Category Archives: Business & Commercial

Ethics Dunce: The Maryland State Bar Association

Do you know what legal ethics opinions are? Many lawyers don’t know, or barely pay attention to them, but the opinions are important. They are written when bar associations have to decide how to handle the gray areas of professional ethics, and believe me, there are more gray areas in legal ethics than the profession likes to admit. Some jurisdictions churn out lots of important and useful legal ethics opinions all year long; others barely bother with them. (Idaho simply stopped issuing such opinions decades ago.) Still, the LEOs, as they are called, are essential when one of the many legal ethics issues crop up that a jurisdiction’s rules themselves don’t cover.

Although bar associations do a terrible job making their legal ethics opinions’ availability known to the general public, LEOs have invaluable information to convey about how lawyers are ethically obligated to serve their clients. They are also essential if people like me are going to be able to remind Maryland’s lawyers about their ethical duties as part of continuing legal education seminars and expert opinions.

So why is it that Maryland, alone among the 51 U.S. jurisdictions, refuses to allow the public access to their legal ethics opinions? All right, neither does Arkansas, but nobody can read in ArkansasKIDDING!!! I’M KIDDING!

In order to find out what the Bar Association has decided regarding specific legal ethics conundrums, or whether the state has any position at all, one has to be a dues-paying member of the Maryland Bar. Never mind that Maryland lawyers, who, like most lawyers, often are subject to the ethics rules of other jurisdictions, can access neighboring bar association LEO’s with a couple of clicks on their computers. Never mind fairness or reciprocity.

Here’s how the question “Why do we hide our ethics opinions?” was answered by one Maryland lawyer online:

“Ethics opinions are MSBA work product: a benefit to members who pay their dues…An ethics opinion is a legal opinion about what it or is not permissible under the rules. If you want legal advice, pay for it. The “rules”, by the way, are published and are available to the public. As are the elements of negligence. Do you tell your clients for free how to prove their negligence cases?”

How’s that for a venal, snotty answer? In fact, there are no “hidden” laws or principles related to negligence, nor are the standards for what constitutes negligence and how it is proven in court only available for a fee. The legal ethics opinions, on the other hand, may be crucial to allowing non-lawyers  know when they are being victimized by unethical members of the Maryland bar. How convenient that the Bar hides these from the view of the group of citizens that have the most urgent need to know about them.

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, U.S. Society, Workplace

The NBA’s Unethical, Unavoidable, “Bait And Switch”

For a second consecutive Saturday, ABC’s  Saturday prime time NBA game was a pre-rigged dud. The LA Clippers blew out the supposedly star-studded Cavaliers, 108-78, as chants of “We want LeBron” echoed through the arena. The three super-stars that make Cleveland an NBA powerhouse,  LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, were all kept out of the game, not because they were injured,  but because Cleveland coach Ty Lue had decided to rest his “Big 3” in the first of back-to-back games. Sure enough, all three played against the Lakers the next day.

It has become standard practice in the NBA for play-off bound teams to rest stars for “strategic purposes,” meaning that in a league where more than half the teams make the play-offs and the regular season is little more than an exhibition for most of them, it makes no sense to blow out the stars until a championship is on the line.  The NBA, in short, has no integrity. (Neither does the National Hockey League, for the same reason.) The previous Saturday, the San Antonio Spurs blew out the Warriors, 107-85,  as Golden State fielded a  JV team, with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson all on the bench. Yet NBA’s new nine-year, $24 billion media rights deal with ABC, Disney and Turner Broadcasting included Saturday Primetime along with  the TNT Thursday Night NBA game and ESPN’s Wednesday and Friday night broadcasts, to showcase the best of the NBA. (Most of the NBA teams never make it to the Saturday ABC game.)

Shouldn’t that kind of money guarantee that the teams put their best players out on the court? NBA fans also typically shell out three figures for tickets. Doesn’t the league pull what is in essence a bait and switch by allowing a game to be treated as a virtual forfeit? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Dunces, Journalism & Media, Sports

Pop Quiz: What Does U.S.A. Gymnastics Have In Common With The Roman Catholic Church?

Both are large, powerful organizations that facilitated the sexual abuse of children in order to protect their money and reputation.

Yes, you can add Penn state to that list too.

I’m really sick today, and it’s hard writing, thinking and especially typing, but maybe I don’t have to explicate this so much.  Larry Nassar, the national team doctor for USA Gymnastics, is accused of abusing dozens of female gymnasts. More than 80 victims have come forward to claim that he sexually assaulted them. Dr. Nassar was accused of 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct last month in Michigan. The scandal has also claimed Steve Penny (above), president of U.S.A. Gymnastics, who recently resigned after 12 years in the post.

