When The Ethics Alarms Don’t Sound: A Cautionary Tale From Seattle



Like all of us, Seattle attorney Ronald Clarke Mattson was infuriated when he found cars parked straddling the lines in crowded parking lots and garages.

It really is rude, inconsiderate, obnoxious and unethical behavior, especially when it is blatant, as when the owner of the Lexis or the Jaguar intentionally takes up two spaces to guard his baby against any accidental dings. This is a statement that rings out loud and clear: “My car is more important than your convenience, and I’ll take up two spaces, robbing you of your right to one, because I matter, and you don’t.” 

I’ve left nasty notes for these jerks, for all the good that does. I’ve complained to stores, and even had them make announcements over their public address systems. On a couple of occasions, when one was handy, I’ve recruited a police officer, and several times I’ve waited for the owner of the car so I could tell him off (if he wasn’t armed or too big).

Once, when the car was a brand new, loaded, shiny  sports convertible, I engaged in the intentional infliction of emotional distress, leaving a note that said that I had used a tool to leave a fairly deep, but small, indentation on his now no-longer-pristine car, and I hoped he had fun looking for it. (There was no such wound, but I am not proud of this.)

If I had a momentary desire to really harm the car, as I may have had once or twice, several considerations set off my various ethics alarms. The Golden Rule alarm wouldn’t sound, because this isn’t a Golden Rule situation: I would never take up two spaces.  Others, however, would:

  • The “Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right” alarm.
  • The “It’s Against the Law” alarm.
  • The “What If Everybody Did This?” alarm
  • The  “Don’t Take Action That Has No Purpose Other Than To Do Harm” alarm
  • The “Sons of Maj. Jack Marshall Sr./ Lawyers/Ethicists Don’t Act Like This” alarm
  • The “I Would Be Ashamed If Anyone Found Out” alarm, and most of all,
  • The “You Know This Is Wrong” alarm.

And if they all failed to sound, due to poor installation and maintenance? Then I might have done as Ronald Clarke Mattson did, more than once. He pleaded guilty this week to a reduced count of attempted second-degree malicious mischief, a gross misdemeanor, for keying three automobiles in retribution for their owners’ parking misconduct.  He received a one-year suspended sentence, 240 hours of community service, restitution for the three victims, and has to attend an anger-management class.

But his problem isn’t anger management. His problem is malfunctioning ethics alarms.

Mattson has been a lawyer since 1972, and could now face punishment from the Washington State Bar Association, which is charged with making sure that attorneys with faulty ethics alarms seek immediate repairs.

10 thoughts on “When The Ethics Alarms Don’t Sound: A Cautionary Tale From Seattle

  1. I actually have no beef with this if two criteria are met:

    1. They’re parked WELL out of the way of everyone else, in part of the lot that almost never fills (thus, theoretically not taking away a space from someone else).

    2. They have an awesome car.

    You might figure just following step 1 might ensure nobody dings their car and won’t tick anyone off that passes by.

  2. I’m with Jeff. I always park crazy at work, but that’s because I get there early and park in the last row that hardly gets used. Sure, I could park in the front row, but I figure the little old ladies would like to be closer.

  3. If anyone thinks that they can drive around in a fancy car in any city in America and NOT collect a few dings, no matter what they do, then they’re living in a fool’s paradise. Therefore, instead of driving their hotshot BMW to work and taking up two precious parking spaces, I’d suggest that they buy a old Studebaker for work and leave the import for cruising and picking up girls… which is what it’s for, anyway.

  4. I just want to say that this makes me glad on all counts that I don’t drive. In all seriousness, though, I’ve followed Ethics Alarms since its inception, and this is the first time I’ve seen you name any specific Ethics Alarms. Do you think you could add a list of them to the Ethics Alarms Rule Book? Keep up the good work!

  5. I HATE WHEN PEOPLE PARK LIKE THIS. Just because your car is newer and shinier and more expensive than mine does not mean that you are more important or are more deserving of a parking space. I have definitely delivered withering (I hope) comments to these obnoxious, ego-centric drivers when I see them … but I’ve never done more. Perhaps ethics, perhaps cowardice.

  6. I have a different tactic for avoiding dings: Park next to a shinier or more expensive car whenever possible. A guy with a glittering ferrari isn’t going to accidentally ding my Mini.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.