Mid-Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 8/22/2021: It’s No Longer Illegal To Come Back Here After You Are Deported, And Other Surprises…

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[I had to get up extra-early to wrote this, since there’s no point writing a warm-up once the thermometer tops 80.] Amusing historical ethics note: on August 21, 1980, animal rights advocates Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco launched PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In the intervening 40 years, it has become the preeminent animal rights organization in the world, in part because it will do almost anything for publicity. It is also consistently the most ridiculous animal rights organization in the world, and on Ethics Alarms, in a lively battle with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington as the most hypocritical and unethical non-profit with “ethics” in its name. The PETA ethics rap sheet is here. When last discussed on Ethics Alarms, PETA was protesting using animals as metaphorical insults because it perpetuates “speciesism.” Jackasses…

  1. From the suddenly overstuffed “Incompetence” Files…Mike Richards, the executive producer of “Jeopardy!” who made himself one of the show’s new hosts in a breathtaking display of conflict of interest contempt, lasted less than a week in his new job. Controversial comments he made on a podcast from 2013 “resurfaced,” officials at Sony Pictures Television confirmed. That means someone who didn’t want him to have the job did a maniacal search to find something that would force him to resign. This is, essentially, the Hader Gotcha, and a rotten, Golden Rule-breaching thing to do to anyone unless they are running for office and pretending to be someone they are not. At least Richards recognized that his duties as executive producer required that he dump himself once he became an anchor on the show he has a duty to protect.

The allegedly cancel-worthy comments Richards made came when he was trying to imitate Howard Stern—imagine that as a life objective—by hosting a podcast called “The Randumb Show.” Naturally, this involved saying sexist and racially insensitive things like Howard and Don Imus, who not too many years earlier were still considered witty and brave in their political incorrectness. He refered to a woman’s “boobies.” He said that he aspired to be a “white guy host” like Ryan Seacrest. Salon, which is always a barometer of just how nuts the far left has become, pronounced l such sophomoric banter “alarming.” I know I was terrified when I read them.

2. If this doesn’t prove that our news organizations are worthless, nothing will. U.S. District Judge Miranda Du, a federal judge in Nevada, struck down as unconstitutional a longstanding statute that makes it a crime to return to the United States after deportation. Here reasoning is that the law is racist and discriminatory against “Mexican and Latinx individuals.”

“The record before the Court reflects that at no point has Congress confronted the racist, nativist roots of Section 1326,” Du wrote in her ruling.“The amendments to Section 1326 over the past ninety years have not changed its function but have simply made the provision more punitive and broadened its reach,” Du wrote.

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The American Bar Association Adopts Yoo’s Rationalization or “It Isn’t What It Is”

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To be fair, “It isn’t what it is” is an argument lawyers are trained to make, but this is especially glaring.

The Florida Supreme Court recently voted to prohibit the approval of continuing legal education credits for any CLE program with diversity “quotas.” This was a broadside at the ABA, which in 2017 approved a Diversity & Inclusion CLE Policy that requires all its sponsored or co-sponsored CLE programs with three or more panelists, including the moderator, to have at least one member of a a “diverse group.” Programs with five to eight panelists must have at least two diverse members and programs with nine or more panelists must have at least three diverse members. This will supposedly help accomplish the ABA’s Goal III , which aims to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the profession.

There is a disconnect here, since the only purpose of continuing legal education is to do as good a job as possible keeping lawyers abreast of the law and developments in their profession. Does the skin color, gender, ethnicity or other characteristics of the CLE instructors and trainers advance that purpose in any way? I don’t see how, and neither did the court, which wrote in part,

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Unethical Quote Of The Month: American Bar Association President Patricia Lee Rufo

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The American Bar Association is deeply troubled by the recent proliferation of hate speech directed against members of the Jewish faith and at LGBTQ, Asian American and Muslim communities. Such hateful behavior, coming in the wake of attacks on African Americans and other groups, have serious consequences as studies show a correlation between exposure to hate speech and the increase in hate crimes. Hate speech also serves to legitimize intolerance, reinforce stereotypes and further discrimination. We must not let any messages of hatred be normalized if we hope to advance the rule of law to achieve an inclusive society.

