Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/18/2021: Ethics As A Cure For Anxiety


To be frank, it’s not much of a cure: I’ll probably finish this post after I return from a diagnostic test that I’d rather not have to take, and I’m still a bit stressed about it. this is also one of those regrettable days that will live in ethics infamy, the anniversary of Jim Jones’s evil 1978 mass suicide by his cult members in Guyana. I don’t want to talk about it.

1. Is this headline unethical: “Cow struck and killed by milk truck”? Ann Althouse, who needs a vacation (as do I, but she can actually take one), seems to think so. “And this is news because….? ” she writes. “It’s a test of whether you’re an asshole — i.e., did you think it was funny? The irony or something. Poetic justice? What’s the literary term that applies when a humble being is further humbled by the force that has been humbling it all along?” Jeez, Ann, take a chill pill. Of course it’s news. It would be local news here, and this isn’t even dairy country. It’s also obviously ironic, and kind of funny. As for the “unintended rhyme”—wow. Writing stuff that rhymes is one of the many silly things I do for a living, and that rhyme didn’t even register on me. Now, if the headline had been, “Cow killed and milk spilled,” you might have had a point.

I think the editors must think it’s funny. The struck/truck rhyme is evidence. Or do you think the headline writers are so inept with language that they don’t notice and fix unintended rhymes? Actually, that’s what I think.

2. Will Rep. Adam Schiff ever get his just desserts? He actually has a self-aggrandizing book out, and it is getting positive reviews for the most part from the lackey news media. Here was the best he could do when he was confronted with the fact that the Steele Memorandum and the entire “Trump colluded with Russia” hoax that he loudly enabled for years finally were exposed his party’s scheme to derail Trump with the assistance of the “Deep State”:

“I don’t regret saying that we should investigate claims of someone who, frankly, was a well-respected British intelligence officer. And we couldn’t have known, of course, years ago that we would learn years later that someone who is a primary source lied to him. [Igor] Danchenko lied to Christopher Steele and then lied to the FBI. He should be prosecuted. He is being prosecuted. And I’ll tell you this, if he’s convicted, he should not be pardoned the way Donald Trump pardoned people who lied to FBI agents, like Roger Stone and Mike Flynn. There ought to be the same standard in terms of prosecuting the liars. But I don’t think there ought to be any pardon, no matter which way the lies cut.”

Don’t you love the way Schiff schifted the subject to Trump’s pardons, which have absolutely nothing to do with his shilling for a fake “treason” theory engineered to cripple the power of an elected President? [Pointer: Other Bill]

3. Bulletin to conservative pundits: This doesn’t help your credibility. Yesterday the bonkers conspiracy theory started circulating among the anti-woke that the Democrats were planning on removing Kamala Harris so they could get a, you know, competent and electable President-in-Waiting. Today I just listened in fascination and nausea to a conservative talk-show host discussing this fakiest of fake news as if it were a real  story. …for almost a half-hour! Finally, the genius at the mic—oh how, oh how did I go so wrong that this cretin has a radio show and I…well, you know—said, “The only way I can see this happening is if they impeach Harris.” Impeach her? For what? The Democrats are going to impeach the first “woman of color” to be elected VP because—what, she giggles too much? With all the substantive and complex issues the public needs to understand, and conservative radio is wasting time and brain cells with this crap?

4. This has not been a good week for the ethical image of prosecutors.  The latest: The 1966 convictions of two men for the assassination of the civil rights leader Malcolm X are being vacated today after a long investigation. Meanwhile, Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, spent more than 20 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. This is the fourth post referencing prosecutorial misconduct on Ethics Alarms in lass than a week, beginning with this one, “The Unethical Prosecutors Ethics Train Wreck.”

The 22-month investigation conducted jointly by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers for the two men found that prosecutors,  the FBI and the New York Police Department withheld  evidence that would likely have led to the men’s acquittal. Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, issued an official apology to the men  for wrecking their lives.

That’s nice. I’m sure that makes them feel a lot better. The two men spent a combined 42 years in prison, including years in solitary confinement in some of New York’s worst maximum security prisons. Aziz had six children at the time he was convicted, Islam had three. Both of their marriages fall apart. Even after they were released, the shadow of their convictions hampered their efforts to live normal lives.

30 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/18/2021: Ethics As A Cure For Anxiety

  1. 2)Assuming the GOP takes over the House next year, Schiff has a very good chance of being censured and perhaps tripped of his committee assignments. What he’s done is arguably an order of magnitude worse than the Republican who was just censured.

    In some ways I hope they don’t do that sort of thing — but then again, what the Democrats have done with their power has been absolutely chilling. I personally am livid about some of it.

    4)Around here, people who’ve been wrongfully convicted have gotten fairly big settlements from the state. Have these two folks? Shouldn’t they?

  2. 3. I read somewhere yesterday or the day before that Kamala would be dealt with by kicking her upstairs. She’s to be nominated to the Supreme Court to get her out of the way! If a slot were to open up (Breyer retires?) it would a plausible scenario. Sure she’s totally unqualified to sit on the court, but she’s totally unqualified to be VP, so what’s not to like?

    • Sure! The Dems don’t have to nominate her OR the sitting President. Thus FDR ran through 3 VPs. Lincoln had two. So did McKinley, giving us Teddy. Jefferson and Grant had two different VPs. Up to Ike, it was as usual of not that a two term President would have two Veeps.

