The Great Ethics Train Wreck Of 1910

On this date, October 1, 110 years ago,  a massive explosion destroyed the Los Angeles Times building in the city’s downtown area, killing 21 employees and injuring many more. This obviously unethical act—though in the over-heated labor environment of the times, union activists would secretly defend it—set off a series of events in one of the great ethics train wrecks in U.S. history.

The explosion was a message to Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Otis, a powerful opponent of the burgeoning labor movement in general and unions in particular. Determined to exploit the tragedy to turn public opinion against organized labor, he hired the nation’s most famous private detective, William J. Burns, to crack the case while his paper supplied an avalanche of anti-labor editorials and slanted news stories.  Otis, the leader of the Merchants and Manufacturing Association, a powerful group of business owners with extensive political connections, seemed less interested in justice for the dead than a decisive knock-out of the union movement itself.

Burns’ investigation led to the Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union and their treasurer, John J. McNamara. Burns got a confession out of  a sketchy character named Ortie McManigal who had allegedly been the intermediary between McNamara and two bomb experts, and personally arrested John McNamara and his brother James in Indiana. Then Burns supervised the kidnapping and transportation of the brothers to California, where they could be prosecuted.

Convinced that the the McNamara brothers were being framed—some labor supporters even suspected that Otis had bombed his own building—Samuel Gompers and Eugene V. Debs pressured Clarence Darrow, then the premier labor lawyer in the U.S.,  to take on the McNamaras’ defense. Darrow had been ill and seeking to retire, but a recent stock market crash had left him broke as well. He agreed to take the case for the then unprecedented sum of $50,000 (about $1,368,000 today). The unions literally had children collecting nickels and pennies to build the defense fund.

The unions were Darrow’s clients under the existing legal ethics rules, but the brothers were also his clients, and their lives were at stake. This became a serious conflict when Darrow learned, within minutes of meeting with the McNamaras, that they were guilty.

Gompers had told him that the brothers had to be acquitted or the entire labor movement might be destroyed forever. The clients paying his fee, therefore, demanded a plea of “not guilty.” Darrow, however, became convinced that only a guilty plea would save the brothers from execution. Meanwhile, he knew that there was no way the McNamaras could get a fair trial. The Times was poisoning the jury pool daily. The prosecution was engaging in outrageous tactics, like bugging Darrow’s offices in L.A. They even had Darrow followed, and got incriminating photographs of the lawyer leaving the apartment of his long-time, off-and-on mistress, a female journalist covering the trial. Then they used the photos to try to force Darrow to withdraw from the case, threatening to show them to his wife, Ruby.

“Go ahead,” he said. “She knows all about Mary.” Darrow’s hands were hardly clean either: his agents had located the supply of dynamite in Indiana that the fatal charge had been taken from, and he hired a lawyer to hide the evidence in a safe. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “The Forgotten Meaning of Labor Day”

The 1894 Pullman strike

It may be hard for Americans to get inspired to celebrate Labor Day for what it is supposed to honor, especially with teachers unions working to keep America locked down and students barely educated in pursuit of a partisan political agenda, and pro athlete unions bullying sports leagues into ruining their product by turning them into political propaganda vehicles, and the postal workers union partisan bias eroding trust in the upcoming election. Nonetheless, there is a good reason to celebrate Labor Day.

This Ethics Alarms post from 2012 explains what that reason is.

Labor Day commemorates one of the great ethical victories of American society, and not one in a hundred Americans know it. Labor Day marks the end of summer, and a time for retail store sales, and the last chance to get away to Disney World, but few of us think about the real meaning of the word “labor” in the name, and how it is meant to honor brave, dedicated men and women who fought, sometimes literally, the forces of greed, political influence, wealth and privilege in this country to ensure a measure of safety, consideration, fairness and justice for the hardest working among us.