Patricia Lee Rufo, the 2021 president of the American Bar Association, in an official statement last week.

This is disgraceful, and in so many ways. Imagine: the head of the largest lawyers’ association in the country authored that collection of vagaries, buzz words and wokisms in a naked virtue-signaling exercise with no substantive value at all, but with significant sinister potential. Worse, nobody at the ABA had the guts or integrity to tell her, “Uh, Patricia, that’s just plain embarrassing. We can’t put our name on that!” Also…

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/21/2021, To A Chorus Of Cicadas

Cicada Ethics: Sweep up all the disgusting things (and their husks) that have accumulated on your front walk at least twice a day so people don’t have to walk on them and their dogs don’t eat them.

1. Charles Grodin (1935-2021): Thanks a lot! Charles Grodin was a talented and versatile actor who was extremely good at playing dislikable characters. We can blame him (not Jon Stewart) for creating the unfortunate cultural phenomenon of the allegedly funny TV talk show host who decides he is qualified to bombard viewers with partisan rants. It’s a self-indulgent abuse of power, position and trust, but it’s also now the norm, with every late night talk show host (and Staurday Night Live) but the generally sweet James Cordon using their show as a platform to bash Republicans and conservatives and extoll progressives no matter how mockworthy they are. Grodin started the bait-and-switch (He’s funny! Wait, why is he so angry and preaching at us?) in the mid-Nineties, and though it eventually killed his show (not soon enough), the template was born.

Grodin made Ethics Alarms in 2014, with his campaign against the felony murder rule.

2. Speaking of staying in one’s lane…Yet another ugly result of social media is the phenomenon of people publishing uninformed opinions that they are unqualified to be so emphatic about. A baseball writer and recovering lawyer, Craig Calcaterra, whom I have referenced here before, has migrated from NBC Sports to substack, and is asking me to subscribe to his newsletter. Craig is funny and smart, and his baseball analysis is superior to most. But he is addicted to making political pronouncements, and while he has a right to his biased and often ignorant opinions on things he’s far from an expert on, I’ll be damned if I’ll pay to read them. For essentially the same reasons I object to watching football players “take a knee” during the National Anthem, I expect sports writers to stick to sports. Here’s a tip to anyone peddling a newsletter to me: I regard referring to the January 6 Capitol riot as a “deadly insurrection” as Democratic Party propagandist and signature significance for a pundit who is not concerned with facts.

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The American Bar Association Has Lost Faith In Professionalism, It Seems.

For as long as I can remember, lawyers took pride in that fact that they could pound away at each other in the court room, shout, sneer, mock and beat an adversary into a metaphorical pulp, and put it all aside the second the case was finished. The idea that being friends, even close friends, with an opposing advocate compromised a lawyer’s determination and willingness to fight for his or her client was an anathema to the whole concept of professionalism. During the Civil War, West Point classmates on opposite sides sometimes met before a battle, shared a whisky, old memories and a few tears, and the next day did their best to kill each other. That mindset was analogous to how I was taught lawyers were supposed to behave, and, indeed, did.

Now the American Bar Association has apparently decided that it was all a myth. In  Formal Opinion 494, “Conflicts Arising Out of a Lawyer’s Personal Relationship with Opposing Counsel,” the ABA expresses doubts that many lawyers are up to the task.

“A personal interest conflict may arise out of a lawyer’s relationship with opposing counsel, the ABA now says. “Lawyers must examine the nature of the relationship to determine if it creates a …conflict and, if so, whether the lawyer reasonably believes the lawyer will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client who must then give informed consent, confirmed in writing.”

The opinion breaks possible personal relationships into three categories:

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No Way Out? The Rodney Reed Affair [UPDATED!]

Rodney Reed was convicted by a Texas jury in 1998 and sentenced to die for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites two years earlier. On April 23, 1996, Stites’s body had been found on the side of a country road outside of Bastrop, Texas. Marks on the woman’s  neck led investigators to conclude that she had been strangled, and she had had sexual relations with someone before she was killed.