  3. Gamereg asked “before” the next election. The only ways a Vice President leaves office before the expiration of their term are via impeachment or resignation (oh, and death, of course). I think, technically, elevation in the event of a presidential vacancy, or nomination to the Supreme Court are subsets, orsub elements, of resignation. No sitting vice president has been impeached and only two have resigned, neither frivolously. The only way Harris will leave office is if Biden doesn’t make the over-under for completing his own term. Those who opine about Harris’ leaving office should get over it. She’s going nowhere. (oh was that a pun?)

      • Under the 25th amendment to the Constitution, first used for Gerald Ford, “Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”

        • Weren’t they threatening Agnew with impeachment before he resigned?

          It is what I would call a Really Good Thing that they got the 25th amendment passed before Watergate. Gerald Ford wasn’t our greatest president, but he had one really important thing to do — pardoning Nixon — and he did it, even though he had to know it would cost him personally. I don’t know that whoever the Speaker was at the time would’ve done that.

  4. 2. I wonder how closely the initial lie that started the Russiagate investigation led to these convictions and subsequent pardons. Then that makes the pardons way more than appropriate, and not only that but they should be vacated and not even require a pardon if the reasons the government agents were conducting interviews were fabricated lies to begin with.

    I’d go as far as adding the sentences of the vacated convictions to that of the initial liar, plus the time already served and some kind of multiplier.

  5. So how should ‘prosecutors’ be cleaned up and where is the outrage? They represent ‘us’ and so need to display the very highest integrity. Are they paid enough? Always seems that dodgy lawyers working for the crooks earn more.

    • When I was an aspiring prosecutor, the role I had studied for in law school, I went to a conference that featured, as one speaker, a lawyer named Jim Sharpe. He had just moved from prosecution to criminal defense, and he was mesmerizing. And suddenly it occurred to me the way the system worked: talented young lawyers prosecuted the poor and lonely against low end defense lawyers of minor ambition and ability, getting paid little but honing their skills. Then, just as early stage Jim Sharpes had mastered their craft, they moved to high paying defense work, against green and underpaid prosecutors. Thus the system is structured to convict the poor and sometimes innnocent because of mismatches at the lawyers’ tables, and help get far worse, but far richer white collar crooks off, because then they can hire late-career Jim Sharpes.

      And so it was that I decided to do other things with my law degree…

      • No, no, no! Far too depressing! So what is the answer? You are not allowed to give up! Giving up surely can’t be ethical, especially not if you’re an ethics guru.

  6. Without exception, every good defense attorney in my area is a former prosecutor, and the career path Jack outlined is definitely the norm. I apparently have less sympathy than Jack for the “poor and lonely” defendants; after all, they committed crimes. The district attorney’s duty is to seek justice, and that means not prosecuting innocent people. People might be surprised at the number of cases that are dismissed on motion from the DA, or nolle prossed when there is doubt about the guilt of the accused. When I read the stories about cops and prosecutors colluding to railroad some poor schmuck, my guts roil at the very thought. Such conduct is so foreign to my personal experience, and so antithetical to the values I and so many others practiced during my career, it is hard for me to even imagine a “justice” culture so corrupt that such a thing could occur. Last time I checked, the prohibition against “bearing false witness” was still one of the ten big rules handed down from the ultimate judge.

    • Actually many (but not all) of the top criminal defense lawyers in this state have never prosecuted anyone, and either started as criminal defense lawyers (usually under a much more experienced one) or started in the public defender’s office. Probably 2 out of 3 lawyers who started in the prosecutor’s office to get trial experience go civil, not criminal after they’ve done their 3 years (that’s considered a normal tour of duty, although only the AG’s office requires a formal commitment). It really depends on what pipeline you are plugged into. “Legendary” prosecutors who convict high profile murderers and corrupt mayors or break up crime families are few and far between, and most of them are angling to get on the bench (most judges are appointed from government: county prosecutors, county counsels, corporation counsels to cities, first assistants to any and all of the above, members of the AG’s office, administrative and workers’ compensation judges etc., it’s really only about 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 judges who come from private practice, and they usually have a racial or gender angle).

      I admit, sometimes they will rush cases through to stick it to the powerless, because their caseloads are very heavy. However, sometimes they will deliberately collude to protect their own, like one case I handled the employment side of, where not only did the police arrest an innocent woman, but the prosecutors pushed bogus charges and even reinstated a $50 traffic ticket against her. Her crime? Pissing off an unstable officer with a long disciplinary record (which included throwing his elderly neighbor down a flight of stairs) so that he attacked her and beat her up. He didn’t try to take her into custody, he BEAT HER UP, as in tried to inflict maximum pain and injury on a woman half his size. Yet cops and prosecutors alike tried to save his job by leaning on HER. I saw to it that he was fired from the department, but a few years later he moved to Florida, where he’s working as a corrections officer and just got in trouble for beating up prisoners. It disgusts me that bullies always seem to have nine lives.

      • I think what really troubled me about Sharpe was that it seemed clear that which ever side he was on, that was the side with the best chance of prevailing, simply because the jury would tend to like him, believe him, and be persuaded by him. And charisma and personality shouldn’t drive the justice system.

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