Category Archives: Professions

Ethics Quote Of The Month: “Bridge of Spies”

bridge-of-spies-656

The shooting script for the Academy Award nominated film “Bridge of Spies” is now online. Written by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers, it, like the film that Steven Spielberg made out of it, provides an unusually accurate and nuanced portrayal of ethical lawyering. The movie is worth seeing, better more than once, and I expect that I will use many issues raised in it for class discussion as I teach legal ethics to lawyers this year.

There is one howlingly wrong scene, in which the lawyer, Jim Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) has a private discussion with the judge who will be sentencing his client, a convicted Russian spy. Donovan argues against a death sentence. If this happened, and I doubt it, it would have been an egregious ethics breach: this is called ex parte contact, and is strictly forbidden.

The film redeems this misstep many times over, especially in a scene that neatly explores both the duty of confidentiality and the duty of loyalty, as well as the crucial role of rules in society, and why “the ends justify the means” as well as those who advocate that philosophy must be rejected. “Ethics Bob” Stone told me that he now uses the scene in his business ethics classes.

The scene begins with Donovan meeting in a restaurant with a man who has been following him…. Continue reading

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The Loyalty Problem: Fundamental Ethics Confusion at Mount St. Mary’s University

Mt st mary

Loyalty is an ethical virtue; the whole concept of duty often depends on it. Loyalty is also the most dangerous of all ethical principles. Misapplied, misinterpreted, followed blindly or carried to extremes, it can lead to absolute wrong. A current controversy at Maryland’s Mount St. Mary’s University illustrates how.

A reliable source obtained information that the school’s president, Simon Newman had argued that the school needed to be ruthless in maintaining high standards by getting rid of less competitive students, and had done so by telling colleagues opposing him, “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies…Put a Glock to their heads.”

The student newspaper reported the conversation, which Newman hasn’t denied, and it was duly published in The Mountain Echo, the student newspaper.

Shortly after the “scoop,” The Mountain Echo’s faculty advisor Ed Egan was fired by Newman for violating the “code of conduct and acceptable use policies.” During the same period in which Egan was fired,  Newman did a Michael Corleone on some other “disloyal” lieutenants.” Thane Naberhaus, an associate professor of philosophy, was dismissed after criticizing Newman’s policies, and David Rehm, was stripped of his role as provost after questioning university policies.

The dismissal letter to Naberhaus, signed by Newman, said “As an employee of Mount St. Mary’s University, you owe a duty of loyalty to this university and to act in a manner consistent with the duty. However, your recent actions, in my opinion and that of others, have violated that duty and clearly justify your termination.”  Ed Egan says that he was also told that he had been “disloyal.”

I can’t speak to the dismissals of the other employees, but in the case of Egan, his loyalty was where it should be. President Newman doesn’t understand his own job, or the ethical principles applicable in academia. Continue reading

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Since You Ask, HERE Is Why I Do Not Believe Public Schools Can Be Trusted To Teach Students About Complex Issues Like Race…

ellaBecause too many teachers and administrators are incapable of reliably rational thought, that’s why.

Take this ridiculous episode, for example:

Ethan Chase Middle School in Menifee, California urged its students to costume themselves as Disney characters for Spirit Day last week. Austin Lacey, 13, being a broad-minded and creative lad who, like an astounding number of his fellow Americans, apparently admires “Frozen,” the Disney animated cult smash soon to be a Broadway musical. He chose to dress as Elsa, the movie’s troubled Snow Queen.

The school principal made him take off the costume, because, as Romoland School District Superintendent Dr. Julie Vitale said in a statement, it was necessary to “stop a general disruption to the school environment.”

See what I mean? Morons. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Education, Professions, Race

The Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards, Part II: The Worst of Ethics 2015

Donald and Hillary

Ethics Corrupters of the Year

(Awarded to the unethical public figure whose prominence, popularity and success most corrupts the public’s ethical values)

A Tie: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Nobody else is close.

I’m sorry that these two are so dominating the awards. They also dominated the posts last year. If they dominate the awards next year, God Save The United States of America…

Double Standard Of The Year

The deference accorded to anti-white protesters on dozens of college campuses, not just by spineless administrators but much of the news media. Similar protests, conduct and rhetoric by white students would be immediately condemned for what it would be: blatant racism.

