Comment of the Day: “A Failure To Understand Legal Ethics Kills”

armchair quarterback2

It shouldn’t shock anyone to see yet another Comment of the Day here authored by texaggo4. He has been the most prolific commenter—other than me, and he’s ahead of me so far in 2015— since the legendary tgt went into voluntary keyboard retirement, and has led all visitors in commentary the past two years. Last year, he contributed a staggering 3, 048 comments, more than twice as many as runner-up Steven Mark Pilling, who was hardly a piker with 1,082. (The rest of the top five: Ablativemeatshield/Scott Jacobs close behind at 1, 079—he would have finished #2 if he hadn’t quit the field in a pro-pot snit; Beth, with 881, and dragin-dragon at 809. Thanks, everyone, and all other commenters too. That’s a lot of quality content, some of the best on the web anywhere.)

The list is especially relevant to this COTD, as tex rebuts an accusation of “Armchair quarterbacking” against Beth from new commenter gokafilm. Beth had offered a comment to the post about Tampa lawyer Gienevee Torres, who called 911 to report a deranged client—he was wearing pajamas and thought she was God– who had just left her office with his 5-year-old daughter after making an ominous comment. The police decided that the man was harmless despite her warning, and the man eventually dropped the girl off a bridge. Beth wrote:

“I am furious at this lawyer — not the police. She should have said something like, “Yes, I am God. He commands you to give me your child and leave my office now and run to the nearest hospital.” I would have happily stood before the Bar Committee defending my actions if it meant that I had saved a child’s life.”

Gokafilm replied:

Easy to say Beth from the safety of your home/office/wherever. She had to be concerned for her safety and her staff as well. This most likely is a split second decision. Get the individual out and call the authorities…Did she not have a responsibility to herself and her staff to consider their safety as well? What’s to say he wouldn’t have harmed them if they forcibly tried to keep the girl. This lawyer did the right and only thing she could have. Got the individual out of her office, and contacted both 911 and DCF in order to protect the child. Any other conclusion is merely arm chair quarterbacking from the safety of your computer screen.

Another term for “armchair quarterbacking” is hindsight bias, the tendency to judge a difficult decision unreasonably harshly when it doesn’t work out well. “Obviously” conduct is “wrong” after the results are known. My response to Beth’s comment was that the whole, horrible incident was moral luck: if the lawyer had done the same thing and the girl had been rescued as a result of her violating client confidentiality, everyone would have said that her actions were appropriate and even heroic.

On the other hand, post-event analysis is invaluable; this website is based on it. The argument that nobody should criticize an individual’s conduct “unless he’s walked a mile in his shoes” is a lazy cop-out that impedes cultural wisdom and learning from the mistakes of others. I don’t completely agree with many, perhaps most, Comments of the Day, but I concur with this one.

Here is texaggo4’s Comment of the Day on the post, A Failure To Understand Legal Ethics Kills:

Armchair Quarterbacking

This is a fair topic to broach, but let’s be fair to Beth and anyone else who you are attacking with your accusations. Up front, it is only unfair to “armchair quarterback” when you bring into judgement, that is to make a moral pronouncement, on someone’s performance, based on hindsight bias. I don’t think Beth did this, nor anyone else. I don’t think they considered Torres to be some moral or ethical dastard for making the decision she made.

We all acknowledge that in pinch decisions, in which time available to consider all options is reduced to zero, one must quickly pick what seems to be the best available option from time-limited choices. We extend that benefit to Torres. But that doesn’t stop us, and rightfully so, from picking apart the scenario, FREE FROM CONDEMNING TORRES, from an unbiased situation. You see, this is how we learn and create rules in life to help us govern our own decisions. To condemn *fair* “armchair quarterbacking” is to condemn learning from situations and compelling us to “wing” life as it goes and not learn from anyone’s advice.

I don’t see any condemnation of the original actor in Beth’s or anyone else’s analysis. It is COMPLETELY fair to “armchair quarterback” a situation when you don’t condemn an actor (otherwise innocent), but merely analyze what could have been done better…leading therefore to a guide which helps future situations like this.

You see, if we don’t do these non-judgmental “quarterbackings”, or as the Army calls them “After Action Reviews”, we will never be able to learn, establish ethical protocols, or teach future individuals what the best action to take is…

Are we to stop that? Your protest would imply we should…

Yes, maybe Gienevee Torres did make the “right” snap decision given the small amount of time she had available and the tiny amount of information available and the tiny tiny tiny amount of ethical training she had available….

