Category Archives: Professions

Cowardice, Censorship And Betrayal At Maiden (N.C.) High

Almost Maine

Here is a strong candidate for teacher/blogger Rick Jones’ annual Curmie Awards on his blog Curmudgeon Central. He recognizes the most despicable conduct by teachers and school administrators, and while this year’s award may go to some fourth grade teacher who sets autistic kids on fire, I know he will share my disgust at this story.

The theater club at Maiden High School in North Carolina was in production of John Cariani’s newly-popular stage dramedy “Almost, Maine,” a series of vignettes about bittersweet love and romance. A brief scene touches on a budding same-sex relationship, and this so worried school administrators that before green-lighting the production, Principal Rob Bliss and Catawba County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman decreed that every student wishing to audition or assist with the production must turn in signed parental permission letters. Only one student was prevented from auditioning through this screening process, and production commenced. The club to reserved the rights, rented the scripts, cast the parts and began rehearsals.  The local churches learned that that the show contained (Ewww!) gay people, and the school abruptly reversed course, cancelling the production. Principle Bliss issued this weasel-worthy statement:

“In regards to the request for students to perform the play “Almost Maine,” careful review and consideration was given to the contents of this play. The play contained sexually-explicit overtones and multiple sexual innuendos that are not aligned with our mission and educational objectives. As principal of Maiden High School, I have an obligation to ensure that all material, including drama performances is appropriate and educationally sound for students of all ages.”

He did not mention that the production had already been approved, and that he and the school caved to community censorship by right-wing bullies, intolerant religious jerks, or local jerks who didn’t have the resources to go to New York City and picket “The Death of Klinghoffer.” He had one, and exactly one, response available to him once complaints began rolling in from anti-gay, anti-same sex marriage citizens of fair Maiden. It would be this... Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Education, Government & Politics, Leadership, Popular Culture, Professions

Ebola in Dallas: No Excuses For the CDC

doctor_stooges_2

The statement by the nurses union in Dallas describing the Three Stooges level breaches in safety protocols surrounding the treatment of Thomas Duncan, the nation’s first Ebola fatality is shocking, but it should be no surprise, ironically. By now, Americans should be used to being told that our benevolent overseers in the government have matters well in hand, our best interests at heart, and the expertise and resources to do the job governments are supposed to do.  They are also used to discovering, especially lately, that the expensive systems and professionals we have been instructed to trust are in truth lazily administered, incompetently run, staffed with too many sluggards just waiting for a paid retirement, and most of all, well aware that failure carries little or no accountability.  In the recent past it has been the Secret Service, the Veterans Administration, the State Department, Homeland Security, the IRS, HHS and our military that have shown deficits in management, oversight, planning, professionalism and common sense undermining our trust. Now it is the Center for Disease Control. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Incompetent Elected Officials, Professions, Workplace

Three Republican Candidates: Gaffes, Disqualifications, Or Something Else?

shooting-yourself-in-the-footI felt badly about piling up three posts recently on unethical female Democrats running for office, and was inspired by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent to do some analysis of Republican candidates who, at least according to Sargent, deserve equivalent criticism to what has been leveled at Alison Lundergan Grimes for refusing to say whether she voted for President Obama. [She did it again last night in her debate with Sen. McConnell.]

Sometimes finding Republican candidates who deserve an Ethics Alarms slap is hard, unless they say something bat wacky like, say, Richard Mourdock. If a Democrat is flagged by The Daily Beast or the Post, I can be pretty sure there was something said or done that was objectively troubling, because the mainstream media will bury anything from a Democrat that is vaguely defensible. A Republican, however, might be accused of certified insanity for a statement that offends progressive cant. Fox and many of the right wing websites, meanwhile, will ignore any Republican whose pronouncements don’t rise to “I am the Lizard Queen!” level of derangement, and will find fault with Democratic candidates on dubious grounds. Here are the GOP candidates for today’s ethics audit: Joni Ernst (U.S. Senate in Iowa); Tom Cotton (U.S. Senate in Arkansas); and Greg Abbott  (Texas Governor race): Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

“CSI” Ethics: Now THAT Was An Unethical Fictional Lawyer…

CSIWow. That was one unethical lawyer on CBS’s “CSI” last night, and I mean even before we found out that he had stolen a vile of an Ebola-like virus and used it to murder a doctor, almost setting off a viral epidemic in Las Vegas. (Gee, I wonder where the writers got the idea for that story? See, we don’t have to argue about politicians causing panic over Ebola: the entertainment media is way, way ahead of them.) Among the lawyer’s ethical transgressions:

