Category Archives: Workplace

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.

Continue reading

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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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No, A Democratic Senator Attending A Party In Honor Of A Trump Appointee He Opposed Isn’t “Hypocrisy”…It’s Called “Statesmanship,” “Sportsmanship,” And “Professionalism”

To be fair, we see so little of either now that many may no longer be able to recognize the two traits any more.

The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news source wrote,

A Democratic senator who couldn’t “in good conscience” vote for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross still attended a ritzy cocktail party welcoming him to the nation’s capital.On Wednesday, Georgetown socialite and Washington Post editor Lally Weymouth, daughter of the paper’s former publisher, Katherine Graham, hosted a “Welcome to Washington, D.C.” party for Ross at the Georgetown mansion of former Republican diplomat C. Boyden Gray. West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin attended that party, according to Politico Playbook, rubbing shoulders with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

Manchin’s attendance marked an about-face for the Democrat, who attempted to block Ross’s cabinet appointment.

In February, Manchin said he could not “in good conscience … give Wilbur Ross a promotion.” The senator credited Ross’s career as a billionaire investor—which earned him the nickname ” King of Bankruptcy”—and his involvement in the West Virginia mining industry for his decision to oppose the appointment along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Following my extensive vetting, meeting with him, watching his nomination and reaching out to West Virginians who have worked with him directly, I cannot in good conscience look the families of the fallen Sago miners or the Weirton Steel workers who lost their jobs in the eye knowing I voted to give Wilbur Ross a promotion,” Manchin said in a statement at the time….

Steven Law, president of the GOP Senate Leadership Fund, criticized his attendance as a sign of “Washington hypocrisy.” “Apparently Joe Manchin’s ‘good conscience’ waits in the car while he stops in for cocktails on the Washington D.C. party circuit,” Law said in a statement. “Senate Leadership Manchin thinks he can fool West Virginia voters with his Washington hypocrisy, but we believe they are catching on to Manchin’s worn-out act.”

So it was principled, then, for Rep. John Lewis to boycott President Trump’s inauguration? It’s principled, then, for Democrats to refuse to respect the office of the President, because they didn’t vote for Donald Trump. Is that what Steven Law is saying?

Do Republicans think before they make statements like this? Continue reading

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Chicago Justice, Rights, And Pop Culture Malpractice

Dick Wolf, the “Law and Order” creator, is in the process of taking over NBC prime time. He now has four linked dramas dominating the schedule—“Chicago Med,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Fire,” and the latest, “Chicago Justice.” (Soon to come, at this rate: “Chicago Sanitation,” “Chicago Pizza,” and “Chicago Cubs.”)

Yesterday was Episode #2 of “Chicago Justice.” The story in involved a “ripped from the headlines” riff on the Brock Turner case, where a woman was raped while unconscious and the rapist received a ridiculously lenient sentence. In Wolf’s alternate universe, however, the judge was murdered, and the rape victim and her ex-husband were suspects. There was another wrinkle too: one of the prosecutors had a close relationship with the dead judge, and was with him right before he was killed. She was going to have to be a witness, and her colleague and supervisor, prosecuting the case, asked her if she had been sleeping with the victim. Such a relationship would have been an ethical violation for the judge, and at least a pre-unethical condition for the prosecutor, requiring her to relocate to a Steven Bochco drama, where lawyers have sex with judges all the time.

The female prosecutor indignantly refused to answer the question. After the case was resolved—I won’t spoil it, but the name “Perry Mason” comes to mind—the two prosecutors made up over a drink. She said that she would have never slept  with “Ray” (the dead judge–when he was alive, that is), but that she remembered reading “in some old document” that we all had “unalienable rights,” she believed one of them was “the right to be respected by your fellow man.”

There is no “right to be respected.” The Declaration of Independence, the “old document” she referenced, lists three rights only, though they are broad ones: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. None of those encompass a right to be respected. The speaker, Anna Valdez (played by Monica Barbaro, a Latina dead ringer for Jill Hennessey, who played the equivalent “Law and Order” role for many years), is a lawyer, and should understand what a right is. It is a legally enforceable guarantee of an entitlement to have something, seek or obtain it,  or to act in a certain ways. As a lawyer, she must understand that this is different from what is right, just or honorable. Her statement, coming from the mouth of a character with presumed expertise and authority, misleads much of the public, which is constantly getting confused over  the difference between Jefferson’s use of “rights” and what is right. So do journalists and, sadly, too many elected officials. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day : “Incident At Big Bowl”

John Billingsley has been participating here for less than two months, and this is his first Comment of the Day. He explores some of the broader labor, management and cultural  issues behind the curtain in my rueful account of  inept service at an airport fast food restaurant.

