Observations On An Ethics Mess

Ethics Messes are situations too chaotic and ugly to qualify as Ethics Train Wrecks. This is an Ethics Mess. Think of it as a runaway Ethics Train Wreck that hit a nitro-glycerine factory and was then stomped by Godzilla. All we can do is sift through the gore.

California State University, Sacramento associate professor Tim Ford and his wife had a confrontation with their neighbors during which Ford’s wife, who was intoxicated, called one of the neighbors a “nigger” several times as well as a “bitch.” The target of her abuse, Mikaela Cobb, videoed the exchange and posted it on Facebook. The professor’s conduct was far from civil as well, as he is caught shouting, “I’m a professor at Sac State, dude. I have a Ph.D. I don’t need to be dealing with shit like this!”  He can also be seen tossing  a can of some beverage at the neighbor’s window.

Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen said last week that he had recently received and watched the “very disturbing video” that showed the professor and his wife in “an ugly verbal dispute with their neighbors.” Even though the couple’s neighbors are not Sac State students, Nelsen said, he still regarded the situation as serious and a school matter, and he said that the video had a harmful impact  on the campus community. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/1/2018: Of Boies, Drunks And Maryland…

Welcome, October!

In vaudeville terms, ethically speaking, this is like following a dog act…

1.  More on the strange legal ethics of David Boies. I am currently teaching the David Boies-Harvey Weinstein-New York Times fiasco as a main feature of all of my legal ethics seminars. (You can read the original post here) To its credit, the Times recently did a feature on Boies including his side of the story, which is, I found, not very mitigating. It also had this passage:

For his part, Mr. Weinstein showered Mr. Boies with invitations for opening-night parties and celebrity-studded charity events. The Weinstein Company put one of Mr. Boies’s daughters in the hit 2012 film “Silver Linings Playbook,” and also distributed a movie she produced, “Jane Got a Gun.” Along with the son of one of his law partners, Mr. Boies formed a film production company, which invested $5 million each in two Weinstein films, “Gold” and “The Upside,” both flops.

These entanglements may have colored Mr. Boies’s objectivity and judgment about Mr. Weinstein. But they weren’t, in the legal sense, a conflict of interest. They more closely aligned Mr. Boies’s interest with his client’s, which as far as the bar is concerned is a good thing.

I don’t know what bar the Times is talking about, because a lawyer “aligning” aclient’s interests with a client is not “a good thing,” but a condition that interferes with a lawyer’s independence and objectivity. It creates a personal conflict of interest that not only has to be waived by the client, but which the lawyer must reasonably believe will not affect his representation.

This comments to ABA Model Rule 1.8 make it very clear that significant gifts to clients (in this I would include gifts and benefits to family members) are ethically perilous at best:

Gifts to Lawyers

[6] A lawyer may accept a gift from a client, if the transaction meets general standards of fairness. For example, a simple gift such as a present given at a holiday or as a token of appreciation is permitted. If a client offers the lawyer a more substantial gift, paragraph (c) does not prohibit the lawyer from accepting it, although such a gift may be voidable by the client under the doctrine of undue influence, which treats client gifts as presumptively fraudulent. In any event, due to concerns about overreaching and imposition on clients, a lawyer may not suggest that a substantial gift be made to the lawyer or for the lawyer’s benefit, except where the lawyer is related to the client as set forth in paragraph (c).

Why don’t bars just declare lawyers accepting significant gifts and favors from clients as inherent conflicts of interest that reek of the appearance of impropriety?

The answer is that lawyers like getting gifts from rich clients, and lawyer associations tend not to interfere with things lawyers like to do. Continue reading

Lunchtime Ethics Warm-Up, 5/29/18: Lies, Boycotts, Boos, and More Lies

1. Update: We discussed earlier the accusations by former staff that Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) had used his Congressional staff to perform personal tasks for him, his wife, and his dog. Now he has announced that he will not seek re-election, because he needs to deal with his alcoholism. As we know from many previous example, alcoholism is the go-to excuse for all manner of misconduct. In truth, it doesn’t make anyone misuse public funds, it doesn’t make anyone turn their staff into domestic help. This is a face-saving lie in most cases. In any case, good riddance.

