Tag Archives: conflicts of interest

Oh, Fine: I Knew Wikipedia Was Untrustworthy, And Now I Find Out It’s Partisan Too….

If the mainstream media, social media, and the most accessed encyclopedia won’t tell the truth without trying to manipulate it, what chance do we have?

Yesterday I again tip-toed into the realm of government lawyer ethics for a CLE seminar. As I did last week, I attempted to mention the most important government lawyer issues raised by the events of the past year without triggering partisan zealots and the anti-Trump deranged. I also noted that being a partisan zealot or anti-Trump deranged qualifies as a potential conflict of interest for a government lawyer, interfering with his or her ability to be objective, independent, competent, loyal and zealous. I did not say, but could have, as proven by Sally Yates. I know from past experience that this particular—100% accurate—observation is inviting a fight.

However, I did feel it necessary to discuss Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department official who is at the center of several Mueller investigation controversies. I am not yet prepared to weigh in on Orr, except to note this, as I did yesterday: The fact that Ohr served as the Justice Department contact for Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent commissioned to author the dubious Trump–Russia dossier that was used as the primary justification for the FISA warrants permitting surveillance of the Trump campaign, while Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that prepared the dossier under a contract with the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign (but I repeat myself), was a blatant conflict of interest, and arguably (and I’ll argue it) an unwaivable one. It also violates the ethics requirement that all government employees must follow to avoid the appearance of impropriety. (Pretty much the entire Mueller investigation has breached that. )

In the course of trying to confirm the basic facts of Ohr’s conduct, I consulted Wikipedia. Where else do you go these days for a dispassionate up-to-date recitation of facts without spin? Not  the New York Times. Not Fox News. As Frankie Pentangeli says to Michael Corleone, “Your father did business with Hyman Roth; your father respected Hyman Roth; but your father never trusted Hyman Roth.” That pretty much describes my relationship to Wikipedia. I don’t trust it. I frequently find errors in entries; I know people who have Wikipedia pages who are about as deserving of them, or less, than my Jack Russell Terrier; and I have never forgotten how my father spend hours correcting a wildly inaccurate Wikipedia article about a World War II battle that he was deeply involved in and wrote about in his book only to have his work rejected because Wikipedia does not accept, it said, “first hand accounts.” Wikipedia is a classic example of an imperfect resource that is both essential and hopelessly flawed by its very nature. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/27/2018: Petards, Conflicts, And Bullshit Edition

Good Morning!

1. Oh no! Hoisted by my own petard! I’m pretty certain that Clinton fixer Lanny Davis has an unwaivable conflict of interest in his representation of Trump fixer Michael Cohen. The legal ethics establishment is soft-peddling the issue because most legal ethicists apparently hate President Trump more than they like ethical lawyering, but I’ve been wrestling over whether to file a disciplinary complaint. The problem is that any complaint that has even a tinge of political motivation won’t be touched by the Bar (if prior performance is any indicator), so a complaint by me would be the proverbial lonely tree falling in the forest. The remedy would be to issue a publicity release about the complaint, but I’ve criticized that tactic as unethical right here, on more than one occasion. Rats.

It might be just as well. After the mere hint that I was defending Donald Trump (I was not) on NPR appears to have gotten me blackballed there after many years as an ethics commentator, I probably should not criticize the lawyer for the most popular sleaze in D.C. these days.

2. Neil Simon Ethics. In an alternate universe, my still operating professional theater company, dedicated to keeping unfairly buried, forgotten or unfashionable American theater works of the past in front of audiences who deserve a chance to see them, is looking at a lot of Neil Simon productions. The works of the —by far—most successful writer of comedies in Broadway history are already sneered at as sexist and “outdated,” and I can vouch for the fact that all it takes is one militant female board member with a checkbook and a chip on her shoulder to kill a production. Remember S.N Behrman? Seen any Philip Barry plays lately? How about Kaufman and Hart? Simon just died, and he’s already heading to obscurity along with those guys, and most of their plays are still funny too.

3. Here’s another topic it’s dangerous to get intoFrom CBS:

A pregnant Washington state woman said she was fired via text message from a sub shop where worked, with a store manager telling her “it’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyway.” Kameisha Denton told CBS Seattle affiliate KIRO-TV that she had told the manager she was pregnant and due in December, asking for maternity leave.

Denton said she realized that she hadn’t been assigned shifts at Jersey Mike’s sub shop in Marysville, Washington, so she sent a text to her manager inquiring about the hours. The response she says she received was shocking.

When Denton asked for her “updated schedule” she received something a bit different. The store manager named only as “Marcos” in Denton’s phone responded, “I am sorry to inform you but it’s not going to work out with Jersey Mikes. It’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyways. You also failed to tell me this during your interview.”

Denton posted the exchange on Facebook in a post that had garnered over 1,000 shares in just two days.  

Denton told KIRO-TV,  “I was just like in shock, it took me a minute to face reality — I was like this is really happening.”

Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Rep. Chris Collins Insider Trading Indictment

Three-term GOP congressman Chris Collins was indicted for insider trading after prosecutors determined that after Innate Immunotherapeutics  alerted him to the failure of company’s clinical drug trials for a promising multiple sclerosis drug, Collins tipped off his son, allowing him and others to  save hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling their stock in the firm before the news was made public. Now Collins faces prison time if convicted.

 Collins was a member of the company’s board until May of this year, and at one point was its largest shareholder.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has stripped Collins of his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee and asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations of insider trading. Collins has ended his re-election bid, but maintains that he is innocent. Such statements are like the puzzle about the White Foot and Black Foot tribes that look and sound identical but have one difference: the White Feet always lie, and the Black Feet always tell the truth. If you ask a member of either tribe, “Are you a truthful Black Foot or a lying White Foot?”, you will always get the same answer no matter what tribe the individual belongs to: “I am a truthful Black Foot!” And whether an indicted Congressman is guilty or innocent, he will always say, as Collins did, that the charges are “meritless” and that he will fight them to have his “good name cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Until the plea deal.

Collins’s involvement with Innate dates back all the way to 2005, before he ran for Congress. He organized support from wealthy friends and neighbors,  many of whom would later become his political donors,  to help bail out the company, which was flailing at the time. In addition to Innate Immunotherapeutics,  Collins has held leadership roles in other biotech companies.  Until his indictment, he was chairman of the board of directors of ZeptoMetrix, a private lab company based in Buffalo that he co-founded. That one has received millions of dollars in federal contracts, according to government records.

Collins reported owning between $25 million and $50 million in shares of  ZeptoMetrix. In June, he sold about a million dollars of stock in Chembio Diagnostics, a medical tests and equipment manufacturer, according to his ethics disclosure forms.

The congressional ethics office found last summer that  Collins may have violated ethics rules by asking the National Institutes of Health for help with the design of Innate’s now-failed clinical trial.

Observations: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/2/2018: Bad Neighbors And Bad Journalism

Good Morning…

1. Ah, now THAT’S the ol’ Spirit of 1776!  In a subdivision near Sterling Heights in Chesterfield, Michigan,  a resident sent an anonymous letter to other residents, threatening  to take dire measures against them if they set off fireworks after 9 PM  this week. Here’s the letter…

Yikes.

I’m presuming that the real spirit of 1776 still breathes deeply in this nation, and that the reaction of the recipients of that letter will be to make certain that the noisiest fireworks possible are exploding every second during the time they are permitted to be by law, from the start of the week to the end. The neighbor is a coward, a jerk and a bully, and his bluff must be called as a matter of justice and honor. (Pointer: HLN)

2. Nah, the mainstream news media isn’t biased! In an absolutely correct and justified editorial note, Fox News’ Chris Wallace excoriated media outlets on “Fox News Sunday” for attempting to connect President Donald Trump to the newsroom shooting at Capital Gazette in Maryland. (This will, of course, be called an example of Fox News pro-Trump toadying by those same media outlets.) This was indeed one of the most transparent recent episodes of fake news peddling by CNN, Reuters and others in the mainstream media, who worked hard to make the case that the killer of five was motivated by the President’s repeated accusation that the media is “the enemy of the people.” We now know that the shooter swore that he would kill the Capital Gazette writer whom he targeted in the attack years ago, when everyone assumed that Hillary was going to be the next President. Continue reading

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Now That The ACLU No Longer Wants To Be The ACLU, The United States Needs An ACLU

In a confidential memo obtained by former board member Wendy Kaminer, the American Civil Liberties Union has defined a policy that retreats from and undermines—perhaps the best word is betrays— its traditional mission of protecting the Bill of Rights, and especially the First Amendment rights of all Americans.  The memo says in part,

Work to protect speech rights may raise tensions with racial justice, reproductive freedom, or a myriad of other rights, where the content of the speech we seek to protect conflicts with our policies on those matters, and/or otherwise is directed at menacing vulnerable groups or individuals….We are also firmly committed to fighting bigotry and oppression against other marginalized groups, including women, immigrants, religious groups, LGBT individuals, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. Accordingly, we work to extend the protections embodied in the Bill of Rights to people who have traditionally been denied those rights. And the ACLU understands that speech that denigrates such groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.

…There is no presumption that the First Amendment trumps all other amendments, or vice versa. We recognize that taking a position on one issue can affect our advocacy in other areas and create particular challenges for staff members engaged in that advocacy. For example, a decision by the ACLU to represent a white supremacist group may well undermine relationships with allies or coalition partners, create distrust with particular communities, necessitate the expenditure of resources to mitigate the impact of those harms, make it more difficult to recruit and retain a diverse staff and board across multiple dimensions, and in some circumstances, directly further an agenda that is antithetical to our mission and values and that may inflict harm on listeners…Our defense of speech may have a greater or lesser harmful impact on the equality and justice work to which we are also committed, depending on factors such as the (present and historical) context of the proposed speech; the potential effect on marginalized communities; the extent to which the speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values; and the structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur….

Where the ACLU defends the right to speak of those with whom it disagrees, it should generally engage in counter-measures both to reinforce the
values the speaker attacks and to make clear that we do not endorse the substance of the views. Some options might include:

1. Denouncing the views in press statements, op-eds, social media, and other available
fora.

2. Participating in counter-protests. When we assist people in securing the right to march or demonstrate for views we condemn, we can and generally should support
and participate in counter-protests, with consideration given to participation by senior staff or board members to highlight the ACLU’s commitment and ensure that
such participation does not disproportionately burden other staff.

3. Supporting other counter-speech by supporting, organizing or helping to organize events, facilitating access to media, or taking other actions that will amplify and
strengthen the voices of those espousing our values.

4. Expanding our work on behalf of the values the speaker attacks.

5. Earmarking any fees recovered from the case to projects within the ACLU that further the values that we support and the speaker attacked, or donating them to another organization that works to advance those values, preferably in the geographical area where the speech occurred….

Continue reading

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Mid-Day Ethics Refreshment, 6/12/2018: “Ethics Isn’t A Horse Race, It’s A Marathon” Edition

Good afternoon…

1. Culture rot symptoms. Once upon a time it would have been unthinkable and shameful for the owner of a losing horse in a Triple Crown race to claim that dirty tactics have affected the outcome. That, however, was before the loser of the 2016 Presidential election did the equivalent sour grapes act, loudly and continuously. This is how important cultural ethics norms fall off in chunks.

Justify becoming the only undefeated Triple Crown champion after Seattle Slew as he won the Belmont Stakes was immediately smeared  by Mike Repole, co-owner of fourth-place Vino Rosso and last-place Noble Indy. He didn’t claim Russian collusion, just equine collusion.

“Justify is a super horse. He is a Triple Crown winner and he’s undefeated,” said Repole “But I can see the stewards looking into this over the next couple of days. I probably expect them to look into reckless riding by Florent and bring him in to question him about what he was thinking and what his tactics were.”  He accused jockey Florent Geroux of riding Restoring Hope, Justify’s stablemate, to clear the way for Justify to win the race.

“It definitely seemed to me [Restoring Hope] was more of an offensive lineman than a racehorse trying to win the Belmont,” Repole told reporters, “and Justify was a running back trying to run for a touchdown.” Nice. the complaint instantly became the main story of the race, before Justify’s jockey and owners were able to bask in the rare accomplishment for a day or two. Ironically, Repole’s own Vino Rosso was assisted by similar “lineman” tactics by another horse, Noble Indy, like Vino Rosso trained by Todd Pletcher. Concludes racing expert Pat Forde,  “It’s almost certainly why Noble Indy was entered. Basically, Pletcher’s two-horse racing tactic simply ran up against a better two-horse racing tactic.”

And the tactic is legal. Never mind. Graceful losing is on the way out, thanks to our politicians.

2. He gets it, and he doesn’t even read Ethics Alarms! The Ethiopian cabbie who drove me home from the morning mandatory legal ethics seminar that I teach every month for newly-minted D.C. lawyers spent that first half of the trip complaining about President Trump. Then he said, “Now, I didn’t vote for him, but I respect him. I respect him because he is the President of my country, and my fellow citizens elected him. I can complain about him to you, because you are an American too. If a foreigner gets in my cab, however, and starts insulting the President, I pull over and order him out.” Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/15/2018: Alito Gets One Right, Ellison Deceived, And An Ancient, Unethical Tactic Works Once Again…

To a glorious morning, Ethics-Lovers!

1. Bad Alito, Good Alito.  As I briefly noted yesterday (and hopefully will do in detail today), Justice Alito authored an unethical and embarrassing dissent defending a lawyer who deliberately betrayed his client by telling the jury that he had killed someone his client denied killing. Bad Alito. However, the arch-conservative jurist also authored the majority opinion in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the SCOTUS majority struck down a virtuous but unconstitutional law, and did so clearly and well.

These are, I think, my favorite Supreme Court opinions, where the Court ignores the motives and objectives of a law and simply rules whether the legislature is allowed to behave like that. I don’t know, but I would guess that most of the majority feel the way I do about organized sports gambling: nothing good can come of it, and a lot of harm is inevitable. One they get the green light, I’m sure that as many states will take over sports gambling for its easy revenue as now prey on its poor, desperate and stupid with their state lottery scams. Everyone involved–sports, fans, athletes, states, the public’s ethical compass—is going to be corrupted by letting the sports betting genie out of its bottle: just watch.

Nevertheless, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992  law known as PASPA, should have been struck down decades ago; I’d love to know why it took so long. No, it did NOT ban sports betting, though this is what far too many news reports tell you. Congress can ban sports betting directly if it chooses to, as it is interstate commerce. This isn’t in dispute. What it did in 1992, however, was to order states not to pass laws states have a constitutional right to pass. The distinction matters. From SCOTUS Blog, which is usually the best source for analysis of these things:

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. [The] justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine…

…In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by explaining that the “anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it is simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision incorporated into the Constitution” – “the decision to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority continued, is exactly the problem with the provision of PASPA that the state challenged, which bars states from authorizing sports gambling: It “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

…The court also rejected the argument, made by the leagues and the federal government, that the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports betting does not “commandeer” the states, but instead merely supersedes any state laws that conflict with the provision – a legal doctrine known as pre-emption. Pre-emption, the majority explained, “is based on a federal law that regulates the conduct of private actors,” but here “there is simply no way to understand the provision prohibiting state authorization as anything other than a direct command to the States,” which “is exactly what the anticommandeering rule does not allow.”

Got it.

Good decision. Continue reading

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