Ethics Collision at MSNBC

Donny Deutsch, a guest host at MSNBC, lost his gig, at least for now, after including MSNBC’s Angriest Man, commentator Keith Olberman, in a segment called “America the Angry.” It examined how media pundits are stoking public anger with inflammatory rhetoric and appeals to emotion rather that reason. MSNBC objected to the criticism of one of its own on its own airtime.

Based on  stated policy, the objection and Deutsch’s punishment were justified. MSNBC boss Phil Griffin had send a stern warning to all producers and on-air talent, saying, Continue reading

Apology: How I Became an April Fool and an Ethics Dunce

I’m not going to spin this. My conviction that the web hoax engineered by trial lawyer/blogger Eric Turkewitz violated the legal ethics rules was the product of a toxic mix of factors, prime among then being that I didn’t review my own files. When I finally, after nearly two days of answering complaints when I should have been hitting the books, checked the Rules of an ethics bellweather state that I often work in but had not for longer than usual, I read this:

RULE 8.4 Misconduct

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

…(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation which reflects adversely on the
lawyer’s fitness to practice law;

This is an unusual version of Model Rule 8.4; indeed, the only other state to have adopted it (I think—I am no longer sure of much) is Wyoming. Yet it is a very useful variation of the Model Rule, because it eliminates all ambiguity about whether “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” is meant to be as sweeping as it sounds. This formulation makes it clear that non-legal practice violations are covered, but that they have to reflect adversely on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law to qualify.

I had been wallowing in obscure clues from other jurisdictions–Tennessee, for example, which has the ABA wording but an odd Comment that begins…

[4] Paragraph (c) prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Such conduct reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law…

This could be taken to mean that all such conduct reflects adversely on fitness. The problem is, I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe that Tennessee means that.

The 8.4 version that I found was from…Virginia. Where I live. Where I have done more ethics CLE than anywhere else, beginning before the state even adopted the Model Rules format. Seeing this, two conclusions were unavoidable:

1. This is the predominant way jurisdictions think about 8.4. No state has rejected Virginia’s approach, and several have referenced it in Legal Ethics Opinions on the topic of what kind of non-legal practice-related conduct is covered by the Rules—-not subject to discipline, as I was arguing the past two days, but covered at all. The D.C. Bar has such an LEO, number 323, from 2004. I had a copy on file. The District of Columbia, where I’m a member of the bar.

2. I had made a big and inexcusable mistake, and compounded it by acting like the King of the Jerkwads. Continue reading

Provocative Ethics Reading for a Sunday

If your endangered Sunday newspaper is as shrunken from cost-cutting as mine, you may need some extra reading material as you wait breathless for the results of the House vote on health care reform. Here are some provocative ethics pieces from around the web:

Ethics and Irony: the Postman Rings Twice for ACORN

“The Postman Always Rings Twice,” James M. Cain’s novel that is better known as a 1946 film noir classic starring Lana Turner and John Garfield, has a famous ironic twist. The story’s hapless drifter narrator escapes punishment for a murder he helped commit, but gets executed anyway for a death that was really an accident. Cosmic justice is done, if not legal justice. It turns out that the postman rang twice for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, too. Continue reading