Category Archives: Citizenship

Legal, Compliant, And Wrong: A Law Firm Helps Two California Cities Prey On Their Own Citizens

Here’s something to be thankful for: be thankful you don’t live in Indio or Coachella California, where unscrupulous city governments and an enterprising law form conspire to fleece their citizens. It works like this:

Step One:  Indio and Coachella hire a private law firm, Silver & Wright, to prosecute citizens in criminal court for minor property violations of city ordinances. These result in small fines for infractions like not mowing the yard or selling lemonade without a business license.

Step Two: The citizens go to court, plead guilty, and pay the fines,

Step Three: They get a bill in the mail for a huge fee from the law firm that the city hired to prosecuted them. This fee is for the cost of the prosecution. Thus a fine for a couple of hundred dollars explodes into a legal bill of four or five figures.

Step Four: If the citizen objects, the law firm raises the fee demand.

Step Five: If the citizens can’t pay, the law firm threatens to take their homes.

The law firm that runs this brilliant operation is Silver & Wright, and it has been going on for years. The Desert Sun, in an investigative journalism effort, revealed this unholy alliance of municipality and law firm, and now, with public scrutiny, it just might be on its last legs. Thankfully.

The 18 cases examined by The Desert Sun come under the heading of nuisance property abatement, violations of law that are too  inconsequential to involve the county’s real prosecutors, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. Thus Silver & Wright steps in. Contract prosecutions are a profit center for the firm, which explains on its website that it specializes in code enforcement and “cost recovery,” boasting

“Our attorneys have developed unique and cutting edge practices to achieve success for our clients and make nuisance abatement and code enforcement cost neutral or even revenue producing.”

Indio contracted with Silver & Wright in 2014, and Coachella followed in 2015. Within a year of hiring the firm, both city councils created new nuisance property ordinances empowering the cities to seek prosecution fees without getting  approval from a judge. Then Silver & Wright started taking east valley property owners to criminal court. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/16/17: Keeping the Public Ignorant About Unethical Lawyers, Sugar Lies, And A Terrible Trump Tweet…

Good Morning, John!

Sing us into the first item, would you?

1 “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” Everywhere I go, lawyers are talking about the David Boies scandal, which I wrote about here. I haven’t seen much media discussion about it at all. We have now seen one prominent hack lawyer, Lisa Bloom, and one prominent, skilled and respected lawyer, Boies, demonstrate high profile professional conduct that should receive serious sanctions from their profession, and it appears that most of the public and the media neither knows this nor cares.

Bloom is just a venal, incompetent, bad lawyer. The real crisis is when top lawyers blithely engage in wildly unethical conduct in a high profile case, but I doubt the public sees the difference. Very little commentary on Boies’s betrayal of the New York Times  focused on the throbbing black-letter ethics violation involved.  Today, a front page story in the New York Times about Black Cube, the sinister investigative crew hired by Boies to gather dirt on the Times before it blew the whistle on Harvey Weinstein completely missed this crucial element of the story. It also makes it near-certain that no one will read the report who need to know how poorly legal ethics are enforced.

Here’s the headline in the print edition: “Sleuths for Weinstein Push Tradecraft Limits.”  Tradecraft? Online: “Deception and Ruses Fill the Toolkit of Investigators Used by Weinstein.” Nowhere in the article are readers informed that lawyers are forbidden, without exception, from using any contractor that regularly uses deception.

Here is the kind of thing Black Cube specializes in, from the Times piece:

“Earlier this month, a former hedge fund employee was flown from Hong Kong to London for a job interview. Around the same time, a current employee of the same Toronto hedge fund was also flown to London for interviews. The company courting them was fake. Its website was fake. There were no jobs to be had, and the woman who set up the interviews was not a recruiter but an agent working for an Israeli private investigative firm.

This was not an episode of “Homeland” or the latest “Mission: Impossible” installment. Interviews and court papers show that these deceptions were part of a sophisticated and expensive investigative operation. The objective, according to one filing, was to gather proprietary information held by the hedge fund. The agent worked for Black Cube.”