Police tested the recovered DNA against that of Reed, then 29 years old.  There was no other evidence tying Reed to the murder, other than the fact that he initially lied to police, claiming that he didn’t know the victim. Finally, Reed said that he was having a sexual affair with her, and that the two had sex a couple of days before Stites was found dead. The witnesses Reed’s defense called to confirm the relationship between the two were not convincing, for varying reasons. It didn’t help Reed’s cause that he was regarded as a serial sex offender, with many arrests on his record.

As The Intercept explains in detail, the case against Reed has deteriorated over time, and was never strong to begin with. Many forensic pathologists have concluded that the verdict lacked scientific support. The medical examiner who conducted Stites’s autopsy has recanted his testimony. In 2018, both a state crime lab and a private DNA lab undercut the testimony of their own employees who had testified at Reed’s trial.  Nonethless, Reed is scheduled to be executed in five days, on the 20th of November.

The new evidence indicating that he was wrongly convicted has not been reviewed by a court and apparently will not be because of the judicial principle of finality, the very old concept that hold that legal disputes at some point achieve a resolution that cannot be appealed and must be regarded as final. The principle is deemed necessary because without it, the public could not trust in the meaning of any law, or the result of any legal process. It is a utilitarian principle: individual cases may have unjust results occasionally, but the system as a whole benefits from the certainty of finality.

When the finality principle will result in the execution of a someone who appears to have been wrongly convicted, however, the gap between law, justice and ethics is difficult to accept.  The Supreme Court will consider Reed’s case today. There is also a plea to Abbott and to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to intervene.

The ABA has also made an appeal to the Board, via a letter from American Bar Association President Judy Perry Martinez.  Continue reading

The ABA’s Guidance For Judges With Potentially Conflicting Relationships

“Now now, your Honor—that’s the Plaintiff!”

This is as good an example as you’ll find of why professionals can’t and shouldn’t rely solely on the ethics rules-making bodies to solve their ethical dilemmas when they arise.

American Bar Association Formal Opinion 488 purports to tackle the persistent question of when judges must disqualify themselves in proceedings because their impartiality might reasonably be questioned because of relationships with parties. After seven pages and many footnotes,  we are enlightened that  “ a judge must disqualify himself or herself when the judge has a romantic relationship with a lawyer or party in the proceeding, or desires or is pursuing such a relationship.”
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Will The “Woke” American Bar Association Endorse Reject “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” In Sexual Assault Cases?

Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised.

This is the main reason that I am no longer a member of the ABA, which has become more political and partisan with each passing year. I have often presented ethics courses for ABA sections in the past, and will probably do so in the future.  But the legal profession is one of many that has lost its ethical bearings of late, and the resolution its largest and most prestigious association will consider this week (the ABA’s annual convention begins today) is proof.

Here is the resolution (emphasis mine):

RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges legislatures and courts to define consent in sexual assault cases as the assent of a person who is competent to give consent to engage in a specific act of sexual penetration, oral sex, or sexual contact, to provide that consent is expressed by words or action in the context of all the circumstances, and to reject any requirement that sexual assault victims have a legal burden of verbal or physical resistance.

This is essentially the same standard that the Obama administration forced upon colleges and universities with its infamous “Dear Colleague” letter, resulting in many male students being persecuted, punished, suspended, or expelled without due process, based on an institutionalized bias in favor of female accusers.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers effectively expressed how sinister the resolution is in a statement issued on July 25, stating in part,

The criminal defense lawyer association notes elsewhere in its letter that this definition would necessarily undermine the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, since “[t]he resolution will often force the defendant to testify in order to present evidence that consent was expressed.”

The NACDL also points out that the American Law Institute proposed revising its l Model Penal Code to include an affirmative consent standard. The ALI’s membership  rejected that proposal, as it should have, and did so decisively.

The ABA membership is more politically diverse—and principled—that the official posturings of the association itself suggests. I suspect, and hope, that this abomination of a resolution, which would be a disgrace for any legal organization to endorse, will fail. The fact that such a resolution would even make it to the voting stage is one more ominous piece of evidence that the progressive forces seeking to weaken the Bill of Rights are infiltrating all of our professions and institutions.

