Pandemic Ethics Dilemma: The Universities And Colleges Need To Keep Their Students’ Money, But They Are No Longer Earning It.

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing board for Arizona’s three public universities, because the three schools have refused to refund room, board and campus fees to students who were told to leave campus because of the Wuhan virus. Like virtually all US colleges and universities, Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, moved their classes online  for the remainder of the Spring  semester. Students who lived on-campus were either told to move out or encouraged to do so. Yet, the  lawsuit says, the Arizona Board of Regents has refused to offer refunds for the unused portion of the students’ room and board and their campus fees. The lawsuit seeks payment of the prorated, unused amounts of room and board and fees that the class members paid but were unable to use.

How can the schools maintain that it is ethical for them to do this? I understand that having to refund the money will be disastrous for them, but they are literally keeping advance payments for services that the schools will no longer provide. I expect to see more such suits, and on the basis of law, equity, ethics and common sense, I don’t see how the institutions can prevail in them. Continue reading

“Dark Waters”

“Dark Waters” is another ethics movie, and a very good one. Like all ethics movies involving real events, it is also educational—disturbingly so.

The film, which was released late last year, dramatizes the story of attorney Robert Bilott and his nearly two decades of battling DuPont over its deliberate (okay, “negligent”) poisoning of citizens and the entire nation with the chemicals used to manufacture Teflon. Yes, “the entire nation”: that’s not hyperbole. It is believed that the unregulated and toxic chemical called PFOA is in the system of everyone living in the U.S. as a result of DuPont’s conduct.

The movie has not been a prominent success, perhaps because is treads along the well-worn path of earlier movies about similar corporate scandals and class action law suits, like  Julia Roberts’ “Erin Brockovich” ( Pacific Gas and Electric Company ) and  John Travolta’s “A Civil Action” (Beatrice Foods and W. R. Grace and Company). The star (and producer) of “Dark Water,” Mark Ruffalo, isn’t quite in the same star category as Travolta and Roberts, but an A-list cast was assembled to back him, including Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins,  Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, and Bill Pullman.

“Dark Waters,” horrifying to say, is mostly accurate. It was also one of those films where I was left wondering, “How did I miss this? Was it me, or was the story under-reported? If it was the latter, why was it under-reported?” The film was based on the 2016 New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” as well as that lawyer’s memoir. Exposure,” giving  Bilott’s perspective on his 20-year legal battle against DuPont. In the end, the company paid over $600 million  in a settlement, which was far less than they should have paid; I’m sure the company regards this as a victory. (Its stock went up after the announcement.)

Imagine: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/12/2017: Prisoners Behaving Badly, The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck Picks Up The Brother Of “The Girl Next Door,” And The Attempted Coup Continues

Good Morning!

On the way to Boston soon for an in-and-out ethics seminar for young Massachusetts lawyers…

1 Why is the New York Times acting as if the 2016 campaign is still going on? Today’s Sunday Times includes a long scold from the Times editors urging the President to “please read the Constitution.” Then it reaches back all the way to 2015 for TrumpTweets that proposed or mused about Constitutionally impossible policy ideas. How does the Times know that the President’s Constitutional acumen hasn’t been enhanced since 2015? It doesn’t, of course. The criticism would be legitimate during a campaign, but a year after an election, it tells us only this: The New York Times is still in the mode it announced during the campaign. The existence of Donald Trump, in its view, justifies the suspension of journalism’s core principles. In the view of many of the Times’ voices on its op-ed page, his existence also justifies the suspension of the Constitution that the paper piously insists the President read. The Times editors have not told those who have claimed in its pages and from the floor of Congress that President Trump should be impeached based on no “high crimes and misdemaeanors” to read the Constitution. It didn’t tell Hillary Clinton to “read the constitution” when she advocated “the Australian approach” to gun control, or grandstanding Democrats in the House to ‘read the Constitution” when they behaved as if the right  of Due Process didn’t exist, so citizens arbitrarily placed on a no-fly list by the FBI could nonetheless be denied the right to own a gun. It didn’t tell “the resistance” to “read the Constitution” when it attempted to distort the operation of the Electoral College to undo the President’s election.