Today labor unions are controversial, and with good reason. Many of them have been run as criminal enterprises, with deep connections to organized crime; many operate in a blatantly coercive and undemocratic fashion. Union demands and strong-arm tactics, while providing security and good wages to members, have crippled some American industries, and limited jobs as well. Today the unions  get publicity when one of them tries to protect a member who should be punished, as when the baseball players’ union fights suspensions for player insubordination or even drug use, or when school districts are afraid to fire incompetent teachers because of union power, or when the members of public unions protest cutbacks in benefits that their private sector counterparts would be grateful for. It is true that today’s unions often embody longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer’s observation that  “Every great cause begins as a movement, degenerates into a business and ends up as a racket.” *

That not what Labor Day honors, however. It is celebrating the original labor movement that began at the end of the 19th century, and that eventually rescued the United States from an industrial and manufacturing system that was cruel, exploitive, deadly and feudal. Why the elementary schools teach nothing about this inspiring and important movement, I do not know. I suspect that the story of the American labor movement was deemed politically dangerous to teach during the various Red Scares, and fell out of the curriculum, never to return. Whatever the reason, it is disgraceful, for the achievements of the labor movement are every bit as important and inspiring as those of the civil rights movement and the achievements of our armed forces in the protection of liberty abroad. Continue reading

In Defense Of The Terrorist: Clarence Darrow Eulogy For John Brown

In the ongoing debate here regarding what constitutes a great American—sparked by reader valkygrrl’s guest post on the topic as well as the President’s recent remarks at Mount Rushmore, the question of whether abolitionist John Brown belongs has been the most contentious. I don’t believe that one can ethically assign a murderer and law-breaker (and unraveling fanatic) like Brown to the “great American” category,  but a figure unquestionably smarter than I whom I believe unquestionably was  one of the greatest Americans did, and his argument deserves attention and thought. That figure is Clarence Darrow.

Brown was much admired by Darrow’s iconoclast father, Amirus Darrow, and his mother was an anti-slavery activist, turning the Darrow home into a stop on the Underground Railroad.  Born in 1857, Darrow was too young to remember the pre-Civil War period, and Brown was hanged in 1859. Nonetheless, the admiration for Brown was passed on from father to son, and there are moments in Darrow’s career where his actions seemed consistent with Brown’s philosophy of the ends justifying the means when the stakes were important enough, notably the conduct that almost got him disbarred and imprisoned for jury tampering. (Darrow was guilty, but was acquitted because he had a great defense attorney—Clarence Darrow.)

John Brown was a hero of Darrow’s , who didn’t have many: the abolitionist, Voltaire, and his friend and mentor John Peter Altgeld were about it, as far as I can tell. Periodically, on the anniversary of Brown’s birthday (May 8), Darrow would give a speech eulogizing Brown to a progressive group. Its final sentence is the most quoted:

The radical of today is the conservative of tomorrow, and other martyrs take up the work through other nights, and the dumb and stupid world plants its weary feet upon the slippery sand, soaked by their blood, and the world moves on.

Incredibly, Darrow’s John Brown Eulogy is impossible to find on the web now; I have no idea why. (Enter that sentence in Google, and what pops up is…me!) Thus I am  reproducing Darrow’s speech here, for two purposes: first, to let you consider Clarence Darrow ‘s argument for why we should honor John Brown, and second, to have an online home for it.

It is not the whole speech, but my own shortened and edited version. I am still hunting for the whole document in a form I can post (I have it in several books), and when I find it, I’ll substitute the complete version for this: Continue reading

And Today’s “Madness! Madness!” Item Of The Day: “The Unintentional Racism Found In Traffic Signals”

I didn’t make that title up. “The Unintentional Racism Found in Chex Mix,” I made up. Not  the other one.

You can read the article here.

The writer, David Kaufman, says in the article that he is black, so I’ll take his word for it. I’m not going to fisk or rebut the piece, any more than you would take the time fir rebut my Chex Mix conspiracy theory, if I really wrote it down. Both articles inhabit the special category  of “res ipsa loquitur” reserved for things that, without further analysis or explication, prove that their creator is mentally ill, or, in the alternative, trying, for whatever reason, to make people believe waht isn’t so, or, possibly engaging in satire. When you  read the article, the latter possibility is quicklyerases, and so is the second. The author is serious. He is deranged.

Here’s one section, just to illustrate:

“And there you have it: The government-approved origins of the “little White men” telling us to cross the street at corners across New York….I am now convinced that technology and necessity, rather than some anti-Black conspiracy, propelled the shift from verbal crosswalk cues to a lunar-white Walking Person. But my heart still sinks at the specter of teaching my sons to ask a White man for permission to do — well, anything. Because so much of the world already insists that we do.”

Continue reading

#MeToo Ethics: No, Complimenting Someone’s Appearance Isn’t Sexual Harrassment

(Though it can be.)

The Economist surveyed five different countries, asking respondents what kind of  conduct they viewed as sexual harassment.

Some examples (such as requesting a sexual favor) were obviously inappropriate, and were classified as such across all countries. Asked if a compliment on a woman’s appearance  could be classified as sexual harassment,  U.S. were a different matter. roughly a third of those under 30 in the U.S. answered, “Yes.”

