Law vs. Ethics: A Snatched Bar Mitzvah Gift, A Leaky AG, An Embarrassing Scoreboard, and”OINK”

Oink

I try to keep my legal ethics seminars up-to-the-minute, so while preparing for yesterday’s session with the Appellate Section of the Indiana Bar, I came across a bunch of entertaining stories in which the ethics were a lot clearer than the law, or vice-versa. All of them could and perhaps should sustain separate posts; indeed, I could probably devote the blog entirely to such cases.

Here are my four favorites from the past week’s legal news, involving a mother-son lawsuit, a brazenly unethical attorney general, a college scoreboard named after a crook, and police officer’s sense of humor:

The Snatched Bar Mitzvah Gift

When Jordan Zeidman, now 20, was 13, his maternal grandmother crashed his bar mitzvah along with her daughter, Shirley Zeidman, who had split from Jordan’s father in a nasty divorce and had been banned from the festivities.

Jordan testified in Nassau County Small Claims Courts  that “Baba,” as he called the grandmother, had told him, as his mother stood by,   ‘I have $5,000 for you. Just like I gave to your brother and sister, and I’m going to give it to your mom to hold for you.’”

Jordan never saw the money. After repeatedly asking his mother for it and getting no response, he finally sued her. In a nine-page ruling, Nassau District Court Judge Scott Fairgrieve found Shirley liable for conversion and unjust enrichment, awarding Jordan a judgment for the $5,000 that his mom “held for [his] benefit and continues to hold, in violation of her fiduciary duty.”

I’d love to hear Shirley’s rationalizations for doing this. I bet she has dozens.

I know a few people who have sue their parents, and the all feel great regret and shame about it. I even have a visceral ethics alarm go off any time I hear about such a case: Sue your mother? Who bore you? To whom you owe your life?

That’s ick, though, not ethics. Jordan’s mother stole from him, and also breached her own mother’s trust. She’s the villain for making her son sue her.

The Leaky Attorney General

Leaking grand jury testimony is both illegal and spectacularly unethical for a lawyer, yet Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, appears to have done it for the slimiest of reasons, and is offering the most cynical of defenses in the most offensive of ways. (Incidentally, I don’t understand how this could happen. After all, Kane is a woman, the first Democrat and the first woman to be elected to the post, and since having a vagina alone is supposed to imbue a candidate with trustworthiness, surpassing competence and virtue, this makes no sense at all.)

After an extensive investigation, prosecutors  believe Kane passed a transcript and memorandum related to a 2009 grand jury investigation to a Philadelphia Daily News reporter last year. The method: a top aide to Kane left a package containing the material between his front and screen doors, and a political consultant who helped Kane get elected picked up the package and delivered it to a Philadelphia Daily News reporter.

(Note please that the news media is permitted to undermine the justice system and to facilitate the crime of leaking sealed testimony by an elected official. Just because the First Amendment permits a newspaper to do this, however, doesn’t make it ethical, and indeed it is not.)

Kane  also is charged with lying under oath about the leak during a grand jury investigation and ordering aides to illegally snoop through computer files to keep tabs on the investigation of her conduct. Kane told a grand jury last November that she had never seen the memo.

Her defenses are the smoke issuing from a charred and blackened superego. She testified last November she wasn’t subject to secrecy rules surrounding the 2009 grand jury investigation because she was never sworn in to that grand jury. That’s right: jurors couldn’t leak the information, but she could. Prosecutors are never sworn into the grand jury, because they aren’t jurors. They are trusted professionals. Her defense to the accusation that she leaked the information to smear her predecessor: That’s ridiculous! There were other ways to smear him.

Then she gave out this gem:

“My defense will not be that I am the victim of some old boys’ network,” she told reporters. “It will be that I broke no laws of the Commonwealth. Period.”

Ah, yes, the Hillary Clinton defense, plus the ever-green “I’m not going to mention a thing about my opponent being a gay, cannibalistic Communist; I’m above that sort of thing.”

It is obvious that Kane leaked the information; the only questions are whether she technically committed perjury, technically breached grand jury secrecy, and whether she will have the integrity to resign whether she is acquitted or not, having proved herself to be too dishonest to be a lawyer and too unethical to be a Attorney General.

On the latter, I’m guessing no.

The Embarrassing Scoreboard

Greedy California Polytechnic State University allowed businessman Al Moriarty to plaster a 53-foot “Moriarty Enterprises’’ ad on the top of the school’s scoreboard at its Alex G. Spanos Stadium. The fools: any time you name a prominent feature of your school after a living alum, especially a mid-career living alum, you are inviting disaster.

Of course, an ethical donor would regard such an honor as creating an ethical obligation not to create dishonor for the school. However, since Al was already deep into an illegal scam when he paid $625,000 for naming rights for the then-new Cal Poly video scoreboard, this ethics principle is inapplicable.  Moriarty, a former Cal Poly football player and major sports booster, filed for bankruptcy in Washington state in 2012, and was convicted in 2014 of defrauding 170 investors of $22 million in a Ponzi scheme. He is serving time in San Luis Obispo County Jail.

The school tried to remove the embarrassing sign, arguing that there was an implicit “my name won’t humiliate the school and make it want to vacate the campus” understanding in its naming deal. Nice try. I’m sure the school didn’t vet its donor before allowing him to make the scoreboard a personal billboard, any more than the Houston Astros checked out Enron’s business practices before naming its new stadium “Enron Field.” It is always “Show me the money!” in these venal deals.  You’re right; I hate sports teams selling their stadium names to the highest bidder, ending up with monstrosities like “Petco Park.”

