Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/1/2018: Of Boies, Drunks And Maryland…

Welcome, October!

In vaudeville terms, ethically speaking, this is like following a dog act…

1.  More on the strange legal ethics of David Boies. I am currently teaching the David Boies-Harvey Weinstein-New York Times fiasco as a main feature of all of my legal ethics seminars. (You can read the original post here) To its credit, the Times recently did a feature on Boies including his side of the story, which is, I found, not very mitigating. It also had this passage:

For his part, Mr. Weinstein showered Mr. Boies with invitations for opening-night parties and celebrity-studded charity events. The Weinstein Company put one of Mr. Boies’s daughters in the hit 2012 film “Silver Linings Playbook,” and also distributed a movie she produced, “Jane Got a Gun.” Along with the son of one of his law partners, Mr. Boies formed a film production company, which invested $5 million each in two Weinstein films, “Gold” and “The Upside,” both flops.

These entanglements may have colored Mr. Boies’s objectivity and judgment about Mr. Weinstein. But they weren’t, in the legal sense, a conflict of interest. They more closely aligned Mr. Boies’s interest with his client’s, which as far as the bar is concerned is a good thing.

I don’t know what bar the Times is talking about, because a lawyer “aligning” aclient’s interests with a client is not “a good thing,” but a condition that interferes with a lawyer’s independence and objectivity. It creates a personal conflict of interest that not only has to be waived by the client, but which the lawyer must reasonably believe will not affect his representation.

This comments to ABA Model Rule 1.8 make it very clear that significant gifts to clients (in this I would include gifts and benefits to family members) are ethically perilous at best:

Gifts to Lawyers

[6] A lawyer may accept a gift from a client, if the transaction meets general standards of fairness. For example, a simple gift such as a present given at a holiday or as a token of appreciation is permitted. If a client offers the lawyer a more substantial gift, paragraph (c) does not prohibit the lawyer from accepting it, although such a gift may be voidable by the client under the doctrine of undue influence, which treats client gifts as presumptively fraudulent. In any event, due to concerns about overreaching and imposition on clients, a lawyer may not suggest that a substantial gift be made to the lawyer or for the lawyer’s benefit, except where the lawyer is related to the client as set forth in paragraph (c).

Why don’t bars just declare lawyers accepting significant gifts and favors from clients as inherent conflicts of interest that reek of the appearance of impropriety?

The answer is that lawyers like getting gifts from rich clients, and lawyer associations tend not to interfere with things lawyers like to do. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/19/2018: Double Standards And Greed

Time for a Good Morning song!

1. Life on Facebook. A lawyer friend who should know better posted a comment that began, “You wouldn’t think that posting something like ‘Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong’ would be controversial, but in almost every case where one of my friends has said something like this, at least one of his/her friends feels the need to argue about it…” Later he compared the statement “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong” to “Torturing kittens is wrong.” I told him that as a lawyer, he should be objecting to and explaining the transparent deceit of “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong”—a half-truth designed to stifle argument, not attacking those who are correctly pointing out the emotionalism and dishonesty of that tactic.

I should count up the number of lawyers whose comments on Facebook on this issue are pure “Think of the children!” with no substantive legal and policy analysis whatsoever. My friend also made the typical suggestion that only Trump voters—you know: morons—would argue with “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong” as a fair and conclusive verdict on the current policy.

2. Theranos.  Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, as well as Ramesh Balwani, the company’s former president ( and Holme’s love interest, were indicted yesterday on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud. The Theranos debacle is a classic corporate fraud story on par with Enron, if not as wide-reaching.

I missed it. This is embarrassing for an ethics blog, and for someone who thinks he scours various news sources thoroughly enough to catch the major ethics stories. I blame Donald Trump, but I also blame the various news sources in 2015 that chose to report fake news, trivial news, future news and theoretical news rather than give a major corporate scandal the attention it deserved. If I missed the story, and I’m looking for it, what chance do normal people with sensible occupations have?

The civil fraud charges in the case were filed in March by the Securities and Exchange Commission, though the scandal had broken earlier, when the Wall Street Journal published its 2015 exposé.  Holmes and Balwani allegedly raised millions of dollars using false statements about how well the company’s  blood-testing device worked, while using  a contract with the Department of Defense and a partnership between Theranos and the pharmacy chain Walgreens to con pharmacies, doctors and the public. The apparent scam created a Business of Cards that, at its peak, had more than 800 employees and a paper valuation of $9 billion.

