Ethics Dunce: Wisconsin Judge J.D. Watts

Nice guy, though.

Jury duty?

Ivana Samardzic, 20, took off for a long-planned Cancun vacation. The problem was that she was a member of the jury in a felony trial, and deliberations had already begun. Samardzic went AWOL after the presentation of the felony shooting case against the defendant, Spartacus Outlaw, calling the court clerk from the airport to say  that she had left her vote with the foreman. That’s gall. That’s also contempt. Rather than call a mistrial, the judge got the defendant to agree to allow the jury to continue with only eleven jurors, who found the defendant guilty of one of the charges against him. ( By the way, if you are named Spartacus Outlaw, I really think crime is a risky career choice.) Continue reading

Is It Unethical To Ban Stupid People From Congress?

In 1978, this last image from “Animal House” was hilarious. In 2012, it’s tragic…because it came true.

The Todd Akin debacle has me wondering why we don’t take measures to block the ignorant and dim-witted from gaining high elected office. I know what you are going to say: that’s what elections are for. But we can’t bar ignorant and stupid people from voting: that’s been settled in court. It shouldn’t surprise us that they frequently tip elections toward candidates that the pollsters describe as “people like them”, and voilà! Todd Akin.

Akin is far (well, maybe not very far) from the  most intellectually suspect member of Congress. For example, Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson once expressed concern that the island of Guam might tip over, like a raft. There are too many other telling anecdotes relating to other members of Congress, in both parties. For those who shrug cynically and argue that it’s always been that way, there is solid evidence that indeed, Congress is getting dumber over time. A study of every word spoken in Congress concluded that the grade level at which members of the legislative branch speak has fallen a full grade since 2005, to just half-way through the junior year of high school. Democrats are slightly more articulate (.4 of a grade) than Republicans as a group, but that just could be because Joe Biden left to be Vice-President. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: School No-Tolerance Hits Rock Bottom

By popular demand, Bill scores a Comment of the Day with 18 well-chosen words, his solution for the school that has demanded that a deaf pre-schooler named “Hunter” find another way to sign his first name because the standard method requires him to make his fingers into the shape of a gun. Here is the new record holder for shortest COTD, on the post School No-Tolerance Hits Rock Bottom. Well done, Bill.

“They should change the sign for his name to a fist pointed up with the middle finger extended.”

Ethics Dunce (and Unethical Tweet of the Month): Donald Trump

Stay classy, Donald.

Well, I’m still trying to get that Todd Akin post up, but greater stupidity keeps intervening. Speaking of greater stupidity: here’s the Donald!

Everyone, even Mitt Romney, must know that Trump is a boor, an ass, and an Ethics Dunce Extraordinaire, an embarrassment to such already embarrassing fields as casinos, real estate development, politics and even reality TV. Still, one would think that he would be shrewd enough—and Trump is often shrewd—to avoid rearing his ugliest side during the Republican National Convention and reminding the media, undecided voters and lurking blog-snipers that Mitt hasn’t shown the sense, courage and integrity to separate this slimy birther from his campaign. But no. Trump is, after all, only interested in Trump, so he had to send out this despicable tweet insulting Adrianna Huffington, who must have said or written something critical of him, Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been critical enough. Here is the tweet:

Trump is no gentleman, no statesman, and no fit ally for a man running for President. I assumed everyone knew that already, but this is another reminder. Let’s see if Mitt Romney has standards that go beyond dollar signs.


Pointer: Hypervocal

Graphic: Brooklyn Mutt

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

School No-Tolerance Hits Rock Bottom

I hope.

Hunter Spanjer, preparing to terrorize someone.

This day-ruining story jumped ahead of a Todd Akin-related post, but since they both involve near criminal levels of stupidity, I didn’t have to shift gears very much. I should begin by assuring readers, however, that much as I wish I was, I am not making this up.

In Grand Island, Nebraska, the public school system has informed the parents of a deaf three-year-old pre-schooler that he cannot use sign language to communicate his name. You see:

  • The young boy’s name is Hunter Spanjer…
  • The Signing Exact English gesture for “hunter” is a fist with the forefinger pointing out and the thumb up, like a pistol…
  • The Grand Island school system’s “Weapons in Schools” Board Policy 8470 prohibits “any instrument…that looks like a weapon'”, and
  • The administrators of that school system are so dumb that they make Todd Akin look like Stephen Hawking. Continue reading

The Vegetarian Reception: Carolyn Hax Strikes Out

Well, nobody bats 1.000.

“Where’s the shrimp?”

My favorite ethical advice columnist, Carolyn Hax, missed a soft pitch by a mile recently. The question came from a couple—an apparently insufferable couple, I may add—who sought Hax’s confirmation that they were within rightful boundaries by wanting to have only vegetarian fare at their upcoming wedding reception, since they were vegetarians themselves. “We don’t want to spend money purchasing meat or fish, and feel that a celebration of our union and the home we are making together should not have meat or fish in it,” they explained. Her parents objecedt on the grounds that, among other things, many of their older friends can’t tolerate beans and dairy. Hax’s correspondent retorts that they can certainly stand to go meatless for one reception.

And Carolyn sided with the soon-to-be insufferable married couple, saying,

“I believe the range of food permissible within a vegetarian diet is broad enough to satisfy all, allowing me to duck the question of whether the guests’ comfort trumps the hosts’ principles. I believe it’s a case-by-case call, depending on both the principles and (dis)comfort involved for the guests.”

Oh Carolyn, Carolyn. A few more duds like this, and the New York Times will offer you its post as “The Ethicist.” Continue reading

Introducing the Jumbo Award and Its First Recipient: John Mark Heurlin, Esquire.

Today Ethics Alarms is launching a new category, the Jumbo Award. The Jumbo is named after the famous moment in the 1935 musical (and 1962 movie adaptation)“Jumbo” in which a clown, played in both by the sublime Jimmy Durante, is trying to sneak the largest elephant in the world out of the circus, which has been seized by creditors.  A sheriff intercepts the would-be elephant-napper, and demands, “Where do you think you are going with that elephant?” To which Durante’s character replies innocently, as if the pachyderm at the end of the rope in his hand is invisible, “Elephant? What elephant?”

Henceforth, the Jumbo will be periodically awarded to an ethical miscreant who continues to try to brass his or her way out of an obvious act of ethical misconduct when caught red-handed and there is no hope of ducking the consequences. And the first recipient is faux lawyer John Mark Huerlin.

Huerlin was suspended from the practice of law, yet was caught representing himself as a lawyer in several ways, which you cannot do while you are suspended. To do so is an ethical violation in itself—dishonest, defiance of the bar, and the unauthorized practice of law. Nonetheless, he used a letterhead that referred to the “Law Offices of John M. Heurlin” and an email address that read “” But the real kicker was that Heurlin held himself out as an attorney in litigation on his own behalf, by following his name with “Esquire” on court pleadings.

Huerlin told the bar that he could explain everything. Esquire means that I’m a lawyer in good standing? My goodness! This is all a big misunderstanding, then. I didn’t use “Esquire” to indicate that I was a lawyer. I thought “Esquire” just meant that I was a subscriber to the magazine, Esquire!

Now either disbarred or soon to be, Mr. Huerlin is officially authorized to replace that confusing reference to his reading habits with a new suffix, so he can present himself as John Mark Huerlin, Jumbo.


Facts: ABA Journal

Graphic: Abracadabra

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at