Unethical Asshole Of The Month: MSG Entertainment CEO James Dolan

The Ethics Alarms 2022 Award for Asshole of the Year will be awarded to Donald Trump, natch, later today, and this episode involving the CEO of MSG Entertainment won’t threaten Trump’s honor. I could see Trump doing this. I could see Elon Musk doing it; indeed, he came close.

But James Dolan’s conduct is still pretty disgusting. Lawyer Kelly Conlon was accompanying her daughter and her daughter’s Girl Scout troop to a performance of the “Christmas Spectacular” show with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in New York City when a facial recognition system identified her in the lobby. After walking into the theater Conlon was flagged by security and told to leave because of she works for Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, a law firm representing clients in litigation against MSG, a large entertainment holding company overseeing live events at venues including Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theater and the Hulu Theater. CEO Dolan has a policy of banning attorneys at any law firm that sues an MSG venues from attending MSG events.

Conlan isn’t alone in being harassed; another lawyer, Nicolette Landi, was on her way to Mariah Carey’s “Merry Christmas To All Show” at Madison Square Garden last week, when she was denied entry too. All the members of her law firm, Burns and Harris, had received letters banning them from events at all of MSG’s properties. Lawyer Larry Hutcher, a Knicks season ticket holder for nearly 50 years, also found himself on the blacklist because his firm, Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, is in litigation against Dolan’s properties.

Most of the negative publicity about these episodes have focused on MSG’s use of facial recognition software. This is an unethical use of the technology to be sure, but no more unethical than if Dolan had human beings looking for banned ticket-holders in the lobby, just more effective. Put your face on the internet, and people can use it to identify you. The problem isn’t the technology; it’s the assholes like Dolan who find ways to misuse the technology for unethical purposes, like, in his case, intimidation, revenge, and gratuitous meanness.

Will other assholes emulate Dolan by, say, using the software to discriminate against patrons of their establishments based on their political opinions or the organizations they support? I won’t be surprised. And any business that treats citizens that way should be condemned and punished.

The primary ethics alarm this story sets off here is that it is one more dangerous attack on the right of citizens to be represented by competent counsel. This has become an ominous trend. and the legal profession has not exactly distinguished itself by pushing back sufficiently. The business of law and the profession of law—the part tharequires integrity and courage—have always been in conflict, and that conflict is getting more intense. Will more powerful corporations and the assholes like Dolan who run them be able to intimidate attorneys into avoiding cases that may result in their being unable to engage in certain social and non-legal activities in their pursuit of happiness?

I know one thing for certain: some will try.


Pointer: Willem Reese

18 thoughts on “Unethical Asshole Of The Month: MSG Entertainment CEO James Dolan

  1. I have actually had cases with this firm and even spent a summer working there way back when. They are a bullying plaintiff’s mill, so I have limited sympathy for them as professional colleagues. That said, I have mixed feelings about this setup. On the one hand it’s very easy to say that they are a private corporation and as such they can admit or not admit whoever they damn well please. The left was perfectly okay with that when Twitter was abusing its power to put its thumb on the scale of the last election, hey, private company, they can do what they want, just imagine that conservatives are gay people and Twitter is a bakery. Private property is private property, and if you own private property you can ban people for any reason or no reason, and I think that should stand.

    I think it’s also a handy tool for keeping over devoted fans away from artists or sports figures. You post too much or post the wrong thing on the internet, you do something borderline overreaching, or the artist or sports figure just decides they don’t want you around, your name goes into a database, and you are disallowed from buying tickets and if you acquire a ticket some other way, facial recognition software is deployed, and two guys with no necks grab you from your seat and throw you out on your ass, using whatever force is necessary, including pitching you down the stairs. Of course, you will be given notice that your name is on that list.

    On the other hand, there is a very big danger here of this becoming yet another way to bully people that you disagree with. The division between political sides in this nation started to widen in 2016 or possibly before. It’s become a thing, and even become cool, to lock those you disagree with and those in your tribe disagree with out of your life and out of as much of society as you can. Of course it’s mostly the left doing the locking. It’s considered heroic to tell relatives you disagree with that you will not be communicating with them until they change their values to be more in alignment with yours. It’s considered acceptable to refuse to do business with someone you disagree with, unless that someone is gay or of color, then you’re a homophobe or a racist. But it’s perfectly okay to put a sign out in front of your bookstore saying that no members of the police or military are allowed in your store while in uniform. It’s perfectly okay to send out a blast phone message that if you previously done business with me and you voted for Trump, you should do business elsewhere in the future. And you know all the rest.
    I have no problem with conservative business owners doing the same. Let the Bernie Bros and the BLM types get their sandwiches, brake jobs, and any other goods or services they need from like-minded people only.

    • I think the idea of banning people from accessing your services is a dangerous path.

      Once you decide to make your property available for use by others the only reason you can argue to selectively exclude people is if the individual disrupts your operations.

      Society (government) grants business the license to operate. That license has an implied covenant that you will treat all comers fairly.

      With that said, people should respect business owners by not compelling them to acknowledge or support the customer’s beliefs. A business transaction is just that a value for value exchange. Nowhere in the exchange does political ideology enter into a transaction.

      • Society (government) grants business the license to operate. That license has an implied covenant that you will treat all comers fairly.

        Do you properly appreciate the principle you just put forward? That it opens wide the steep and easy downward way to everything within the state, nothing without it? Facilis descensus Averno.

