The Mistake That Has No Remedy

Craig Coley was in prison for 37 years with no chance of parole. He was innocent, but it took technology that wasn’t available when he was convicted to prove it. Coley was released in 2017, when DNA evidence showed that the justice system had punished the wrong man, and his conviction was finally overturned. Coley was 32 when he was first arrested for the double murder of his girlfriend and her son in 1978, 34 for when he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. He’s 71 now.

How does society compensate someone for a mistake like that?

Last month, the city of Simi Valley, California, the city that took half of Chris Coley’s life away from him., announced that it had reached a $21 million settlement with its victim. That’s something, I guess. After his release, Mr. Coley was pardoned by Gov. Jerry Brown—yes, I think that was appropriate— and awarded $1.95 million by the California Victims Compensation Board, a sumptuous $140 for each day he spent in prison. Then he sued.

In a statement announcing the settlement, Simi Valley’s city manager, Eric Levitt said in part, “While no amount of money can make up for what happened to Mr. Coley, settling this case is the right thing to do for Mr. Coley and our community. Then he said that the city had decided to settle the case because “the monetary cost of going to trial would be astronomical.” So it was not because the settlement was “the right thing to do,” but because it was prudent and cheapest way out of their self-made predicament.

I sometimes wonder in officials read these things before they are released. Levitt also said the police department was still pursuing leads in the deaths of Coley’s former girlfriend  and her son. Good luck with that. Maybe O.J. can help out. Continue reading

The O’Bannon Case: A Judge Explains How The Law Requires An Unethical and Corrupt Practice To Be Fair….But It’s Still Unethical and Corrupt

NCAA-ban

Now that a federal judge has declared the elite student-athletes at big time sports colleges to be what they are…paid mercenaries…and the sports programs at such institutions to be what we always knew they were…cynical sideshows that sacrificed education to greed…will the pubic, the media, educators, and universities now stop this slow-moving ethics train wreck?

Of course not.  If they cared about how high-profile college sports were warping both America’s education and its values, they would have addressed the problem decades ago. They would have stopped it before, for example, schools started paying football and basketball coaches more than any professor. They would have stopped it before prestigious schools gave degrees to graduates whose entire education was a sham, who took ridiculously easy courses and who were held to infantile academic standards, all so rich, fat alumni would continue writing checks. They would have stopped it before a revered football coach held such power in a university that he was able to persuade the school’s leadership to allow a child sexual predator operate on campus.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, in a 99-page ruling agreeing with the claim of a group of plaintiffs fronted by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, issued an injunction against the NCAA from “enforcing any rules or bylaws that would prohibit its member schools and conferences from offering their FBS football or Division I basketball recruits a limited share of the revenues generated from the use of their names, images, and likenesses in addition to a full grant-in-aid.”

The ruling will be appealed, and some of its legal conclusions certainly seem debatable. That is not my concern. The opinion effectively kills the fiction that the semi-literate youths who perform on-the-field heroics to burnish the images of universities and attract huge broadcast fees are what the NCAA, alumni, students , the schools and the media pretend that they are. Now that we know they are not truly students, what persuasive ethical justifications can be given for them to play college sports at all?

My answer?

None. Continue reading

How To Raise An Unethical Child

"Oops!"

“Oops!”

“Ask Amy” features a parent who asks the advice columnist to add her authority to the parent’s concerted efforts to pass along her own ethics deficits to her college age daughter, which, I fear, is unnecessary at this point. The daughter’s ethical compass is probably already damaged beyond repair.

It appears that the daughter, in a drunken state, spilled champagne on a laptop belonging to “Laura,” a college friend. The laptop was lying on the floor of the friend’s dorm room, and the keyboard was drenched in bubbly. Ethically challenged Mom thinks Laura is being mean and unfair to expect the daughter to pay full price—$850—to get the besotted machine working again. The indignant mother protests… Continue reading

In Search of Accountability, Fairness, Justice and a Champion: the Unending Persecution of Anthony Graves

Job would pity Anthony Graves

Governments and other bureaucracies are capable of unimaginable callousness, stupidity, and wrongful conduct, allowing individual fools to multiply their power to harm exponentially, and then to see an inhuman computer-driven monstrosity run amuck as everyone denies responsibility. You could not devise a better example of this process than what Texas is doing to Anthony Graves.