Here is John’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Incident at Big Bowl.”

I believe this is an issue that goes much deeper than it appears on the surface and Son of M and Tom M in their analyses have identified some of the issues at the root of the problem. Son of M said, “I don’t know that people at this level of employment have EVER cared or are ever going to.” There are some who care, and they can be identified when you are served by them, but I agree that most them appear not to. I think this is because our culture overall is not respectful of the people who do those jobs and so they have no reason to respect themselves as a person who performs that work.

I had the opportunity to live in Japan for about two years. That was over 40 years ago, and I still remember the complete professionalism of just about every service worker I encountered. Of course, it is a cultural thing. I wish people who provide services here could develop the attitude that it is not demeaning to be a service worker.

Tom asks, “Why is all of the blame on the employees?” Continue reading

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Incident At Big Bowl

Am I the only one who has weird  encounters  every single time I travel? That can’t be. (Can it?)

This week, I had a quick trip to Boston (where my heart resides, so I have to visit it) to present a legal ethics program to recently minted lawyers. On the way, I tried to grab a meal at Reagan airport. The flight was at 6:30, and I wanted to eat before I had to get on the plane. I chose an allegedly fast food outpost near my gate, Big Bowl. It was not busy: maybe two people ahead of me, one behind. The order was simple: a “big bowl” of kung pao chicken with white rice, no drink. I paid, and got my slip with the number 555.

When they called 555, it wasn’t my order. They called 549 before that, and it wasn’t right either. All the numbers on all the orders were wrong, and the confusion added about 10 minutes to everyone’s wait, notably mine. Finally, they skipped the numbers entirely, and shouted out the contents of each order. My big bowl had been mislabeled 550, and for a while I had to argue with the customer who had the 550 ticket, until she realized she had ordered fried rice, not white rice.

Meanwhile the employees were just shrugging, giggling and smiling away. “You had the wrong number,” one said to me. “No, you had the wrong number on my order. Why?” She shrugged and smiled.

“That’s no answer, ” I said. “Do you have a system, or not?  Can’t you tell me what happened? I was inconvenienced. Part of what I’m paying for is service. Why did this happen?”

Another shrug. No acceptance of responsibility. No apology or anything remotely sounding like one.  At this point, a superannuated hippy who looked like she was ready to do a Joan Baez set intervened with a condescending, “They made a mistake. Mistakes happen.” Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: St. Louis Pitcher Adam Wainwright

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It’s Spring Training for Major League Baseball, and all over Florida and Arizona established millionaire baseball stars are getting in shape, while impoverished minor league veterans are hoping to nab a big league roster slot that will alter their finances, careers and lives. The dirt wages teams pay their minor league players is an ongoing scandal, as life in the minors still consists of bus rides, crummy motels and cheap eats, with no job security, no pensions, and little respect. Most of the latter is reserved for the hot young prospects expected to be stars within a couple of years.

These two worlds of Lexus-driving superstars and subsistence-level grunts merge in March,  as the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League play exhibition games before retirees and out-of-state fans.

Ryan Sherriff, 26, is from that Other World. He is  a non-roster invitee to the St. Louis Cardinals camp, hoping to establish himself on the team’s pitching depth chart for a mid-season call-up when there is an injury or a trade. At his age, time is running out. Ryan  also is at camp on his own dime. Every day, Sherriff  made the 10- to 15-minute walk from his rented condo to the ballpark. He then walked  back after workouts.  When he needed food, he walked 15 minutes in the other direction to get groceries.

On one of those walks last week, Cardinal starting pitcher Adam Wainwright was driving by, noticed Sherriff walking and realized that he had seen him do this several times. Wainwright stopped and inquired, and learned that this was his temporary teammate’s mode of transportation as long as he was in Florida.

A couple days later, a Nissan Altima rental was delivered in Sherriff’s name  at the ballpark, all expenses paid by Wainwright. Continue reading

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