The American Bar Association Has Lost Faith In Professionalism, It Seems.

For as long as I can remember, lawyers took pride in that fact that they could pound away at each other in the court room, shout, sneer, mock and beat an adversary into a metaphorical pulp, and put it all aside the second the case was finished. The idea that being friends, even close friends, with an opposing advocate compromised a lawyer’s determination and willingness to fight for his or her client was an anathema to the whole concept of professionalism. During the Civil War, West Point classmates on opposite sides sometimes met before a battle, shared a whisky, old memories and a few tears, and the next day did their best to kill each other. That mindset was analogous to how I was taught lawyers were supposed to behave, and, indeed, did.

Now the American Bar Association has apparently decided that it was all a myth. In  Formal Opinion 494, “Conflicts Arising Out of a Lawyer’s Personal Relationship with Opposing Counsel,” the ABA expresses doubts that many lawyers are up to the task.

“A personal interest conflict may arise out of a lawyer’s relationship with opposing counsel, the ABA now says. “Lawyers must examine the nature of the relationship to determine if it creates a …conflict and, if so, whether the lawyer reasonably believes the lawyer will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client who must then give informed consent, confirmed in writing.”

The opinion breaks possible personal relationships into three categories:

Continue reading

The Great Ethics Train Wreck Of 1910

On this date, October 1, 110 years ago,  a massive explosion destroyed the Los Angeles Times building in the city’s downtown area, killing 21 employees and injuring many more. This obviously unethical act—though in the over-heated labor environment of the times, union activists would secretly defend it—set off a series of events in one of the great ethics train wrecks in U.S. history.

The explosion was a message to Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Otis, a powerful opponent of the burgeoning labor movement in general and unions in particular. Determined to exploit the tragedy to turn public opinion against organized labor, he hired the nation’s most famous private detective, William J. Burns, to crack the case while his paper supplied an avalanche of anti-labor editorials and slanted news stories.  Otis, the leader of the Merchants and Manufacturing Association, a powerful group of business owners with extensive political connections, seemed less interested in justice for the dead than a decisive knock-out of the union movement itself.

Burns’ investigation led to the Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union and their treasurer, John J. McNamara. Burns got a confession out of  a sketchy character named Ortie McManigal who had allegedly been the intermediary between McNamara and two bomb experts, and personally arrested John McNamara and his brother James in Indiana. Then Burns supervised the kidnapping and transportation of the brothers to California, where they could be prosecuted.

Convinced that the the McNamara brothers were being framed—some labor supporters even suspected that Otis had bombed his own building—Samuel Gompers and Eugene V. Debs pressured Clarence Darrow, then the premier labor lawyer in the U.S.,  to take on the McNamaras’ defense. Darrow had been ill and seeking to retire, but a recent stock market crash had left him broke as well. He agreed to take the case for the then unprecedented sum of $50,000 (about $1,368,000 today). The unions literally had children collecting nickels and pennies to build the defense fund.

The unions were Darrow’s clients under the existing legal ethics rules, but the brothers were also his clients, and their lives were at stake. This became a serious conflict when Darrow learned, within minutes of meeting with the McNamaras, that they were guilty.

Gompers had told him that the brothers had to be acquitted or the entire labor movement might be destroyed forever. The clients paying his fee, therefore, demanded a plea of “not guilty.” Darrow, however, became convinced that only a guilty plea would save the brothers from execution. Meanwhile, he knew that there was no way the McNamaras could get a fair trial. The Times was poisoning the jury pool daily. The prosecution was engaging in outrageous tactics, like bugging Darrow’s offices in L.A. They even had Darrow followed, and got incriminating photographs of the lawyer leaving the apartment of his long-time, off-and-on mistress, a female journalist covering the trial. Then they used the photos to try to force Darrow to withdraw from the case, threatening to show them to his wife, Ruby.

“Go ahead,” he said. “She knows all about Mary.” Darrow’s hands were hardly clean either: his agents had located the supply of dynamite in Indiana that the fatal charge had been taken from, and he hired a lawyer to hide the evidence in a safe. Continue reading

Sunset Ethics, 9/30/2020: Conflicts Of Interest, Sexual Harassment, Movies And Lies

1. Conflicts of interest on my mind. I narrowly averted a disastrous conflict of interest yesterday out of pure moral luck, so the topic is much on my mind; I’m still distracted by the near miss. Professionally, it was the equivalent of almost being picked off by a bus.

NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg reacted to the death of Justice Ginsburg with an essay on her 48-year friendship with RBG, saluting Ginsburg’s “extraordinary character.” That’s funny: Totenberg never told NPR’s listeners, nor did  NPR, that she had a personal relationship with the Justice, despite being charged with covering the Court and critiquing its decisions.  Kelly McBride, NPR’s public editor and senior vice president of the Poynter Institute, threw a metaphorical ethics foul flag,

“In failing to be transparent about Totenberg’s relationship with Ginsburg over the years, NPR missed two opportunities,”she wrote on the NPR website. “First, NPR leaders could have shared the conversations they were having and the precautions they were taking to preserve the newsroom’s independent judgment,” McBride said. “Second, having those conversations in front of the public would have sharpened NPR’s acuity in managing other personal conflicts of interest among its journalists.”

Ginsburg, who officiated at Totenberg’s wedding in 2000. Nonetheless, the correspondent,  who wears her progressive bias on her sleeve as it is, denied that the conflict compromised to her journalism, telling  the Washington Post that NPR’s listeners benefited from ther friendship because it gave her greater insight into and Ginsburg’s  thinking.

And that justifies keeping the relationship secret from listeners how, Nina?

2. From the “When ethics alarms don’t work” files: Lawyer Phillip Malouff Jr. of La Junta, Colorado, was censured for a series of episodes of unprofessional behavior and sexual harassment.

In November 2016, Malouff  winked at a magistrate judge and said, “When you get back from your vacation, I better be able to see your tan lines.” When he visiting the same magistrate’s chambers to discuss scheduling matters, he  said, according to the female judge,: “Ask your husband a question for me when you get home tonight. Ask him what it’s like to have relations with someone who wears the robe. It has always been something I’ve wanted to do, but there have never been any women judges until now.”

Malouff  was informed that his comments were unprofessional and a violation of the Colorado Judicial Department’s anti-harassment policy. Ya think?

In July 2019, Malouff asked a judicial assistant to check whether the mother in a parental rights hearing had an outstanding warrant. When the assistant replied, “She is good.” Malouff  responded, “Her husband told me that she is good.

Wink wink, nudge nudge. Continue reading

Pre-Debate Ethics Distraction, 9/29/2020: Prediction: Whatever Happens, I’m Going To Hate It, And The News Media Will Lie About It.

The question for the ages: Was this the most unethical pair in a Presidential debate before tonight?

1. Well this seems ominous. This morning the Trump campaign requested  that a third party inspect both candidates for electronic devices or transmitters. President Trump had already consented to such an inspection, and the Biden campaign had reportedly agreed to this days ago. The New York Post reported a few hours ago that the Biden camp refused the condition.

What’s going on here? I can only assume that it’s gamesmanship. Biden would be beyond demented to try to cheat in a broadcast debate.

2. Here are results of the FIRE’s college free speech rankings survey, as determined by students. My alma mater ranked #46 out of the 56 schools ranked; no surprise there. The school I worked for as an administrator after getting my law degree there is two slots worse.

3. Prediction: It will not end well for poor David Hogg. I foresee a tragic opera in his future. Too young for the prominence he was thrust into as a survivor of the Parkland shooting, cynically exploited by the news media and activists who did not care about him, he is now condemned to have no support from any quarter. His best course would be to quietly leave the public gaze forever, and fight off the addiction of fame. It’s not easy. Continue reading

Thursday Ethics Thirst-quencher, 8/20/2020: Actually, This Doesn’t Taste So Good….

I filled in a gap in my history knowledge today, one I’m embarrassed to have had for so long. I remember being creeped out the first time I heard John Hinckley crooning the song he dedicated to Jodie Foster on her answering machine at Yale. “Ohhh Jodie! Ohhh Jodie! My love will turn you on!” All these years, I thought Hinckley had composed that song in his sick infatuation. Today, almost 40 years later, I found out that he just ripped off a John Lennon song called “Oh Yoko,” which I heard for the first time on the Beatles Channel on Sirius-XM. Am I the only one who didn’t know that? My ignorance is my fault: I would no more listen to anything extolling Yoko than I would voluntarily groove on “William Shatner’s Greatest Hits.”

And what was it about  Beatles compositions that inspired aspiring killers?

1. Yes, this seems rather irresponsible...Here’s a trailer for an upcoming Netflix series:

Over at The American Conservative, columnist Rod Dreher is disgusted, with good reason. He writes in part,

“Twerking their way to stardom. Eleven years old….These are little girls, and this Netflix show has the acting like strippers as a way of finding their way to liberation. What is wrong with these Netflix people? Do they not have children? Do they think our daughters are only valuable insofar as they can cosplay as sluts who are sexually available to men? ….There is nothing politicians can do about this…I hope sometime this fall a Senate committee calls Netflix CEO Reed Hastings] to Capitol Hill and forces him to talk about how proud he is that he has 11 year olds twerking on his degenerate network.”