Every single jurisdiction in the United States declares in its legal ethics rules, usually in the rule about misconduct, 8.4 (bolding mine):

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

(a) Violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;

(c) Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation…

How much clearer can it be? It is unethical for a lawyer to employ someone or an organization that he or she knows routinely and reliably engages in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” Yet that’s the only reason anyone hires Black Cube. Conclusion: Boies breached a major ethics requirement, perhaps the most serious one there is. And why?  Because a client paid him to. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/13/17: Rushing In Panic Around My Boston Hotel Room Because I Didn’t Get My Wake-Up Call Edition

It’s not a good morning…

(Gotta start teaching the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct in an hour, so this has to be quick. Sorry!)

1 Apparently Breitbart, aka Steve Bannon, has sent two investigative reporters to Alabama to discredit the stories of the four women who say Roy Moore courted them when they were in braces and poodle skirts. See, ethical news sources would be doing what we call “finding out if there’s anything the Washington Post missed.” Breitbart is trying to dig up dirt on four women who just responded to the Washington Post reporters’ questions. How do we know this? Well, 1) the untrustworthy hard-right website has been defending Moore and attacking the Post since the story broke; 2) it is appealing to its core group, made up of alt-right creeps and, you know, morons, by saying this is what they are doing; 3) it has already filed a story claiming that the ex-14-year-old who says 32-year-old Moore fondled her was contradicted in some aspects of her story by her mother. Then there’s 4), which is that the site is so slimy it makes eels gag.

Oh…Ann Coulter tweeted yesterday that it doesn’t matter if Moore is a theocrat, it doesn’t matter if the man who calls gays sub-human perverts is, in fact, a pervert himself; it doesn’t matter that he was kicked  off the bench twice as a judge for ignoring the law….what matters is that he’ll vote for Trump’s wall in the Senate. Get help, Ann.

2. On the other end of the ideological divide where it is just as scary, Media Matters is promoting a sponsor boycott of Sean Hannity to drive the conservative pundit off the air as punishment for saying nice things about Moore.  It has already bullied coffee-machiine maker Keurig into pulling its ads, and that has prompted, in turn, a call by Hannity to boycott Keurig. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/8/17: Featuring The Most Depressing Question You Have Heard In A Long Time. I Hope.

Good Morning!

1 Yesterday there was a fascinating article on how the famous opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” was (perhaps) made. I have been meaning to make a comment about the new Sirius-XM Beatles Channel, which I had occasion to listen to for many hours while being trapped in traffic jams and construction driving back and forth to Virginia Beach and Richmond, and this is a good time to post it.

I have been getting lousy, dishonest, bait-and-switch service and products with such regularity lately, ranging from an investment firm that couldn’t send the proper forms to give me access to my own money, to Verizon, which has been giving me a six-month runaround while its slooooow WiFi breaks down for days, to Progresso soup, which either decided to put what looks and feels like ground up chicken bones in its vegetable soup, or just the can I bought, that I  had despaired of again seeing anything approaching excellence for the sake of excellence  from a U.S. business until I returned to Disneyland or Fenway Park. The Beatles Channel makes the grade. It isn’t just the songs, which would have made the channel a hit all by themselves. Sirius-XM includes scholarship, history, musicology, rare recordings, interviews, celebrity and non-celebrity disc jockeys and cultural analysis, around the clock, with new programming every day. I’ve sat through college courses that were less thorough, and too many courses to count, in both college and graduate school, that were less informative and valuable. There are some things worth paying for, and products that are better than you expected!

2. The New York Times  headline after a hard day’s night for the GOP in Virginia and New Jersey: DEMOCRATS SCORE TWO BIG VICTORIES IN TRUMP REBUKE.

I’m sure it was the koi.

This is flagrant spin and distortion, and unethical journalism. The New York Times should just put “You hate the President, you know you do” on the banner. The Times didn’t call last November’s across the board rejection of Democrats in state house races and Congress an “Obama rebuke,” though it was, and the results in Virginia and New Jersey cannot be fairly pinned on Trump. The two state governors races went pretty much as everyone assumed they would months ago. New Jersey’s result, from a very Democratic state, was a predictable rejection of its spectacularly failed and detested Republican governor, and Virginia’s election of a moderate Democrat over a Republican who tried to both reject Trump while trying to hitch-hike on some of his better positions was predictable as well.

