Tag Archives: California

Legal, Compliant, And Wrong: A Law Firm Helps Two California Cities Prey On Their Own Citizens

Here’s something to be thankful for: be thankful you don’t live in Indio or Coachella California, where unscrupulous city governments and an enterprising law form conspire to fleece their citizens. It works like this:

Step One:  Indio and Coachella hire a private law firm, Silver & Wright, to prosecute citizens in criminal court for minor property violations of city ordinances. These result in small fines for infractions like not mowing the yard or selling lemonade without a business license.

Step Two: The citizens go to court, plead guilty, and pay the fines,

Step Three: They get a bill in the mail for a huge fee from the law firm that the city hired to prosecuted them. This fee is for the cost of the prosecution. Thus a fine for a couple of hundred dollars explodes into a legal bill of four or five figures.

Step Four: If the citizen objects, the law firm raises the fee demand.

Step Five: If the citizens can’t pay, the law firm threatens to take their homes.

The law firm that runs this brilliant operation is Silver & Wright, and it has been going on for years. The Desert Sun, in an investigative journalism effort, revealed this unholy alliance of municipality and law firm, and now, with public scrutiny, it just might be on its last legs. Thankfully.

The 18 cases examined by The Desert Sun come under the heading of nuisance property abatement, violations of law that are too  inconsequential to involve the county’s real prosecutors, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. Thus Silver & Wright steps in. Contract prosecutions are a profit center for the firm, which explains on its website that it specializes in code enforcement and “cost recovery,” boasting

“Our attorneys have developed unique and cutting edge practices to achieve success for our clients and make nuisance abatement and code enforcement cost neutral or even revenue producing.”

Indio contracted with Silver & Wright in 2014, and Coachella followed in 2015. Within a year of hiring the firm, both city councils created new nuisance property ordinances empowering the cities to seek prosecution fees without getting  approval from a judge. Then Silver & Wright started taking east valley property owners to criminal court. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/19/17: The Censorious, The Irresponsible, The Topless, The Panicked, And The Soon To Be Dead

Good Morning!

1 Good-bye Charlie! To get things off to a happy start this Sunday, let’s ponder the news that Charles Manson’s death is imminent. Good. What’s worth pondering is why our society allowed him to live at our expense since 1969. If the justice system has to maintain some ultimate punishment for the worst of the worst crimes  if only to stake out the position that some conduct forfeits the right to exist in a civilized nation—and it does—then Manson should have shuffled off this mortal coil, or rather had it shuffled off for him.

Mark this down as one more area where California has arrived at the wrong answer to an ethics problem.

2. “Knock-knock!” Who’s there? “Child molester!” Child molester who? “Child molester? What child molester? We don’t see any child molesters…” According to internal  documents, the Jehovah’s Witnesses has instructed congregation leaders, called elders, to keep child abuse secret from law enforcement as a matter of policy since at least 1989.

The religious group’s headquarters, known as the Watchtower, sent a letter in 1997 to  local elders across the U.S  instructing them to send to a written report about anyone currently or formerly serving in a position of responsibility known to be have sexually abused a child. A California appeals court last week upheld an order for the Witnesses to pay $4,000 for each day it does not turn over the documents to the court, and the tab currently stands at $2 million. The ruling stems from a case in San Diego, where a man sued the Jehovah’s Witnesses for failing to warn congregants that a child predator was in among them.

Osbaldo Padron was sexually abused as a child by an adult member of his congregation named Gonzalo Campos. Campos confessed to sexually abusing seven children, but although leaders at  the Watchtower knew this,  they continued to promote him to higher positions of responsibility and took no action to protect tne children he came in contact with.

Nice. I guess I’m not going to be polite and chat with those people who knock on my door with copies of the church’s newsletter—you know, “The Watchtower”?—any more.

Is it possible that everyone in the church’s leadership missed the Catholic Church’s scandal in this area? Nobody saw “Spotlight”? Nobody there has a drop of decency or integrity?

Fascinating. Perhaps after he loses his Senate race, maybe Roy Moore will consider a new gig at the Watchtower. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/24/17: It’s The Andrew Sullivan Show!

Still trying to clear the decks..