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/22/2020: Let’s Stop Moping Around! Get Up! Get Out! Attack The Day! [Now With Leonard Bernstein!]

 

Update: I decided we needed a less pokey version, so now we have Leonard Bernstein’s, and the whole thing. THAT should cheer you up…

Boy, am I sick of everyone telling me how depressed they are.

1. Translation: “I’m an idiot.”  Now Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is saying  that the city will close the so-called “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.” It turned out to be exactly what anyone with any sense predicted it would be, with three shootings so far and a rape, along with a leader ( war lord?) who had the gall to complain when the Seattle EMTs didn’t immediately respond when shots rang out. The mayor  had said that the anarchist outpost would lead to a “summer of love,” marking her as a Sixties-romanticizing dolt, but now she says she was obviously joking-–yes, the Joke Excuse. She never said it was “in jest” before the completely predictable violence broke out.

I apologize for not highlighting her as an Incompetent Elected Official of the Month, but she was competing with Bill De Blasio.

2. Fearmongering. It should be apparent by now that the news media does not want the country to re-open, does not want the economy to begin recovering before the election, and is pushing its anti-reopening goal through fearmongering, in part by focusing on isolated cases of individuals getting hit by the Wuhan virus particularly hard.

This morning HLN kept repeating a long feature about a thirtyish Broadway star who has been disabled by the virus for 80 days, and another man not in a high-risk group who has been suffering for 100 days. The Times and the Washington Post are full of apocalyptic reports about the number of cases rising. Another news outlet said, “The U.S. reported more than 33,000 new coronavirus cases on Saturday – the highest total since May 1 – while the surge of infections in several states is outpacing growth in coronavirus testing.”  ARRRGH! We;re DOOOMED!

One commentator called this “needless” frightening the public. Wrong. It is  needed because it is a part of the ongoing effort to defeat President Trump.

The Centers for Disease Control predicted that cases would increase as the country reopened, not that it has much credibility at this point. Remember? The lock down was never intended to stop the spread of the disease, but to slow it down,  flatten the curve, stock up on supplies, fix the CDC’s testing botch, and find treatments. That was mostly accomplished. The nation cannot continue to let the economy deteriorate: depressions kill people too.

Meanwhile, the death rate is declining even as the number of cases spike, and there’s a reason for that. In all outbreaks, a disease claims the most vulnerable first. This is known as Farr’s Law, named after William Farr,  a British epidemiologist and early statistician  who recognized the importance of death statistics and identifying causation. Not only has the current epidemic claimed many of the most vulnerable in the U.S., thanks in great part to the catastrophic decision of states like New York to send infected seniors to nursing homes, millions of Americans have antibodies.

The combination means that even if there are lots of new cases going forward, the death toll is likely to be far less severe than it has been. Do not hold your breath waiting for the media to explain this.

Just for fun,  check and see how many news organizations have mentioned Farr’s Law. Continue reading

So The Judge’s Wife Is On The Jury…Wait, WHAT?

“Hi hon!”

I haven’t seen this before.

Judge Thomas Ensor of Adams County, Colorado, now retired, sat back and allowed his wife to be empaneled on the jury trying Gary Val Richardson for allegedly firing one or two shots in the direction of police officers during a 2013 standoff.

The judge even thought the situation was funny. He joked during jury selection that lawyers should “be nice to Juror 25. My dinner is on the line.” After the jury was selected and sworn in, Ensor told the lawyers that he had never heard of a sitting judge having a spouse or family member on the jury. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” he said. “I think she’ll be a fine juror. I have not spoken to her about this case.”

One of my rules of thumb for avoiding legal ethics problems in trial is that if you’ve never heard of something being done before, there’s probably a good reason not to be the first to do it. Continue reading

“You Keep Using That Word, ‘Ethics.’ I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means…” [CORRECTED!]

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is a supposedly essential and honorable government agency whose mission is “ to promote and strengthen the faith and confidence of the people of Wisconsin in their government, support the operation of open and responsible government, preserve the integrity of the governmental decision-making process, and protect the rights of individuals through the administration of Wisconsin’s campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws, and through readily available and understandable disclosure of information.​”

Democrat Scot Ross was named to Wisconsin’s state Ethics Commission last week.  What are his qualifications? Well, he’s a career partisan journalist and bare-knuckles political activist, neither of which are occupations that tend to build strong ethics alarms, or, as they are currently conceived, have any use for them. They do have a tendency to vomit out people like Ross.

