Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/25/19: The Rotten Standards Edition

I feel like hearing my favorite hymn this morning.

1. How TV makes the public ignorant and unethical. On a 2008 “Law and Order” episode, “Knock Off,” a New York Assistant DA tells a lawyer that since his former client is dead, attorney client privilege no longer applies. “The privilege does not survive the client,” he says, authoritatively. This is exactly 180 degrees wrong. Privilege and client confidences do survive clients; lawyers are bound by them forever, with some rare exceptions.

The show had legal advisors.  There is no excuse for this. What were Law and Order’s standards? Would it deliberately misstate law and regulations just to accommodate the plot? Apparently so.

2. According to the New York Times, we’ve been mistaken. People don’t kill people, Guns kill people, apparently all by themselves. One of the infinite ways news organizations practice unethical and biased journalism is by falsely framing facts and issues to encourage a particular public perception. The “paper of record” just went for a new record in this event with a piece titled “One Handgun, 9 Murders: How American Firearms Cause Carnage Abroad.”Incredibly, the article personifies a gun:

She came to Jamaica from the United States about four years ago, sneaking in illegally, stowed away to avoid detection. Within a few short years, she became one of the nation’s most-wanted assassins. She preyed on the parish of Clarendon, carrying out nine confirmed kills, including a double homicide outside a bar, the killing of a father at a wake and the murder of a single mother of three. Her violence was indiscriminate: She shot and nearly killed a 14-year-old girl getting ready for church.

With few clues to identify her, the police named her Briana. They knew only her country of origin — the United States — where she had been virtually untraceable since 1991. She was a phantom, the eighth-most-wanted killer on an island with no shortage of murder, suffering one of the highest homicide rates in the world. And she was only one of thousands.

Briana, serial number 245PN70462, was a 9-millimeter Browning handgun.

The thrust of the rest of the article is that the terrible murder rate in Jamaica and other third-world counties is the fault of the U.S. for guaranteeing its citizens gun rights, and not the corruption, weak government, poverty and rotten cultures, not to mention the killers they produce, in those nations themselves. “Law enforcement officials, politicians and even gangsters on the street agree: It’s the abundance of guns, typically from the United States, that makes the country so deadly,” the article says. “And while the argument over gun control plays on a continual loop in the United States, Jamaicans say they are dying because of it — at a rate that is nine times the global average.”

That’s right: all those murderous Jamaicans would become as harmless as lambs if the United States would just get with the program.

This isn’t news reporting, it’s anti-gun propaganda. Continue reading

About That “Secret Tape”…[UPDATED]

From CNN:

“The FBI is in possession of a recording between President Donald Trump and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen in which the two men prior to the election discuss a payment to a former Playboy model who has alleged an affair with Trump, Rudy Giuliani and a source familiar with the matter told CNN Friday.

Cohen has other recordings of the President in his records that were seized by the FBI, said both a source with knowledge of Cohen’s tapes and Giuliani, who described the other recordings as mundane discussions. Another source with knowledge of the tape, however, said the conversation is not as Giuliani described and is not good for the President, though the source would not elaborate.”

Now here are some ethics matters that the news media would be obligated to tell you, if journalists were, you know, competent, objective, and fair:

  • It is equivocally unethical for a lawyer to surreptitiously record a client without the client’s knowledge or consent. Always, no exceptions. It is usually unethical for a lawyer to surreptitiously record anyone without their knowledge or consent, even in states that permit non-lawyers to do it.

Such conduct is a direct violation of the universal legal ethics rule that prohibits a lawyer from engaging ” in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

  • This fact is crucial to the story, and should be prominent in any discussion of it. I have not seen or heard this mentioned in any news reports.

Let me know if you do, please.

  • The recording is also privileged, which means that it was information that a client provided to his lawyer in the course of seeking legal services or advice. As such, it cannot be used as evidence, unless the client, in this case, President Trump, consents. The client owns the privilege, not the lawyer who received the information, and not other lawyers the client may have.

I haven’t seen this critical information explained in any of the news reports either. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/24/18: Presidents, PETA, Privilege, Penn State And Pedophiles

Good Morning.

