Coincidence, Ethics Violation, Or A Playground Rhyme Come True: The Lawyer’s Burning Pants

I love this story!

 Miami defense lawyer’ Stephen Gutierrez shocked onlookers when his pants burst into flames mid-trial as he was addressing the  jury. Gutierrez was defending a client  accused of intentionally setting his car on fire in South Miami. Yes, it was an arson case. He had just begun his closing argument when smoke started billowing from his pants pocket.

By sheer coincidence I’m sure, the lawyer was arguing that the defendant’s car spontaneously combusted—just like the lawyer’s trousers!— and was not intentionally set on fire. Observers told police that Gutierrez had been fiddling in his pocket right before his pants ignited. He ran out of the courtroom, and the jurors were ushered out as well. After  Gutierrez returned unharmed, he told the judge that  it wasn’t a staged  demonstration gone horribly wrong, but just a coincidence. A faulty battery in his e-cigarette had caused the fire.

In an arson trial.

During closing argument.

Where the defense was “spontaneous combustion.”

Okay!

Jurors convicted Gutierrez’s client of second-degree arson anyway. Miami-Dade police and prosecutors are now investigating the episode, and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman is deciding whether to hold him in contempt of court.

Comments: Continue reading

Wearing Black Lives Matter Pins In The Courtroom Matters To This Judge

Q: Which of these can a judge ban from a courtroom? A: All of them.

Q: Which of these can a judge ban from a courtroom? A: All of them.

Youngstown (Ohio) Municipal Court Judge Robert Milich ordered NAACP attorney Andrea Burton to remove the Black Lives Matters pin she was wearing. The attorney refused, and was declared in contempt of court.

Good.

She was.

Judge Milich  sentenced the grandstanding lawyer to five days in jail, though the sentence has been stayed while she appeals the decision, as   as long as she obeys Milich’s order not to wear items that make a political statement in court. When she loses her appeal, and she will, she will have to serve the five days in jail.

Milich is on firm ethical and constitutional ground, not that this episode won’t subject him to being called a racist. It is well-established that judges can ban political expressions in the courtroom, and in 1998, the Supreme Court let stand the rulings of a federal district court and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, in Berner v. Delahanty, that a the judge’s prohibition of political buttons was a reasonable method of “maintaining proper order and decorum” in a courtroom. In that case, the judge prohibited lawyer Seth Berner from wearing  a button saying “No on 1—Maine Won’t Discriminate,” a declaration against an upcoming state referendum.

As long as a judge doesn’t allow one form of political advocacy while banning others, there is no free speech issue. Judges have gotten themselves involved in controversy when they have allowed buttons, as in the 2006 Supreme Court case of Carey v Musladin, in which Court ruled  unanimously that murder trial spectators were free to wear buttons with a picture of the victim in front of the jury that convicted the defendant. The justices agreed with California prosecutors who said the buttons were a harmless expression of grief by family members at Mathew Musladin’s trial.

I really don’t like that decision. A wise judge will avoid the issue by prohibiting any advocacy in court of of any political, social or case-related opinion. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: San Antonio District Attorney Nico LaHood, The FUN Prosecutor!

my_cousin_vinny_9

Casual Friday was always a blight on the professional workplace landscape,and, predictably, it has come to this.

There is a cultural battle going on in San Antonio, Texas, where in the 187th District Court, District Judge Steven Hilbig  announced that he would not allow prosecutors in his courtroom if they were dressed like a local version of Joe Pesci’s Vinnie in “My Cousin Vinnie,” garbed in jeans and guayaberas rather than Vinnie’s leather jacket and leather pants. This wouldn’t be a problem for any sane DA’s office, since almost everywhere else no self-respecting (judge-respecting, court-respecting, law-respecting, respect-respecting…) lawyer would dream of appearing in the halls of justice dressed like an Acapulco tourist, or Cousin Vinnie, for that matter. It is a problem in Bexar County, however, because there District Attorney Nico LaHood thinks that local tradition trumps the legitimate needs of the justice system.

It is Fiesta time, you see, in Bexar county, a ten-day celebration that migrated legally from Mexico to parts of Texas, and previous judges foolishly allowed it to be recognized in their courthouses by permitting prosecutors to “dress down.”  The rough, and equally stupid, equivalent farther from the border would be allowing prosecutors to dress like elves during the Christmas shopping season or Minnie Mouse on Halloween.

Judge Hilbig, an adult, finally decided to put a stop to this nonsense by declaring, as did Judge Fred Gwynne, old Herman Munster himself in “My Cousin Vinnie,” that no lawyer was going to make a mockery of justice in his courtroom by setting foot in it dressed unprofessionally.

I love this guy! Continue reading

The Pope’s Smoking Gun

Papal MitreI have been touched by the passionate defenses of the Pope during his visit here, by sincere believers who desperately wanted not to see what was going on. If only Pope Francis respected his supporters enough to live up to the ideals they projected on him, which included insisting, against all evidence, that he was merely talking in broad, moral generalities to Congress rather than lobbying for progressive policies, like making illegal immigration legal.

He was, we were told, only showing us where “true North” was according to the Church. I guess he just forgot to bring up abortion, which the Church regards as murder (and Joe Biden too, when he’s not playing politics) as he was lecturing our legislators about “human rights.”

