Morning Ethics Drill, 5/7/19: Unethical Headlines, A Missing Coffee Cup, And A Comment Of The Day

A morning that begins with a trip to the dentist and a referral to an oral surgeon can’t be good. Sorry.

And now I see that without warning or explanation, WordPress has removed its spellcheck feature. I’m sure those of you who are sick of my typos will appreciate THAT…

1. Stop making me defend Anderson Cooper, sort of! Here’s a cheap shot Fox News headline:

Anderson Cooper denies he’s ‘on the left,’ then rips Trump for tweeting about Kentucky Derby

Well, I’m also not on “the left” (Cooper is, of course), and I’m going to rip the President for tweeting his opinion on the Kentucky Derby, without even getting into the fact that his opinion was ill-informed and stupid.

As I wrote more than once during the Obama administration, the President is not the national arbiter of everything, and should keep his opinion to himself unless it directly and clearly involves the national interest. President Obama had a proclivity for injecting himself into controversies large and small, from the Trayvon Martin shooting to picking brackets for the NCAA college basketball tournament.  I wrote in this post,

This can no longer be called a rookie mistake, like the Prof. Gates arrest affair. President Obama has now had plenty of time to absorb the fact that the President does not have a blank check to insert himself into every local controversy and use his office to sway public opinion and the conduct of others regarding matters outside his responsibilities. Still, he continues to do it. It may seem trivial at first: the President gave an interview on TNT in which he pointedly suggested that NBA superstar LeBron James consider the Chicago Bulls as he faces free agency.  After weighing in on the most important things for James to seek from his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, if he was going to stay there, the President said, “You know, like I said, I don’t want to meddle. I will say this: (Derrick) Rose, Joakim Noah it’s a pretty good core. You know, you could see LeBron fitting in pretty well there.”

Now, I don’t care what Cooper thinks of Trump’s meddling in matters that don’t concern him if the CNN anchor didn’t have the integrity to knock Obama for doing the same thing, and repeatedly. Still, Anderson was on the right track—finally—to say, as he did,

“The president of the United States seems to have a lot of time on his hands And he can’t even stand some horses getting uninterrupted airtime. He’s got to be a part of every frickin news cycle. He can’t help himself!”

(I guess “frickin” is now considered professional lexicon at CNN. Stay classy, Anderson!)

Less defensible was this comment: Continue reading

Funny! But Inexcusably Incompetent : “Game Of Thrones” Ethics

Yes, somebody left a Starbucks cup on the set of last night’s much ballyhooed “Game of Thrones” episode on HBO.

It would be a good exercise to list all the rationalizations one could access to try to minimize such a massive botch, and avoid the likely consequences of making it. Without breaking an ethics sweat, I came up with…

  • 6. The Biblical Rationalizations, “Judge not, lest ye not be judged,” and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
  • 8. The Trivial Trap (“No harm no foul!”)
  • 19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”
  • 20. The “Just one mistake!” Fantasy
  • 22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”
  • 38. The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!”
  • 50. The Apathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares.”
  • 64A. Bluto’s Mistake or “I said I was sorry!”

As silly as that “one mistake” seems, a head, or many heads, should roll. This tweet from an annoyed fan nicely sums the situation up: “You’re telling me they had TWO YEARS to put together a decent show and they couldn’t even spot the goddamn Starbucks cup in Winterfell??!” Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Unethical Prosecution, Incompetent Jury: Once Again, ‘Sorry’ Isn’t Enough.”

The recent post about a Louisiana man sent to prison for 36 years when procsecutors and a jury ignored the fact that the evidence didn’t meet the standard for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt  sparked many excellent comments. The tongue-in-cheek suggestion by a commenter that failure to dispense criminal justice competently should earn the same fate as Admiral Ozzel in “Star Wars”—he was strangled to death by an angry Darth Vader’s Dark Force powers—inspired long-time commenter mariedowd to write this Comment of the Day regarding juries, prosecutors and professionalism:

I agree the Ozzel is far too harsh. I think it is hard enough to get reasonably educated and alert jurors. Adding a risk when  they don’t really understand the proceedings and follow along when one set of lawyers plays their sympathies or fears better than the other will not improve the situation at all.

 I think jury pools should not be linked to voting rolls, because it discourages registering and voting. Non-voters fear the loss of income and time that comes with jury service,  AND their vote never accomplishes anything (they think), so why bother? I once got a preliminary  call to jury duty halfway across the state when I had serious mobility problems.  I was looking at hundreds to thousands of dollars in lost income for a long Federal case. The threat of costs and holes in lives pushes away competent, aware citizens, leaving a high percentage of jury membership  to the fringes, and fringes have  axes to grind.