But think what she could have done if her “tool box” of ethics had been instinctively trained to be MORE diverse? Who knows… maybe a living girl and a man receiving the treatment he needs… maybe a completely dead office staff after a rampage….

Don’t decry those philosophizing about it, when they haven’t condemned the Principal (and they haven’t…at least not from what I read of Beth’s or anyone else’s)

21 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “A Failure To Understand Legal Ethics Kills”

  1. I sympathize with all points of view on this. I recall many times in my life encountering very surreal situations wherein I was paralyzed into inaction; just absolutely stunned that they were happening. I’m sure most of you have been in situations where you’ve thought “is this really happening? Am I on TV or something?”, or failing to see the situation for what it actually is. Among other things, I’ve been robbed at gunpoint twice in my life, and have been in a home invasion situation (all overseas, for what that’s worth). For those of you who haven’t endured this, it’s much more terrifying than you’d probably think. I thought I knew what I’d do in a situation like this. I didn’t count on being so stunned that I felt like I lacked the muscular coordination to do so. I was helpless as a lamb. It’s a humiliating feeling too, and you feel utterly violated. I vowed it would never happen again. I was armed from that moment on, thinking that I would at least blow the robbers brains out as he fled with my money. I’d learned from my mistakes.Nope. I was just as helpless the second time. The gun may as well have been on the moon. I was too stunned to even pull it to take off the back of his head as he fled. Oh well. The home invasion was worse. There’s nothing quite like waking to the sound of breaking glass. I do, however, agree that there is great value in after-action reports, otherwise we’d still be mired in trench warfare. I like Beth’s idea for handling this. It was probably more feasible than my above plan, with the terror factor not being as acute.

  2. I missed the original post because the link took me to a WordPress log-in page rather that to Ethics Alarms, but the COD is spot-on as is Joed68’s comment. Critiquing behavior is not the same as condemning the “behaver,” and something that trainers must do to help students learn from others’ mistakes. An old sergeant once told me, “If you don’t learn from the mistakes of others. you won’t likely live long enough to make all of them yourself.”

  3. While Tex’ comments are spot on, Gokafilm was likely set off by the “…furious at the lawyer – not the police”…

    Sometimes the authorities fail, spectacularly, and leave those without any authority with painful results.

    When I was in college, I witnessed an attempted sexual assault committed by someone I (very unfortunately) interacted with daily. I stopped the assault, and reported it to the hall director the next morning, who said her hands were tied and could do nothing (this was one of many behaviors that could have gotten him kicked out of student housing, if nothing else). I then took grief as a “cockblock” for the rest of the semester.

    In retrospect, I might have pushed the issue more; the subsequent harassment towards me might have been enough to bring before the dean of students, even if I lacked “standing” to report the original assault. However, the hall director has a clear responsibility for the safety of the students in her building, and educating those students in how to navigate the system to promote a safe and harassment free environment. She failed in these regards. She threw her arms up, and left naive 18 year old me on my own.

    The police have the resources and are trained in identifying and subduing threats, more so than any attorney (or hall director). I doubt that the police would have recommended the lawyer manipulate her client with lies that indulge his delusions; this is very dangerous as Gokafilm wished to express. Beth’s comment ever so slightly tilted the blame away from the police who grossly misassessed the situation. To recommend a dangerous solution would be unwise.

    The lawyer might have pressed the issue more, but inaction on the authority’s part is highly discouraging. If they identify no issue, was the original complaint wrong? The Obama administration’s heavy handed efforts regarding sexual assault on college campuses are likely nobly motivated by addressing the blank stares colleges administers give students. The Ferguson protests are likely motivated by the real and frequent failures of police.

    Tex’ comment rightly points out that after-the-fact assessments are wise and needed. Gut reactions are not necessarily correct; and gut reactions to the original action might make things worse, whether manipulating a psychotic parent, violating due process of male students, or throwing one’s hands up and pronouncing “Don’t Shoot!”

  4. I too missed gokafilm’s response to Beth on this (I continue in semi-retirement from the computer for another couple of weeks) but very glad I caught this COD. Comments of the Day, like most conversations here, often take an issue to a higher level, but rarely — additionally — bring the kind of no-fault closure to commenter debates that texagg04 can. He’s done it for posts of mine and this is a good a time as any to say I appreciate the even-handedness, regardless of our clashing idiologies.