1. He set out to use his law degree to gain access, through employment, to a company he blamed for allowing a deadly virus to wipe out his family in South America. Needless to say, this is a blatant conflict of interest, indeed, the worst one for a lawyer I have ever heard of in fact or fiction. He wanted to represent a corporate client so he could destroy it.  This is a clear breach of Model Rule 1.7:

(b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:

(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by… a personal interest of the lawyer.

Now, that conflict could be waived if the client were fully informed of the fact that its lawyer wanted to destroy it, and the client didn’t mind. That seems unlikely to me.

2. When it looked like his murder was going to set off a deadly epidemic, the lawyer decided to let CSI know that his client the biotech firm had lied about none of its supply of the virus being missing. He knew it was missing, because he had stolen it. The failure of a lawyer to remedy a client’s lie to police about a crime isn’t unethical in a criminal defense setting, but it is unethical if the lawyer would be aiding in another crime by doing so, which was the case here. Moreover, he is involved in the crime, unknown to his client. This would be a disqualifying conflict even if the one described above didn’t exist.

3, He also has an obligation under the ethics rules (Model Rule 1.4) to inform his client about matters relevant to the representation that the client needs to know, like “By the way, about that missing vial of deadly hemorrhagic virus you don’t want to tell the police about? I took it.”

4. THEN, he surreptitiously taped an employee and representative of the company who thought he was also representing her (if he wasn’t, he has an ethical obligation to make that clear—it’s called a “corporate Miranda warning.”) While it is legal in Nevada to secretly tape a conversation you are participating in, it is virtually never ethical for  a lawyer to do this with a client (That’s misrepresentation, violating Rule 8.4 in Nevada) , who is assured that her communications with her lawyer will be privileged, and held in strictest confidence under the attorney-client relationship.

5. Now, if the reason for the lawyer making the recording and handing it over to Ted Danson had been what CSI first assumed it was—that he was trying to save lives in imminent danger and deemed the revelation of a client confidence the only way to prevent it—he would have some support in the ethics rules, for there is an exception to the duty of confidentiality that can justify that.*  That wasn’t his motive, however, at least not all of it. He was also trying to make sure that the company—his client, which he was trying to destroy in revenge for his family’s deaths—was blamed for the virus that he had released. He had no justification for violating Rule 1.6, which says that a lawyer must keep client confidences.

6. Also, since he was representing both the employee he secretly taped and the company itself, he would have been obligated to report what she told him—evidence of a crime implicating the company–to his corporate client before reporting it to authorities, so the corporate client could report the lost vial itself, or at least have that option. If the attorney was going to exercise the “death or serious bodily injury” exception, he needed to tell the client that, too.

Yes, this was a very unethical lawyer.

Then there was that killing part…

* There was no reason to make the recording at all. This was a lame plot manipulation by “CSI.” Danson and his team used the biological residue on the recorder to prove that the same person who made the recording also stole the vial. But the lawyer could have just told the police about what his client admitted regarding the missing vial. No recording was necessary.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Bioethics, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Professions

Ethics Observations On Wendy Davis’s Controversial “Wheelchair Ad” Attacking Greg Abbott

1. The campaign of Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis has issued an attack ad directly referencing gubernatorial rival Greg Abbott’s partial paralysis, and includes the image of an empty wheelchair. Davis could claim—and will, if she hasn’t already–that  the implication that his use of a wheelchair argues against his qualifications to be governor is inadvertent or imagined, except that her supporters were caught in a Project Veritas video mocking Abbott for his disability, and Davis has made gaffes relating to his handicap before, as when she said that he hadn’t “walked a day in her shoes.”

2. She is a member of a party with supporters in the media ready to pounce on any Republican who makes a similarly provocative reference to an opposing candidate’s race, religion, ethnicity, gender or “abled status.” The double standard is certainly a campaign boon to Democrats, but they have to take advantage of it a bit more subtly than this.

