Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/15/2019: Starring Two Of My Favorite Unethical Websites!

WAKE UP!

Oh, great: started this post at 7 am, hell broke lose at ProEthics, and now it’s after noon. Well, the hell with it: I’m not going back to change the headline or the intro, and I like Lenny’s version of the Stars and Stripes at any time of day.

So there.

1. Unprofessional and dangerous stuff from  Above the Law….as usual. The legal gossip and snark online tabloid is run and written by lawyers who are not practicing law, so they feel free to engage in conduct that lawyers are forbidden from engaging in, like misrepresentation.  Lately the cyber rag has been cyber-ragging on Jones Day, a long-time, distinguished D.C. mega firm. Why are they doing that? Come on, it should be obvious.

ATL takes the position—and it has company— that Jones Day is eeeevil and must be shunned because it represents the Trump campaign. Hence you get headlines like “IF YOU HAD TO GUESS WHICH FIRM WOULD DO THIS:New allegations claim Jones Day lightened the skin and narrowed the nose on the picture of one of their lawyers.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, May 2, 2019: Low, Lower, Lowest

Six computer crashes already, but I’m going to get this %$#*&@ post up if it kills me, and I’m STILL calling it a “morning” warm-up.

1. Speaking of %$#*&... Senator Lindsay Graham used “fucking” on both CNN and Fox News, live, coast-to-coast. He was quoting former from one of FBI agent Peter Strzok’s texts, to illustrate the anti-Trump bias among those investigating him, as well as Hillary Clinton.  “Trump is a fucking idiot,” Graham read. He added, “Sorry to the kids out there.”

Good for him. If the word is relevant to a legitimate issue, and part of a quote or an example, then use the word. The principle is the same as when professors of linguistics or social studies utter the word “nigger” to raise questions about the way the word itself is used in society.

2. Unethical industry seeks guidance from unethical organization. So desperate is American horse racing to reverse its precipitous decline that leaders in the sport are seeking guidance from PETA.

That will work out well, I’m sure. Any time a business seeks guidance from an outside group that really doesn’t care about whether the business lives or dies, the end is near….not that this is a bad thing in this case. Horse deaths have been increasing across the country, and the anger of animal rights activists is threatening the very existence of “the sport of Kings.” California is close to banning the sport already. The use of drugs to keep sick and injured thoroughbreds running until they drop and the use of whips are the main sources of contention.

The popularity and profitability of horse racing has been falling for a long time. ONce, it ranked with boxing and baseball as one of the three top professional sports in the nation. Those days are gone for ever. Meanwhile,  more than $15 billion was bet on races in 2002; last year,  the total was $11 billion. In 2002, nearly 33,000 thoroughbred foals were registered as racehorses.  19,925 were registered last year.

Like boxing, horse racing appears to be doomed by its very nature The NFL, it it looks really hard, should be able to see its future, or lack of it. The process takes an infuriatingly long time, but people do become more ethical as time and experience accumulates. Continue reading

What Is Fairness, Justice And Proportion For Aaron Schlossberg?

“He’s a jerk. Let’s squash him like a bug…”

Surely by now you know of Aaron Schlossberg, the latest cultural villain.

He was the star and author of a bizarre incident at a restaurant in Manhattan. Schlossberg, who is a midtown Manhattan lawyer, freaked out beyond all reason when a customer began conversing in Spanish with employees at the restaurant. “Your staff is speaking Spanish to customers when they should be speaking English,” he protested. “Every person I listen to — he spoke it, he spoke it, she’s speaking it. This is America! “My guess is they’re not documented, so my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country.If they have the balls to come here and live off of my money — I pay for their welfare, I pay for their ability to be here — the least they can do is speak English…I’m calling ICE.”

Naturally, this was captured on a phone video. Naturally, it was posted to social media. Once upon a time a person could behave like a jackass and only have the immediate witnesses to his conduct know about it. No more. Now, thanks to omnipresent cell phones, everyone is under more or less constant surveillance, and a bad moment, a sudden outburst or an ill-considered word can and will be wielded by steely-eyed social justice enforcers to destroy a miscreant’s life to the maximum extent possible.

Is that the kind of society you want to live in? It would be wise to consider the fate of Aaron Schlossberg.