    The original post reminded me of the arguments that continue to swirl around the Tarasoff Law — a protective “breaker” for doctor-patient confidentiality in warning a patient’s victim (in this case, the police on behalf of the child) of likely bodily harm to others. In some states, the statute also covers other mental health professionals, such as crisis line counselors, in cases of threatened high-probability suicides. It can be an extremely close judgement call that often has to be made virtually instantly. No matter how well it turns out, there is always a residue of guilt and regret in failing the client.

      • You didn’t miss anything along those lines. It’s just that I was reading Ethics Alarms, including your entries, for more than a year before I began posting, tried to learn from others’ mistakes, and developed some principles along the way.

        I have conscientiously tried to avoid posting on anything 1) that pushes people’s buttons unnecessarily, 2) for which I do not have or do not know of the existence of empirial evidence; 3) that will involve me in a worthless back-and-forth with someone who has no intention to discuss or debate — nor knowledge of how to do either — who will express/defend his rigid unsupported illogical opinion ad infinitum; 4) from which I can take the ethical example without being interested in the example/subject itself, or 5) with which I heartily disagree which is a fine opportunity to find out how other people tick and click, where my own bias lies, and what keeps us all coming back.

        I have failed at least once on each count, which makes me more determined than ever to hold to the principles, just on principle.

        Due to the nature of an unconventional education and a lifetime of wildly variant jobs and vocations, my cohort has been along independent political and social lines that are simply incendiary fuses here. I was seduced into Ethics Alarms by the promise of fresh brain convolutions and strains of kindred spirits in unlikely guises, like yourself. The lessons in ethics and politics — particularly in terms of our present president and government — have been infinitely valuable to me . . . nearly as valuable as were the handful of friends I have alienated by attempting to draw ethical diagrams for them (I think Beth can understand this).

        The substantive disagreements with Jack, you, and others from whom I (usually respectfully) learn here … okay, you waded in this far, might as well give you something to wet your feet … they fall into a subcategory of 1) and 2) = such as pre-agreed-upon definitions for say, lefties/liberals, illegal immigrants, or the origin of life (not the cosmic, the womb-one); the child talent and unethical cause of death of a celebrity diplomat ; most praise of Texas or denigration of San Francisco; any part of any argument based on faith (religious or otherwise), the importance of the United States on the planet, and about a dozen more.

        Then there’s 4}, subjects that I can’t comment on because I’ve gone through them and long since come to what I believed to be a perfect understanding, now seeing them anew from ethical angles : racism, immigration, education …. Also in terms of 4) I came in to EA already fervently anti-PC, as much out of a love of language as anything else. The point of having the widest possible vocabulary is to choose words with greater precision. The greater the precision, the clearer the communication. On this subject and bias alone, I have received a most welcome vindication. As for 5) like 3) I had best keep the names to myself.

        And last, I am lazy and self-indulgent: As I’ve said before (I think; I also have a faulty memory), I read blazingly fast; I write crawlingly slow. When writing for readers, here, I will rarely post spontaneously. Ususally, I fall into a fugue state at the keyboard, only to come out of it with a painfully moused hand and sand-dry eyes, calf cramps, a crick in my neck, and missed appoinments, deadlines and sleep. I am too easily seduced by peripheral information (Google is not that much faster than and often inferior to using the reference library I once owned). And murdering my darlings requires a third to half again as much time in copy editing. It is now 7am; I began this six hours ago. I will try and not do it again.

        See, tex, that’s what you haven’t missed. Aren’t you glad?

  5. Gosh — I go on vacation for a few days and look what happens. I will keep this brief as I am typing on a Kindle, but no, I am not condemning the attorney as a horrible human being, but she did make the wrong call. I can say what I did because more than once in my career as an attorney I’ve had to make split second calls that were personally or ethically difficult. So, I wrote my previous comment not only as an attorney (with pro bono experience working with abused and neglected children), but as an attorney used to making those calls. And, most importantly, I wrote it as a parent of a young girls the same age as the victim. Believe me when I say the call would have been easy for me. I feel sorry for this attorney as I am sure she will replay this incident for the rest of her life, but the majority of my grief and pity is reserved for a little girl who would have lived if her father had entered my law office (or perhaps someone else’s) that day.