1 Last week, Andrew Sullivan delivered a couple of excellent pieces of commentary with ethical clarity. My definition of an ethical analyst is one who can steer away from the magnetic pull of cognitive dissonance, and realize that, for example, just because Democrats and progressives deplore President Trump as much as you do doesn’t mean you have to regard their battiest and most unethical positions as better than they are. Sullivan qualifies. Here he is making what I once thought was an obvious point: that Democrats and progressives embracing open borders (and condemning as racist anyone who doesn’t) was irresponsible:

I don’t believe it’s disputable at this point that the most potent issue behind the rise of the far right in America and Europe is mass immigration. It’s a core reason that Trump is now president…[and the] reason why I have dwindling hopes that the Democratic Party will be able to defeat Trump in 2020. Instead of adjusting to this new reality, and listening to the electorate, the Dems have moved ever farther to the left, and are controlled by ever-radicalizing activists. There’s a nuanced, smart — and shockingly honest — piece in Vox by Dara Lind about this. Money quote:

For Democrats, it’s been a simple calculus. Democrats’ attempts at “tough love” centrism didn’t win them any credit across the aisle, while an increasingly empowered immigrant-rights movement started calling them to task for the adverse consequences of enforcement policies. Democrats learned to ignore the critics on the right they couldn’t please, and embrace the critics on the left who they could… Democrats in 2017, in general, tend to criticize the use of immigration enforcement, and tend to side with those accused of violating immigration law, as a broad matter of principle beyond opposing the particular actions of the administration … Democrats are no longer as willing to attack “illegal immigration” as a fundamental problem anymore.

This is, to be blunt, political suicide. The Democrats’ current position seems to be that the Dreamer parents who broke the law are near heroes, indistinguishable from the children they brought with them; and their rhetoric is very hard to distinguish, certainly for most swing voters, from a belief in open borders. In fact, the Democrats increasingly seem to suggest that any kind of distinction between citizens and noncitizens is somehow racist. You could see this at the last convention, when an entire evening was dedicated to Latinos, illegal and legal, as if the rule of law were largely irrelevant. Hence the euphemism “undocumented” rather than “illegal.” So the stage was built, lit, and set for Trump.

Bingo.

2. A post that fell through the cracks months ago involved one more example of California morphing into Bizarro USA. Then the post was about a speech-dictating bill passed by the legislature; this month, Jerry Brown signed it into law. The bill was SB-219, changing the laws regarding health care facilities, including nursing homes. Continue reading

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Dear Lisa Bloom, You Unethical Hack: Stop Making Me Defend Kathy Griffin!

I had to get this post up before the Morning Ethics Warm-Up, because it warmed ME up by almost exploding my head.

Lisa Bloom, the daughter of feminist muck-raking celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, has already shown the she has either no regard for legal ethics, or is spectacularly ignorant of them. She has publicly breached the duty of loyalty, attacking her former client, Harvey Weinstein; she took on Weinstein in the teeth of a blatant conflict of interest that she also publicized, as if it was something to be proud of. Yesterday, she showed that she is unfamiliar with, or perhaps just doesn’t give a damn about, the core legal ethics principle of confidentiality, perhaps the most important legal ethics duty of all.

Her latest ex-client to be the victim of Bloom’s unprofessional conduct and disloyalty is Kathy Griffin, she of the severed head. Griffin announced that she had fired Bloom, and wasn’t nice about it—but then when is Griffin ever nice?—saying, “Yes, I got Bloomed. Yes, I didn’t have a good experience with her. Yes, I feel that she and her husband exacerbated my personal situation.” Disaffected clients can say anything they choose about their lawyers. They can do it on Yelp, on the lawyer consumer site Avvo,  to the Hollywood Reporter or hire a skywriter. What a client says, mean or not, untrue or not, still  does not alter a lawyer’s continuing ethical obligations one whit. A lawyer cannot get into a public fight with a former client over what did or did not occur during the representation. Every lawyer knows this, or is supposed to.

Yet Bloom—I would say “incredibly” had we not seen other examples of her professional ethics cluelessness—released this statement on Twitter:

[My head told me in a statement that it would have exploded over this but determined that doing so over Kathy Griffin and Lisa  Bloom was demeaning to head-explosions. I concur.]

The fact that Bloom had prepared Griffin’s remarks for the press conference, the fact that they worked on them together, the fact that Griffin discarded them, the fact the performer “ad-libbed” and “extemporized” are all client confidences. For all we knew, Griffin’s claim during the press conference that she was ignoring her notes was part of a pre-planned strategy.  I assumed it was; Griffin is an actress. “It’s best if you show that you are talking from the heart, Kathy,” is advice I would expect Griffin’s lawyer to give. A lawyer cannot tell the public that a client ignored her advice. Only the lawyer and the client know that. Revealing it is to disclose information the lawyer learned during the course of the representation that will harm or embarrass the client, a serious ethics violation and betrayal of trust Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/8/2017: TV Comics, Law Deans, Sports And California…Everything Is Seemingly Spinning Out Of Control!