A sport that has its priorities straight does not hire someone like Penny to lead it. He had been the director of media and public relations for U.S.A. Cycling in the early 1990s,promoting the sport and its superstar, Lance Armstrong. When he took the job at U.S.A. Gymnastics, one of his responsibilities there was to evaluate sexual assault accusations and determine if they warranted being reported to the police. Notes Juliet Macur in the New York Times,

“This is how the world of Olympic sports in the United States has operated for years: No one thought it strange that a sports marketer was in the role of sex crimes investigator.”

Is it any surprise that the culture of women’s gymnastics was poisoned with sexual predators? We had been told by Nadia Comenici that she had been abused, and the sport’s optics were, to use a technical term, oogie. All those tiny women-girls, their growth and maturation retarded by dieting and excessively rigorous training, being hugged repeatedly by bear-like coaches: I stopped finding the sport anything but disturbing years ago. (My feminist friends, who worshiped the little sprites—the ice-skaters too–told me I had a dirty mind.) Here is  a section of a recent column by former gymnastic champion Jessica Howard:

By the time I reached the World Championships in 1999, my hips hurt so badly that at times I could barely walk. That was the environment I trained in that I believe created an opening for Larry Nassar, the national team doctor for USA Gymnastics, to sexually abuse me…the first time I met “Larry” I immediately trusted him. He was the premier USA Gymnastics doctor with an international reputation, and I felt lucky to have been invited to the ranch to work with him.

For our first appointment, he asked me to wear loose shorts and no underwear. That seemed strange, but I obeyed. As in training, I wanted to be perfect. He began to massage my legs, and then quickly moved inwards on my thighs. He then massaged his way into me. I was rigid and uncomfortable, but I didn’t realize what was happening. I was confused, and thought that it must just be what had to happen. This scenario happened repeatedly over the course of my week at the ranch. At no time was there ever another adult in the room. Coming off of a difficult year of training, Dr. Nassar reached out as the good guy, supporting me emotionally and promising me relief from the pain. Now I know that in actuality he expertly abused me under the guise of “treatment.”

I trusted USA Gymnastics. But I was sexually abused, as were other elite athletes, including Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympian, and Jeannette Antolin, who was a U.S. national team member. And the abuse was not limited to Dr. Nassar. According to more than 5,600 pages of USA Gymnastics records released to the IndyStar on March 3 after a lengthy court battle, some of the 54 coaches with sexual abuse complaint files spanning 10 years weren’t banned from gymnastics until years after USA Gymnastics discovered they were convicted of crimes against children.

Other accounts tell how this was ingrained in the system: Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Sports, Workplace

Ethics Dunce: Hawaiian Airlines

I find this story hard to believe, and yet it is consistent with the disturbing trend of people and businesses taking unfair advantage of captive audiences and markets—what I recently termed the “The Hamilton Effect.” The attitude is, “we have you, you’re trapped, and you have no choice but to accept what we give you.” It is a breach of respect, fairness, autonomy, and the Golden Rule.

Before I saw this story today—it is a few says old, but I missed it–I was going to write about a more mundane example I encountered at the airport in Sacramento. I was getting on a long flight and an early one, so I bought more items than usual at an airport news store: a large bottle of water, a granola bar, orange juice, some yogurt, two newspapers and a magazine. After I paid, I asked for a bag, as I always do, and was told that it would cost 25 cents. I never heard of such a thing. I literally had more than I could carry without a bag, and told the clerk that if they were going to change the rules, I should have advance notice. There was no real option, however, unless I wanted to be thirsty and hungry on the airplane for a couple of hours, as well as bored with nothing to read.

All of the airport is like that, of course. Commentators as diverse as Jerry Seinfeld and Ralph Nader complain about it: you are suddenly in some alternate universe where everything costs twice as much. I bought a large size bag of M&Ms in Chicago that cost over seven dollars. “We have you, you’re trapped, and you have no choice…”

A 66-year-old man on a Hawaiian Airlines flight that had just left the West Coast for Honolulu found the cabin temperature chilly, and requested a blanket. He was incredulous when he was informed that there would be a $12 charge. I wouldn’t buy a typical airplane blanket for that, and this was a rental! It’s gouging, plain and simple, and the passenger said so. He then demanded to talk to an airline official, and was given the corporate phone number. During his irate conversation, the man told the company representative, “I’d  like to take someone behind the woodshed for this.”  That’s an old, barely used term for reprimanding or punishing someone, but it apparently frightened a culturally ignorant flight attendant, who informed the pilot that a passenger was threatening the staff.Naturally, the only thing to do was to dump excess fuel in the Pacific, turn the flight around, and go back to LAX. This cost about $12,000, and delayed the flight for nearly four hours.

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Ethics Quote Of The Day: Charlotte Hogg, Ex-Bank of England COO

“However, I recognise that being sorry is not enough. We, as public servants, should not merely meet but exceed the standards we expect of others. Failure to do so risks undermining the public’s trust in us, something we cannot let happen. Furthermore, my integrity has, I believe, never been questioned throughout my career. I cannot allow that to change now. I am therefore resigning from my position. I will, of course, work with you through any transition.”