“He has showed disdain for the separation of powers by repeatedly attacking the federal judiciary and individual judges who have ruled against him.” the Times sniffs, but it did not tell Barack Obama to “read the Constitution” when he attacked the U.S. Supreme Court in a State of the Union address. Then the Times goes off into the hyper-partisan stratosphere, suggesting that its editors also need to “read the Constitution”:

He has abused the pardon power by granting his first, and so far only, pardon to a former sheriff who was found in contempt of a federal court for defying an order. And he has failed to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, whether by trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, leaving hundreds of critical executive branch positions vacant or threatening to prosecute his former political opponent.

The Constitution places no limits whatsoever on the pardon power; it is absolute, beyond appeal, and can’t be abused as a matter of Constitutional law. The Times’s definition of the duty to faithfully execute the laws is incomprehensible, since it did not object to Barack Obama circumventing crystal clear laws against illegal immigration by ordering them not to be enforced, or when the Obama administration refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act while it was still a valid law signed by the previous Democratic President. The Constitution does not demand that the Federal government be a bloated, deficit-making bureaucracy; the President, not the Times, gets to decide what positions are “critical” in the Executive Branch. That’s in the Constitution. As for “threatening to prosecute his former political opponent.,” the President’s statements regarding Hillary Clinton can be and should be taken as questioning whether the Justice Department under Barack Obama was placing its thumb on the sales of justice for political purposes.

It is increasingly beyond argument that the mainstream news media, led by the Times, is trying to abuse its Constitutionally enshrined immunity from responsibility to engineer a virtual or actual coup. That is dangerous and unforgivable, as well as directly contrary to how the Founders wanted our democracy to operate.

2. I checked the news early this morning to learn the identity of the latest celebrity to have a finger pointed his way as a chorus shouts “HARASSER!” To my surprise and alarm, I discovered that the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck had entered my world: jet-set hotelier André Balazs was accused by actor Jason Bateman’s wife of groping her crotch in 2014. André Balazs grew up across the street from my childhood home in Arlington, Massachusetts. His sister, Marianne, was a good friend and classmate all the way through high school. I knew André as Marianne’s annoying little brother.

It appears that the idea in Hollywood now is to accuse someone else before you or your significant other gets accused. This is because sexual harassment and misconduct has been an accepted part of power-player culture in Hollywood forever, even while the Left’s component of that culture proclaimed that the Right was wielding a “war on women.” The country should not forget how dishonest and hypocritical this was.

I never liked that kid…. Continue reading

Spreading the Word: “The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit”

"Bottoms up!"

“Bottoms up!”

I am moved to re-post the early Ethics Alarms entry from 2010, titled “The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit,” for a few reasons.

It raises an important and shamefully under-reported topic, one that despite my exhortations then has yet to be adequately examined in the media. If one googles various combinations of “mouthwash,””Listerine,”‘alcoholism,” and “alcoholic,” the first result is, sadly, my post. Most people who are not afflicted with the disease of alcoholism have no idea that mouthwash is a popular stand-in for liquor, or that is used to deceive family members who think an addict is no longer using or intoxicated. None of the recommended policy changes I suggest in the post have been implemented, either.

Last week I chanced to mention the use of Listerine by alcoholics to a friend who is a doctor who treats alcoholics. He was shocked, and had no knowledge of this at all. “Eww!” he said. “Isn’t that poison? You can drink it? I had no idea.” And he is a professional who keeps up  with the literature. (But obviously doesn’t read his friend’s blog.)