I would also guess that the Donna Brazile revelations about the Democratic Party’s corruption is not on  typical voter’s radar, so the wave of self-hating Democrats staying home that some predicted did not materialize. The Texas shooting, however, probably activated the always vigorous “The Constitution be damned, think of the children!” knee-jerk progressive block to go to the polls.

By now the Times’ routine propaganda tricks are no surprise, but the practice of attaching editorial comments connoting negative implications for the President is neither fair nor objective. But then, the news media knows this: it is attempting a coup by poisoning public opinion. This is the major ethics story—and ethics crisis—in the nation today, and has been so for a year.

3. Now a compliment to the New York Times. Finally, someone wrote an relatively honest article regarding the causes of mass shootings in the U.S. “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer” is the online version; the print edition headline is “Only One Thing Explains Mass Shootings In The United States.” Both headlines are misleading—the Times has a headline problem—but the article’s main point is correct: “The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.”

Not inadequate laws. Not enforcement. Not crazy people. Not crime. Not the NRA.

Just lots of guns.

Thank you.

The Times also correctly hints at—it could have and should have done more than hint—why we have more guns than any other country:

In the process of making a comparison between the US and Switzerland, which as the country with second highest gun ownership rate has far fewer shootings (Fun Facts! Switzerland, like Australia, isn’t the United States, and the Swiss, like Australians, are not like Americans), the Times notes,

“Swiss gun laws are more stringent, setting a higher bar for securing and keeping a license, for selling guns and for the types of guns that can be owned. Such laws reflect more than just tighter restrictions. They imply a different way of thinking about guns, as something that citizens must affirmatively earn the right to own.”

Translation: The United States protects and guarantees the inherent human right to self-defense and autonomy, and Switzerland doesn’t. In the U.S., the wise Founders, government doesn’t have to grant you the right to own a gun; you already have it. Or in other words, Switzerland isn’t the United States. (See above.) God bless America.

The Times continues under the heading “The Difference is Culture”:

“The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the opposite assumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.The main reason American regulation of gun ownership is so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a different weight in the United States than they are anywhere else.”

May be”? That’s exactly why Swiss-style “regulation”—as in “We tell you if you can own a gun and what kind of gun you ‘need., Citizen!”—isn’t an option in the U.S. The Constitution also gives the right to speech a different “weight” than other cultures do, and the amount of certainty required to send someone to prison, and when the police can search your home, and many other examples where this nation and this culture insists that individuals and individual rights come first, not government power. The fact that the United States accepts the costs of individual liberty is what makes it the United States.

There are so many guns in the U.S. because Americans like guns, and in this country, people generally can make and get what they like. They should like guns: the United States,more than others, owes its existence to guns. Our most popular entertainment involves guns. Most of all, the #2 mandate in the Bill of Rights guarantees that every citizen begins life with the right to own guns.

Mass shootings are a side effect of the Second Amendment and the core individual right to be armed. The only way to reduce such shootings is to eliminate that right and confiscate guns. Either the currently vocal anti-gun zealots understand this and are lying, or they don’t, and are ignorant.

[The National Review has some legitimate criticism of the Times data analysis, but it doesn’t affect the validity of the Times general conclusion.]

4. Here’s the depressing ethics note of the day, or perhaps the year. On the first day of jury deliberations at the bribery trial of Senator Robert Menendez, a juror asked the judge a basic question: “What is a Senator?”

I guess a necessary voir dire question or two was omitted by the lawyers .

The judge should disqualify that juror.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/31/2017: A Hate Outbreak, A Bigoted Judge, A Lost Post, And More Halloween Ethics

Good Morning!

1 On Facebook, many of my progressive friends literally expressed glee at yesterday’s indictments, especially at the charge that Paul Manafort had engaged in “conspiracy against the United States.” Lots of social media users were expressing similar sentiments, the thrust being that they were excited that two individuals who worked for the Trump campaign were facing criminal charges…simply because they worked for the Trump campaign. This cackling mob hadn’t read the indictment, or if they did, they didn’t understand it. They just were engaging in free-standing hate by association.