This week,  the new ethics commission member retweeted a photoshopped image —Do I really have to show it to you? I guess I do— Continue reading

Baseball May Be Missing, But Baseball Ethics Marches On; The MLB Verdict On The Boston Red Sox Sign Stealing Allegations

If you are just joining us, the Houston Astros (if you don’t know that’s a baseball team, then none of this will make sense to you, and neither does the United States in all likelihood) were slammed by Major League Baseball after it was determined that the team, primarily through the efforts of then-coach Alex Cora and veteran player Carlos Beltran, systematically utilized cameras at home games to steal catchers’ signs to opposing pitchers and relay them to Astros batters during their at-bats. This, the investigation found, continued through the 2017 season, post-season and World Series, which the Astros won. (Ethics Alarms covered the cheating scandal from many aspects, here.) The punishment meted out to the Astros was substantial, though not as severe as some, including me, would have liked. I think the team should have been stripped of their 2017 World Championship.

Shortly after the Astros scandal was first revealed by the baseball news media, the next year’s World Champions, the Boston Red Sox, were accused of another sign stealing scheme during 2018, one that involved using the team’s video replay equipment, which is near the dugout during games, to study the opposing team’s signs and relay them to batters. This seemed especially ominous since the bench coach  who had been identified as the mastermind behind the Astros scheme in 2017 was the manager of the Red Sox in 2018, and had led them to a record-setting World Series run.

MLB interviewed Red Sox players and management in a mysteriously long investigation, and only yesterday revealed the results and the sanctions. Boston’s video replay system operator J.T. Watkins was suspended without pay for one year, and banned from holding that same position with any team. Boston was stripped of the  its second-round draft pick in the2020  amateur.  Alex Cora, who was fired by the Red Sox in January after the revelations from the Astros investigation,  was suspended for this year, but only for his Astros conduct in 2017. The investigation exonerated him of any role in the Sox matter, which MLB found to be confined to Watkins acting on his own intermittently, and a few players. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/4/2020: Marching To Georgia Edition

Hello, I must be going…

Desperately trying to get this post out before the walls close in. I’m doing a program for an always receptive BigLaw firm in Atlanta, and its a program I know well, and I’m still anxious about it. It doesn’t help that I have some kind of cold, but the show must go on…

1. Super Tuesday musings…

  • Last night, I stumbled on  a Fox News panel discussing the Julie Principle at length regarding Joe Biden’s brain farts and Trump’s Tweets! They didn’t use that term, of course, but it would have helped explicate what they were trying to say, which was that once you’ve decided to accept the flaws of a candidate, more evidence of those flaws won’t change your support.
  • Speaking of… Joe Biden got his sister and his wife mixed up during his victory speech. If there was ever a question of how much the country doesn’t want socialism, the fact that so many Democrats preferred to vote for this sad husk than capitulate to Bernie should answer it.
  • How proud I am of my home state, which told the world that even voters who know  best, and presumably support to some extent, Elizabeth Warren don’t think she should be President. Thus they validated Abe Lincoln’s rule: you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Warren was the 2020 field’s worst demagogue and biggest hypocrite, as well as one of the most shameless liars. As I write this, she hasn’t dropped out yet, perhaps because she doesn’t want to help Sanders, whom she still resents for saying that a women couldn’t be elected President. Well, he was right as far as she is concerned. Good.

Warren was easily my least favorite of the Democratic contenders from an ethics standpoint. After I posted on Facebook about one of her many deceptions, a friend, apparently seriously, commented that I seemed to have a real bias against her. It reminded me of one of Martin Short’s brilliant improvs as idiot celebrity interviewer “Jiminy Glick,” when he cracked up Mel Brooks by asking, “Now what is it that you have against Hitler?”

2. Wait, he did WHAT??? Cedric Sunray, a college recruiter from Oklahoma Christian University,  visited Harding Charter Preparatory High School in Oklahoma City last month and met with 110 juniors and four teachers in the gymnasium to talk about opportunities at the college. He then asked the students to line up from darkest to lightest skin complexion, and then line up from “nappiest” to straightest hair.  As the students lined up, some of the teachers left to report the request to school administrators, who intervened. Sunray was quickly fired.

Sunray later wrote that the exercise was meant to be an “icebreaker” and that he has made the same presentation dozens of times at other institutions. Really? And nobody complained?

The president of Oklahoma Christian University, John deSteiguer, visited the prep school to apologize to students and staff members. Too late, I’d say. Any school that would let someone like Sunray represent it is too inept to be trusted. Continue reading