2. Never mind football, what matters most is division and protest. DNC co-chair Keith Ellison actually tweeted this:

Yes, he is advocating a boycott of the NFL because the owners have decided that their ticket-purchasers should not be required to watch protests on the field before kick-off. Ellison and the other fans of making every aspect of American life a source of political discord believe that the protests, incoherent as they are, are more important than the games. He would inflict financial losses on a business for a completely reasonable policy, because it doesn’t further a progressive agenda. And, of course, those most harmed by a successful boycott would be the players. Continue reading

Ethics Headline Of The Month: “Vatican: The Body of Christ Is Not Gluten Free”

Bravo to Johnathan Turley for neatly summarizing what’s wrong with the Catholic Church’s recent affirmation of its long-standing requirement that the bread and wafers used during communion in Catholic churches around the world must have at least some gluten in them, or the Church will collapse and Satan will reign, or something.  Meanwhile devout Catholics who must avoid eating gluten, including people who have Celiac disease, just have to plug along, get half a communion, or get sick. God wants it that way.

What a throbbing example of arrogant and compassion-free bureaucratic thinking. The Professor’s headline captured the idiocy and rigidity of it perfectly.

The Catholic News Agency shrugged the story off with a couple of rationalizations: “It’s always been this way” and “This is nothing new.” Neither are satisfactory excuses when making the communion dangerous to the increasing number of Catholics with Celiac disease. The issue is mirrored by the dilemma faced by alcoholics, who fear drinking wine; the Catholics, unlike the Methodists and other Protestant churches, insist on at least minimally fermented wine. Grape juice just won’t do. Why?

“Christ did not institute the Eucharist as rice and sake, or sweet potatoes and stout,” Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at Catholic University, told the Washington Post. “It may seem a small thing to people. But the Catholic Church has spent 2,000 years working out how to be faithful to Christ even in the smallest things. To be vitally and vigorously faithful … is something which is simply integral to what it means to be Catholic.”

[A long bitter section about how bureaucracies are habitually doctrinaire about small matters while ignoring pervasive corruption and destructive hypocrisy has been deleted here, in part because it is ugly, and also because anyone who can’t write their own version hasn’t been paying attention to the Catholic Church for the last 500 years…or even the last 17.] Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit”

There is an Ethics Alarms post “going viral” right now, at least as viral as any post on an ethics blog is likely to go. For two weeks now, my post at the end of July about how the “urban legends” site Snopes had descended into  dishonest, spinning, fact-distorting partisan/ left “factchecking” hackery has lapped all others here, and been shared to record levels on Facebook (nearing 11,000 shares) and Reddit.

This is nice, of course. It has brought a few (though not many) new commenters to the blog, and presumably more readers who stayed to peruse other topics. It has made August 2016, usually a fairly dead month, the most heavily trafficked month in Ethics Alarms annals. The post alerted some people to why Snopes is untrustworthy, though not, apparently, the Washington Post, which cited it as authority just a few days ago. It also prompted, on Reddit and Facebook, several thousand smug “this is not news, I’ve known this for years” comments. Where were your blog post, jerks?