The reaction is not sort of like, but exactly like, what I called  the “Ugliest moment of election night”: Trump’s crowd chanting “Lock her up!” as the upset electoral victory approached. Criminalizing the political process is not the way of democracy, and rooting for people’s lives to be ruined because of their partisan alliances is disgusting. Who among the people so thrilled to see Manafort and former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos being prosecuted know anything about them other than the fact that they worked for the President’s campaign? What do they think justifies cheering their indictment? Papadopoulos pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI about when he tried to meet with Russians claiming to have damning Hillary Clinton e-mails—which, I hope you know (and I bet the Facebook mob doesn’t) isn’t a crime.

Last night, Stephen Colbert, the full-time attack jester of “the resistance,” said of the indictments, “I know it’s almost Halloween, but it really feels more like Christmas!” What an idiotic and hateful thing to say, as well as a statement that is misleading to his audience, who naturally would think that the action implicates the President and the White House in something. (It doesn’t.)

2. Colbert also engaged in gratuitous race-baiting, because dividing the country along racial lines and promoting racial distrust is apparently what progressives think is funny and cool. Noting that the charges against Paul Manafort were filed on Friday but that he didn’t have to turn himself in until Monday Colbert smirked,  “Wow, we white people really do get arrested differently.” The “joke” is untrue, and racist in its own implications, suggesting that only whites commit white collar crimes and are regarded as low flight risks, while blacks commit the violent crimes and robberies that lead to immediate arrests.

These are ugly, mean-spirited people, poisoned by ugly, mean-spirited thoughts.

You can quote me.

3. Judge W. Mitchell Nance, a Kentucky judge, resigned after judicial ethics charges were filed against him as a result of his refusing to preside over any same-sex couple adoption cases. Nance announced that he would not  participate in  gay adoption matters in April, when he issued an order saying he was recusing himself from such case, arguing that adoption by a gay couple would never be in the best interest of a child.

The judicial misconduct complaint filed last month argued that Nance’s order violated the judicial ethics canons requiring judges to promote confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, to be faithful to the law, and to refrain from showing bias or prejudice.

It does. Good riddance. Continue reading

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Ethics Quote Of The Week, And A Few Related Diversions

My son is named after this President, incidentally.

The quote itself is by Ron Chernow, the historian who authored the recent well-reviewed biography of out 18th President, “Grant,”  “Hamilton,” the biography that inspired, we are told, the mega-hit musical. and “Washington” (won’t somebody send a copy to the fools at Christ Church?) was given to an interviewer as his description of another book, the Philip Roth’s historical novel  “The Plot Against America”:

[A] democracy can be corrupted, not by big, blaring events, but by a slow, insidious, almost imperceptible process, like carbon monoxide seeping in under the door.

Some random thoughts on this statement, which I believe is exactly right, and a lot more interesting than the more frequently used analogy about boiling a frog slowly:

  • Grant, as Chernow’s book (among others of recent vintage) documents, was present at one of those points when democracy seemed to be in the process of being poisoned, and acted forcefully.

By 1868, when Grant was elected to succeed Andrew Johnson, who had done everything he could to allow the South to resist extending civil rights to the newly freed slaves, the KKK had evolved into a powerful terrorist organization that referred to itself as  “The Invisible Empire of the South.” Under the  Klan’s first  “Grand Wizard,” the brilliant former Confederate cavalry general  Nathan Bedford Forrest, whites from all classes of Southern society joined the Klan’s ranks. They attacked and punished newly freed blacks for crimes like  behaving in an “impudent manner” toward whites, brutalized the teachers of  schools for black children, and burned schoolhouses. It also terrorized and often murdered Republican party leaders those who voted for Reconstruction policies.  In Kansas over 2,000 murders were committed as the 1868 election approached; in Louisiana, a thousand blacks were killed in the same period.