Despite my frustration that what I regard as a true exposé that should have sparked an equivalent article in a more widely read forum has remained relatively unknown, I am encouraged by the effect it has had. Most posts have their greatest traffic around the time they are posted, but since 2010, the page views of this article have increased steadily every month. More importantly, it has drawn comments like this one, from yesterday:

“Am looking after my twin sister who is a chronic alcoholic. She has been three days sober and then she just walked in and I couldn’t work out what the hell happened. She was in a stupor , but there was no alcohol and I am dispensing the Valium for detox period and she smelt like mint!! Found three bottles of it !!! This is my last big push to help her and she pleaded innocent and no idea it had alcohol in it! Hasn’t had a shower for two days but keeps her month fresh and sweet !! Thanks for the information. Much appreciated XXX”

Most of all, I am revolted that what I increasingly have come to believe is an intentional, profit-motivated deception by manufacturers continues, despite their knowledge that their product is killing alcoholics and destroying families. I know proof would be difficult, but there have been successful class action lawsuits with millions in punitive damage settlements for less despicable conduct. Somewhere, there must be an employee or executive who acknowledges that the makers of mouthwash with alcohol know their product is being swallowed rather than swished, and are happy to profit from it.

Few had discovered Ethics Alarms by April of 201o. I hope that by re-publishing the post now, it might find its way to more social media pages and even be sent to some investigative reporters. As I ended the original post, spread the word. Mouthwash is killing your friends and family members, or if not yours, those of someone not far away.

Thus, for the second time and hoping for more impact than the first, here is “The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit.” Even if you read it the first time, refresh your memory.

People are killing themselves right under our noses, and we are being thrown of by the minty smell of their breath.

Continue reading

Put A Picture Of This In The Dictionary Next To “Unethical Class Action Settlement”

Hewlett-Packard has been sued in a class action lawsuit, made up of a huge number of users of the company’s printers and ink cartridges, for a wide variety of problems. Here’s what the lawyers have come up with: a $5,000,000 settlement to be paid off in $2 and $7 coupons that can only be used at HP.com to purchase Hewlett-Packard products, and which can’t be transferred or combined, and will expire in six months. Consider: Continue reading

Anatomy of an Unethical Class Action Lawsuit, Badly Reported, Exposed by a Blogger

Here is how the Washington Post begins its story about the most recent assault on McDonald’s by the people who want to control your eating and parenting habits:

“The D.C.-based nutrition watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest has helped a California mother file a class-action suit against McDonald’s, demanding that the burger chain stop marketing toys to children. The woman, Monet Parham of Sacramento, claims that the marketing of Happy Meal toys has interfered with her ability as a parent to provide her two children with a healthful diet. Here’s a quote:

“I am concerned about the health of my children and feel that McDonald’s should be a very limited part of their diet and their childhood experience,” Parham said. “But as other busy, working moms and dads know, we have to say ‘no’ to our young children so many times, and McDonald’s makes it that so much harder to do. I object to the fact that McDonald’s is getting into my kids’ heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat.”

This is fairly typical of the hundreds of news stories on the web about the lawsuit. Over at Popehat, Patrick, the wittiest of the site’s witty staff, performs a crushing dissection of the lawsuit, the story, and the media’s incompetent reporting of it. You see, he writes..

“…Monet Parham is really Monet Parham-Lee.  Monet Parham-Lee is the name that Monet Parham uses professionally.  Monet Parham-Lee is represented in the suit by attorneys affiliated with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Meaning Ralph Nader.  Monet Parham-Lee is an employee of the California Department of Public Health. Monet Parham-Lee works in the “Cancer Prevention and Nutrition Section” of the California Department of Public Health. Meaning that Monet Parham-Lee is tasked, professionally, by the State of California with ensuring that Californians eat their vegetables.  The power that the State of California grants Monet Parham-Lee evidently is not enough.  Monet Parham-Lee is taking the law into her own hands, to ensure that not only her own children eat their vegetables, but that everyone else is forced to make their children eat vegetables.” Continue reading

Obama’s Unethical Gift to the Trial Lawyers

After January 1, 2011, when you begin to process all the new taxes coming your way and all the deductions you can no longer take, think about this:

The nation’s largest trial lawyer trade group, the American Association for Justice, has announced it was informed by Obama Administration officials that the U.S. Department of Treasury will give its members (and all tort lawyers) a tax break on contingency fee lawsuits. The new provision is expected to mirror proposed legislation by Sen. Arlen Specter, himself a lawyer, that was previously rejected by Congress last year. That bill would have allowed attorneys to deduct up-front costs in contingency fee lawsuits. Continue reading