Category Archives: Professions

Surprisingly, Many California Lawyers Want To Have The Option Of Having Sex With Their Clients

It's all your fault, Arnie...

It’s all your fault, Arnie…

For most of the last century, sensible and rational lawyers accepted that exploiting the attorney-client relationship to have sex with their clients was unprofessional and unethical, without needing a formal rule to tell them the obvious. Then along came Steven Bochco’s popular TV drama “L.A. Law,” the over-heated saga of a high-rolling Los Angeles law firm and its libidinous lawyers. Most libidinous of all was domestic law specialist Arnie Becker, played by the then-blonde and dashing Corbin Bernsen. Arnie habitually slept with his clients when they were wealthy, sculptured, beautiful trophy wives trying to shed their husbands. This was not the image that the family law bar wanted to see broadcast to America, so lobbying efforts were undertaken in many state bars to formally declare Arnie’s nocturnal client conferences unethical, as they undoubtedly were.

California, being partially at fault for the uptick in the public’s false belief that lawyers use their practice as a virtual dating bar, was among the first states to pass an “Arnie Becker Rule,” though it had company, like Oregon, which amusingly anticipated Bill Clinton by including a strangely specific definition of what sexual intercourse was, and New York, which narrowly limited its prohibition to Arnie Becker and domestic relations lawyers like him. Other jurisdictions demurred, as well as the American Bar Association, which is supposed to seek consistency in the legal ethics rules. California’s new rule was one of the more wishy-washy ones, with Rule 3-120 stating that Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Bill Lee, “The Spaceman,” An Integrity Exemplar…And I Really Need One About Now

bill-lee

If you weren’t a baseball fan in Boston during the Sixties and Seventies you may never have heard of Bill Lee, but if you were, he was an unforgettable and unique source of pleasure. Lee joined the Red Sox in 1969 as a junk-balling left-hander with a hippie streak not previously seen in the sport.  He was prone to say things like, “I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.”  The college students around Boston loved him, the old school baseball management types not so much. But he was good, and in major league baseball, good will always trump weird.

Lee was an excellent a reliever for four years before becoming a Sox starter in 1973, then won 17 games that season and the next two as well. The success was secondary for his often-stoned fans than his non-conformist attitude and determination to be himself at all costs. He was well-read, well-educated, opinionated and funny, and at various points in his Red Sox career, wore a gas mask, a coonskin cap and a propeller-topped beanie onto the field. Once, when the umpires refused to halt play in a downpour, Lee came out of the dugout wearing rain gear and carried an umbrella to the mound. This and other exploits caused him to be nicknamed “The Spaceman.”

Twice, once with the Red Sox and later with the Montreal Expos, Lee went on strike, refusing to play to protest the elimination of one of his friends from his team’s roster. The last time he did it, it ended his career.

Lee made up his own rules and principles, so he’s a different kind of Ethics Hero.  Above all else, however, the Spaceman has integrity down to a life-style. When he was at his zenith with the Red Sox, he often said that baseball was a still just a game to him, that it was what he loved to do, and that he didn’t care about the money. He would play baseball for whatever was available, he said, or just for the love of it. My father, who didn’t get Bill Lee, thought he was grandstanding.

He wasn’t. Continue reading

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Holiday Ethics Assigment: Quick! Watch These 25 Great Old Ethics Movies Again Before You Go Bonkers Too!

movie-theater

I am compiling a new list of great ethics movies to help those troubled by the recently completed Presidential campaign, the election and its aftermath. I haven’t decided whether to reveal it piecemeal, or collectively as I have before, but I do need to begin by presenting the previous list of 25, actually the combination of several previous posts. Ethics films I have covered individually since those lists debuted, like Spotlight and Bridge of Spies, will eventually be added.

For now, here’s the top 25. Don’t pay attention to the order.

1Spartacus (196o)

The raw history is inspiring enough: an escaped gladiator led an army of slaves to multiple victories over the Roman legions in one of the greatest underdog triumphs ever recorded. Stanley Kubrick’s sword-and-sandal classic has many inspiring sequences, none more so than the moment when Spartacus’s defeated army chooses death rather than to allow him to identify himself to their Roman captors (“I am Spartacus!”)

Ethical issues highlighted: Liberty, slavery, sacrifice, trust, politics, courage, determination, the duty to resist abusive power, revolution, love, loyalty.

Favorite quote: “When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” [Spartacus (Kirk Douglas)]

2.  Hoosiers (1986)

“Hoosiers” is loosely based on true story, but its strength is the way it combines classic sports movie clichés—the win-at-all-costs coach down on his luck, the remote superstar, over-achieving team—into a powerful lesson: it isn’t the final victory that matters most, but the journey to achieving it.