He is an innocent man convicted of murder in 1994 who was released last October after spending 18 years in prison, condemned to death. He had been convicted with fabricated evidence and coached testimony employed against him by former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Siberia, and a state investigation got a Texas judge to set Graves free. But the maw of Texas bureaucracy wasn’t through ruining his life. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Wrongly Imprisoned Victim John Thompson

“I don’t think training would have had anything to do with nothing really, to be honest with you, because you could have trained them and they would still do it. You need to punish them for doing it, then they won’t do it.”

John Thompson, who was wrongly and illegally convicted of murder in Louisiana and spent 14 years on death row because prosecutors withheld exculpatory blood evidence from his lawyers and his trial. His civil suit against the prosecutor’s office, run by Harry Connick, Sr. (yes, the singer’s father) for millions in punitive damages, on the theory that the prosecutors who framed him were inadequately trained, was overturned last week by the U.S. Supreme Court.

This statement apparently was made by Thompson last October, when the Supreme Court took the case, and I missed it. It surfaced again this morning in a Washington Post editorial calling for harsher punishment for prosecutors who violate the rights of accused suspects and send innocent people to prison or execution. The Post has never been more right, and the $14 million originally awarded to Thompson by an appalled jury for his ordeal is still inadequate compensation for the 18 years he spent behind bars because of a prosecutor’s dishonesty.

But the theory used to get Thompson his money—that the tragedy would have been prevented if Connick’s office hadn’t been negligent in training its lawyers in prosecutorial ethics—was a sham, and deserved to be rejected by the Court, no matter how much Thompson deserved the money, or indeed, ten time the money. Continue reading

The Training Myth and Connick v. Johnson

The U.S. Supreme Court is deliberating on the issue of whether a District Attorney’s office can be held liable when individual prosecutors commit serious misconduct, on the grounds that the government breached its duty to train its prosecutors and ensure their competence. The case is Connick v. Thompson, and it began when it was discovered that a New Orleans man had been sent to Death Row for 18 years for a crime he hadn’t committed. John Thompson was innocent, and a lab report proving that the blood found at the crime scene belonged to someone else would have proven it. Prosecutors withheld the evidence from the defense attorneys.

When Thompson was freed he was understandably angry, but the options for redress when the criminal justice system ruins your life are severely and unjustly limited. In 1976, the Supreme Court decided in Imbler v. Pachtman that prosecutors have absolute immunity from lawsuits, even when there is genuine, malicious and illegal conduct. The Court acknowledged that its ruling “does leave the genuinely wronged defendant without civil redress against a prosecutor whose malicious or dishonest action deprives him of liberty,” but declared the alternative was worse: making prosecutors timid and fearful of making a mistake that could leave them penniless. The Court suggested that professional discipline would be enough to keep prosecutors honest, but that hasn’t been the case: a USA Today study found that even in egregious cases of prosecutorial misconduct, attorneys who put innocent people in jail almost never had to endure any punishment at all. Thompson sued the District Attorney’s Office on a theory of negligent training, and won 14 million dollars from a sympathetic jury. Now the Supreme Court is deciding whether such suit can stand in light of the ruling in Pachtman.

It should, but the theory behind the lawsuit is a myth, and I suspect that everyone knows it. Continue reading

The Ethics of Compensating the Unjustly Imprisoned

The New York Times last week published the stories of two men, in different states, who were recently freed from prison after it was proven that they were wrongly convicted. Michael A. Green spent 27 years in a Texas penitentiary for a rape he didn’t commit. Thomas Lee Goldstein was locked up 24 years ago for a murder committed by someone else.

The lives of both men have been destroyed, obviously. The important question now is, who is accountable? What is owed to a human being who has been robbed of what should have been the best and most productive years of his life, and who owes it?

Both men will be getting some compensation from the state governments involved, though obviously no amount of money could make them whole: what would you accept in exchange for spending the years from 35 to 60 in a maximum security prison? Goldstein settled a lawsuit for nearly eight million dollars; Green is mulling an offer of $2.2 million from Texas, and may decide to sue to get more. 2.2 million dollars for 27 years in prison…let’s see, that works out to less than $81, 500 a year. Should he take the deal? I would not accept 2.2 million dollars to spend one year in jail, much less 27. Continue reading

When Money Curdles Ethics

A stimulating ethics alarm drill surfaced over at Freakonomics, where Stephen Dubner challenged the site’s  readers to help him compile a list of goods, services and activities that one can legally give away or perform gratis, but that  when money changes hands, the transactions become illegal. It is a provocative exercise, especially when one ponders why the addition of  money should change the nature of the act from benign to objectionable in the view of culture, society, or government. It is even more revealing to expand the list to include uses of money that may not create illegality, but which change an act from ethical to unethical. Continue reading