The day Fenway Park is renamed “Trump Field” is the day I become a Yankees fan.

But I digress.

Where was I? Oh, right: the name. No, a deal’s a deal, ruled the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Even though Cal Poly was suckered like the rest of its old football hero’s prey, his ad was bought and paid for fair and square, and that blight on the school’s stadium will remain until California Polytechnic  shells out $480,000 to Moriarty’s creditors.

Good.

“Oink”

The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments this on whether a police officer was wrongly denied a vanity license plate saying ‘OINK,’ which state officials felt was offensive. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is representing Greenfield police Officer Rodney Vawter, who says the Bureau of Motor Vehicles made an arbitrary decision that violates his free speech rights. Ken Falk, the ACLU’s legal director, cited plates the BMV has allowed that also might be deemed offensive, such as “BLK JEW,” ”HATE” and “FOXY GMA.” Vawter sued the BMV in May 2013 after it revoked his plate after three years, which featured a zero followed by the letters “INK,” meant to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to his job.Oh, the state will lose this for sure. The BMV is wrong on the law, even though it’s right about the plate being offensive. This policeman is mocking the fact that some people think police officers are less than admirable, trustworthy, respectable and professional, and saying with his license plate: “I don’t care! I gotta a gun!” The fact that this cop thinks this an appropriate license plate creates a rebuttable presumption that he’s not admirable, trustworthy, respectable and professional, especially the latter.

His license plate should read “JERK.”

 

__________________________

Pointer: ABA Journal

Sources: ABCNY PostAP 1, 2, sanlouisobispo.com,

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

19 thoughts on “Law vs. Ethics: A Snatched Bar Mitzvah Gift, A Leaky AG, An Embarrassing Scoreboard, and”OINK”

  1. [Trump] But Jack, Trump Field will be the yugest, most classiest field in the history of baseball. It’s gonna have a yuge plasma screen jumbotron, only the best, I know a guy, and the seats will be plated with fool’s gold. You’ll be able to see the words “Trump Field” on the sign all the way to Harvard, even though some Mexican is gonna break the sign so it reads “Rump Field”. [/Trump]

    We all know he wouldn’t buy Fenway Park, he probably thinks the Sox are “losers”. Which… they are this year, and it’s not many years I get to lord [i]anything[/I] over you as a Cubs fan, so let me have this.

    • With all the ex-Sox on the team, plus Theo, the Cubs are one of the remaining joys of the seaon…except for Manny. I’ll never forgive Manny.

      But who wouldn’t be happy for the Cubs? Sensible Red Sox fans knew we’d long be paying for all those balls that bounced the right way in 2013. The Cubs finally getting some love from destiny is way, way, way overdue.

      Go Cubbies!

      • At least the Cubs and the Sox fanbases can join in mutual hatred of the Yankees, who are probably Donald Trump’s favorite team because they’re rich.

  2. [oink] It could also be that he’s got a sense of humor and is a bit of a joker. With all the pressures added to the good cops in the last year, I could easily see this as a touch of dark humor. Then, having forces of PC taking even that away, they fight it.

  3. If on the other hand it was a pig farmer who had a plate labelled OINK then the plate would not have been offensive at all, unless one considers pig farming itself to be offensive. But I am not sure about someone who is both a police officer and a pig farmer.

  4. I dunno about the cop with the “oink” plate. Personally, I believe the cop has a sense of humor so what’s the harm. However, if he ordered the plate for his wife’s car, he would definitely be a jerk and extremely stupid to boot. He would pay and pay big time probably forever.

  5. A policeman with a license plate that says “OINK”?

    He’s not being a jerk.

    He’s just being a ham.

    –Dwayne

  6. I’m hardly a pro-police guy most days, but I’m taking Officer Vawter’s side in this one. I don’t find the plate offensive. The term “pig”, used in this context, is meant to be offensive towards police officers, and those who say it do so with the intent to demean and dehumanize all cops. Vawter’s the one who should be offended here, but he has declined to do so, choosing instead to mockingly embrace the epithet. A similar situation would be a Black person having a “NIGGA” license plate.

    • All jokes aside, I also immediately took the license plate as self-deprecating humor on the part of Officer Vawter.

      To me, the real story is that we have yet another example of some self-appointed paragon of correctness in the bureaucracy pronouncing something as “offensive” on behalf of police officers, nevermind that it’s a police officer choosing to have the plate. HE’S NOT OFFENDED BY IT.

      But no–some bureaucrat in the B.M.V. knows better.

      –Dwayne

  7. [Mitzvah]

    “That’s ick, though, not ethics. Jordan’s mother stole from him, and also breached her own mother’s trust. She’s the villain for making her son sue her.”

    That would be true only if baba actually gave the mother the $5000. My reading of the decision led me to believe that both the mother and grandmother say that the $5000 was never actually passed over in trust. Even though the judge outlined that may in fact have been the case, the son was able to submit as evidence a deposit book where the mother had written a note that implied that she accepted that she owed him the $5000.00.

    I’m not sure if the mother stole from her son, or if baba made a promise that she never followed up on, regardless, ick.

  8. OK, there is a bigger question here that has gone unanswered. Why in the world does Cal Poly have a football team? How much education money has been wasted on this frivolousness?

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