It just feels like a gliddy glup gloopy nibby nabby noopy kind of day…

1. Musings on the illness of George H.W. Bush. Perhaps I am over-sensitive, but I found the long segments and speculation on cable news this morning about George H.W. Bush suffering from “broken heart syndrome” sensational, intrusive, and wrong. The man is 93, and he’s suffering from a blood infection. As my Dad said often after his 80th birthday, and eventually proved, when one is 80 or more. you can drop dead at any moment, for any reason. Yes, we all know of long-time married couples of advanced years who perish in close proximity. However, the “broken heart syndrome” is anecdotal, without clinical proof, and, essentially, fake news with a romantic tinge.

[Pointer: valkygirrl]

If vile people like Professor Jarrar will attack Barbara Bush when she dies, imagine what George H.W. Bush has in store. The elder Bush is near the bottom of my Presidential ranking, in the general vicinity of his son, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama but The Ethics Alarms position is that every single President of the United States is owed respect and a debt of gratitude for accepting the overwhelming challenges of the job, and doing, in every case, what he felt was in the best interests of the nation. Before Harry Truman, even taking away the assassinations from the mix, the Presidency was regarded, accurately, as a killing job, with more Presidents than not dying soon after leaving office. That’s not true any  more, but the job is still a terrible physical, emotional and mental burden. The first words out of any American’s mouth when a former President is ailing should be “You have the best wishes of the nation,” and the first words when any former President dies should be “Thank you.”

2.    And this has to do with “collusion” how?  The raid on President Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen revealed that Fox News host Sean Hannity owns millions of dollars worth of real estate across several states, with  links to several shell companies that bought $90 million on 877 residential properties. This is all confidential information, and should never have been jeopardized by the Special Counsel’s effort, coordinated with New York State prosecutors, to gather as much dirt on President Trump as possible—all the better to impeach him with. That this information was leaked to the press indicts the investigation, the process, the judge who allowed the  fruits of the raid unrelated to Trump to be obtained, and the lawyers involved. Of course, the fact that Cohen had these records also rebuts Hannity’s claim, obviously disingenuous from the start, that he wasn’t Cohen’s client, but never mind: Hannity should not have been placed in the position where there was anything to deny.

[Pointer: philk57] Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Michael Cohen Raid

The FBI raided the Rockefeller Center office and Park Avenue hotel room of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, seizing business records, emails and documents related to several matters, including  payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.

What’s going on here?

Your guess is as good as mine. The options are endless. Today, for example, the New York Times is reporting that the raid was in part to find records related to the infamous, Billy Bush “Access Hollywood” tape  where Trump made his pussy-grabbing comments, according to the typical New York Times anonymous sources. What could that possibly have to do with Russia and its efforts to interfere with U.S. elections? Why would that material justify a raid on the President’s lawyer? The FBI also sought documents related to payments Cohen facilitated made to two women who claim they had affairs with Trump, Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford, as well as information on the role of the publisher of The National Enquirer in silencing the women. The raid could be a desperation fishing expedition. It could be part of an effort to intimidate Trump’s lawyers. It could be a sign that there is evidence of actual criminal activity that Cohen was covering up on behalf of his client. It could be the last-ditch effort by a corrupt FBI and Justice Department to bring down a President before he can bring them down.. Anyone who claims to understand this unusual tactic by Special Prosecutor Mueller is engaging in confirmation bias, and risking looking like a biased fool.

Observations: Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/17/18: Mueller And A Movie

Good afternoon..

1 Well, we have some exit poll results…on my integrity and denial question in the Mueller indictment post I started at 4 am, hence the late Warm-up. Based on the comments so far, I am going to be disappointed: the “Trump is guilty of something” crowd is, so far, arguing that an indictment statement including  “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election” means that the President’s election was illegitimate and that he is guilty of wrongdoing. We also have such jaw-dropping moments as a commenter praising the Mueller investigation for not leaking the indictments beforehand—wow. Leaks are unethical, and when a grand jury is involved, illegal. The leaking from the Mueller investigation and the Justice Department have been a national disgrace, and we are now at the point when government lawyers not breaking the law is deemed worthy of praise in some quarters.

Of course, we don’t know what was leaked. Since leaking grand jury testimony is so serious and always sparks its own investigation, I wouldn’t bet against reporters having been tipped off, but using the advance notice to prepare their “Trump’s still guilty!” responses.

