like Michael Drepaul throwing his feces …”
With that introduction, Millea took two bean bags out of a box he had placed in front of the jury, and threw them at the courtroom door. Then he retrieved the turd stand-ins and placed them in another box near the door, and placed that box next to the one in front of the jury, which, it was later discovered, read “Reasonable doubt,” though only the jury could see the words. The first box was labelled, “State’s case.” Continue reading
The large and respected law firm Mayer Brown has taken the ugly case of some Japanese-American clients who want the city of Glendale, California to remove a memorial to World War II “comfort women” from a public park. In doing so, and in the way it is proceeding, the firm has inspired harsh condemnation from two estimable legal commentators, both First Amendment champions: Marc Randazza, and Ken White. Their objections, which caused Randazza to call the firm “the least honorable law firm in the world,”and White to conclude, “This lawsuit is thoroughly contemptible. It should fail, and everyone involved should face severe social consequences,” are heartfelt, but, I think, misguided. Their argument, beside arguing that the lawsuit is frivolous, is best articulated by Randazza: Continue reading
1. As we now know, Governor Brewer vetoed AZ SB1062, the so-called “religious freedom” bill that was widely (and accurately) interpreted as support for discrimination against gays. In the previous post, I suggested that her delay in doing so sent a message that was as hostile to gays as the law itself: if she felt the law was ethically wrong, then she should have and would have announced that she would not sign the bill long ago. Instead, she waited to see how much economic damage the law would do to the state, and then vetoed it, not because this was the right ting to do, but because it was the pragmatic thing to do. (As the satiric Borowitz Report put it, “The state of Arizona found itself in the middle of a conundrum today as it awoke to the awkward realization that gay people have money and buy stuff.”) USA Today noted that, to the contrary,”Some political insiders believe Brewer has allowed furor over the legislation to build to thwart social conservatives’ attempts to push a similar bill later.” I doubt it, but if so, Brewer allowed her state and her fellow Republicans to be represented nationally as homophobic for as long as possible to spare herself the inconvenience of vetoing a second bill.
2. Despite the extravagant debate over the bill, almost no commentators actually published the bill’s text in the commentary. The reason appears to be that since the bill is really an amendment of an existing law, it takes a modicum of intelligence to figure out what’s going on. Here it is (the original law is in black; the new text is in blue; what has been removed in the amended version is struck through): Continue reading
I’ll grant you that Ted Nugent’s asinine efforts to minimize the unethical nature of his uncivil words about President Obama by tweeting his views on 44 “more offensive” forms of conduct were a pretty good example of my least favorite rationalization in action. That rationalization is #22, the Comparative Virtue Excuse, or “There are worse things.” (There are always worse things, of course.) Never mind: Ted is playing in the minor leagues. Art Acevedo, Austin’s excuse-master police chief, really knows how to swing a #22.
A bystander took a video of Austin police detaining and ultimately arresting jogger Amanda Jo Stephen after she crossed an intersection at a red light and failed to obey orders from an officer after he saw her jaywalking, because she was wearing headphones and couldn’t hear him. My view: the police over-reacted and used excessive force (she pulled her arm away when the officer stopped her, and he treated is as resisting arrest), but wearing head phones that make it impossible for you to hear what is around you is 1) dangerous, 2) stupid and 3) obnoxious. Continue reading
How Can Lawyers Be Shockingly Unethical Without Breaching Any Legal Ethics Rules? Meet Styles & Pumpian
Ira Bordow, a partner in the Wisconsin law firm of Styles & Pumpian, had been handling a family’s dispute with an insurance company. Successfully too: he negotiated a $250,000 settlement, and the company sent him the check for that amount, to be divided among the plaintiffs and Bordow’s firm. Bordow, as a partner, was going to get a $41,666 share.
The 54-year-old lawyer, however, had problems of his own that money could not solve, and committed suicide. His brother found the quarter of a million dollar check on the seat of Bordow’s Lexus coupe, and properly and correctly sent it on to Styles & Pumpian. Bordow had already earned his cut of the settlement at before he took his own life, for he, and the firm, were working on a contingent fee basis. The representation was at an end. Apparently, however, once the firm had the check in hand, the brilliant legal minds at Styles & Pumpian applied their craft to thinking of ways they could avoid paying the grieving family of their tragically demised partner any of the loot. They thought of one too, at least one they felt was worth a shot. The firm is refusing to pay the Bordow estate the late lawyer’s $41,666 cut, arguing that Bordow’s suicide in his River Hills home negated his partnership agreement with the firm. It was a breach of contract, they say, and thus, even though he would have received the money if he had lived, the firm can keep it now.