The second he returned home, the Pope threw gay couples under the Popemobile, stating that Kim Davis’s position as a government official refusing to obey the law was a “right.” Again, his defenders insisted that this was just an abstraction. Now we hear from Davis’s lawyers that she had a secret meeting with Pope Francis. Davis says that he hugged her, gave her a rosary, and told her to “stay strong.”

“That was a great encouragement. Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we’re doing, it kind of validates everything to have someone of that stature,” Davis said.

Naturally, those who can’t handle the truth will say she is lying. There is no evidence that Kim Davis is untruthful, and her lawyer would be facing discipline if they falsely reported what did not occur. This really happened. Continue reading

OK, Progressive Hypocrites: NOW Do You Agree That The Pope Is Meddling Where He Has No Business Meddling?

Pope Francis2

Pope Francis just threw the weight of the Vatican behind Kim Davis, Mike Huckabee, and other proponents of theocracy….which makes sense, I guess, since he leads one:

Reuters:

Pope Francis said on Monday government officials have a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty, such as issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals, if they feel it violates their conscience...On the flight back to Rome, he was asked if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licenses to gays.

“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said.

UPDATE: The full quote:

“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection… but, yes, I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right…. Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right… Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.’ It is a human right…It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”

That sly fox did phrase this ambiguously enough that he has plausible deniability: maybe he’s been coached by the Clintons. “Oh, no,” he can say, “I said ‘conscientious objection,’ as in civil disobedience. I didn’t say they had a right to defy the law and still keep their jobs!” Or maybe he was mistranslated, and really said, “My hovercraft is full of eels.”

Let’s all give thank to the Pope for ensuring that more Constitutional dummies will insist that they can defy the laws and discriminate against gay citizens because the Bible tells them so and the Pope said they have a “right.”

Sorry Frankie, but you don’t know what the hell you are talking about, and you need to butt out of U.S. social and policy issues.

There is no human right to treat a human being differently from any other human being because of his or sexual orientation as a representative of the government, no right to defy the law without consequences, and no right for a government employee to refuse to do her job because she, like the Pope, in her infinite non-comprehension of the Constitution, doesn’t agree with the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, gratitude is due to the Popester* for proving my point about the absurdity of his amateur observations about law, government and policy being treated like divine revelations by the news media and Democrats trying to pick up some polling points on global warming.

Did you notice that he didn’t have the guts to talk to Congress about abortion. That would have upset his claque on the Democratic side. He also waited until he was safely  back home before lining up with the Kim Davis crowd.

Canny.

Cowardly.

*Disrespectful, you say? Absolutely. Guilty as charged! I don’t respect foreign despots who presume to interfere with my country’s politics, laws and culture. I resent them. Neither should any other American citizen. And John Boehner regarded allowing the head of his religion to lobby the Congress his greatest achievement!

 

Comment of the Day: “Disqualified For High Office: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx)”

legs

(Some of the many legs Kim Davis and Ted Cruz don’t have to stand on…)

My posts are long enough, I think everyone will agree, and often a lot more than that. Believe it or not. I’m always debating whether to include more detailed and footnoted arguments that make the blog more like the New Yorker, and I usually opt for the shorter version. I am always grateful when an articulate commenter expands on the post expands, at any length, on what I present and adds some of the sources I have read and others, putting more flesh on the bones of my position.

johnburger2013 has done Ethics Alarms a service by doing this regarding my posts about recalcitrant Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, now known as Inmate 8522901, and hosanna to that. In particular, I am grateful for his Scalia reference. The Volokh Conspiracy is the best reference for issues like this, as Prof. Volokh and his cohorts lean libertarian but brook no nonsense. You know, like Ted Cruz’s rant. Thanks to jvb also for using that site deftly.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Disqualified For High Office: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx): Continue reading

Disqualified For High Office: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx)

See, Ted, it's crazy to keep criticizing Iran while suggesting that the US should be come LIKE Iran. Never mind. Just stay in the Senate, and you can say stupid things you don't believe with minimal harm.

See, Ted, it’s crazy to keep criticizing Iran while suggesting that the US should be come LIKE Iran. Oh, never mind. Just stay in the Senate, and you can say stupid things you don’t believe with minimal harm. Deal?

Eventually, I may have to post a full list of the current Presidential candidates who have definitively disqualified themselves, by evidence of character, integrity, honesty, temperament, trustworthiness, leadership ability  and core values (or, in the cases of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the absence of them), from the very office they seek. Frankly, I’m afraid that no one will be left.

Senator Ted Cruz’s recent statement about Kim Davis, the now correctly jailed Kentucky clerk who cites God’s authority to justify defying the law, is so irresponsible, dishonest and cynical that he has to be moved to the top of the list.

Here it is. My comments are in bold.

“Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny. Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith. This is wrong. This is not America…

This is a lie, and a gross mischaracterization of the facts. Kim Davis can live and worship any way she chooses. She objects to same sex marriage, and she may refuse to associate with gay married couples, refuse to attend gay weddings, make whatever statements opposing gay marriage she chooses, picket gay weddings, lobby for a Constitutional amendment and more.

What she cannot do is refuse to perform the duties of her office, and withhold from citizens the government services they have a right to receive because of her religious beliefs. It is beyond legitimate question in law and ethics that she does not have the right to do this. She has been arrested for defying a court order and being in open contempt of legal judicial authority. This is not unprecedented, this is America, and must be America if democracy and rule of law is to function. Continue reading