 Lie of the Year

Hands Up! Don’t shoot! The lie was uttered in 2014, but acquired new status after the Justice Department unexpectedly and definitively determined that the evidence did not support the inflammatory myth that Mike Brown was shot dead in Ferguson while trying to surrender to Officer Wilson. Never mind: the lie is part of the manifesto of Black Lives Matter and similar groups; it is still alluded to by activists and shameless politicians; it still divides the nation and focuses hate on police departments; and it has contributed to getting police officers killed while making communities more vulnerable to crime. It may be the Lie of the Decade.

Uncivil U.S. Official of the Year

Justice Antonin Scalia, who crossed all lines of judicial restraint, collegiality and civility when he excoriated his colleague, Justice Kennedy, who was the fifth vote in the majority of SCOTUS’s ruling  that same-sex marriage was a Constitutional right no state could deny, with this comment in a footnote:

“If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

——U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia,

 

The Jesse Jackson Award 

(For the Year’s Worst Amateur Diplomat)

Barack Obama.  I know, this is snarkier than I like to be in these awards, but the signature diplomatic measure of the past year, the astounding, one-sided, dangerous and Munich-like deal with Iran, could only be the product of an ideological tyro placing wishes and hopes over diplomatic responsibility, and not for the first time. For most Presidents, trading dangerous terrorists for a deserter would be nadir. History has seen many tragedies seeded by world leaders with no diplomatic skills: the disastrous Treaty of Versailles,  Potsdam, and the treaty that this one most resembles, negotiated by the hapless Neville Chamberlain. We can only hope that the worst case scenario doesn’t materialize, but if it does not, it will be moral luck.

Most Unethical Sports League

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, May 7, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Krupa/Pool ORG XMIT: BKS06

The NFL, for the third year in a row. “Concussion,” Tom Brady, Deflategate, more evidence that NFL players are slowly killing themselves with brain damage, Johnny Manziel.  What a great sport pro football is.

Sports Cheat of the Year

Tom Brady, New England Patriots ball-deflating quarterback.  Brady eventually avoided punishment because the NFL botched both its investigation and its imposition of penalties, but his smirking, cynical comments about the incident made it clear that he thinks cheating is no big deal, and most of his fans agree.

Not surprisingly, Brady supports Donald Trump.

Unethical Lawyers of the Year

Law Firm Division:  Lawyers Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut of the Florida firm Adams & Diaco were found to have “maliciously” set up the drunken-driving arrest of their opposing counsel in a  high-profile defamation trial. The plot involved a comely paralegal and a cooperative DUI cop. Last I checked, it looked like all three lawyers would be disbarred for life.

Scary Lawyer Division: California lawyer Douglas Crawford  held a can of pepper spray a yard from the face of the opposing lawyer saying, “I will pepper-spray you if you get out of hand.” Then the lawyer pointed a stun gun at Traver’s head and said, “If that doesn’t quell you, this is a flashlight that turns into a stun gun.” To show he wasn’t kidding, Crawford discharged the stun gun the startled lawyer’s face.

Hard-working Lawyer Division: Massachusetts lawyer,  Karen Andrade, was  charged with prostitution after a police investigated a report by a suspicious neighbor and  found online reviews of both the lawyer’s legal services and her escort services

Celebrity Lawyer Division: Michael Cohen,  one of Donald Trump’s lawyers, told the Daily Beast that it was legally impossible for a man to rape his wife. He was only a couple of decades and many court cases behind on his research. That piece of legal scholarship came after he had threatened the website’s staff in language usually associated with loan sharks and pimps.

Unethical Prosecutor of the Year

Mosby

Baltimore’s City Attorney Marilyn Mosby
Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Professions

The Case Of The Snoozing Prosecutor

cigar ash

There is a true story about Clarence Darrow putting a wire in his cigar and puffing it during an opponents closing argument to the jury. The idea was to create an absurdly long ash, so the jury would become distracted and watched to see when it would fall on his suit, when they were supposed to be paying attention to the summation. I’ve used that story in ethics seminars, asking attendees if this was unethical, and if so, was there a rule that could be used to punish a lawyer who did it.

Now comes word that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled  on Tuesday that there was no prejudicial error in the trial of Buddy Robinson, who was convicted in the death of his downstairs neighbor, despite the fact that the prosecutor, then Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, pretended to fall asleep during his Robinson’s lawyer’s closing. Robinson had appealed the verdict because of this and other questionable conduct by the prosecutor. Benson admitted that he sometimes pretended to be asleep in trials to annoy defense attorneys. In its opinion denying the appeal, the court concluded that the trial judge did not err in denying Robinson’s motion for a new trial, given the strength of the prosecution case.