Ethical issues highlighted: Forgiveness, generosity, leadership, kindness, courage, loyalty, diligence, redemption.

Favorite quote: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.” [ Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)]

3. Babe (1995)

A wonderful movie about the virtues of being nice, the greatest civility film of all time. Second place: “Harvey.”

Ethical issues highlighted: Civility, kindness, reciprocity, loyalty, courage, love, friendship, bigotry, bias.

Favorite quote: “Fly decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that sheep were stupid, and there was nothing that could convince her otherwise…The sheep decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that wolves were ignorant, and there was nothing that could convince them otherwise”  The Narrator (Roscoe Lee Browne) Continue reading

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Thanksgiving Ethics From The “Fear Of Being Shot Causes Broken Ethics Alarms” Files

Bridgeport, Connecticut police stopped cars on the day before Thanksgiving, and surprised the motorists by handing them turkeys rather than tickets.

Awww!

Too bad it’s per se unethical conduct, an abuse of power and position, and a dangerous precedent. This is unpleasant déjà vu, for I’ve written this post before, more than once, and as many times in this year than the previous seven years combined. It’s pretty obvious why. Police, who were being shot and ambushed all over the country last week, are desperate to endear themselves to citizens and validate their role as a beneficent force in the community, which needs no validation.

“It’s a way of giving back, reaching out to the community and making sure everyone has a meal for thanksgiving,” says Bridgeport Police Capt. Roderick Porter, not getting it at all. I wonder what would have happened if one of those turkey stops was a fleeing felon. Would objections have been raised if the white cops only stopped black motorists, to say “We like you! We really like you! Here’s a turkey!”

Here comes the déjà vu again: As I wrote about the ice cream caper, which was pretty much the same thing: Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Rights

Note To Conservatives On The “Hamilton” Cast’s Harassment Of Mike Pence: I’ve Got This. You’re Not Helping.

grandstand-hamilton

The problem is that, as you might guess, Trump-supporting Republican and conservatives are as ethically clueless as the Democrats attacking them.

Now there is a backlash against the “Hamilton” actors who singled out an audience member (who happened to be the Vice-President Elect) for specific abuse last week, because, the theory goes, elected officials who a cast doesn’t like shouldn’t be able to attend live theater without entailing the risk of being harassed. Ethics Alarms has been very clear about why this is wrong in every way, and all rebuttals have boiled down to “But we don’t like Mike Pence or Donald Trump, so we should be able to suspend ethics!”

Keep telling yourselves that.

Now it has been discovered that some of the “Hamilton” grandstanders probably didn’t vote in the election, and the actor whose mouth was used to issue the lecture to Pence had himself authored some Trump-like misogynist  rhetoric in a tweet or two. This is supposed to prove hypocrisy, and undermine the legitimacy of the cast’s ambush.

It doesn’t do this, because the cast’s stunt had no legitimacy at all, votes or not, hypocrisy or not.

Is the whole Trump term going to be like this? I fear so, since the incoming President literally is bewildered by all concepts ethical, and his defenders appear to be similarly disabled.

Look: if it is per se unethical and wrong for a theatrical production to turn on audience members without consent or warning to humiliate, threaten or accost them, the qualifications of the cast members engaging in this harassment can’t make the unethical act more or less so. Continue reading

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The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [UPDATED! ]

 Once again, Ethics Alarms re-posts its ethics guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,”one of the great ethics movies of all time. It was written in 2011, and revised regularly since, including for this year’s version. I suspect we need it more in 2016 than usual.

It is fashionable now, and was even when the film was released, to mock its sentiment and optimism. On one crucial point Capra was correct, however, and it is worth watching the film regularly to recall it. Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. Nevertheless, the framing of the tale advances the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. He’s going to get it, too, or at least the heavenly authorities will make the effort. They are assigning an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to the job. He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there—then again, George says he’s “not a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky.

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower. This is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey, and one that George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow. Continue reading

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Opening The Door, Tit-For-Tat, And The Drunk In The “Hamilton” Audience

opening-the-door

All right, all right, maybe this is the final word on the “Hamilton” controversy.

What do we make of this?

A supporter of President-elect Trump reportedly interrupted a Saturday-night performance of “Hamilton” in Chicago with profane shouts at the show’s cast. According to BroadwayWorld, somebody seated in the balcony shouted, “We won! You Lost! Get over it! Fuck you!” during the number “Dear Theodosia,” which is about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr coming to terms with what being a father meant in the newly formed United States. The audience member was escorted out of the theater by security after a brief altercation.

Rueful thoughts: Continue reading

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