High Noon Ethics Warm-Up, 11/12/2019: Addendum!

  • I ran out of space and a few items came to my attention right after I posted, so here are additions to the Warm-Up:

5. The obvious weakness of the current field of Democratic challengers has revived the Presidential hopes of several wannabe who—correctly—judged themselves unqualified and unlikely to be elected President in 2020. The latest to say “Oh,hell,  why not?” is wan Obama-imitator Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor.

In that other party, ridiculous Mark Sanford suspended his Presidential bid, making the much anticipated Sanford-William Weld debates a lost hope.

Has the United States ever had such a dearth of qualified and trustworthy political leaders, or two political parties so inept at meeting their obligations to the republic? I began re-watching the wonderful HBO miniseries “John Adams.” over the weekend, It was inspiring and depressing simultaneously. Continue reading

Comments Of The Day: “Open Forum, Or ‘I Guess I Picked The Wrong Time To Start Driving All Over Virginia!’” (“Profession Of Journalism” Thread)

Today we have a rare tag team Comment of the Day: JutGory raised the provocative ethics issue of what constitutes a profession and whether journalism qualifies, and Rich in Ct, who has been on fire of late, responded with a sharp analysis.

This was all especially propitious, since the I had a dispute with my legal ethics teaching partner during our (very well-received) “Crossfire”-style seminars last week on just this question. He maintains that it is a a myth to pretend that a profession like the the law is called such for any reason other than the fact lawyers engage in it for compensation. Well, he’s wrong. Professions are not merely occupations, but pursuits one undertakes for the good of society. That is why the hallmark of professionals is that they are trusted and trustworthy, and why their compensation is of secondary priority. The desire for profit undermines professionalism by creating conflicts of interest.

My answer to the question posed by JutGory is that journalism must be a profession, because the public must be able to trust journalists for journalism to benefit society. However presents day journalists are driven by motivations far removed from the public good: their personal political agendas, the pursuit of fame and power, and the love of money. It can be a professiona, and should be a profession, but as currently practiced, it isn’t a profession.

Here are JutGory’s and Rich in Ct.’s  Comments of the Day on the “profession of journalism” thread in the post, “Open Forum, Or ‘I Guess I Picked The Wrong Time To Start Driving All Over Virginia!’”

First, here’s JutGory…

Can journalism be a profession?

My profession, law, has a set of ethical rules. It is a club, and it is self-regulating. Is it self-regulating? Yeah. My state gets about 1000 complaints per year, and about 10 percent each year get disciplined. Every year, you get a handful of disbarments. Not overbearing but I know a lawyer who got a 60-day suspension for a “non-legal” infraction and basically threw in the towel. I can empathize. It is like being accused of a crime; it can be hard to deal with. And, you are held to standards.

The press? You can’t be de-pressed? Dis-presses? Unimpressed?

In a free society, with a free press, can you have a profession where there is no way to regulate its participants.

A shorter way to ask the question: can the press be a true profession if Dan Rather can’t be barred from the profession?

Similar question for teaching. The wrinkle with teaching: can a profession governed by labor unions really enforce ethical standards and discipline?

Rich in Ct’s response… Continue reading

The ABA’s Guidance For Judges With Potentially Conflicting Relationships

“Now now, your Honor—that’s the Plaintiff!”

This is as good an example as you’ll find of why professionals can’t and shouldn’t rely solely on the ethics rules-making bodies to solve their ethical dilemmas when they arise.

American Bar Association Formal Opinion 488 purports to tackle the persistent question of when judges must disqualify themselves in proceedings because their impartiality might reasonably be questioned because of relationships with parties. After seven pages and many footnotes,  we are enlightened that  “ a judge must disqualify himself or herself when the judge has a romantic relationship with a lawyer or party in the proceeding, or desires or is pursuing such a relationship.”
Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Open Forum!” Thread On For-Profit Prisons

Finally having the opportunity to read what the recent “Open Form!” necessitated by my enforced absence from blogging for two days, hath wrought, I encountered several deserving Comment of the Day candidates. I will be choosing the winner from the wonderfully entertaining rumble among multiple Ethics Alarms stalwarts on the alleged “school-to-prison” pipeline and a whole bundle of other ethics topics (proper treatment of elected officials on social media, appropriate treatment of citizen criticism by elected officials, and others) imminently, but for now, let’s focus on the topic of for-profit prisons, an ethics issue under-discussed here previously. In this case, the Comment of the Day format is especially useful, because this excellent post is buried deeply among  117 others.

Here is James M.’s Comment of the Day on the topic, from the open forum of 8/28/2019…

As someone who worked for the Arizona Department of Corrections for 25 years, I think I can fairly assess both the advantages and problems associated with privately-run prisons. Contracting with various companies to provide various prison services can produce some substantial cost savings to the public, but has some negative effects that aren’t always considered. The Arizona Department of Corrections privatized several different areas during my career there, including medical care, food service, and some rehabilitative programs. The department has also held portions of the inmate population in units run by private contractors.

Advantages of privatization included direct cost savings (with private prisons costing less per bed) and the ability to share prison construction costs with the contractor, allowing the construction to become part of a multi-year contract, rather than an up-front payment. The direct cost savings can be difficult to fairly assess, as contractors would often refuse to accept those inmates who were most expensive to house, either due to having major medical issues, a tendency toward harassment litigation, or membership in a prison gang. Since the private prisons had some security issues that led to inmate escapes, departmental staff also spent considerable time screening inmates before they would be considered for placement in the private prison units. The complaint from ADC staff involved in these assessments was that “Of course they’re cheaper! If I got to pick and choose only the inmates who were least difficult to deal with, I could run my unit more cheaply, too!” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/27/2019: Desperation

Good morning.

1. Here is why the breast-beating about “doing something” about climate change is dishonest, disingenuous, futile and pointless. Brazil is telling the rest of the world, especially nations that developed their own economies with reckless impunity on the way to wealth and power, to back off its demands that Brazil stop burning its own rain forest. Of course it is taking this stance, and Brazil isn’t the only developing nation that will take that position and has every right to take that position.

Brazil’s defiance is also a definitive rebuttal to the argument that the United States should spend billions—trillions?—in virtue-signaling climate change policies that under the most optimistic scenarios won’t “fix” anything without mass cooperation by nations in Brazil’s position—and that’s not going to happen.

2.  The theory: somebody has to pay. A judge in Oklahoma yesterday ruled that Johnson & Johnson  intentionally hid the risks and hyped the benefits of opioids, ordering the company to pay the state $572 million in damages. This is the first trial of a drug manufacturer for the destruction wrought by prescription painkillers.

I don’t know if the verdict is fair, having not seen the evidence and heard the arguments. I don’t know that the verdict will hold up on appeal. The theory used by the state was questionable: the judge found that Johnson & Johnson perpetuated a “public nuisance” by  contributing to an ongoing public health crisis that could take decades to address successfully. Yet there was no proof offered that doctors who prescribed the drugs were misled, or that Johnson & Johnson violated federal drug regulations.

Public nuisance laws typically apply in cases where something interferes with a right common to the general public and results in danger on roads, parks,and other public areas, and not usually public health, which is what the state argued in this case. Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers contended that the state was contorting public nuisance law to the point of being unrecognizable. Of course, the same argument was made when product liability laws started moving beyond the “buyer beware” stage.

Not reading and hearing all the evidence, I can only wonder if this is case of deep pockets being held responsible for a tragedy that had no single, obvious villain. Doctors prescribed drugs approved by federal regulators, and the drug manufacturers supplied them, legally. Then citizens took the drugs, voluntarily, in a political and social culture that increasingly shrugs off drug use and abuse. Continue reading

How Ironic! An Anti-Clinton Conservative Lawyer Plays The “Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy” Card

Attorney Larry Klayman was familiar presence during the Clinton administration.  The founder of Freedom Watch and Judicial Watch and conservative gadfly  helped bring dozens of cases against Bill Clinton, the White House, and various staff members and agencies, uncovered some damning documents in FOIA requests, filed government ethics complaints, and continued to champion conservative causes after he left Judicial Watch in other hands. He  represented  former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and  state’s rights activist rancher Cliven Bundy, among other clients. Now the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Board on Professional Responsibility Ad Hoc Hearing Committee has handed down a 183-page report finding that Klayman breached the D.C. professional ethics rules, recommending that he be suspended from the practice of law for 33 months, and have  he prove his rehabilitation and fitness to gain reinstatement.

According to the report, Klayman represented Elham Sataki, whom he helped file a 2010 sexual harassment suit against her employer, Voice of America.  Klayman persuaded Sataki to move to Los Angeles and offered to pay her housing and living expenses, telling Sataki she could later reimburse him. She took him up on the offer, but when  Sataki rejected Klayman’s overtures for a romantic relationship,  the findings state, the lawyer raised his fee demands to continue representing her sexual harassment claim. As a result, the report concludes, Sataki did not pursue her case. Continue reading

Somewhere, Steven Bochco Is Smiling…

In Steven Bochco TV legal dramas—the immortal “Hill Street Blues” was the best of them—everyone was sleeping with everyone else in the judicial and law enforcement system. Police chiefs were having affairs with defense attorneys, prosecutors were having affairs with judges, judges were having affairs with defendants. It was ridiculous, if entertaining, but gave an absurdly misleading impression to the gullible public about the legal system. Later, as Bochco’s star was waning, writer-producer David Kelley continued the myth with his many legal dramas

However, this is not to say that such unethical relationships don’t occasionally occur. Bochco, who died in 2018, would like this story, since he could have written it.

Alabama’s Judicial Inquiry Commission on Tuesday filed a complaint against Coffee County District Judge Christopher Kaminski, alleging that he has been carrying on a romantic relationship with an attorney who frequently practices in his court. Continue reading