There is a book out about the Theranos scandal by the reporter who broke the story… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/16/17: Keeping the Public Ignorant About Unethical Lawyers, Sugar Lies, And A Terrible Trump Tweet…

Good Morning, John!

Sing us into the first item, would you?

1 “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” Everywhere I go, lawyers are talking about the David Boies scandal, which I wrote about here. I haven’t seen much media discussion about it at all. We have now seen one prominent hack lawyer, Lisa Bloom, and one prominent, skilled and respected lawyer, Boies, demonstrate high profile professional conduct that should receive serious sanctions from their profession, and it appears that most of the public and the media neither knows this nor cares.

Bloom is just a venal, incompetent, bad lawyer. The real crisis is when top lawyers blithely engage in wildly unethical conduct in a high profile case, but I doubt the public sees the difference. Very little commentary on Boies’s betrayal of the New York Times  focused on the throbbing black-letter ethics violation involved.  Today, a front page story in the New York Times about Black Cube, the sinister investigative crew hired by Boies to gather dirt on the Times before it blew the whistle on Harvey Weinstein completely missed this crucial element of the story. It also makes it near-certain that no one will read the report who need to know how poorly legal ethics are enforced.

Here’s the headline in the print edition: “Sleuths for Weinstein Push Tradecraft Limits.”  Tradecraft? Online: “Deception and Ruses Fill the Toolkit of Investigators Used by Weinstein.” Nowhere in the article are readers informed that lawyers are forbidden, without exception, from using any contractor that regularly uses deception.

Here is the kind of thing Black Cube specializes in, from the Times piece:

“Earlier this month, a former hedge fund employee was flown from Hong Kong to London for a job interview. Around the same time, a current employee of the same Toronto hedge fund was also flown to London for interviews. The company courting them was fake. Its website was fake. There were no jobs to be had, and the woman who set up the interviews was not a recruiter but an agent working for an Israeli private investigative firm.

This was not an episode of “Homeland” or the latest “Mission: Impossible” installment. Interviews and court papers show that these deceptions were part of a sophisticated and expensive investigative operation. The objective, according to one filing, was to gather proprietary information held by the hedge fund. The agent worked for Black Cube.”

Every single jurisdiction in the United States declares in its legal ethics rules, usually in the rule about misconduct, 8.4 (bolding mine):

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

(a) Violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;

(c) Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation…

How much clearer can it be? It is unethical for a lawyer to employ someone or an organization that he or she knows routinely and reliably engages in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” Yet that’s the only reason anyone hires Black Cube. Conclusion: Boies breached a major ethics requirement, perhaps the most serious one there is. And why?  Because a client paid him to. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: The New York Times, Regarding Legal Ethics Dunce David Boies’s Ride On The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck

There are a lot of ethics issues, legal and otherwise, flying around in the shocking—this really is shocking—revelation that lawyer Al Gore’s Supreme Court lawyer (and loser) David Boies was working to help Harvey Weinstein intimidate and discredit the women who were preparing to accuse him of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.

The New Yorker reports in an investigative reporting piece that the Boies firm was retained by Weinstein, and on his behalf hired Black Cube, an investigative company run by former Israeli intelligence agents to prevent the publication of abuse allegations by creating profiles on the targeted accusers, often using pretexting–that is, lies— to gain access to proprietary information. Black Cube’s work included psychological profiles and sexual histories of the potential Weinstein accusers. The engagement with Black Cube  was presumably run through Boies Schiller Flexner  to place the shady matter under attorney-client privilege.

David Boies personally signed the contract with Black Cube, which, according to the New Yorker, was to obtain ” intelligence which will help the Client’s—that is, Weinstein’s— efforts to completely stop the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY newspaper” and to “obtain additional content of a book currently being written [that] includes harmful negative information on and about the Client.”

Did you see “Michel Clayton,” where George Clooney played a law firm’s “fixer”? That’s what Boies was doing here. “Fixing.” And fixing is a dirty business.

That “leading NY newspaper” was and is the New York Times, which, as we now know, was readying its own sensational story regarding the accusations against Weinstein.The New York Times was also a client of Boies Schiller Flexner, though on unrelated matters, hence the statement above. Unsurprisingly, the Times has sacked Boies and his boys.

[Aside: Here’s a lawyer ethics practice tip. If a client asks you to contract with a company called “Black Cube,” “CHAOS,’ “The Legion of Evil,” “The Black Hand,” or “Murder, Inc.”, just say no.]

Some ethics questions and answers: Continue reading