Saturday Ethics Catch-Up, 6/22/2019: “The Rifleman” Whiffs. A Paralegal Spills, The Commies Like Democrats, But Students Hate Pioneers

I am so, so far behind, both here on Ethics Alarms, and elsewhere, like prepping for some upcoming seminars, writing new programs, and trying to get the business and home budgets to work. Last week involved the car dying, getting a new one, enduring a six hour, 17 inning loss by the Red Sox, some lingering new computer glitches, and a major video shoot for which I had to write and refine the script, acquire the props and costumes, and rehearse the actors, then assist the team of seven who handled the shoot itself, all while being sick, and progressively exhausted. (This project would not have all happened without the brilliant and tireless work of my business partner and love of my life, Grace.)

Ethics Alarms was lower on the priority list this week than I would have liked it to have been. I’m sorry.

1. “The Rifleman” Ethics: As I have mentioned here before, “The Rifleman,” the 30 minute TV Western drama, starring Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain that ran from 1959-1962, was all about ethics, with almost every episode teaching an ethics lesson to the Rifleman’s son Mark, played by the charming juvenile actor Johnny Crawford.  I just watched an episode from the show’s final season that I hadn’t seen before. Guest-starring Mark Goddard (best known as the hot-headed young co-pilot in the original “Lost in Space” on ABC), the story involved a charismatic young huckster whom Mark admires but his father distrusts. This causes rare friction between father and son. Eventually, Lucas is proven right: the young man is a liar and a crook who was taking advantage of Mark’s guilelessness.

Mark shamefully but manfully tells his father, “I apologize for being wrong.”

NO! One shouldn’t apologize for being wrong. One  has an obligation to apologize for doing wrong, which includes making a bad decision because of laziness, carelessness, poor reasoning, inadequate analysis, or through some other failing. There is no shame or blame in being wrong in the kind of situation laid out in the episode, however.

Until the final moments, the audience couldn’t tell whether this would be one of the episodes where Chuck screws up, with the lesson to Mark being, “Jumping to conclusions and judging strangers harshly before you know anything about them is unfair, Mark. You were right. I’m proud of you.”

In fact, after Mark apologized, I expected his father to come back with exactly what I just wrote. This was moral luck: Mark had nothing to apologize for.

Boy, I’m never going to catch up if  I let issues jump in line like that… Continue reading

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

Ethics Quote Of The Week: The New York Times, Regarding Legal Ethics Dunce David Boies’s Ride On The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck

There are a lot of ethics issues, legal and otherwise, flying around in the shocking—this really is shocking—revelation that lawyer Al Gore’s Supreme Court lawyer (and loser) David Boies was working to help Harvey Weinstein intimidate and discredit the women who were preparing to accuse him of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.

The New Yorker reports in an investigative reporting piece that the Boies firm was retained by Weinstein, and on his behalf hired Black Cube, an investigative company run by former Israeli intelligence agents to prevent the publication of abuse allegations by creating profiles on the targeted accusers, often using pretexting–that is, lies— to gain access to proprietary information. Black Cube’s work included psychological profiles and sexual histories of the potential Weinstein accusers. The engagement with Black Cube  was presumably run through Boies Schiller Flexner  to place the shady matter under attorney-client privilege.

David Boies personally signed the contract with Black Cube, which, according to the New Yorker, was to obtain ” intelligence which will help the Client’s—that is, Weinstein’s— efforts to completely stop the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY newspaper” and to “obtain additional content of a book currently being written [that] includes harmful negative information on and about the Client.”

Did you see “Michel Clayton,” where George Clooney played a law firm’s “fixer”? That’s what Boies was doing here. “Fixing.” And fixing is a dirty business.

That “leading NY newspaper” was and is the New York Times, which, as we now know, was readying its own sensational story regarding the accusations against Weinstein.The New York Times was also a client of Boies Schiller Flexner, though on unrelated matters, hence the statement above. Unsurprisingly, the Times has sacked Boies and his boys.

[Aside: Here’s a lawyer ethics practice tip. If a client asks you to contract with a company called “Black Cube,” “CHAOS,’ “The Legion of Evil,” “The Black Hand,” or “Murder, Inc.”, just say no.]

Some ethics questions and answers: Continue reading

Essential Ethics Points Regarding Casey Anthony’s Investigator’s “She Did It!” Claim

Anthony and LawyerCourtExcerpt

News Flash:

Private investigator Dominic Casey submitted a court affidavit in  Casey Anthony’s bankruptcy case (he wants to get paid), that stated that Casey’s attorney Jose Baez (above, left) “ told me that Casey (above, right) had murdered Caylee and dumped the body somewhere. He also alleges that Baez had sexual relations with Anthony.