3. What is primarily wrong with the ad, however, isn’t the wheelchair, or the use of tactics that would called an appeal to bigotry if they were used by Republicans. It is that the arguments the ad seem to be making are stupid, unfair and wrong, and ones that Davis, who is a lawyer, must know are stupid and wrong, or she is stupid and wrong. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising, Professions

The Harvard Law Student’s Formula For An Ethical Life

Yes, I hate my job, and yes, my clients are the scum of the Earth, and yes, my life sucks. But think of all the kids I can help get de-wormed!

Yes, I hate my job, and yes, my clients are the scum of the Earth, and yes, my life sucks. But think of all the kids I can help get de-wormed!

When I heard about the Harvard Law Record’s essay by law student Bill Barlow titled “Want To Save The World? Do Biglaw,” I mistakenly  assumed that he had made a persuasive, or at least coherent, utilitarian argument. After all, some fairly distinguished blogs took notice, and set about rebutting him. I was shocked when I actually read the piece. From what I can tell, Barlow understands nothing he was writing about—not the profession of law, not charity, not careers, not values, not law firms, not ethics, not money, not life. Why is someone who thinks like this in law school? What are law schools accepting people capable of writing this? Why is Harvard allowing someone this naive and shallow to display a Harvard degree?

This is literally all there is of substance to the article:

“So there you have it—be a corporate lawyer, donate 25% of your post tax income to charity, and save 150 lives a year, or de-worm 25,000 kids.  Alternatively, go into Public Interest, Government, or Academia, and feel warm and fuzzy about yourself.  Sadly, when people at this school talk about public service, they mean the latter, rather than the former.  If only people applied the same amount of cognitive skill used in just one LSAT logic game to the most critical question of what to do with their law degree, hundreds of lives could be saved.”

Ugh. Where to begin? Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Charity, Childhood and children, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, Workplace

Abraham Lincoln: Good Lawyer, Bad Lawyer, Conflicted Lawyer

Lincoln in trialI recently quoted a fairly well-known section from some notes Abe Lincoln made for a lecture he was to present to young lawyers in 1850. Some of you asked if would post the whole document, which I am happy to do. Here it is:

I am not an accomplished lawyer. I find quite as much material for a lecture in those points wherein I have failed, as in those wherein I have been moderately successful. The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day. Never let your correspondence fall behind. Whatever piece of business you have in hand, before stopping, do all the labor pertaining to it which can then be done. When you bring a common-law suit, if you have the facts for doing so, write the declaration at once. If a law point be involved, examine the books, and note the authority you rely on upon the declaration itself, where you are sure to find it when wanted. The same of defenses and pleas. In business not likely to be litigated, — ordinary collection cases, foreclosures, partitions, and the like, — make all examinations of titles, and note them, and even draft orders and decrees in advance. This course has a triple advantage; it avoids omissions and neglect, saves your labor when once done, performs the labor out of court when you have leisure, rather than in court when you have not. Extemporaneous speaking should be practised and cultivated. It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public. However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech. And yet there is not a more fatal error to young lawyers than relying too much on speech-making. If any one, upon his rare powers of speaking, shall claim an exemption from the drudgery of the law, his case is a failure in advance.

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.

Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife, and put money in his pocket? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it.

The matter of fees is important, far beyond the mere question of bread and butter involved. Properly attended to, fuller justice is done to both lawyer and client. An exorbitant fee should never be claimed. As a general rule never take your whole fee in advance, nor any more than a small retainer. When fully paid beforehand, you are more than a common mortal if you can feel the same interest in the case, as if something was still in prospect for you, as well as for your client. And when you lack interest in the case the job will very likely lack skill and diligence in the performance. Settle the amount of fee and take a note in advance. Then you will feel that you are working for something, and you are sure to do your work faithfully and well. Never sell a fee note — at least not before the consideration service is performed. It leads to negligence and dishonesty — negligence by losing interest in the case, and dishonesty in refusing to refund when you have allowed the consideration to fail.

There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague, because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common, almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief — resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.

This is uniformly excellent, and justly cited to show Lincoln’s high ideals as a man and a professional. This quote, however, is also cited for that purpose, and I am not so fond of it. Since it comes to us second-hand, a.k.a as hearsay, from Lincoln’s law partner, friend and biographer William Herndon, I hesitate to hold it against him too much, for it may be a misrepresentation. I am more concerned with the fact that what follows is sometimes packaged with the notes above, as if they are equally worthy of emulation. No, they are not. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions