In a post on the Legal Ethics Forum, not as active as it once was but still one of the best legal ethics sites around, Legal ethicist and law professor Steve Lubet clarifies something I have always wondered about, and like a lazy slug, never investigated.
Fox News contributor Andrew Napolitano, most recently in the news for claiming that the British intelligence service GCHQ colluded with President Obama to conduct surveillance on the Trump staff during the 2016 campaign, is always called “Judge Napolitano” during his appearances. Lubet points out that he’s not a judge any more. Napolitano once served on the New Jersey Superior Court, but resigned in 1995 and has not held judicial office for more than two decades. It is apparently at Napolotano’s insistence that he is always addressed as “Judge” in Fox. His website, JudgeNap.com, refers to him as “Judge Napolitano” throughout, as does his bio on the Fox News site.
Lubet notes that The American Bar Association has held that the use of judicial titles by former judges practicing law is misleading and unethicalin connection with law practice. ABA Formal Opinion 95-391 says that continued “use of the title is misleading because it may be misunderstood by the public as suggesting some type of special influence” or “to create an unjustified expectation.” In fact, said the ABA, “there appears to be no reason for such use of the title other than to create such an expectation.” Of course, Napolitano isn’t practicing law when he bloviates on Fox News, so it isn’t a Rules violation, but the Judge label is still misleading
The Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, Lubet found, goes further by decreeing that it is only ethical for a former judge to use the titles “Judge” or “The Honorable” if they are preceded by the word “retired” or “former,” and the rule does not limit this caveat to ex-judges actively practicing law. Again, Napolitano is not out of compliance, because he is not subject to the Ohio Rules. That doesn’t make what he calls himself strictly accurate, or sufficiently accurate. (I confess, I have had a bias against such things ever since I suffered through a year with an insufferable high school history teacher who called himself (and insisted that we call him) “Dr. Arthur” because he had a PhD in history.) Continue reading
Sharper, Mathis, Ted Bundy.
For whatever reason, there have been a lot of attacks on the legal profession lately—and some from within the legal profession—because of so-called “disgusting” and “frivolous” arguments by lawyers who are zealously representing their clients. These range from outrage over the so-called “affluenza” defense (which, it apparently does no good to point out, was explicitly rejected by the judge in that case), to the law suit against the Glendale, California memorial to women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese in World War II, to the argument that Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy was complicit in his son’s allegedly murdering his girlfriend because Remy hired a lawyer who mounted a vigorous defense in the son’s earlier domestic abuse arrests.
Lawyers are ethically obligated to advance whatever non-frivolous arguments and theories that are most likely to achieve their clients’ objectives, whether it is avoiding prison or rationalizing the crimes of the Japanese army. That is their job and societal function, and it is essential to our avoiding a jack-boot system where any of us could be thrown in jail by popular opinion or government edict. The laws are there to be used by every citizen, even when the citizen’s objectives are unethical, or when the citizen is a cur.
Our rights are all protected well by this principle, and it’s high time we stopped bitching about it.
Undeterred by this, however, yet another defense attorney is being savaged in the news media and blogosphere, as well as by women’s rights advocates, for making an argument in defense of his client that they find offensive. In Georgia, Darriuos Mathis and his legal team are making the argument, among their efforts to show that the evidence against him is not sufficiently conclusive, that Mathis is too attractive--fit, handsome, sexy– to have to resort to kidnapping and raping a 24-year-old woman two years ago, which is what he charged with.
The Glendale Comfort Women Memorial
The large and respected law firm Mayer Brown has taken the ugly case of some Japanese-American clients who want the city of Glendale, California to remove a memorial to World War II “comfort women” from a public park. In doing so, and in the way it is proceeding, the firm has inspired harsh condemnation from two estimable legal commentators, both First Amendment champions: Marc Randazza, and Ken White. Their objections, which caused Randazza to call the firm “the least honorable law firm in the world,”and White to conclude, “This lawsuit is thoroughly contemptible. It should fail, and everyone involved should face severe social consequences,” are heartfelt, but, I think, misguided. Their argument, beside arguing that the lawsuit is frivolous, is best articulated by Randazza: Continue reading
“If you practice as a lawyer, you owe it to your clients only to do the things you are competent to do. Embarking on the defense of a man accused of murder as your first trial is a moral and ethical outrage. Regrettably, the profession is barraged with eager voices telling us that attracting clients with puffery and keywords and Twitter accounts is the way to build a practice. Nobody’s reminding us that you have an obligation to know what you’re doing before you accept the client. Somebody should.”
—-Ken, the lead blogger/attorney/libertarian/ wit/ First Amendment champion at Popehat, summarizing the lessons of the Joseph Rakofsky saga. Rakofsky was a green D.C. lawyer ( he is still a lawyer, less green but sadder and wiser) who indeed did take a murder defense as his first trial, made an epic botch of it, and then launched a desperate defamation lawsuit at legal bloggers, like Ken, who had told his cautionary tale to the world with appropriate ire. The law suit was dismissed last week.
What’s next for Joseph Radofsky? Maybe he’ll run for President….
Competence is an ethical value, especially in the professions, but also in most pursuits. Taking on the responsibility of accomplishing a task creates a duty, and doing so without being justifiably certain that you will have the skills to do it is reckless and irresponsible.
Ken, an experienced and accomplished attorney whom I have consulted for his professional advice in the past, also knows that inexperience does have to be eradicated with experience, and a strict application of his statement in all cases would lead to a frustrating Catch 22. Every pilot has to take that first solo flight; every head surgeon has his first major operation; and Clarence Darrow had to take on that first murder trial before he could say with complete confidence that he knew exactly what to do. On a more basic level, any lawyer taking on a representation in a type of matter she has never handled before, such as drafting a will, will be, in a sense, accepting a client before she knows what she is doing, because she hasn’t done it before. That’s okay, however: the ethics rules, as expressed in the American Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct (in Rule 1.1) say its okay, as long as, by the time the task is underway, the lawyer is sufficiently competent: Continue reading
“You’re doing WHAT???????”
Nevada lawyer Mark Liapis decided to represent a man sued for divorce by his longtime spouse. The spouse petitioned the court to have him barred from the case, and the court agreed: Mark was, after all, representing his father against his own mother.
Ick. Continue reading
The CBS legal drama “The Good Wife” has a good cast, well-scripted stories, and apparently a preference for misleading the American public on attorney ethics. Here’s the setting for its most recent set of gaffes: attorney Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and her supervising partner are battling an evil insurance company (you didn’t really think Hollywood would stay on the health care reform sidelines, did you? With a big vote coming up? ) that refuses to pay for in utero fetal surgery necessary to save an unborn baby from certain death. The insurance company’s attorney has a strong case, but offers a deal: it will pay for the surgery if Florrick’s firm will drop a class action lawsuit against the company. The partner, Will Gardner, refuses the offer: many other desperate members of the class need to make the insurance company pay for treatment, and besides, the law firm, which is in dire financial straits, needs the income that the class action might generate.
There are three things ethically wrong here: Continue reading