Grant entered office knowing that the Civil War victory could come apart. He made some bad appointments–Grant was naive about politics and trusted too easily—but his choice as Attorney General, Amos T. Akerman, was masterful. With Grant’s support, and the with the help of the newly created Justice Department under Grant, he vigorously worked to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave the vote to black men in every state, and the First Reconstruction Act of 1867, which placed tough restrictions on the South and closely regulated the formation of their new state governments. Between 1870 and 1871, the Republican Congress passed and Grant signed into law the Enforcement Acts, which made it a crime to interfere with registration, voting, officeholding, or jury service by blacks. Congress also passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which allowed the government to act against terrorist organizations.

  • When I was growing up and becoming interested in the Presidents, a life-long passion that led me to both law and ethics, Grant was routinely listed as one of the worst in the line. All one heard from historians was about the financial scandals that rocked his administration. Grant’s great success in subduing the Klan was literally never mentioned. The main Presidential historian then was Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a member of Jack Kennedy’s inner circle. His job as he saw it was to minimize the contributions of any Republican President, like Teddy Roosevelt (“near great” in his rankings), Eisenhower (“below average”) and Grant (“failure’). Meanwhile, Woodrow Wilson, who dragged the U.S, into the first World War, botched the Versailles Treaty and who actively revived the Klan, being a stone-cold racist, was “great.” Naturally, I believed all of his distortions, which were largely those of the historians at the time, then, as now, often partisans and propagandists. It took me a while to realize that this had been my first encounter with the Left attempting to alter present perception by controlling the past.

That is one of the major sources of Chernow’s carbon monoxide today, except that the disinformation now emanates from the schools, colleges, and the news media. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/29/17: What’s Really Wrong With Single Payer, Incompletely Remembering Charles Kuralt, And Dana Milbank Boards The Ethics Train Wreck

(This is my favorite Arthur Sullivan hymn, even more than “Onward Christian Soldiers”…)

GOOD MORNING!

1 CBS’s “Sunday Morning” had a feature today on the late Charles Kuralt, the original host of the show, famous for his feature “On the Road” in which Kuralt visited “the real America,” meeting locals and revealing regional lore to the rest of the country. At the end of today’s segment, CBS bemoaned the fact that Kuralt, who died 20 years ago, was virtually forgotten, even among journalists if they had no grey in their hair.

This is an example of a larger crisis, cultural illiteracy, that often occupies my thoughts. The blame lies with our inadequate schools and its under-educated teachers, as well as popular culture. Barely knowing anything about George Washington, the root of the previous post, is an existential problem, but only slightly more dangerous are the multiple generations whose member can’t name ten U.S. Presidents, don’t know the dates of the Civil War or who the US defeated in World War II, and who have never heard of Jackie Robinson, Clarence Darrow, Brown v. Board of Education, Eugene McCarthy, Ingrid Bergman, or Lucille Ball.

CBS, however, was indulging its own special breed of disinformation by lionizing Kuralt. Yes, I remember well his plummy voice and avuncular style. I also remember, as CBS would have us forget, the fact that after his death it was revealed that being “on the road” allowed Kuralt to maintain one family in Montana and another, his official one, in New York City. His innovative proposal to CBS to fund his trek back and forth over the contiinent facilitated his betrayal of his family. Kuralt was a sociopath.

2. The most significant ethics story of recent weeks that I have thus far neglected was the announcement that Great Britain’s National Health Service will ban patients from surgery indefinitely if they are obese or smoke. Non life-or death operations, like joint replacements, will be put on hold  until such patients conform to the governement’s life style requirements

Obese patients “will not get non-urgent surgery until they reduce their weight” unless the circumstances are exceptional. Smokers will only be referred for operations if they have stopped smoking for at least eight weeks, with such patients breathalyzed before referral.

When the newly radicalized and Bernie-ized Democratic Prty going all-in for single-payer next year, this cautionary tale needs thorough debate. When the government controls health care, it has the power to constrict personal liberty. The British were horrified by this latest development, which can only be described as the other shoe dropping. What did they expect?

Of course, a party that controls a government that can withhold surgery until citizens conform to mandated life choices would never use that same power to demand other behavior from citizens. Or  assign priorities for surgical procedures to favored groups and constituencies.

Keep telling yourself that. You’ll feel better. Continue reading

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