Maybe we should attach jury selection to Social Security, as that is a larger pool Using drivers’ licenses is also a possible improvement, because it ties into citizenship.  Let’s make jury service less of a sacrifice for people who cannot dump their daily duties for unknown periods with the threat of lost income.

Maybe proximity to the courts should factor into selection, so travel isn’t such a problem. For a courtroom 70 minutes, away my elderly mother was supposed to travel to a strange town by  bus for an 8 am call. She simply does not have the energy for all that back and forth, even though she is alert and would make be a competent juror. Jury deliberations should be a juror’s burden, not getting to court: you can’t concentrate on the case if you ache from the journey. I don’t know exactly how to fix this, but the current system sorts out some good potential jurors while attracting less desirable varieties. Continue reading

Unethical Prosecution, Incompetent Jury: Once Again, “Sorry” Isn’t Enough.

After Archie Williams (above) was released from a federal penitentiary  last week after serving 36 years  not only for a crime he didn’t commit, but  after a false conviction that would have been prevented by decisive exculpatory evidence that was available to the prosecution from the beginning. The district attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish, Hillar C. Moore III, said in court, “As a representative of the state, I apologize.”

I’m sure that makes Williams feel all warm inside. As we discussed here just this month in another case of wrongful arrest, trial and imprisonment, the kind of life-destroying mistakes that send citizens to prison for crimes they didn’t commit must involve accountability for those responsible beyond mere financial damages paid by the State.

This case is especially infuriating. It was known at the trial, and admitted by the prosecution, that  fingerprints found at the scene where a woman had been raped and stabbed in in Baton Rouge, La. belonged to someone other than the man standing trial for the crime.  Under basic prosecutorial ethics, Williams shouldn’t have been charged. The prints guaranteed reasonable doubt.  An ethical  prosecutor is not supposed to decide, “Well, maybe we can convince the jury to ignore those prints.” Prosecutors aren’t supposed to fool juries.  Ethical prosecution demanded that the State acknowledge doubt, no matter how much it wanted to clear the case, The victim of the attack was the wife of a wealthy and powerful man.

Instead, the prosecutor at the trial trivialized the significance of the then-unidentified fingerprints found at the scene.  “How many people come through your house?” Jeff Hollingsworth asked the jury, after suggesting that the prints could have belonged to  a plumber or a carpenter, “The air-conditioning man, people who clean your carpets, the little girl home from school.”

Then it was the duty of the police to determine who those people were, match the prints, and determine that they didn’t commit the crime. Without that due diligence, there is doubt as a matter of reason as well as ethics.

Technicians in a crime lab eventually ran the fingerprints  through a national database, and  within hours there was a match with a serial rapist. That happened last week, however, almost four decades after the prints should have been identified. When Williams  requested that the fingerprints be run against the national database in 1999, prosecutors opposed his request and  no statute required them to comply…just fairness and an interest in justice.

The fingerprints weren’t the only reason the jury should have acquitted Williams. Although the victim was certain that he was her attacker, several aspects of her description of the rapist didn’t match  Williams. His lawyer at the trial, Kathleen S. Richey, accurately told the jury that  the victim had described a  taller man with a scar on his shoulder blade.  Williams did not; he had a scar on his upper arm.

The jury found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt anyway. He was 22 when police arrested him. Archie is Williams is 58 today.

It was dawning on criminologists by 1983 that eye witness testimony was less reliable than previously thought, and that identification could be negligently or intentionally be manipulated by police. Combined with the mysterious fingerprints, the shaky ID should have assured Williams’ acquittal. Juries, however, don’t know the law, don’t have experience evaluating evidence, and sometimes, as Reginald Rose pointed out in “Twelve Angry Men,” just want to get home, are misled by their biases, or just aren’t very bright.

I hesitate to call for some kind of sanctions or penalties when a jury botches its job like this; after all, the police screwed up, the prosecution was unethical, the judge let it all happen, and they were doing jobs that they had been trained to do. Nonetheless, it seems like some consequences of a bad verdict might focus jurors attention a bit more, to the benefit of justice. What those consequences might be, I have no idea.

I would support a law mandating the resignation and permanent bar from further prosecuting duties any prosecutor involved in sending an innocent man to prison, however.

It’s fascinating that such a case should come to public attention at the same time that activists, feminists and progressives are arguing that the presumption of innocence for men accused of sex crimes should be reduced. Archie Williams graphically shows where that position leads.

One More Time…Ethics Dunce: California, And Its “Jumbo” Culture

Has any state…heck, has any 10-year-old’s tree house club…had as many terrible ideas as California? No wonder its presidential vote single-handedly gave the popular vote to Hillary. And the United States is supposed to allow itself to be the dog wagged by this Bizarro World ethics culture?

