Sunday Ethics Break, 3/27/2022: An Oscars Date That Will Live In Infamy

I’m squeezing today’s potpourri in while I labor to finish a client’s opinion letter on a weird type of lawyer conflict of interest where an attorney represents multiple clients seeking damages from the same defendant who doesn’t have the assets to satisfy everyone. Yes, compared to technical legal ethics, thinking about the rest is recreation.

Tonight is the Oscars broadcast, which I will assiduously miss despite having seen at least some of more Best Picture nominees than in recent years. From an ethics point of view, I must note that on this date in 1973, Marlon Brando confirmed his status as one of the biggest jerks in Hollywood by declines his Academy Award for Best Actor in “The Godfather.” Instead, he inflicted Native American activist Sasheen Littlefeather (that’s her, today and then) on the attendees and the TV audience. She appeared in Brando’s place and said that the actor “very regretfully” would not accept the award, in protest of the portrayals of Native Americans in film. This abuse of the ceremony for narcissistic political grandstanding helped start the Oscars on their long decline from being a celebration of popular entertainment to becoming an obnoxious platform for ill-educated and ill-informed celebrities to presume to lecture the American public.

1. From New York City, a “laws are for the little people” classic. NYC Mayor Eric Adams formally announced last week that he was lifting the vaccine mandate in for professional athletes and performers. He can spin all he wants, and the news media will spin for him, but there is no ethical way out of the hypocrisy. Adams claimed that his decision was driven by concern for the economic recovery of the city from the pandemic, noting that sports and entertainment played vital roles in generating jobs and tax dollars. Yes, and they also poured thousands of dollars into lobbying for this exemption. Adams said he had always believed it to be unfair that New York City-based athletes had to be vaccinated to play but visiting players did not, under an earlier Mayor De Blasio executive order dating to the prior administration. The disparate treatment of highly paid, celebrity workers and less starry, influential and powerful ones looks bad, and is bad.

2. I can’t control my gorge sufficiently to declare David Lat an Ethics Hero, since he is responsible for the slimy legal gossip rag “Above the Law” that, among other things, inflicted Elie Mystal on us, but he authored an impressive rebuke to the Dean of Yale Law School, a friend, over her quiet acceptance of a law student mob shutting down a panel event because it contained conservatives, He wrote her in part, in an open letter,

I’d like to share my serious concerns about the state of free speech at YLS… arising from a loud and rowdy protest of a March 10 event sponsored by the Yale Federalist Society (“FedSoc”)…

you understand that part of being a leader is taking heat. So you shouldn’t have left others to take the heat for you. Instead, you should have strutted out into that hallway, wearing your fabulous signature boots, and told the protesters: “Enough. You are all in flagrant violation of Yale’s free speech policies. If you do not quiet down immediately, you will be disciplined.”

Not confronting the protesters on March 10 was, I submit, a failure of leadership—but it might have been understandable, in the heat of the moment and the chaos of the situation. A less understandable failure of leadership is not sending out a school-wide email after things calmed down, like the one that Dean David Faigman sent out after a similar event at UC Hastings Law, offering a ringing affirmation of free speech and explaining how the protesters violated university free-speech policies.

Progressives are free to think that their opponents are Bad People. They can exclude them from social gatherings. They can make Bad People feel unwelcome in affinity groups (already happening at YLS, with members of certain affinity groups being forced to choose between affinity-group and FedSoc membership). They can make fun of Bad People with satirical fliers.

But it’s your job, as the Dean of Yale Law School, to tell Progressives that in an academic community based on free expression, there are limits to how much they can act on the view that their opponents are Bad People. Progressives can’t shut down duly organized events because they disagree with the speakers. They can’t weaponize anti-discrimination policies to punish the protected speech of their opponents. They can’t make up and spread lies about professors with unpopular views (or the students who dare to associate with those professors). It’s your job, as the Dean of Yale Law School, to remind Progressives of all this—even if they complain, call you “complicit,” or say you’re a Bad Person too.

Except that progressives do promote and engage in all of those behaviors Lat says they “can’t” do; in fact, the progressives who work for “Above the Law,” which Lat founded but no longer runs, promote them regularly.

3. Parents actually pay to have their kids go to schools like this. Convicted cop-killer Jalil Muntaqim, also known as Anthony Bottom,  is scheduled to speak at SUNY Brockport on April 6. Muntaqim was convicted of killing Patrolmen Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini in 1971. The college initially justified the invitation by calling him a “political prisoner” on its website.

Adjunct professor Daniel Varrenti, a former chief of the Brockport Police Department who had taught at the college for 22 years, resigned in protest. This got him an interview on Fox News, but its only substantive effect was to prompt the school to remove the description of Muntagim as a “political prisoner.” There is nothing inappropriate in a college having a controversial speaker like him address students. He is an interesting character. He joined the Black Panther Party at age 16, and was convicted of the killing the two New York City Police Officers. He then spent nearly 50 years in prison for this crime before being released on parole in 2020. In prison,  Muntaqim began teaching.  He co-founded the Jericho Movement, and initiated the International Jericho March on Washington  in 1998) and We Charge Genocide: International Tribunal to the United Nations  in October 2021). He is the author of “We Are Our Own Liberators.” I’d go to hear him.

But those responsible for calling a double cop-killer as a “political prisoner” have no business being employed at a public university, and SUNY Brockport has a lot of apologies to issue.

OK, break’s over. Back to work!



6 thoughts on “Sunday Ethics Break, 3/27/2022: An Oscars Date That Will Live In Infamy

  1. So—if elite institutions like Yale Law School allow progressive activist to veto conservative speakers, and public universities present cop killers to their students as “political prisoners,” what kind of education are we giving our rising generations?

  2. 3. New York City PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said:

    “SUNY Brockport has a duty to teach its students the truth. This individual is not a hero. He was not a political prisoner. He is an unrepentant murderer who can teach nothing but how to tear our society apart through violence.” (From a NYC PBA press release)

      • The NYC PBA press release went on to specifically name SUNY Brockport’s president, Dr. Heidi Macpherson, and the event’s sponsor, assistant professor Rafael Outland. I hope the college is getting a lot of backlash. I am confident the PBA is leading that charge.
        I studied the Jones /Piagentini murders and others (acts of domestic terrorism, actually) committed by the Black Liberation Army in that same time period when I started teaching officer survival classes in the 1980s. I remember that the officers were ambushed while responding on foot to a disturbance call, shot from behind by three assailants. Piagentini was shot 22 times, including numerous times with his own service revolver as he lay on the ground. I never thought that politically motivated ambush murders of police would become a major concern again, but here we are. This increasing martyrization of thugs and demonization of the police can only lead us to a very bad place.

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