Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/27/18: “Mrs. Miniver” Ethics, “Ick!,” And A Poll

Rugby in the morning

1 One of my favorite Hollywood ethics scenes. I watched “Mrs. Miniver” again last night, the 1942 WWII drama starring the magnificent Greer Garson. It has a wonderful ethics moment late in the film, when Lady Beldon, the wealthy town battleaxe (and the grandmother Mrs. Miniver’s recently minted daughter-in-law, soon to die tragically) presides over the English village’s annual flower show, in which she has won the coveted “Best Rose” prize every year. But beloved old stationmaster Mr. Ballard has developed a magnificent new rose (named after Garson’s character) and desperately wants to win as well. The Minivers tease their elderly relative about the near certainty that she will win as always regardless of the relative merits of her entry and “The Miniver” entered by Mr. Ballard, since the judges are terrified of her, and Lady Beldon has made it clear to all that she regards the annual prize as a virtual entitlement. After all, the prize is even called “The Beldon Challenge Cup.” Sure enough, the judges, who seemed to be having a harder time than usual concluding that Lady Beldon’s rose deserved the award, hand her a slip that places her rose in first place, and Mr. Ballard’s in second.

Lady Beldon shows the slip to Mrs. Miniver with an air of triumph.

MINIVER: This is really important to you, isn’t it?

LADY BELDON: Yes. It’s stupid of me, but there it is. I’ve won that cup for as long as I can remember.

MINIVER: Mr. Ballard’s terribly keen too.

BELDON: Well, he’s had his chance. Hasn’t he? You have such a way of looking at people. What do you expect me to do? Reverse the judges’ decision?

MINIVER: I wouldn’t put it past you. If you happened to disagree with it.

“But I don’t!” she harrumphs. She keeps looking at the two competing roses, though, and also at old Mr. Ballard (played by Henry Traverse, later to portray Clarence the Wingless Angel”in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” His look of anticipation and hope approximately mirrors the expression of a six-year-old on Christmas morning. And when it comes time to announce the winner, Lady Ballard pauses, looks at the two roses again, ponders,  crumples up the judges’ slip, and announces that “The Miniver” wins the prize.

Dame May Witty, one of the best character actors England ever produced, shows us with her face that she realizes she did the right thing as soon as she sees Ballard’s reaction to winning. And the assembled crowd gives her an even louder ovation than they give the winner. They didn’t even have to see the slip like the Minivers: they know what she did. And she knows they know.

I had a Lady Beldon moment many years ago, before I had even seen the movie. Continue reading

The Michigan High School Ethics Bowl

More than 100 high school students from across lower Michigan will gather February 17-18 at the University of Michigan for the fifth annual Michigan High School Ethics Bowl. The winner  will represent Michigan in the National High School Ethics Bowl held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in April. The Ethics Bowl is organized by A2Ethics, the University of Michigan  Department of Philosophy Outreach Program and the high school faculty coaches in the High School Ethics Bowl League. During the two-day competition, judges  evaluate teams’ responses to case studies written by local community members.

See? There is hope!

Here are the case studies the students will analyze, fifteen of them. I may do posts on a few of them suggestions are welcome. One of them, #2, I have discussed in several legal ethics seminars:

The Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct forbid lawyers from revealing information received in confidence (information protected by the “lawyer-client privilege” of a client), and similarly from using that confidential information for the advantage of a third person, unless the client consents.

You are a lawyer whose practice is focused almost exclusively on criminal defense. You have been active in the criminal defense bar association for several years, and you represent criminal defendants at both the trial and appellate (appeals court) levels.

One of your clients, Gilbert, age forty, is in prison for murdering a woman named Alice. You represent Gilbert in the appeal of his conviction and life-without-parole sentence. During confidential meetings with Gilbert, he confesses to you that he also murdered Bob, and he acted alone when he did. Although you were not involved with the case of Bob’s murder, you are somewhat familiar with it and know that a man named Enrique was convicted of Bob’s murder and is consequently serving a sentence of life without parole. Enrique’s conviction and sentence were recently reaffirmed after a thorough, years-long appeals process. Unless new evidence comes to light, he will not be able to appeal again.

After you are unsuccessful in challenging Gilbert’s conviction and sentence for Alice’s murder, you speak with him about Bob’s murder. He repeats his confession, this time in more detail, but refuses to consent to your request to reveal the confession on Enrique’s behalf.

Continue reading