The post’s wide circulation through the web also made me aware that a conspiracy theory holding that Democrats and the Hillary Corrupted maintain a team of attack commenters who go to blogs and attempt to muddy the waters when the truth about Clinton threatens to break through the denial dam might be accurate. I have received four or five almost identical comments on that post attempting to deny my dissection of Snopes’ pathetic attempt to prove that Hillary didn’t defend a child rapist, didn’t discredit his young victim in the process, didn’t know he was guilty when she did it, and didn’t laugh about the case in a recorded interview. None of the four commenters  read all of my post, which echoed a previous one in pointing out, as I always do, that a lawyer defending a criminal is not unethical, that the attacks on Hillary for doing so were ignorant and unfair, and that Hillary Clinton has nothing to apologize for in this case. Never mind: all four of these commenters ( and some others which never made it onto the blog) shifted into similar boilerplate language claiming I was attacking her too,  and preceded to repeat Snopes’ dishonest “factchecking” as if the documentation of its falsity I presented in the post didn’t exist.

Nonetheless, the Snopes revelation was not the Ethics Alarms post I would have chosen to “go viral.” There have been many essay in the last six year that I was, and am, especially proud of and believe were original, perceptive and important, and that have been barely read by anyone, never linked to or shared, and that have had all the impact of a shell thrown into the surf. How I wish my warning to the Republican Party , for example, urging it not to permit Donald Trump to participate in the primaries, had received similar attention. Not a single editorial board or pundit saw the peril looming, or at least  they didn’t write or talk about it if they did, because having The Donald spouting his inanities would be good copy and “fun.”

One such post dates back to the first full year of Ethics Alarms: The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit, from August 2010. In six years, it has amassed about the same number of views that the Snopes piece amassed in half a month. Yet the topic, how mouthwash manufacturers profit significantly by hiding the widespread use of their product by alcoholics who use mouthwash to conceal their destructive disease from family members and co-workers, is barely mentioned  on the web—a few places, and almost all of them since the post. Still, Congress hasn’t held hearings, regulatory agencies haven’t noticed, and the products still carry warnings that fool non-alcoholics into believing that the stuff is poison, so nobody drinks it. Lives could be saved, marriages rescued, and endangered businesses might survive, if what I wrote was generally known

I’ve done the original research and put the problem out there. At least I’ve tried, and I will continue to write about the problem, which I have learned about first hand.

My efforts  haven’t been completely futile. I have received some gratifying comments and off-site e-mails from family members who read the article, discovered that a loved one was secret drinker, and got them help. I have also received a few responses that confirmed my work, though none quite like this one from new reader Dave, an alcoholic himself.

Here is his remarkable and  cryptic  Comment of the Day on the post, The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit. Is it intentional irony? Is it sarcasm? Is it support, in the form of criticism? You decide:

Halfway through your article I decided it would be a good idea to go to shoppers and grab myself a bottle. I’d been so triggered today, only being a week sober prior. It’s great, you know, the mouthwash deception as you call it. I spend roughly $3.50 on a bottle of Life brand yellow mouthwash and it gets me radically twisted, with zero hangover. So not only does it make it easier for me to be a functioning alcoholic based on its inexpensiveness and zero hangover qualities, it is also amazingly convenient in that within 10 minutes I have three different 24 hour grocery stores I can go to in order to get a bottle.

Alcoholism is a shitty disease, believe me, I have lost much at the expense of it.

Continue reading

Ethics Alarms’ All-Time Greatest Hits

AllTimeGreatestHits

I am listing these because one of the past posts that keep drawing readers is going nuts today: the 2013 essay about the horrible Wanetta Gibson, who sent Brian Banks, a young man with a bright future to prison by falsely accusing him of rape when she was 15. If anyone has any idea why this would be, let me know; as far as I can find out, there are no new developments in the case.

It is gratifying that so many Ethics Alarms posts continue to find new readers. Here are the top ten that have “legs,” and my assessment of why.

1. The Rationalizations List. That’s no surprise, since I link to it so frequently, and it is also frequently updated.

2. Wanetta Gibson Is Even Worse Than We Thought

3.The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit. I am proud of this one. The use of mouthwash by alcoholics is epidemic, yet now, as in 2010 when I wrote this, almost nobody who isn’t a drunk is likely to know it. This makes it easy for closeted alcoholics to hide their illness, and continue to harm themselves by gulping 54 proof liquor out of various convenient containers or their caps, which are coincidentally shaped like shot glasses. Incredibly, the Ethics Alarms post is still one of the few references on this problem on the web. As you will read, I think the makers of mouthwash intentionally keep it this way, because the alcoholic market is huge.