Good Morning!

On the day that the Boston Red Sox will begin their stunning comeback against the Houston Astros …

 

1 Speaking of baseball, a poll shows that the NFL fell from the most popular major sport in the nation last year to the least favorite last month, while baseball regained its traditional but usually treated as fictional “National Pastime” status. The NFL also dragged down the popularity of college football. Not all of this can be blamed on Colin Kaepernick, Black Lives Matters, and incoherent protests that aren’t against the National Anthem, well, maybe its third verse, but take place during the National Anthem, well, because. Ethics Alarms isn’t the only voice that has declared football to be callous and barbaric, now that the game’s unavoidable concussions are being shown to cause a deadly brain disease. Too many helmeted heroes beat their spouses and lovers, and commit felonies. The biggest star in the NFL, Tom Brady, is a smug, cheating jerk. It never helps when the President of the United States, even one like Trump, attacks an institution from the bully pulpit. Still, the timing certainly suggest that the NFL’s botched handling of The Knee is the catalyst for its current nosedive in popularity. Just think how many brains will be saved if this is permanent.

Meanwhile,  Major League Baseball is benefiting from staying true to its traditional national role of unifying the country rather than dividing it. No on-field protests mar the National Anthem. The sport is entertainment, celebrating American themes like individualism, the triumph of the underdog, and grace under pressure. In 1942, FDR urged Major League Baseball to keep playing, even though the remaining players were unfit for military service, leaving the teams stocked with older players and a collection of misfits, like Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder.  After Baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote President Roosevelt in January, FDR replied with this letter the same day:

It is not, however, in the best interest of the country to keep the NFL “going.” Continue reading

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Someone Needs To Remind Poor California That It Is Just Another State, And In Need Of Therapy

It isn’t just your Democratic friends that Donald Trump’s election and presidency have caused to obsess in an unhealthy manner. The entire state of California just can’t move on with life. Bitter and angry, it is somewhere between the second and third stages of grief ( denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).  If the state had knees, it would be going down on one, and screaming.

The legislature has passed a law requiring that Presidential candidates who want to appear on the California ballot would have to release their previous five years of tax returns. Tax returns are part of the impeachment crowd’s imaginary smoking gun evidence package. As with the emoluments clause, the Russian conspiracy theory and the “he’s not sufficiently like other Presidents so he must be insane” argument, the Trump-Obsessed are certain that if we just knew the truth about what was in the President’s tax returns, reversing the election would just be a few creative steps away.

Senate Bill 149 passed on September 15, and it is waiting for Governor Brown’s signature. Brown has not always been a fan of releasing candidate tax returns, like his own, for example.  He released his tax returns in his first two gubernatorial races, but not in 2010 or 2014 , after his opponents refused to  release theirs. I’m sure Brown will sign the bill, though. He has shown less and less inclination to restrain his increasingly alienated state’s political over-reach. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/25/17

Good Morning, everyone!

[I thought I had posted this two hours ago! I’m sorry!]

1. Re President Trump’s latest anti-news media rant: American journalism’s abandonment of partisan neutrality, competence and professionalism has become the single greatest threat to the nation’s functioning democracy, along with the erosion of public trust that this has caused. I have previously endorsed President Trump’s earlier statement that the news media has become an enemy of the people it is supposed to serve. However, saying, as he did this week, that journalists don’t “love America” is incompetent and irresponsible.

But what else is new. Journalists just over-overwhelmingly hate him, and cannot muster the professionalism to do their duties fairly as a result. (Norah O’ Donnell actually interrupted Trump’s anti-journalism rant to call him a liar—nice.  A network news operation with professional standards would suspend her for that. ) To be fair to the President, his use of language and comprehension of it is devoid of nuance. I presume that to him, saying that the news media hates America, hates him, and is the enemy of the people all mean the same thing.

2. Let’s keep track of which journalists and politicians relate Hurricane Harvey to climate change, or cite the dangerous storm as more evidence that the “consensus” is correct. This is the first major hurricane in 12 years, in defiance of virtually all predictions and climate change models, which told us that the warming earth would lead to more frequent violent storms, not fewer. Of course, the sudden and unexpected dearth of hurricanes during the entire Obama administration (no, Super Storm Sandy was not a hurricane) also doesn’t prove that climate change is a crock. But every single individual, activist, meteorologist, reporter, talking head, Democrat and Al Gore Fan Club member that points to Harney and says, “See???” is proving that he or she isn’t interested in the truth, just in furthering an agenda.

3. We shouldn’t allow California to secede, but it will be tempting, if it ever comes to that. Continue reading

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