‘Conflicts of interest? I have no idea what you mean…’
Disclaimer: This is NOT a baseball ethics post. This is a business ethics post about a major ethics issue, and the business happens to be a major league baseball team.
This week the New York Mets stunned the baseball world by hiring Brodie Van Wagenen—that’s him on the left—as its new general manager.
He is not only being hired to manage the business of a major league baseball team without having ever worked for a baseball organization in any capacity. That would be strange enough. He is also a player agent who has been the representative of several key players currently under contract to the Mets, meaning that he acted for them in negotiating against the team he now heads.Van Wagenen made $25 million in commissions last year on player contracts.
Anyone whose ethics alarms weren’t set ringing like the bells during the Great Chicago Fire by the Mets decision doesn’t understand what a conflict of interest is. Guess who this category includes. Yup: Van Wagenen and the New York Mets.
In a press conference at Citi Field, Mets executives were asked about the conflicts issue, which should have been predictable, mandating a careful, thorough answer. As a player agent for Creative Artists Agency (Van Wagenen has divested himself of all shares in the company and future commissions…at least he figured out that much) Van Wageman’s responsibility was to negotiate the most lucrative contracts for his clients. As the a general manager for the New York Mets, his responsibility is to build a successful team within its resources, regardless of the best interests of his former clients, the players he worked with over the past 18 years. When the “C” word was raised bu reporters, Mets President Fred Wilpon interrupted before Van Wagenen could answer and said that he had spoken with the commissioner’s office and Major League Players Association chief Tony Clark, adding, “We have provisions in Brodie’s contract to deal with any conflicts of interest.”
Oh! Well never mind then! The contract deals with it, and the Mets have spoken to people! All taken care of!
Neither Wilpon nor Van Wagenen would say what those provisions were, but I guarantee this as an ethics specialist: the only provision that could effectively deal with Van Wagenen’s conflicts would be “Van Wagenen can’t be the Mets general manager.” Continue reading
The icky ethics category of private or limited audience statements that get unethically publicized by malign third-parties to embarrass and harm the speaker has been explored here many times, notably in the case of Donald Sterling, the NBA owner and billionaire who lost his franchise, millions of dollars and his reputation over a remark he made in his own bedroom that was surreptitiously recorded and released by a treacherous girlfriend.. The position of Ethics Alarms on these incidents, which also includes spurned lovers sharing private emails to the world in order to humiliate a correspondent, the Democratic Senators who leaked the President’s course rhetoric about “shithole” countries that took place during a meeting that was supposed to be private and confidential, and Donald Trump’s infamous “pussy-grabbing” statements, is simple. Once the embarrassing words have unethically made public, they can’t be ignored. Neither should the circumstances of their making, or the unethical nature of their subsequent use was weapons of personal destruction.
There is not a human being alive who has not made statements in private meetings or conversations, whether those statements be jokes, insults, rueful observations or deliberate hyperbole, that would be horribly inappropriate as public utterances. Thus the feigned horror at such statements by others is the rankest kind of Golden Rule hypocrisy. In addition, the opprobrium and public disgrace brought down on the heads of those whose mean/ugly/politically incorrect/vulgar/ nasty/insulting words are made public by a treacherous friend, associate or colleague erodes every American’s freedom of thought, association and expression, as well as their privacy.
The most recent example of this unethical sequence occurred after Kelly Sadler, a White House special assistant, stated in a closed-door policy meeting that Senator John McCain’s opposition to Trump’s nominee for CIA director “doesn’t matter” because “he’s dying anyway.” Some saboteur in the meeting, determined to harm both Sadler and her boss, leaked this small moment in a private meeting, in which participants reasonably assumed they did not have to be politically correct, nice, kind, civil or careful because everyone in the meeting had tacitly agreed that the meeting was confidential. That, and only that, is the ethical breach here. (Nah, there’s no “deep state”…there are just nefarious moles in the White House who coordinate with the news media to undermine the President. That’s all!). Continue reading
1 Housekeeping matters. For some reason, I know not what, there was an outbreak of contentious discussion regarding Ethics Alarms administration in a couple of threads yesterday. I think everything covered or complained about is covered in the Comment Policies above, but just for the record:
- I handle the moderation here. Only me.
- Though it might appear otherwise to some, I do not spend my day glued to Ethics Alarms. Thus on days like yesterday, when I had an early morning CLE session to teach in D.C., followed by one law firm client emergency after another, I did not see any comments at all from 1am to 6 pm. Thus the hysterical and indignant “Why did you delete my comment?” outbursts and the “How dare you allow that rude comment to stay on the site?” and the ultimata springing therefrom were especially silly, unfair, and ill-informed.
- I am not your Moderation Monkey. Don’t command me on how to police my own site. Thank you.
- As I have written many times, occasionally a comment from an approved participant gets spammed for no good reason. Sometimes WordPress, for no apparent provocation, starts spamming the comments of visitors here who have been commenting for years. Sometimes such commenters have had to change their screen names as a result. None of this has anything to do with me: I can’t control it, or predict it. The calm, reasonable commenters faced with this crisis generally e-mail me, then I search the spam archives, find the lost post, send it to moderation, and approve it.
- I do not delete posts from approved commenters. The exception is when I ban a commenter permanently, or give one a time out, which is a temporary ban or suspension, in which case the commenter is always warned in advance.
- I expect discourse here to be civil, but will excuse momentary and periodic lapses and outbursts from veteran commenters (and me, of course), in direct proportion to their time here, level of participation and constructive value to the mission. Individual quirks will also be taken into consideration.
2. Remembering the David Manning Liar of the Month: A commenter who hails from the old Ethics Scoreboard days recently referenced the feature there called the David Manning Liar of the Month. A David Manning-style lie is a statement that the speaker or writer can’t possibly expect anyone to believe, thus raising the question of whether it is a lie at all. (Sony spawned the award by excusing its use of a fake film reviewer it named David Manning to rave about terrible movies in ads, claiming that nobody believed such excerpts anyway.) If Ethics Alarms had the same feature, President Trump would obviously dominate it, as I was reminded this morning. The President’s ex-physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein. bitter over his ejection from the Trump Court, revealed that Trump himself had dictated the absurd letter in which the doctor attested, Continue reading
When I pointed out this morning that by Sean Hannity’s own description of his relationship to Trump fixer Michael Cohen, he was Cohen’s client, several commenters protested, including a lawyer or two. This suggests that many more were similarly confused, and it is no surprise. A disturbing number of lawyers fall into the trap of acquiring “accidental clients.” There are many ways this can happen, but the most insidious of them is this, which people like me constantly and repeatedly warn lawyers about, often to no avail.
A relative or a friend approaches you, a lawyer, at a party. He or she asks you a question about some legal issue, and you give an off-the-cuff answer. Because you are a lawyer, and because you gave advice, however vague, that individual accepts it as a free legal opinion, and also assumes that the conversation was confidential. Usually nothing happens. Sometimes, however, the friend or relation acts based on your advice. If the results turn out badly, he or she may sue for malpractice, and sometimes will win damages. In an infamous case that is still good law, an individual went to a medical malpractice specialist to engage him to sue a hospital. After describing the facts, the potential client was told, “You have no case,” and informed that the lawyer would not accept the representation. But the individual relied on that statement, and didn’t bring a suit until the statute of limitations had run. Then he learned, from another lawyer, that he did have a valid case, though one he could no longer pursue. The first lawyer was sued for malpractice, and the court found that indeed “You have no case” constituted legal advice, and the advice was relied upon, meaning that an attorney-client relationship had been formed. Continue reading
That was the measured, dignified description of the fired FBI chief in President Trump’s latest tweet on the matter of Comey’s tell-all book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership. The Ethics Alarms verdict on the allegation doesn’t require reading the book, which I wouldn’t do if Jigsaw had me trapped in a room and gave me the choice of writing a book report on it or chewing off my own foot. (Okay, maybe I’d read it then, but I’d still have to think about it.)
We know Comey is untruthful already—he lied to Congress—and the fact that his book exists proves that he’s a slimeball.
I know I repeat myself a lot, for ethics issues are on a merry-go-round that never stops. However, I think I’ve written more than enough about the unethical practice of government officials who have left an administration cashing in with tell-all books before the administration has ended. The practice is a crass betrayal, venal, disloyal, damaging to the nation and its institutions, and I don’t care who the slimeball author is, or which President he slimes. They are all slimeballs, by definition. One of the first was President Reagan’s arrogant Budget Director, Stockman, early in that administration. Prior to Stockman, the predominant attitude and ethics was the one embodied by General George Marshall (no relation, alas), World War One and Two military leader, former Secretary of State, and architect of the Marshall plan, when he was offered a million dollars to write his memoirs in the 1950s, after he had retired from public life. Marshall turned down the cash, explaining that he couldn’t write a truthful memoir without undermining people still at working for the United States in the government and military.
How quaint! What a sap!
Or so James Comey probably thinks. Continue reading
1. More Professionals Behaving Badly: The news media has widely reported that Ted Olson of the law firm Gibson Dunn refused Donald Trump’s request for his legal services. Olson, who is best know for arguing the Bush side of Bush v. Gore that ended the 2000 Florida recount, had declined to comment on this to the media but a partner in the firm Gibson Dunn’s “global co-chair” issued a tweet that Olson was not going to be representing the President. This is a straight-up violation of an attorney’s ethical duty of confidentiality to a prospective client.
In other Trump lawyer news, the media is also widely reporting that John Dowd resigned from the President’s legal team over the President’s refusal to accept Dowd’s advice that he not agree to give testimony to the Special Prosecutor. Telling the news media that—telling anyone that—would also be a breach of confidentiality on Dowd’s part.
2. Per se legislative incompetence. Once again the Senate and the House passed a huge bill with massive implications and consequences without reading it. The legislation funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 budget year, through Sept. 30, directing $700 billion toward the military and $591 billion to domestic agencies. The military spending is a $66 billion increase over the 2017 level, and the non-defense spending is $52 billion more than last year. It also further explodes the deficit and the debt that bring the United States one step closer to a ruinous financial reckoning. The Democrats have been happily on this path for the entire 8 years of the Obama administration, but the Republicans rode to power in part because the public recognizes how insane this is. The GOP couldn’t even muster a cut in the arts spending that it has been promising since the Reagan administration, or to finally cut ties with public television, though Big Bird fled the nest years ago. Continue reading