The latest: Under a bill now heading through the California State Legislature, millions of criminal Californians who have misdemeanor or lower-level felony records would have their criminal records officially sealed from public view once they completed prison or jail sentences. I’m shocked to read that the legislation would not apply to people convicted of committing  murder or rape. Well, give the Golden State time.

We are told with a sniff and a tear that in the United States, a record showing a criminal conviction or even an arrest that does not lead to a conviction can make it difficult for someone to find a jobs, rent an apartment or obtain professional license. Well, that’s because conduct has consequences, and in particular breaking trust has consequences. Society is based on mutual trust. Committing criminal acts raises reasonable doubts in society as to whether an individual can be trusted to–let’s see, handle money for an employer, follow rules, meet financial obligations or serve in a professional capacity, the primary requirement of which is trustworthiness.

Simply because someone has been in jail doesn’t mean they have become more trustworthy. Why would it? So under California’s brilliant scheme, a bank could hire a convicted embezzler as a bank teller. A law school could hire a convicted bank-robber as a law pro—oops. Sorry. My alma mater already did that. But at least it had the opportunity to know what it was doing.

This is kindergarten easy: if I am going to trust someone with my business or my property, I have a right to know who that person is, and if he or she has a record of warranting trust. The fact that convicted criminals have a tough time doesn’t mean I should be put at risk. They committed the crime, why are the citizens who haven’t broken any laws being forced to take risks they don’t want to take? Continue reading

The Mistake That Has No Remedy

Craig Coley was in prison for 37 years with no chance of parole. He was innocent, but it took technology that wasn’t available when he was convicted to prove it. Coley was released in 2017, when DNA evidence showed that the justice system had punished the wrong man, and his conviction was finally overturned. Coley was 32 when he was first arrested for the double murder of his girlfriend and her son in 1978, 34 for when he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. He’s 71 now.

How does society compensate someone for a mistake like that?

Last month, the city of Simi Valley, California, the city that took half of Chris Coley’s life away from him., announced that it had reached a $21 million settlement with its victim. That’s something, I guess. After his release, Mr. Coley was pardoned by Gov. Jerry Brown—yes, I think that was appropriate— and awarded $1.95 million by the California Victims Compensation Board, a sumptuous $140 for each day he spent in prison. Then he sued.

In a statement announcing the settlement, Simi Valley’s city manager, Eric Levitt said in part, “While no amount of money can make up for what happened to Mr. Coley, settling this case is the right thing to do for Mr. Coley and our community. Then he said that the city had decided to settle the case because “the monetary cost of going to trial would be astronomical.” So it was not because the settlement was “the right thing to do,” but because it was prudent and cheapest way out of their self-made predicament.

I sometimes wonder in officials read these things before they are released. Levitt also said the police department was still pursuing leads in the deaths of Coley’s former girlfriend  and her son. Good luck with that. Maybe O.J. can help out. Continue reading

A Jumbo! One More Time: If You Trust PolitiFact, You Are As Biased As They Are

“Airplanes? I don’t see any airplanes!”

There are no good political factchecking organizations. Some are more ethical than others. Snopes is terrible, biased, and unreliable unless it is really checking urban legends. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler tries, but he works in the progressive bubble of Democrats who run the place, and he is corrupted. The Annenberg Foundation’s Fact-Check.org claims to be non-partisan and often succeeds, but of late it too has entered political advocacy into a category that is supposed to be only about objective facts.

As a general proposition, it is fair to call the  exercise of “factchecking” inherently misleading and so ripe for abuse that any fact check by a media organization should be viewed with extreme skepticism.

This goes double for PolitiFact; indeed, someone saying that this is their favorite fact checker has triggered signature significance. Nobody who is properly sensitive to partisan bias and committed to objectivity can possibly trust PolitiFact, a feature launched by a Democrat newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, and recently taken over by the Poynter Institute, which I once respected as a voice for ethical journalism. Like its industry, however, it is corrupt. Either that, or Poynter isn’t providing oversight for PolitiFact.

This is res ipsa loquitur. PolitiFact, like many other media hacks from the Left, meaning almost all of them, is trying to provide cover for the “Green New Deal” that the Democratic Party has foolishly embraced, by throwing up dust, word-salads and lies. The current approach is pure Jumbo, the Ethics Alarms category for a lie in the style and scale of Jimmy Durante’s classic, trying to steal an elephant and upon being stopped by a constable and asked what he was doing with a pachyderm on a rope, exclaiming, “Elephant? WHAT elephant?”

Here’s Politifact, lying: Continue reading