    • One point in particular I was trying to make but might have missed was to agree with Tex that dispassionate after the fact analysis is a good thing, but that is more important to think and critique alternative solutions thoroughly. I do not disagree with delaying tactics that might have kept the girl from leaving with her father, but only with the specific strategy of using the delusions to manipulate. Unexpected commands from “God” could trigger any number of poor responses. (If people were perfectly obedient to their God, there would never be sin, after all!)

      • I didn’t say it was a good plan, but I would have tried a variety of delaying or deception tactics.

        My guess is that this attorney may have been afraid of keeping her bar license, just as the officer felt bound by procedure, and the clergy man felt bound by his code. Sometimes people need to engage in independent thought.

    • Been gone for a couple of weeks myself and only now getting an opportunity to respond. As a poster commented earlier, I have no issue with revisiting decisions in an effort to learn. I have an issue with the passing of judgment with Beth originally did and has done again with her response above. Every situation is unique and what “foresight” you may have gleaned from whatever situation you may have found yourself in previously is not always applicable. You see, I was there, in that office and I can tell you unequvicably that the call made was the right call in that moment. Can we lear from it? Absolutely, but to imply that the little girl would have been alive still had she been in your offense is quite frankly reprehensible. I’m glad you think so highly of yourself Beth.

  6. A few queries, here. This man was WEARING PAJAMAS? How had he gotten to her office without anyone noticing this rather extraordinary fact? Before he was admitted to her office, didn’t her receptionist come in to tell her that there was a bona fide whack job sitting outside with a little girl? Couldn’t either she or a staff member have called the police at that point… even if it took going outside and using a cell phone so as not to alert their “guest”? Did any of them try to subtly remove the child from the man’s immediate custody by such a ruse as offering her milk and cookies (say) while her father was in consultation? Failing in that, was any other plan made to restrain the man from departing with the child? Were there any men in that office, or were they all female? Am I to understand that no one at all there was armed?

    And lastly; even if there was no good way to accomplish any of these things while the man and child were there, there remains the prime factor of the natural human heiarchy. Child, woman, man… in descending order. A child in the custody of an obvious lunatic must be considered in imminent peril. When no other option is available, something has to be done. Some distraction, someone grabs the child and all scatter. Flee to another office where there are men to assist or anyone with a firearm. But do something. Maybe I’m judging this woman too harshly, but it seems to me that her priorities were misplaced. It still amazes me that she apparently had no plan for dealing with insane and/or abusive clients nor had a physical means of defeating them… such as even a .38 revolver. Had she, a little girl would still be alive.

    And yes, those cops responsible should be HELD responsible.

    P.S.: Scott’s really nipping at my heels in the volume of comments, isn’t he?!

    • Exactly. And again, none of this is to excuse what the police did either — but an impassioned plea from the attorney that this child was in imminent danger would have gone a long way.

    • Yes, you are judging too harshly. At the time, it was an all female office. Yes, the girl was removed from the consultation and sent downstairs to color in a drawing room for children. The attorneys in that office and staff have children of their own, so I’m sure their instincts as mothers were at the forefront as opposed to the loss of a bar license as Beth insinuated earlier.

      • Fine. Then please explain to me why they didn’t attempt any of the other pretty logical actions I mentioned. It still seems to indicate that they had no plan in place, were unable to formulate one during the time of the visitation and likely WERE placing their legal practice ahead of everything else… including a little girl’s safety.

  7. Sure, I’ll play along:
    – Receptionist calls police saying there’s man with little girl in the office wearing pajamas. History shows us they won’t come out for calls like that.
    – Restrain the man. 6’2″ over 200 lbs. All female office. They have children of their own as well. I’m going to allow that they were concerned for their safety as well as the little girls and wanted to get home to their own families that evening.
    – Whether they were armed or not is irrelevant. No claims of violence against them or the little girl took place in that office. Are you telling me if you saw a person you thought acted strangely but otherwise did nothing to suggest murder that you would hold them at gunpoint?
    – If you’ve never had an insane or abusive client and you haven’t had colleagues that have had abusive clients, why would it be out of the ordinary that they didn’t have a safety plan in place at the time? If I take my dog for a walk on the same path without incident for six years then one day I get mauled by a strange dog I had never seen, am I at fault for not carrying a stick?
    – I can 100% assure your they were not placing their practice above the safety of a little girl.

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