Somehow his name became known. The news media picked up his tantrum: the Daily News put it on its front page! The New York Post reported that he has been evicted from his office by Corporate Suites, the company that held his law office lease.  His firm’s associate quit, with a nice virtue-signaling tweet. A petition demanding that he be disbarred has more than 10,000 signatures, and there is a GoFundMe effort to a  hire a mariachi band to follow him around New York.

That’s kind of funny, I have to admit. Continue reading

No, Thomas M. Cooley Law School Did Not Make Michael Cohen A Bad Lawyer, And The Fact That Cohen Got His JD There Does Not Mean It’s A Lousy Law School

Ugh. I don’t want to argue that Cooley isn’t a lousy law school, mind you, although I don’t have anything but anecdotal data of the matters, and I certainly don’t want to defend Cohan, whom I fingered as a lousy lawyer way back in 2015. ( What A Surprise: Donald Trump Has An Unethical Lawyer!). 

No, this post is about how incompetent journalists are, how they are too frequently devoid of basic reasoning and research skills, and how, particularly when they deal with legal matters, their ignorance is frequently embarrassing while it actively misleads the public.

Politico’s Phillip Shenon, who, not surprisingly, is not a lawyer, figures he can smear three parties via guilt by association with one brush in  “Trump’s Lawyer Went to the Worst Law School in America.”  But graduates of every law school succeed and fail, and while the law schools like to take credit for them, there is every reason to believe that those grads would have succeeded or failed had they gone to better law schools, or worse ones. One graduate’s misadventures prove absolutely nothing.

Roy Cohn, who  served as Senator Joe McCarthy’s chief counsel during the infamous Army–McCarthy hearings and was later disbarred, graduated from Columbia Law School. If he had graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Shenon no doubt would have thought Cohn’s alma mater was significant, but, of course, it would be a cheap shot at McCarthy and Cohn. If Cohen had gone to Columbia, Shenon could write a piece titled “Trump’s Lawyer Went to the Same Law School As Roy Cohn.”

Bill Lerach, disbarred in the class action law suit scandal involving his law firm, was considered a champion of abused investors and a social justice crusader, until he was exposed and sent to prison. He went to the University of Pittsburgh’s law school. Did that school make him do what he did? If he had gone to Harvard, or Cooley, would he have practiced law any differently?

Let’s look at Richard Nixon’s lawyers. John Erlichmann, send to prison and disbarred, went to Stanford Law School.  John Mitchell, also locked up, also disbarred, graduated from Fordham Law. John Dean, who was sent to prison and disbarred, got his law degree at Georgetown. Speaking of Georgetown, Stephen Glass, the disgraced journalist deemed possessed of so wretched character that California declared that he can never be a lawyer and have a chance to screw up like Michael Cohen, attended t Georgetown Law Center, which, as I have written about here, has a law professor who was previously a bank robber. Thomas Cooley Law School never sank that low.  Until recently, GULC also had an adjunct ethics prof who turned out to be a meth dealer. That guy, Jack Vitayanon, got his degree at Columbia Law School, just like Roy Cohn. What a coincidence! Or is it….?

As you may know, I also got my law degree at Georgetown, so if I go rogue, you know who to blame. Wait, maybe you don’t. The one to blame will be ME. Continue reading

Silence U Part 2: Indoctrination At Yale, and Beyond

A new, intensely short documentary about the cultural rot underway at Yale (but not only at Yale) is worth viewing, if you have a firm grip on your skull. Yale, is, of course, the source of many U.S. leaders and opinion-makers, including Supreme Court justices and recent Presidents. As one can see from the video, it is either indoctrinating the young minds in its charge in oppressive, anti-speech and liberty ideology, or, to give a large benefit of the doubt, failing to disabuse students of toxic and anti-democratic ideas that the educational system has also seeded.

Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, Yale is an elite institution, a role model for others, and supposed to represent the best of higher education. Its students will take their place among the intellectual and economic elite. Nobody who has been paying attention to the logical and legal contortions being used by the supporters of “the resistance” should be surprised that our most promising students are being trained to reason like this. The question is: does it make sense for a nation to actively support an educational system that appears to have become dedicated to undermining the basic values its founding was based upon?

The former-Provost of Stanford University, John Etchemendy, recently gave a speech he called “The Threat From Within” in which he said in part.

Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country – not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines – there, we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. . . . We need to encourage real diversity of thought in the professoriate, and that will be even harder to achieve. It is hard for anyone to acknowledge high-quality work when that work is at odds, perhaps opposed, to one’s own deeply held beliefs. But we all need worthy opponents to challenge us in our search for truth. It is absolutely essential to the quality of our enterprise.

