Yesterday I wrote about a lawyer in a legal ethics seminar interrupting me with a revelation about Gene Autry that was completely false.
Today I taught another legal ethics seminar, this time for a government agency. I was discussing was the various government ethics dilemmas in “Bridge of Spies,” the story of how lawyer Jim Donovan helped secure the release of downed U.S. flyer Francis Gary Powers in a famous incident during the Cold War. Many of the issues covered in my presentation were explored in this Ethics Alarms post.
As the film portrays it, Donovan, an insurance lawyer, does such a tenacious job defending an accused Soviet spy from U.S. government prosecution that the CIA recruits him to broker the trade of his now-former client, convicted and in prison, for Powers. In discussing the classic government lawyer dilemma of “who is the client?,” I noted that the CIA agent who recruited Donovan told him that he would have no client. “Why did the CIA trust Donovan?” I asked socraticly. “Why did Donovan, an insurance lawyer, think he was qualified to engage in this kind of representation, it it was a representation?”
For the second time in nine days, an attendee piped up with an amazing piece of information.
“I suspect some of the answer to both questions is that James Donovan was the son of “Wild Bill” Donovan, who is considered the father of the Central Intelligence Agency,” he said.
This was not quite as shocking as the previous lawyers claim that cowboy singing star Gene Autry was a pornographer , but it was even more disruptive, because it was actually relevant to legal ethics issue. Why of course Donovan would be attractive to the CIA, if his father was Bill Donovan! This explained a lot, and I was annoyed that the film made no mention of it. I thanked the lawyer profusely,and apologized to the class for not being as informed as I should have been. I know about World War II spymaster Wild Bill Donovan (and his even more interesting British counterpart, Bill Stevenson, a.k.a “The Man Called Intrepid”). This was embarrassing. Donovan, Donovan—why didn’t I make the connection?
As with the Gene Autry slander however, this “fact” wasn’t true either! When I got back to the ProEthics office, I reviewed Bill Donovan’s biographical information. He had two children, but neither of them were James Donovan.
Now approximately 200 lawyers for a government agency think that Jim Donovan was Bill Donovan’s son. There is certainly no shame in that, but once again, one of my seminars was used to spread a rumor and false biographical fact.
Teaching is hard enough without being shadowed by people determined to spread fiction as fact.