I regularly receive thanks from family members of alcoholics, who tell me that reading this post led to their discovering that a loved oned had relapsed. Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Month: Yankees Pitcher C.C. Sabathia

CC Sabathia

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.”

New York Yankees starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia, in a statement announcing that he would not be helping his team prevail in the upcoming playoffs and World Series because he was checking into an alcohol rehabilitation center to treat his alcoholism.

Nobody outside of the Yankees organization and Sabathia’s family was aware that he was suffering from this malady until the announcement. Here is his whole statement, which speaks for itself: Continue reading

A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 2): The Good, The Over-matched, And Then There’s Abe

presseal

The Presidents between #7, Jackson, and #16, Lincoln, are almost entirely unknown to most of the public: not one in a hundred can name them all, and of those almost none can name them in order. Eight one-term Presidents, all trying to stave off the civil war in various ways, and all failing that mission.

I will never understand why learning the Presidents in order isn’t a standard requirement in the public schools. It’s not hard; it is a useful tool in placing events in American history, and it prevents embarrassments like the Cornell law grad I once worked with who couldn’t place the Civil War in the right century. Besides, we’re Americans, damn it. The least we owe the 43 patriots who have tried to do this job, some at the cost of their lives, many their health, and many more their popularity, is their place in our history and their names.

On with hailing the Chiefs with some of my favorite facts about them:

James K. Polk

“Hail to the Chief,” which had been sporadically in use since Madison’s day, became the official anthem of the office during the Polk Administration. Polk was a small, unimpressive man, and it was said that he needed the musical announcement when he entered a room or no one would notice him. Looks can be deceiving. James K. Polk was as wily, tough and as ruthless as they come. One reason may be that he was another Presidential survivor of an ordeal that would kill most people: as a teenager, he underwent a bloody frontier operation for gallstones with no anesthesia, tied to a table, biting on a rag.

Zachary Taylor

zachary-taylor

General Taylor, who was pursued by both the Whigs and the Democrats who both wanted to nominate him for President, was a great experiment  He was not a member of any political party, had never held public office prior  to becoming President, and had never even voted before becoming Chief Executive. He was also nearly illiterate. We often long for an apolitical President, a true, rather than a pretend, “outsider.” Taylor would have been an interesting test case, though the pre-Civil War political and social chaos was hardly the most promising period to try out the theory. Unfortunately he died of cholera less than half-way into his administration.

And he wasn’t even elected in a year ending in a zero! Continue reading

Spreading the Word: “The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit”

"Bottoms up!"

“Bottoms up!”

I am moved to re-post the early Ethics Alarms entry from 2010, titled “The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit,” for a few reasons.

It raises an important and shamefully under-reported topic, one that despite my exhortations then has yet to be adequately examined in the media. If one googles various combinations of “mouthwash,””Listerine,”‘alcoholism,” and “alcoholic,” the first result is, sadly, my post. Most people who are not afflicted with the disease of alcoholism have no idea that mouthwash is a popular stand-in for liquor, or that is used to deceive family members who think an addict is no longer using or intoxicated. None of the recommended policy changes I suggest in the post have been implemented, either.

Last week I chanced to mention the use of Listerine by alcoholics to a friend who is a doctor who treats alcoholics. He was shocked, and had no knowledge of this at all. “Eww!” he said. “Isn’t that poison? You can drink it? I had no idea.” And he is a professional who keeps up  with the literature. (But obviously doesn’t read his friend’s blog.)