The problem bites when a particular ideological sect gains power, and meticulously and systematically sets out to make diversity of thought inaccessible. Professors and scholars inhospitable to progressive cant are becoming extinct on college campuses, by design, just as they are an endangered species in newsrooms and Hollywood. Over at the increasingly had-left legal website “Above the Law”—you know, the one that kept erasing my e-mail alert requests every time Ethics Alarms criticized the site; the one that employs Ellie Mystal, a black lawyer who has advocated that black jurors refuse to convict black defendants—writer Joe Patrice  mocked the concept of advocacy for “viewpoint diversity” as argued in this letter from a group of law professors: Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: “Above The Law”

above-the-law

Stay classy, Above The Law!

Above The Law, which styles itself a legal profession gossip site and half-baked professional ethics watchdog, has been a useful resource for me on occasion, though the commentary of its writers, particularly lead writer Elie Mystal, has often left a lot to be desired ethically and logically. My last four posts regarding Above the Law, going back a year, have been Ethics Dunce entries, and there easily could have been more.

I used to get Above the Law’s stories sent to my in box, as I had subscribed several years ago. Then I noticed that I wasn’t getting them any more, so I subscribed again. I got notices for a few days, then they stopped. Again I subscribed. Again, my subscription vanished.

I just re-subscribed today, and expect that I will again be cut off.

Ethics Alarms has, it seemed, been “unfriended” by Above The Law, because I have had the impertinence to point out the increasingly lunk-headed ethics confusion and partisan bias of the site. Wow, that’s petty!  That’s also cowardly: the site seems to think that if I don’t know about their frequently misguided posts, I wouldn’t be able to criticize them. In fact, they are mostly right. I have now more than once gone many weeks without noticing the lack of the site’s notices in my e-mail. Life without “Above the Law’ is still rich and full of joy.

I did check today, however, which is when I discovered my latest subscription was gone with the wind. While I was responding positively to the site’s invitation to me to subscribe (for the 4th time), I checked the most recent posts, and saw this, from Elie, naturally…

Praising a recent post by a professor who was criticized for openly supporting Black Lives Matter—a group that declares on its website that the deaths of “Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police” were “murders” before any investigation or assessment of the events leading up to the shootings has been completed—Mystal’s post, titled “To Be Honest, I’m In No Mood To Explain #BlackLivesMatter To White People Today” reads in part… Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: “Above The Law” Creator David Lat

The guy on the right feels happy and safe with everyone knowing he's gay, so the guy on the left is a fool for not wanting a sleazy website to tell the world that HE'S gay. Wait..WHAT?

The guy on the right feels happy and safe with everyone knowing he’s gay, so the guy on the left is a fool for being angry at a sleazy website for telling the world that HE’S gay. Wait..WHAT?

Every now and then, the Washington Post publishes an opinion piece from a guest commentator that crosses the line  distinguishing eccentric from irresponsible. Today’s essay by David Lat, the founder and CEO of the legal industry gossip site Above the Law, is an example of this bad habit. How wrong do one’s logic, values and message have to be before the Post deems them unworthy of promotion and wide consumption? Apparently, there is no limit.

Lat’s essay flagged its obtuseness immediately in its title: “Being Gay Isn’t Shameful, Do Why Does Outing Matter?” (The online version is “Peter Thiel had no reason to be angry at Gawker for writing that he’s gay.“)

The impetus for the article—it is so ethically deranged that I almost think it has to be a joke: who thinks like this?—is the news this week that  wrestler Hulk Hogan’s devastating and perhaps fatal lawsuit against Gawker Media was bankrolled by Peter Thiel,  the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and an  early Facebook investor.  Gawker outed him in a 2007 story, and Theil is using Hogan’ suit over Gawker revealing a sex tape to try to put the ethics-free celebrity-abusing site out of business. Thiel is just being petty and unreasonable, says Lat. Lat is gay and proud of it, so  Thiel should be too!