It also said that the fake sleep bit “was sophomoric, unprofessional and a poor reflection on the prosecutor’s office.”

It’s also an ethics violation, a couple of ways. Maine’s Rules… Continue reading

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“Code Black” Glosses Over A Medical Ethics Imperative

Code Black

In TV’s medical drama “Code Black‘s” episode “Diagnosis of Exclusion,” we were plunged, as is too often the case in such shows, into a freak situation that might not occur in any U.S. hospital for a century, but that somehow happens on TV routinely.

A lunatic stalker named Gordon (Jesse Bradford) tried to rape doctor Malaya Pineda (Melanie Chandra) in the hospital garage, after stabbing a hospital administrator, perhaps fatally. Dr. Pineda fought back, the stalker stabbed her in the stomach, and then mild-mannered Dr. Angus Leighton (Harry Ford) arrived in time to pull the stalker off of his wounded friend and save her life. In the struggle that ensued, crazy Gordon was stabbed in the neck with his own knife.

This was presented in flashback, in the form of an official inquiry where Dr. Leighton explained that he told the stalker not to pull out his knife, but he did anyway, causing uncontrollable bleeding. “Maybe I could have done more but, I was out of my mind,” Angus explains. Leighton says he tried to stop the bleeding as he screamed for help. By the time the paramedics got the murderous patient into the ER, he was beyond saving.

Ahhh, but that’s not exactly what happened, we learn! First we saw Angus’s older brother, also a doctor, tell him that he did the right thing, that Gordon tried to kill two women that day and would have gone on to kill more if Angus hadn’t acted as he did.

Wait, what? Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Post-Iowa Republican Accusation Orgy

Cruz wins

A brief summary: After Ted Cruz shocked the poll-worshiping Donald Trump and the incompetent pundits with a first place finish in Iowa, and after a gentle, gracious, classy concession speech by someone impersonating Trump, subsequent days have been filled with accusations from Ben Carson that Cruz deflated the sleepy doctor’s vote total by spreading rumors about Carson dropping out of the race. Cruz apologized for his camp’s part in the confusion, but blamed CNN for misleading news reports, which were inspired by a vague tweet from the Carson camp about the candidate going home to Florida rather than on to New Hampshire, where the campaigning continues. CNN then accused Cruz of blame-shifting. Meanwhile, Trump found that impersonator and shot him, or something, and now says he will sue Cruz, or the Republican party or someone for some combination of Cruz not being a natural born citizen, his campaign’s sending out a deceptive mailer, and stealing Carson’s votes, and will demand a caucus do-over.

Observations:

1. Carson’s incompetence is at the root of this whole mess. His staff, as the caucuses were getting underway, put out an ambiguous tweet that Carson would not be going on to New Hampshire,, but was going home. Since Carson’s campaign has been falling apart in chunks for weeks now (this news today, for example) , his support in the polls has been falling, he was inert through the last debate and has no rational excuse to be running anyway, several news organizations assumed that the message meant that his withdrawal was imminent. I assumed that’s what the tweet meant. Carson’s staff is inept: that was a ridiculous tweet to make at that time. He should take full responsibility for all the confusion.

2. CNN and the various media sources that sent out tweets and statements also suggesting that Carson was quitting are also accountable for sloppy journalism. CNN is denying that its reporters gave out wrong information, but they did. First Chris Moody tweeted…

“Carson won’t go to NH/SC, but instead will head home to Florida for some R&R. He’ll be in DC Thursday for the National Prayer Breakfast.”

“Carson won’t go” to the site of the next two primaries is wrong. The word “immediately” was missing. Then CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted…

“BREAKING: @moody has learned @realbencarson will return to FL following , will not go to either NH or SC”

CNN itself tweeted this:

“After the , @RealBenCarson plans to take a break from campaigning http://cnn.it/Iowa”

CNN’s protests that Cruz is using them as a scapegoat is a lie on its face. The network and its supporters jumped the gun, and suggested that Carson was quitting without confirming this with his organization. If it had any integrity…well, we know the answer to that, don’t we?

3. I can’t let this pass: last night, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly railed at CNN, calling its defense of its reporting “ludicrous” and declaring, “That news agency screwed up big time and apparently doesn’t care.”

He continued:

“The state of American journalism is on the verge of collapse. Ideology has permeated hard news coverage and honest reporting is becoming almost scarce, especially in political circles.”

Bill O’Reilly said this. Bill O’Reilly. Continue reading

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