The ABA Shuts Down Comments On The Articles In The ABA Journal

Now that’s ironic. Like so many other publications and websites that prefer one-way communications of ideas, the official publication of the American Bar Association has announced that it will no longer allow readers to comment on its content. Yes, a profession that is all about rights and advocacy finds advocacy in response to legal opinion and analysis too inconvenient to deal with, and its readers free expression of ideas too burdensome to countenance.

The ABA Journal’s announcement was filled with disingenuous statements and half truths as bullet-pointed reasons for the move:

  • The tone of the comments has become rancorous and uncivil, with substantive commentary being drowned out by partisanship and namecalling that violate the ABA Code of Conduct.”

Wait: how does “partisanship and namecalling” in the comment section of a website “violate the ABA Code of Conduct?”

What an embarrassing claim: the ABA doesn’t understand its own Model Rules! The word “partisanship” doesn’t appear anywhere in the rules, and the argument is hilarious anyway, since the ABA itself, an allegedly non-partisan non-profit, is extremely partisan, as a brief perusal of the various public positions it has taken on matters that really should be none of their business would make obvious. (Guess which party! Come on, guess!) Extreme namecalling under certain  circumstances during the practice of law may occasionally involve a sanctionable ethics breach for lawyers, but not for non-lawyers, retired lawyers and many other readers. The larger problem is this: the ABA Rules are just guidelines. They don’t officially apply to anybody, not even to ABA members. You can’t literally “violate” them, like they are rules or laws.

  • “Our existing commenting system is vulnerable to trolls.”

Then fix your system, but only after defining “trolls.” It is often a lawyer’s job to make trouble, stir the pot, and create productive friction.

  • “Moderating the comments has become an unsustainable burden on our staff.”

I guess the ABA Journal is incapable of running a website, then. Moderating comments, which as far as I can determine involves fewer comments per article than the typical Ethics Alarms post, cannot possibly be that difficult or time-consuming. It’s a staff-member, and not a highly paid one. This sounds like cover for a financial decision.

  • “We have fielded a number of complaints from members about individual comments and the tone of the comments as a whole.””

Oh! Complaints! Well, we all know how much lawyers hate complaints! (Who wrote this?)

  • “With our large social media presence, there are a number of platforms for readers to engage with and discuss our journalism.”

“Now, you  folks can’t eat here, but there are some real nice places down the road a piece…”

I would write a searing comment about this, but the ABA Journal won’t allow it…

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/25/2019: Woke Up Really Sick Of Democratic Party BS This Morning. I’m Sure I’ll Get Over It…

Good Morning!

…as the Mueller report lets the sunshine in…

1. Thank goodness judges don’t bake cakes…the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility have issued Formal Opinion 485. It holds that judges who perform marriages, either as an obligation of their office or by choice, may not refuse to do so for same-sex couples. The opinion emphasizes that regardless of their backgrounds, personal views or philosophies, judges must follow the law and act impartially, free from bias or prejudice.

I’d say the opinion is unassailable for a judge who regularly performs marriages  as a mandatory part of his or her job. A judge who is not so required, presumably, can choose not to perform any marriages at all. I bet some judge will challenge the proposition, however, that a  religion-based refusal to perform an optional civil wedding is per se “bias or prejudice.” [Source: Legal Ethics in Motion]

2. Welcome to my world...This week I am doing several ethics programs, one of which (not in legal ethics) I have presented over many years. Last year, I was told that the 2 hour program I had been presenting to the group only needed to be 90 minutes, so the materials I prepared and submitted indeed covered that amount of time, as did my presentation.  This year, I again prepared for 90 minutes. Now, looking at the conference’s two-day program, I see that my seminar is listed in the program as two hours again. That’s a mistake, but it’s too late to correct it: the attendees plan on getting professional credit. So what is my most ethical response? I could…a) stretch the material to two hours, but that’s a 30 minute stretch. b) At my own expense, create an additional 30 minutes of material, copy the materials, distribute them, and never mention that the conference manager, my long-time contact, screwed up. c) Use this crisis as leverage to negotiate a supplement to my fee for the necessary upgrade. d) End after 90 minutes, tell the attendees why, and suggest that they take up the matter of the missing credit with the conference organizers. e) Do the upgrade, present it, and then bill the conference for my time. Continue reading