Here’s what you need to know about the ethics issues involved:

1. Most important of all: USA Today’s website headlined the story, P.I. says Casey Anthony lawyer acted unethically. I’d guess 95% or more of readers assume that what was unethical was Baez defending Anthony when she was guilty. Maybe USA Today even thinks that. That is pure, inexcusable ignorance. All criminal defendants have a Constitutional right to a zealous defense, and the defense lawyer’s duty is the same whether his client is guilty or not, Jack the Ripper or a jay-walker. The duty is to make the State prove its case with admissible evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Almost everyone who has followed the case believes that Anthony is guilty of facilitating the murder of her daughter Kaylee, but the evidence was ambiguous and circumstantial, and the prosecution didn’t prove its case.

Having sex with a client is unethical, specifically under the rules of most states, and arguably under the rules of all states under general ethics and professionalism principles. Continue reading

Three Florida Lawyers Discover How Reporting a Crime Can Be Unethical

DUI_setup

How can you get disbarred for reporting a drunk driver? Three Florida lawyers were up to the task.

Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut were found to have “maliciously” set up the drunken-driving arrest of their opposing counsel in a  high-profile defamation trial, and Judge W. Douglas Baird,  the referee in their legal ethics case,  wrote  that Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut should lose their licenses permanently under the legal ethics standards of the Florida Bar.

In 2013, C. Philip Campbell was representing radio shock jock Todd “MJ” Schnitt in his slander suit against another DJ, “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem. Clem was represented by the Adams and Diaco law firm. Campbell  left court and went to Malio’s Steakhouse in downtown Tampa, near his home and office. While Campbell was at the eatery, he was spotted by Melissa Personius, a young paralegal who worked for Adams and Diaco.

According to testimony, Personius called her boss, Adams, to report that Campbell was in the restaurant. Then Personius sat next to Campbell and the two bought each other drinks. As the night proceeded, Personius periodically relayed information to Adams. Adams then contacted Diaco and Diaco constacted Filthaut to agree upon next steps. The key was that Filthaut was friends with Sgt. Raymond Fernandez, who was then head of the Tampa police DUI unit, thus was able to sic  the DUI unit on the unsuspecting opposing counsel, who was in the process of being plied with liquor by Adams and Diaco’s attractive paralegal.

When it was time to for the targeted lawyer to leave, Campbell told Personius that she was too tipsy to drive and offered to call her a cab. Personius protested that she didn’t want to leave her car at the restaurant overnight and asked Campbell  if he would move the car for her. “Of course,” he said, nice guy that he is. As Campbell drove her vehicle up the street, he made an illegal turn and was pulled over by Fernandez officers, who were lying in wait. He was arrested and charged with DUI. Continue reading

Online Review Ethics: Yelp And The Law Firm

"...and so do our own employees!"

“…and so do our own employees!”

Is it professional misconduct for members of a law firm or the non-lawyer assistants for which they are responsible to post fake reviews of their work to a consumer website? I would argue that could be: it is almost certainly deceptive advertising, which is prohibited to a greater or lesser degree in all state ethics codes, and it is dishonest and misleading communications of the sort that has drawn discipline for some attorneys in other circumstances. Whether or not such a slimy, if common practice (at least among other professions, like wrtiting) is sufficient to raise “a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects” will be determined by lawyers themselves, and you would be amazed at what many of them  don’t consider sufficient to do this. I am admittedly extreme on this issue: I don’t think lawyers should lie, and take a dimmer version of even harmless deception than most in my field. This is profession that depends on trust, and the more someone lies—I don’t care about what—the less trustworthy they are.

These issues arise because the online consumer site Yelp appears to have caught employees of the law firm The MacMillan Group posting fake positive reviews about itself, on behalf of fictional clients. Continue reading

Now THAT’S An Untrustworthy Legal Secretary!

 

"Hey! That's Barbara! See you at wok, Monday, Barbara!"

“Hey! That’s Barbara! See you at work, Monday, Barbara!”

The Connecticut Law Tribune reports that Barbara Kalpin, a former legal secretary at the Waterbury law firm of Grady & Riley,  has been charged with stealing more than $1 million while forging dozens of checks and documents.

She was, the story says, “a longtime and trusted employee at the firm.” It seems the firm’s trust was misplaced.  Investigators have discovered that she spent about $500,000 over the last few years at an off-track betting venue in New Haven for horse and dog racing. According to police, she wrote 93 checks from a client fund that she managed, among other things using the money to pay credit card bills and to finance multiple mortgages on her home. Kalpin is facing two counts of first-degree larceny and 112 counts of second-degree forgery, and is awaiting arraignment next week.

Connecticut’s bar, like every that of every other state, imposes a strict obligation on attorneys to supervise non-lawyers who are placed in positions of assisting in legal work and the handling of client matters: Continue reading