A better example could not be found of how the the news media and the intentionally divisive partisan rhetoric of the past decade have caused a fracture in the ability of Americans to perceive facts unfiltered by confirmation bias. I find this disheartening. But exit polls are not always accurate…

2. An unexpected take on the indictments. Eccentric conservative blogger Da Tech Guy  had some interesting observations:

“Section 1 and section 24 notes that it’s against US law for “certain foreign nationals” to enter the US without a visa providing truthful and accurate information to the government. Apparently these laws don’t apply to dreamers and those who brought them…section 41 talks about identity theft including social security numbers; again, this could be a charge against the DACA kids…Section 85 completes the list, the illegality here is that they pretended to be Americans and didn’t register as foreign agents while doing activities that if done by Americans would be completely legal…Does that mean that DACA folks and illegals who have held political rallies will be indicted next?…Section 89-95 on count 2 and section 96 again notes identity theft and moving money via such theft., boy this could be an indictment of the illegal alien DACA crowd if they wanted. But they don’t.”

3. Ethics movie review! I watched Denzel Washington’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” twice last week, in part because it is a legal ethics movie, and in part because Washington’s portrayal of an idealistic autism-spectrum civil rights attorney whose ethics alarms get corrupted is so unusual for him. I’ll basically pay to watch Denzel play canasta. Continue reading

The Michigan High School Ethics Bowl

More than 100 high school students from across lower Michigan will gather February 17-18 at the University of Michigan for the fifth annual Michigan High School Ethics Bowl. The winner  will represent Michigan in the National High School Ethics Bowl held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in April. The Ethics Bowl is organized by A2Ethics, the University of Michigan  Department of Philosophy Outreach Program and the high school faculty coaches in the High School Ethics Bowl League. During the two-day competition, judges  evaluate teams’ responses to case studies written by local community members.

See? There is hope!

Here are the case studies the students will analyze, fifteen of them. I may do posts on a few of them suggestions are welcome. One of them, #2, I have discussed in several legal ethics seminars:

The Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct forbid lawyers from revealing information received in confidence (information protected by the “lawyer-client privilege” of a client), and similarly from using that confidential information for the advantage of a third person, unless the client consents.

You are a lawyer whose practice is focused almost exclusively on criminal defense. You have been active in the criminal defense bar association for several years, and you represent criminal defendants at both the trial and appellate (appeals court) levels.

One of your clients, Gilbert, age forty, is in prison for murdering a woman named Alice. You represent Gilbert in the appeal of his conviction and life-without-parole sentence. During confidential meetings with Gilbert, he confesses to you that he also murdered Bob, and he acted alone when he did. Although you were not involved with the case of Bob’s murder, you are somewhat familiar with it and know that a man named Enrique was convicted of Bob’s murder and is consequently serving a sentence of life without parole. Enrique’s conviction and sentence were recently reaffirmed after a thorough, years-long appeals process. Unless new evidence comes to light, he will not be able to appeal again.

After you are unsuccessful in challenging Gilbert’s conviction and sentence for Alice’s murder, you speak with him about Bob’s murder. He repeats his confession, this time in more detail, but refuses to consent to your request to reveal the confession on Enrique’s behalf.

Continue reading

Essential Ethics Points Regarding Casey Anthony’s Investigator’s “She Did It!” Claim

Anthony and LawyerCourtExcerpt

News Flash:

Private investigator Dominic Casey submitted a court affidavit in  Casey Anthony’s bankruptcy case (he wants to get paid), that stated that Casey’s attorney Jose Baez (above, left) “ told me that Casey (above, right) had murdered Caylee and dumped the body somewhere. He also alleges that Baez had sexual relations with Anthony.

Here’s what you need to know about the ethics issues involved:

1. Most important of all: USA Today’s website headlined the story, P.I. says Casey Anthony lawyer acted unethically. I’d guess 95% or more of readers assume that what was unethical was Baez defending Anthony when she was guilty. Maybe USA Today even thinks that. That is pure, inexcusable ignorance. All criminal defendants have a Constitutional right to a zealous defense, and the defense lawyer’s duty is the same whether his client is guilty or not, Jack the Ripper or a jay-walker. The duty is to make the State prove its case with admissible evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Almost everyone who has followed the case believes that Anthony is guilty of facilitating the murder of her daughter Kaylee, but the evidence was ambiguous and circumstantial, and the prosecution didn’t prove its case.

Having sex with a client is unethical, specifically under the rules of most states, and arguably under the rules of all states under general ethics and professionalism principles. Continue reading