Writes Lat—whose own gossip site is not above revealing embarrassing facts about well-known figures for its readers’ titillation: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Above The Law

silence

The legal news, commentary and gossip site Above the Law—Ethics Alarms uses it a s a source for legal ethics issues from time to time, usually to disagree with its writers—has announced that it is banning comments on the site. This has become an increasing trend on-line. The argument for doing this is always the same, with variations: they don’t add value, they too often are vulgar or abusive, they just aren’t as good as the used to be. Here’s ATL today:

“Today the comments are not what they once were. Although occasionally insightful or funny, ATL comments nowadays are generally fewer in number, not very substantive (often just inside jokes among the commentariat), yet still often offensive. They also represent a very small percentage of our total traffic (as we can tell because of the click required to access them)”

The site also comforts itself that increasingly “everybody does it”:

“What we do know is that the decline in comment quality is not unique to ATL. As noted by Wired, NiemanLab, and Digiday, numerous websites have eliminated their comments sections in recent years, largely because they felt that the comments were not adding sufficient value and that discussion had migrated to social media.”

Yes, I’ve noticed all that high-quality, nuanced commentary on Twitter.

What’s going on here? Continue reading

Observations On The George Mason Law School Renaming Debacle

Scalia Law School

Summary: On March 31, George Mason University announced that it was changing the name of its law school, which has rapidly risen from marginal status into respectability in the last few years, to the Antonin Scalia School of Law. The reason: a 30 million dollar contribution from the Charles Koch Foundation, a.k.a. the Koch Brothers and an anonymous donor, who made the name change a condition of his or her generosity. This occurring while the various controversies over Scalia’s legacy and the Supreme Court’s deadlock since his passing were still raging guaranteed indignation from many quarters, including many students and graduates of the law school. The internet and social media communities, meanwhile, having the emotional maturity of fifth graders, concentrated its efforts at snickering over the new school’s acronym, which could be ASSoL, and the Twitter handle, #ASSLAW.

The resulting embarrassment led the school’s Dean to announce  that the name of the school was being altered to “Antonin Scalia Law School.”

Comments:

1. Ethics Alarms had a recent post expressing dismay at the willingness of baseball teams to sell the identity of their ballparks to corporations. This is much worse. George Mason is perhaps the most unjustly forgotten of all the Founders, as he was largely responsible for there being a Bill of Rights in our Constitution The fact that George Mason University and its law school has been slowly rising in prestige and visibility had helped to remedy the unjust obscurity of a historical figure to whom every citizen and the world owes a debt of thanks. George Mason’s honor, however, was considered expendable once the school’s leaders knew the price that using the law school for ideological propaganda could bring at a time of sharp partisan division.

2. Rich people have a right to use their money to make others do things that they shouldn’t or normally wouldn’t want to. The issue is whether there are ethical limits to the kinds of actions and conduct money should be used to buy. Rich families have used their assets to defeat true love, paying  unsuitable suitors to leave without explanation. Desperate celebrities have accepted checks to debase themselves on reality shows. Judas was paid to betray Jesus Christ. Where does using one’s millions to induce a university to betray its duties to alumni and students, as well as other donors and the memory of a crucial American patriot, fall on the spectrum?

3. Was George Mason University obligated to accept 30,000,000 dollars under these conditions? Should money supersede all other considerations for an educational institution? No, and no. Allowing the school to be turned into a billboard for conservative jurisprudence did more than simply alter the name. It altered the perception of the law school, the meaning of its degrees, its public image and its ability to attract a wide range of students from diverse backgrounds. If the school’s leadership didn’t comprehend that, it was a stunning example of institutional incompetence and irresponsible decision-making.

4. If the school’s leadership did comprehend the gravamen of the name change and allowing partisan tycoons to bend the school’s management to their will, then the decision was even less defensible. There was an absolute obligation to consult with the stakeholders in this trade-off: students, alumni, and donors. Failing that obligation constituted a stunning breach of trust. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On Georgetown Law Center’s Scalia Foofarah

Scalia-Georgetown

I am a Georgetown University Law Center grad, as well as a former administrator there. I also know and have personal relationships with several members of the faculty. None of this especially informs my ethical analysis of the community argument there that arose from a rather innocuous official expression of respect and mourning in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death, but if anyone wonders why I’m posting about this rather than many other ethics issues nipping at my heels, that’s part of the reason. The other reason is that this academic dust-up raises interesting ethics issues, and has received national publicity.