        • I don’t believe it does. It undergirds our laws on public accommodations and anti-discrimination laws.
          An implied covenant of fair dealing and treatment is part of every transaction. Would you voluntarily enter into a transaction where you knew the other side was cheating you. Of course not. Those who engage in deceptive practices will either lose their licenses or will be shunned by consumers.
          Asymmetric information does not automatically give rise to deception.

  2. I know this guy who has had the misfortune of being on two companies’ banned lists because of pending litigation against each of the companies. I would say it was a wise move on behalf of the corporations, including MSG. I know if my friend had been back on their property it would have been to obtain something for the discovery phase of the litigation process. Furthermore, with some of the nuts running around today, I could see it also as a safety and protection measure. She shouldn’t take it personally. It’s probably the best for both parties concerned. Besides, I’ve slept twice through the “Christmas Spectacular.” I don’t feel like less of a person.

      • Also true. Putting aside all the bluster that goes with the profession, my opponent in one case right now doesn’t know it, but when the case finally resolves, I intend to come after him with ethics charges and get his bullying, arrogant ass disbarred. I’d have been within my rights to go after another lawyer who had the audacity to accuse me IN THE FILINGS, ON THE RECORD of perpetrating a fraud upon the court after the court reviewed everything and ruled there was no fraud, but I decided not to expend the time and energy, since we were down several lawyers, and the ethics committee could just as easily have said I was a poor winner overplaying my hand, or that I was taking the case too personally and should take the win and go home, not try to retaliate.

        • There’s a lot of looking the other way by judges and ethics committees. And sometimes judges step out of line. All of which can be very frustrating if one thinks it’s a rules-based system.

  3. Aside from the ethics issue, I would think selectively banning people that purchased tickets to a performance citing, the reasons they provided would be illegal and a civil rights violation. Am I missing something?

      • OK, I get that… but at what point would it become illegal as opposed to “merely” unethical? If the ban extended to all employees of the firm, including secretaries, custodians, and canteen staff? Or to lawyers’ families? Or friends? Or registered members of a particular mainstream political party? Or fans of a particular sports team?

  4. Curmie
    You make a very valid point. What if an individual in an otherwise “protected class” gets banned for reasons claimed to be political differences and not because they are black or gay or female. Because so many identity groups seem to be affiliated with the Democrat party all a business owner need do to effectively get around non-discrimination laws would be to claim political reasons and not because of an immutable characteristic. Obviously, the reverse can be true and did indeed occur when Huckabee-Sanders was forced out of the Charlottesville restaurant and more recently the refusal of the Butchery to honor a reservation for a Christian group because the LGBT servers refused to serve them. The first could be easily seen as a political gripe but not so of the second. The Butchery staff claimed they denied service based on a political difference but could just as easily been religious intolerance. Maybe the LGBT staff simply did not want to wait on people who were obviously hetero and binary which too would be discriminatory and subject to legal sanction. But nothing will happen because it was deemed a political difference. So, can property owners now claim political differences in choosing who to rent to?

    If we allow such practices to gain momentum, we will soon become warring tribes instead of a representative democratic republic. If one group can get away with discriminating against another group what is to stop others from doing this. Imagine if the head of a grocery chain decided to reciprocate against all the personnel from MSG because the owner or CEO determined that MSG’s acts violated their “values”. While such a scenario is unlikely in the near term, is this where we want to end up – choosing our customers based on how closely their virtues align with our own? We would need some type of scoring system to keep up to date on who is virtuous and who should lay rotting in the ditch. I forgot, BlackRock is working on that.

  5. “If we allow such practices to gain momentum, we will soon become warring tribes instead of a representative democratic republic.”

    Bingo. My dad says it’s impossible, but I think we are headed for Civil War 2.0, and if that’s the case, then so be it. Get ready for roving bands of bikers battling Antifa thugs and Tea Party snipers at the roadsides.

  6. This is dangerous. The media and tech oligopolies have been attempting to widely suppress freedom of expression from members of groups whose views they oppose. The Obama administration tried to use Operation Choke Point to hamstring politically disfavored businesses by denying them access to financial services. Do we really want this sort of behavior expanded by woke-controlled or pandering entities to limit individuals’ ability to engage in normal commerce? “Sorry, our bank no longer does business with anyone seen at a DeSantis rally.” “You’ll have to buy your groceries elsewhere, you’ve been identified by our system as connected to an anti-abortion organization.” “This gas pump cannot be activated for use by persons supporting the state of Israel.”

  7. The Chinese have something called a “social credit score.” Millions of cameras feeding into a facial recognition system keeps tabs on nearly everyone. Something as innocuous as jaywalking will lower your score. You may not get that promotion or salary increase. There will be certain neighborhoods that you won’t be allowed to live, where your children go to school… Emails, texts, phone calls, social media can all be used to lower your score. And it also lowers your financial credit score. That loan will have a higher interest rate, or you might not qualify at all.
    It’s too insidious for my American brain to fathom, but I can see the path we’re on, and it frightens me. Perhaps if I were Canadian.

  8. Question
    Where does the facial and identity data come from? It seems to me that such information should be able to be suppressed by the owner

  9. I could sort of — SORT OF — understand this measure against people engaged in active litigation as a protective measure against someone REALLY being there for something akin to corporate espionage (as WAHJR alluded to above), such as deliberately creating a situation in order to generate a response that could be recorded and subsequently used against the venue in court.

    However, there is NO reason whatsoever to continue the ban once such litigation is completed. If you don’t promptly remove everyone involved from your do-not-allow-entry list, then yeah . . . you’re just being an asshole.


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