—-The Bank of England’s chief operating officer and incoming Deputy Governor for Markets and Banking, Charlotte Hogg, in her letter of resignation over criticism regarding a possible conflict of interest and her failure to report it.

Charlotte Hogg, a senior Bank of England official who had been named a deputy governor, resigned this week after a Parliament committee found that she had failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest: her brother held a senior position at Barclay’s during her time at the central bank. Hogg insisted that she never breached her duties or passed along any confidential information to her brother, but she had helped draft an industry ethics code of conduct policy required a disclosure of such conflicts. This creates doubts about her integrity, judgment competence, as well as the appearance of impropriety.

The Parliamentary committee recently issued a report finding that Ms. Hogg’s professional competence “short of the very high standards” required to be deputy governor, adding that her failure to disclose her brother’s role was a “serious error of judgment.”

This is one of my favorite kinds of conflicts, because it may be only appearances at stake. What if, as is often the case (sadly), Hogg and her brother are estranged? What if she doesn’t speak to him? What if they hate each other? Never mind: the public, not knowing this,  will suspect that she might use her position to favor him or his bank, so disclosure is crucial to maintaining public trust. Not disclosing, in contrast, raises suspicions. Why didn’t she let everyone know about her brother? What was she hiding? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Ethics Quotes, Finance, Government & Politics, Public Service

A New Way To Be Unethical On An Airplane, Courtesy of “The Hamilton Effect”

I’m in O’Hare, with about 20 minutes to post something, and amazingly, I just witnessed something of ethics significance.

As my United flight from Sacramento was at the O’Hare  gate, with passengers waiting for the jetway to be set up, a young man stood up in the middle of the plane and launched into a loud sales pitch for his depression counseling services!

Let’s call this ‘The Hamilton Effect,” in which people assume that a captive audience is there to be inflicted with their particular rants, business promotions and other intrusions.

The flight attendants had no idea what to do.  He was behind me, and I didn’t feel like fighting my way to him, intervening, and telling him, “You’re depressing ME. Shut up. We’re not your infomercial audience, and we didn’t consent to being bombarded by propaganda or marketing blather.”

Now I’m ticked off that I didn’t. Next time, I’ll be ready. This has to be nipped in the bud.

Oh, this probably wasn’t really sparked by “Hamilton’s” ambush of Mike Pence, but I’m going to blame the production and cast anyway. And all the ethics-challenged theater professionals who applauded this breach of trust.

On another topic, David Cay Johnston,the journalist who revealed the President’s 2005 tax returns, offers a rebuttal to my recent post, here. What fun!

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Ethics Observation On The Trump 2005 Tax Return

Yesterday, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow endlessly hyped the fact that  veteran investigative reporter David Cay Johnston had obtained President Trump’s 2005 federal tax return. When it was revealed, the scoop didn’t justify the hype. Trump  paid 38 million in taxes that year,  24% of his income—not the top rate, but not “nothing,” which was the rumor Democrats were selling during the campaign.

Ethics points:

1. Whoever leaked the return broke the law, and doing so was unethical.  No, it’s not illegal for the news media to take material stolen by others and sanctify it via their First Amendment protections.  It should be though. When they do this, they aide and abet a crime, and Freedom of the Press wasn’t supposed to allow THAT. At very least, journalists should be required to reveal the names of the criminals who steal and release our proprietary documents. The publication of these makes such thefts worse, not better.

2. I don’t see why the President’s tax returns from 12 years ago has any genuine relevance to anything now. The returns were relevant to the decision of whether or not people wanted to vote for him. Now, the tax documents have no purpose, except for the insatiable Trump-bashers to have something new to bash him with. Anything will do.

3. David Cay Johnston was dishing about his “scoop” with GMA’s George Stephanopoulos, and decided to start a new rumor. He speculated that Trump leaked the return himself.  No evidence, not a drop, and yet that’s what this veteran reporter felt was justifiable to say on national TV. Gee, can we call THAT fake news?

4. Then, as he did with Maddow, the reporter went on about all the conflicts of interest that Trump’s financial dealings have created. Again, this is re-litigating the election. At this point, there is no practical way to eliminate Trump’s conflicts and the appearance of impropriety that they create, and he’s not going to bother trying. Johnston, and others, including me, never made a clear case to the public why the President’s unprecedented financial entanglements should have been disqualifying; nor did Hillary, in part because her own financial entanglements were disqualifying. Well, the train left the station, y’all. You had your chance, and botched it. Johnston, like so many of the other bitter-enders who want to turn back time, ultimately get back to, “But…but…but…we never should have elected this guy! Surely there is something we can do to undo it!”

No, there isn’t. Cut it out. Continue reading

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