Observations on the tale as it has unfolded:

1.  Georgetown Law Center issued a press release mourning the death of Antonin Scalia, including a statement from Dean William M. Treanor that read:

Scalia was a giant in the history of the law, a brilliant jurist whose opinions and scholarship profoundly transformed the law. Like countless academics, I learned a great deal from his opinions and his scholarship. In the history of the Court, few Justices have had such influence on the way in which the law is understood. On a personal level, I am deeply grateful for his remarkably generous involvement with our community, including his frequent appearances in classes and his memorable lecture to our first year students this past November. The justice offered first-year students his insights and guidance, and he stayed with the students long after the lecture was over. He cared passionately about the profession, about the law and about the future, and the students who were fortunate enough to hear him will never forget the experience. We will all miss him.”

[Note: In the original post, I missed the first line, and kept missing it. Don’t ask me why. The text has been finally, after a couple botched attempts, been revised to include it.]

Is there anything inappropriate about the dean’s statement? Not in my view. This is nothing but a traditional expression of professional respect on behalf a prominent institutional member of the legal community. There is nothing in the statement, save for the last sentence, that anyone could argue is untrue. Countless academics, as well as Scalia’s more liberal colleagues, did learn “a great deal from his opinions and his scholarship.” He was an influential and significant figure on the Court. Scalia was generous with his time and passion as a teacher, and by all accounts he was a good one.

The opening statement,  “Scalia was a giant in the history of the law, a brilliant jurist whose opinions and scholarship profoundly transformed the law,”  seems to be what rankled Scalia critics. It shouldn’t have. At worst it is standard memorial puffery. But calling Scalia a giant “ in the history of the law” seems fair whether you agree with his jurisprudence or not: he is certainly among the 20 or so most quoted, most debated, and most provocative justices. The rest shouldn’t be troubling to anyone who isn’t suffering from Scalia-phobia. A Justice can be brilliant and transformational while being wrong.

None of the reports of the controversy ignited by this standard issue sentiment mention it, but Georgetown Law Center isn’t on the Georgetown campus. It has its own campus that is a 15 minute walk from the Supreme Court. Law students regularly attend oral arguments; I did: it was one of the great advantages of studying law there. More than any law school, the Law Center has good reason to feel a special affinity to the Court and all its justices.

2.  What about the last sentence? Is it appropriate for Treaner to speak for the law school community and say that “We will all miss him”? He was reasonable and fair to assume that.  Unfortunately, in today’s vicious partisan divide where opinions and sincere positions reached after thought and research are too often treated as proof of consort with Satan, and ion which even lawyers, who are trained not to take legal arguments personally, are frequently unable to respect a colleague for a well-reasoned argument that they may still think is completely wrong, it was not a safe assumption. Pillory the dean, then, for giving all members of his community the benefit of the doubt, and assuming they are capable of grace, compassion, fairness, professional respect and civility.

It’s still not unethical to assume one’s colleagues have some class.

3. They all don’t, unfortunately. Law Center professors Gary Peller and Mike Seidman (I know Mike, never met Gary) then used the Campus Broadcast system, usually used for event announcements, invitations and policy changes, to send a message  to all members of the student body titled, “Responses to Dean Treanor’s Press Release Regarding Justice Scalia.”  Peller’s statement reads,

Like Mike Seidman, I also was put-off by the invocation of the “Georgetown Community” in the press release that Dean Treanor issued Saturday. I imagine many other faculty, students and staff, particularly people of color, women and sexual minorities, cringed at headline and at the unmitigated praise with which the press release described a jurist that many of us believe was a defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, one whose intellectual positions were not brilliant but simplistic and formalistic….That ‘community’ would never have claimed that our entire community mourns the loss of J. Scalia, nor contributed to his mystification without regard for the harm and hurt he inflicted.”

This was partisan grandstanding of the worst kind. The professors, of course, have a right to proclaim their opinions to the student body any time they want to, but their complaint here was petty and mean-spirited. It also models behavior that is poisonous both to the legal profession and the culture as a whole. The are saying, in essence,We don’t mourn him, we won’t miss him, and we’re glad to be rid of him, because his legal theories aren’t our legal theories, and we are on the side of the angels while he was an uncaring villain.” Such a message accomplishes nothing positive, and much that is destructive. The professors engaged in demonizing, when their profession and their duty is not to denigrate but reason. If they really think they can prove that Scalia was a defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, they can make that case in a scholarly paper: I doubt that they can. Scalia often defended the rights to engage in conduct that he did not personally support, as well as some he did: the sloppy rhetoric of Seidman and Peller echoes the legally ignorant who accuse criminal defense attorneys of defending robbery and murder. Continue reading