Here’s the survey….

Thus we see how #MeToo propaganda has succeeded in convincing a large proportion of Americans that the simple act of engaging in the long-standing, traditional  social balm of being nice should be avoided and even punished. For them, an innocent compliment must be regarded with suspicion. Since whether an arguable sexually inspired comment  makes the recipient “uncomfortable” and is therefore “unwelcome” is the necessary predicate to a sexual harassment complaint and law suit. Continue reading

Why Did A Judge Let A Man Who Was Trying To Kill His Wife Get Off With A Tough, “Now, Now, Don’t Try To Poison Your Wife Again!” [Updated]

[Notice of corrections: This post had way too many typos, and I apologize profusely. Thanks to Crella for alerting me. I think I got all of them.]

I have a theory.

I wish I didn’t.

Therese Kozlowski got a videotape of her husband Brian poisoning her coffee with sleeping pills. Even with this evidence, the poisoner received a sentence of just 60 days in jail, which he will be allowed to serve on the weekends. The prosecutor called the sentence “a slap in the face” of the victim. Oh, it’s much worse than that.

It all started after Therese said she wanted a divorce. Then she noticed that she was feeling drowsy and tired on mornings when Brian made the coffee. She narrowly avoided an accident when she fell asleep while driving to work. So she secretly installed a small video camera by the coffee machine, and sure enough, Brian was putting the equivalent of eight sleeping pills in the morning java.

“Brian’s continuous, methodical, and calculated plot to poison me included a complete disregard for human life, including his own daughter [she also drank some of the spiked coffee], along with hundreds of other drivers who he put at risk every day for weeks,” Therese Kozlowski said in court. “I believe this was attempted murder. Once Brian realized he lost me and there was no getting me to stay in this unhealthy marriage, his goal was to eliminate me.”

This convinced Macomb County (Michigan) Circuit Court Judge Antonio Viviano , he said, to give Brian jail time instead of merely probation, which was his initial instinct. Continue reading

Open Forum…Again!

We have to stop not meeting like this…

You will note that the big hand is on the 6 and little one is on 5, as for some reason I am too tired to recall, my ethics day this day, June 20, 2019, begins with a 6:30 am bar association production meeting for a legal ethics video, and continues unbroken until 9 pm, when I will complete a three hour ethics seminar on the ethics of Clarence Darrow, with the estimable Darrow interpreter, Paul Morella. That’s about 15 straight hours. Who says ethics isn’t in demand?

So once again, I must ask the commentariat here to keep the fire burning and the discussion flowing. Anything goes, as long as it it is on topic and civil.

Maybe you will want to ponder this case, long regarded as Darrow’s ugliest, which I will be discussing today, among others:

Good luck, everyone. I will self -destruct in about 15 hours…

Jake Stein’s Tears

Legendary D.C. lawyer Jake Stein died last week at 94. He was that rarity in Washington and among lawyers, a universally respected attorney who had made few enemies and had few detractors. He was also long regarded as the sage of the profession in D.C., whose thoughtful and erudite essays that closed the bar associations’ monthly magazine, Washington Lawyer, were perhaps the most-read features of the publication.

I was reminded in his New York Times obituary that Stein represented Kenneth W. Parkinson, a former lawyer for President Nixon’s re-election committee, when he was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal. Parkinson was the only indicted Watergate figure who was acquitted, and Stein’s skillful defense was considered to be the reason.  His closing argument was made unusually dramatic by Stein weeping as he described Parkinson as a pawn of “confessed perjurers,” and pleaded for the jury to consider his client’s character and the wounds the unjust prosecution had inflicted on it. “Doesn’t a lifetime, where you built it up grain by grain, weigh against that?” Stein asked plaintively.

I wonder: were Stein’s tears real, and does it matter? Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 2/19/19: College Disgrace Edition [Updated!]

Hello, Readers, and Goodby, Columbus (see #5)!

In case you care: yesterday was about the third time in ten years that I have failed to get at least one post up. I was in New Brunswick, NY, after the three and a half-hour trip from Virginia took over five hours instead of three. I had scheduled a 6:15 am wake-up call, and a room service breakfast at 6:30 in order to prepare for my 3 hour seminar and get a post or two up before I had to check out at 8 am. No wake up call. No breakfast. I was awakened at 8:05 am by Clarence Darrow, aka actor Bruce Rauscher. Somehow we made it to the seminar on time, Bruce was great, the lawyers were happy, but by the time the return journey got me home that night any Ethics Alarms post I attempted would have been in Esperanto.