Despite my frustration that what I regard as a true exposé that should have sparked an equivalent article in a more widely read forum has remained relatively unknown, I am encouraged by the effect it has had. Most posts have their greatest traffic around the time they are posted, but since 2010, the page views of this article have increased steadily every month. More importantly, it has drawn comments like this one, from yesterday:

“Am looking after my twin sister who is a chronic alcoholic. She has been three days sober and then she just walked in and I couldn’t work out what the hell happened. She was in a stupor , but there was no alcohol and I am dispensing the Valium for detox period and she smelt like mint!! Found three bottles of it !!! This is my last big push to help her and she pleaded innocent and no idea it had alcohol in it! Hasn’t had a shower for two days but keeps her month fresh and sweet !! Thanks for the information. Much appreciated XXX”

Most of all, I am revolted that what I increasingly have come to believe is an intentional, profit-motivated deception by manufacturers continues, despite their knowledge that their product is killing alcoholics and destroying families. I know proof would be difficult, but there have been successful class action lawsuits with millions in punitive damage settlements for less despicable conduct. Somewhere, there must be an employee or executive who acknowledges that the makers of mouthwash with alcohol know their product is being swallowed rather than swished, and are happy to profit from it.

Few had discovered Ethics Alarms by April of 201o. I hope that by re-publishing the post now, it might find its way to more social media pages and even be sent to some investigative reporters. As I ended the original post, spread the word. Mouthwash is killing your friends and family members, or if not yours, those of someone not far away.

Thus, for the second time and hoping for more impact than the first, here is “The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit.” Even if you read it the first time, refresh your memory.

People are killing themselves right under our noses, and we are being thrown of by the minty smell of their breath.

Continue reading

What Do You Do With The Drunken Judge? Media Distortion And Judge Gisele Pollack

Broward County (Florida) Judge Gisele Pollack, a recovering alcoholic, showed all the signs of suffering a relapse during her session on the bench two weeks ago, when she abruptly ended the day’s proceedings after an hour and a half that featured the judge slurring her words and acting erratically. She presides over misdemeanor drug court, a program she established shortly after being elected as a county judge.  Her program offenders to have their charges dismissed and their drug records erased after six months of treatment.

After staying away from work for a day, Judge Pollack returned to the bench in the late afternoon, and presided over a courtroom packed with about a hundred drug offenders, along with  their friends and their families. The event marked the completion of rehab for dozens of offenders and the dismissal of their misdemeanor marijuana charges.“You’ve got to remain vigilant,” she told the graduates, emphasizing that they had to work hard to avoid relapses that would  place them back in front of her, and perhaps in jail.

After court, she acknowledged her own health crisis and announced that she was going into an outpatient rehab program. An attorney retained by the judge in the wake of her conduct attributed her relapse to personal issues, telling reporters that she has  “had some severe personal tragedy in her life. Her mother recently passed away, and they were very close. It’s been really devastating for her.” Apparently her son is also suffering from a serious illness. Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, a longtime friend, told reporters, 

“If this causes the people to not have faith and not have trust in what goes on in that drug courtroom, then she will have to step aside,’ he said. ‘My hope is is people will wrap their ever-loving arms around Judge Pollack just as she has wrapped her arms around thousands of people.”

What’s going on here? I think it’s pretty obvious: a recovering alcoholic in a critical position of public trust suffered a relapse, as alcoholics are wont to do. If one is an alcoholic, this is a symptom of a very persistent, pernicious and incurable disease that kills many Americans every year, does horrific damage to families, businesses, governments and the economy, and that is incurable. Being an alcoholic is not an ethical violation for a judge or a lawyer, nor is having a relapse. Allowing that relapse to affect the competent performance of one’s duties, however, is an ethical violation that calls into question a legal professional’s ability to do her job. It could trigger professional sanctions; it certainly should trigger an official inquiry. A Florida judge appearing drunk on the bench, just once, is still a massive ethical breach. It arguably violates the first five Canons of Judicial Ethics a Florida judge is bound to follow… Continue reading