Saturday Ethics Run-Down, 7/20/2019: Perry Mason, Kamala Harris, And Home Runs-On-Demand

I’m calling it a run-down because I’m run down….

1. More “phantom document” ethics. Last moth I wrote about the ethically dubious “phantom document” tactic, in which a lawyer alludes to a document he or she either does not have, or suggests a document has content it does not in order to trick a witness into recanting testimony.

I just saw the Eighties made-for-TV movie “Perry Mason Returns” that rebooted the classic series (and not so well) for an aging Raymond Burr. The great defense lawyer comes out of retirement to defend old legal assistant Della Street (Barbara Hale), who has been accused of murder. In the trial’s climax, Perry’s investigator Paul Drake, Jr. (played by Hale’s real-life son, actor William Katt of “The Greatest American Hero” fame) bursts into the courtroom and hands Perry a document, which he then holds as he asks the witness (Richard Anderson, playing a different role than he played in the original series) he was in the midst of cross-examining, “Would you like to reconsider your testimony? Would you like me to read a sworn statement from Bobby Lynch, in which he says you hired him to kill Arthur Gordon?”

The witness confesses that he planned the murder that Della was being tried for, and framed her. Della goes free! Perry then tells Della that there was no sworn statement. “I didn’t say I had a sworn statement,” he chuckles, “I just asked if he wanted me to read one.”

Unethical, and I think sanctionable. It is unethical for a lawyer to allude to evidence that doesn’t exist, or “facts” that can’t be proven. Holding an irrelevant document while referring to a “sworn statement” is a false representation to everyone  in the courtroom, not just the witness.

2. Yeah, it’s just moral luck, but it’s nice moral luck.  Matteo Lambert, a 9-year-old from Vienna, Virginia, helped organize a group that is running a 5K race in Grant Park in Chicago this weekend to help raise money for children with cancer. He was brought by the Chicago Cubs dugout before yesterday’s Wrigley Field game against the San Diego Padres to deliver a letter to “Mr. Rizzo” asking Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo to “help kids be kids!” Lambert suggested that Rizzo hit a “moonshot” to help the cause.

So Rizzo crushed a 366 foot grand slam over the left field wall in the third inning of the Cubs’ 6-5 win, his first home run in more than a month.

These periodic heart-warming episodes always remind me of this SCTV skit:

3. Let’s see what the double standard is this timeAs we have discussed, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta was forced to resign because of his role in a much-criticized plea deal with billionaire sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein.  And…what this? It is now being recalled that Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris negotiated an absurdly lenient plea deal  with  former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, a serial sexual harasser, allowing him to escape jail time and avoid registering as a sex offender.

In 2013, 18 women accused Filner, a two-decade Democratic congressman-turned-San Diego mayor, of sexual harassment and misconduct. Some said he put them in “Filner headlocks.”

Harris’ office drew considerable criticism in 2013 for allowing Filner to plead guilty to state charges of false imprisonment and battery against three Jane Does, with the penalty being three months of house arrest, three years’ probation, and partial loss of his mayoral pension. Filner could have faced up to five years in prison. Now, when the #MeToo movement recognizes no mitigating circumstances (except when Democrats are concerned, especially “Democrats of Color”), how will Acosta’s prosecutorial conduct be distinguished from Harris’s? In both cases there were some legitimate reasons to avoid a trial. In both cases there was an appearance of impropriety: Harris, then California’s Democratic Attorney General, gave a sweetheart deal to a predator who was a prominent Democrat.

Perhaps the most damning is her gall, attacking Acosta for giving Epstein deal a “simple, very light pat on the hand,” as Harris put it last week on The View. She also said,

“I personally prosecuted child sexual assault cases. And they are some of the most difficult cases to prosecute. The thing I found so troubling, disheartening and really unbelievable was the way that Acosta has described the challenge … It’s like saying it’s really difficult to make an omelet … Well, then get out of the kitchen!”

Oddly, she didn’t boast about the Filner case. Nobody on ABC’s The View questioned her. about it either.


13 thoughts on “Saturday Ethics Run-Down, 7/20/2019: Perry Mason, Kamala Harris, And Home Runs-On-Demand

  1. The whole implied document gambit seems idiotic.

    Assume someone says I have evidence that you did X, why confess? Why not say put up or shut up. You would be no worse off if he had the “evidence”. Would you let someone take the poker pot if he simply says I have a royal straight flush? Hell no. He needs to show the cards.

    Point 3
    I was wondering when you would discuss the double standard. This would be a great opportunity for Biden to give a bit of payback.

    • Oooooh . . . Goneril?

      To America:

      “You should be ruled and led
      By some discretion that discerns your state
      Better than you yourself.”

      Say if I do, the laws are mine, not thine.
      Who can arraign me for’t?

  2. Loved “Perry Mason Returns”. I saw it when it first aired. I really enjoyed the original series. Barbara Hale died a couple of years ago. I met William Katt at a convention last Fall. He told me she passed away peacefully with her family around her.

    • I was wondering about Katt. He was much older than people assumed when he played Paul Jr. To me, he will always be that glorious curly haired blonde who was Carrie’s date at the ill-fated prom.

      • He is forever the bumbling superhero who never figured out the suit from the aliens. That show had potential, yet never got there. They liked to play cute with the personalities too much.

  3. One of the chief pleasures of re-viewing the thousand-and-one-nights of Perry Mason episodes (in all their Raymond Burr incarnations) is getting to enjoy, if not applaud, and often still be surprised by that final, key, Revelation Scene. [Yes: surprised. Somewhere in the 271 episodes and 45 tv movies there is a forgotten epiphany or two.] The fact that Perry could, should or would be hung, drawn and halved if not quartered for the “dirty law” in HIS real life … Makes … No … Difference.

    But now, Now, your day will come! Sometime next year (probably), HBO will present its reinvention of the great PM — because it is running out of stories just like the rest of television — set in L.A. in the 30’s (hey, new idea!). Now, if HBO had been courageous and creative, they might have drawn on Erle Stanley Gardner’s originals which set Mason firmly on the wrong side of the law as often as not, just barely barring murder. Worse, he dragged his faithful secretary-cum-mistress Della, dogsbody P.I. Paul, and an always innocent client, all fiercely protesting his corner-cutting, into complicit and (at least once per novel) life-threatening situations. Their protests lasted only the length of explanations — for readers who didn’t get the “how” of things — of Mason’s casual orders for housebreaking, theft, forgery, abduction, grand larceny, mayhem, and courtroom shennanigans that Burr’s writers would have balked at. All to have been forgiven or, — oddly — forgotten, by the denouement.

    They would give Ethics Alarms a year’s worth of happy head explosions.

    • p.s. Gardner’s male readers dreamed of Della, the always beautiful, single, available, smart (just a level below her boss) girl/gal, willing to be used, abused and totally taken for granted. She was the sexual focus of the books, all the more so because she was never really described. To the rarer female reader, she was the romantic interest, the fantasy established as Miss Street’s efficient, underling-cum-companion to her all-powerful boss who, the reader imagined, just might marry her … some day. [Perhaps novel #81?] Paul Drake, the only accidentally ethical person in Perry’s merry band whose job as a licensed investigator demands a certain amount of cooperation with the police, but who otherwise does Mason’s real dirty work to order, was the only regular character described … by at least one unhandsome characteristic per book: he slouched, he was “slightly” pop-eyed, he had a tic of some kind, and so on. Altogether, the gang couldn’t offend progressive tastes more. I love ’em.

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