I’m sorry.

1. Revelation! Hearing Darrow’s courtroom arguments in a different interpretation and pace made me realize that part of his methodology was to gradually convince juries that he was smarter than they were, and that they should just do what he said because he proved he had thought the issues through more thoroughly than they had or could. His genius was that he could do this without appearing to be arrogant or conceited. This is how effective leaders lead, and also how they corrupt, persuading normal people to just surrender their judgment.

I am an advocate of capital punishment, but when Darrow made this argument pleading for the lives of thrill-killers Leopold and Loeb….

What is the public’s idea of justice? “Give them the same mercy that they gave to Bobby Franks.”

Is that the law?  Is that justice?  Is this what a court should do?  Is this what a state’s attorney should do?  If the state in which I live is not kinder, more humane, more considerate, more intelligent than the mad act of these two boys, I am sorry that I have lived so long.

…I had to pause and wonder if he had found the fatal weakness in the logic of the death penalty. I have a rebuttal, but I have thought about the issue a long time, and Darrow wasn’t THAT much smarter than me. But if I were a typical juror (or even a judge, as was his audience in this case), I might be tempted to see the case Darrow’s way.

2.  Once again, the totalitarian instincts of progressives and attempted thought-control on campuses...I believe that this escalating phenomenon will eventually lead to an epic cultural conflagration.

Orange Coast College barred its chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom  displaying this banner….

…..at a campus student recruitment fair. The College objected to the banner’s depicting images of two rifles which college officials said were forbidden by a college policy that bars not just firearms but “any facsimile of a firearm, knife, or explosive.”

Obviously, however, such a decision violates the First Amendment. Explains Constitutional law expert Eugene Volokh, “once a university opens up a space where students may display banners, it then may not restrict such displays unless the restriction is viewpoint-neutral and reasonable. It’s hard to see a viewpoint-neutral rationale for banning even sillhouette displays of guns, which no-one would confuse for real guns….even if the rationale is viewpoint-neutral, it’s not reasonable: To be reasonable, a restriction on speech within a government-created forum must be “consistent with the [government’s] legitimate interest in ‘preserv[ing] the property … for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated.'” Nothing about the display of rifle sillhouettes interferes with the government’s legitimate interest in preserving campus property for its normal uses, except insofar as such a display conveys a pro-gun viewpoint to which some people object.”

Of course, the real purpose of the restriction is political indoctrination of students and agenda-driven limitations on advocacy. College administrators who don’t comprehend the Bill of Rights better than this may be qualified to educate trained ferrets, but not human beings less human beings.

The professor also points out that the school’s sports team logo…

…violates the school policy exactly in the manner the banner does, for it includes an illustration of a knife.

Fools and hypocrites—and nascent totalitarians. Continue reading

They Seem Like Good Ideas…But Not Really. Clarence Darrow Knew Why.

I. The Daily Telegraph officially apologized “unreservedly” to Melania Trump and agreed to pay her “substantial damages” for an article it published last week. Mrs. Trump had sued the paper in British courts.

The paper said its Saturday Magazine cover story “The Mystery of Melania” this month contained false statements, as her lawsuit claimed. It wrote,

Following last Saturday’s (Jan 19) Telegraph magazine cover story “The mystery of Melania”, we have been asked to make clear that the article contained a number of false statements which we accept should not have been published. Mrs Trump’s father was not a fearsome presence and did not control the family.  Mrs Trump did not leave her Design and Architecture course at University relating to the completion of an exam, as alleged in the article, but rather because she wanted to pursue a successful career as a professional model. Mrs Trump was not struggling in her modelling career before she met Mr Trump, and she did not advance in her career due to the assistance of Mr Trump.

We accept that Mrs Trump was a successful professional model in her own right before she met her husband and obtained her own modelling work without his assistance. Mrs Trump met Mr Trump in 1998, not in 1996 as stated in the article. The article also wrongly claimed that Mrs Trump’s mother, father and sister relocated to New York in 2005 to live in buildings owned by Mr Trump.  They did not. The claim that Mrs Trump cried on election night is also false.

We apologise unreservedly to The First Lady and her family for any embarrassment caused by our publication of these allegations.  As a mark of our regret we have agreed to pay Mrs Trump substantial damages as well as her leg

Continue reading