Justice Ginsberg Has Reached Her “What The Hell” Stage, But That Doesn’t Mean It Can Extend To Ethics

ginsberg-jabot

Justice Ginsberg has been speaking out lately in intemperate fashion, first about Donald Trump, then about Colin Kaepernick. In both cases she received immediate criticism and issued apologies. It’s clear, however, that the liberal feminist icon, now 84 and in ill health, has reached the point in life where she feels she doesn’t need to be especially vigilant about what she says, a bit like Estelle Getty’s character Sophia on “The Golden Girls.” After all, what can anyone do to her?

Now that would normally be the time where ethics are paramount: ethics are what you do when you know you can get away with it (among other handy definitions). Ginsberg is a member of the one court that has no official Code of Judicial Ethics,  but since it is the highest court in the land, its judges are obligated to be exemplars, not rebels.

But what the hell. Justice Ginsberg affects ornate jabots when she is on the bench: they spruce up the unisex black judicial robes. In 2014, she revealed that some of them have special significance. She wears one Jabot, for example, when she is part of a majority which is about to deliver its opinion. She wears another when she is dissenting from the majority opinion. (That’s it above.)

Wednesday morning, following the election of Donald Trump, an event that she had earlier told an interviewer would cause her to move to New Zealand, Ginsburg sported the “dissent jabot” on the bench, though no opinions were being read. Reporters quickly picked up on the code, and took the choice as an expression of opposition to Trump’s election, which it almost certainly was. She has not disabused anyone of the assumption.
Cute, clever, unprovable, and unethical. It would have been a clear breach of decorum, independence and judicial dignity for Ginsberg to wear a Hillary button on her robes, or to sport any political statement. Judges typically oppose lawyers, clients and witnesses from bringing politics into court. For a judge to do it is asking for an official reprimand. For a Supreme Court Justice to do it, it doesn’t matter what the message is, shows a lack of respect for her own profession, as well as a lack of self-control.

The gesture is also unprofessional and a breach of the duty of all high government officials to publicly show respect and support for each other. For Ginsberg to “shout out” her dissent to a Presidential election (it doesn’t matter if it is code or not) in such a prominent public forum intentionally endorses divisiveness, at a time when divisiveness is a real threat to national stability.Naturally, her feminist, progressive and Democratic fans cheer this defiance, because they don’t know judicial ethics from corn flakes. Heck, after defending Hillary Clinton for so long, they don’t know any ethics from corn flakes. Justice Ginsberg knows, however. She just doesn’t care any more.

Ah, what the hell?

Continue reading

The Unethical Courtroom Exchange Of The Century!

believe-it-or-not-1024x442

This would have been rejected by “Boston Legal” as too ridiculous.

In a Rome, Georgia court room, as others looked on, Floyd County Superior Court Judge Bryant Durham allowed himself to be provoked by a defiant murder suspect named Denver Allen.

What resulted was a rare (thank goodness) example of a judge lowering himself, his position, the court and the justice system to the level of those with no respect for the law or society. Here is a portion of the transcript:

 

dialogue 1

dialohue 2dialogue 3dialogue 4

 

Stay classy, Judge Durham. 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

“Ick” Or Unethical: The NBA Decides To Let Its Players Be Human Billboards

Classy. I can't wait.

Classy. I can’t wait.

News Item, from ESPN:

The NBA announced… that the board of governors has approved a three-year pilot program to allow teams to sell a corporate logo on their jerseys.

Teams can now start pitching companies on buying a 2.5-inch-by-2.5-inch space as the NBA becomes the first of the four major U.S. sports leagues to put ads on regular game-day jerseys. In an era when virtually every facet of the sports experience is advertised or sponsored, the uniform had been the last ad-free haven.

The first season of the program will be in 2017-18…

“It’s my hope, independent of whatever additional revenues are generated through this patch program, that the greatest impact will be in this amplifying effect of companies choosing to associate directly with a team jersey, then going out and promoting that relationship to the largest market,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

Silver said the league had calculated that the program will be worth about $100 million a year.

Well, ick.

It’s not bad enough that a city’s sports teams have to play in arenas and stadiums named after pet food retailers, banks, car insurance companies and fraudulent corporations rather than local landmarks and community heroes. Now our kids’ heroes will be branded with commerce too…not literally, of course. Not yet.

The NBA has always been the crassest of the major league sports, so the identity of the first league to break one of the last barriers of money-grubbing indignity was preordained. Most of the NBA’s fans, who already don’t mind that the league corrupts college sports and glorifies men who collect illegitimate children the way normal people collect matchbooks, don’t care, so this was not a hard call for the NBA, I would guess.

It’s gross, but is anything wrong with it? After all, NBA players already accept money to put their names on products. It isn’t as if they have an aura of purity about them, and their obvious venality pales in the shadow of game-winning three-pointers and spectacular dunks. What ethical principle is being violated by the NBA turning its players into walking, jumping, shooting billboards? Continue reading

From The “I Told You So” Files: Judge Kopf Finally Decides To “STFU”

There go de judge!

There go de judge!

Last year, I wrote a post about the intemperate blogging of Judge Richard G. Kopf, a senior district court judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. Actually intemperate doesn’t quite describe it: in his criticism of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case (the Ethics Alarms discussion is here) he wrote, “As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu” and linked to the Urban Dictionary so his less cool readers would take his meaning. I wrote:

That he did this on his blog, Hercules and the Umpire, doesn’t matter. It was in print, in public, and he’s a Federal judge. The obscenity came in the context of Judge Kopf’s criticism of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, but the context doesn’t matter either. There is no context in which it would be appropriate, judicial and ethical for a member of the judiciary to tell the Supreme Court of the United States to shut the fuck up. Nor does it matter that he used the texting code stfu rather than spelling out the words.

For a Federal judge to be openly disrespectful, uncivil and abusive to the top of the nation’s judicial branch is an assault on the rule of law, and undermines public respect for our institutions…. If the objective is to speed a complete breakdown in public respect for our institutions, divisive partisans like Kopf  and Wilson are doing a bang-up job. Neither they, nor you, nor I will like where this will lead if our leaders and officials don’t come to their senses.

This post, of all posts (I don’t think my position is rationally assailable, frankly) managed to get three commenters banned from the blog, essentially by 1) arguing that the Roberts Court doesn’t deserve the usual respect due to any court, and 2) telling me to “stfu.”  All were Judge Kopf acolytes who weren’t going to stay here to contribute anything positive, just uncivil, arrogant progressive lawyers who the judge-blogger had trained well.

Last month, a year after his obscene riff on SCOTUS, Kopf slipped again, writing that  “Senator Ted Cruz is not fit to be President.” The post wasn’t obscene; in fact it was  funny: Kopf, who had a year earlier condemned the Supreme Court for bias, argued that Cruz was not fit to be President because…

“Any rational person understands that we must accept decisions we like and decisions we don’t like when we ask the highest Court in the land to decide difficult hot button questions for an entire country. Judicial retention elections are fine for Nebraska and all the other states that have developed unique and parochial histories and traditions. However, we are talking about a federal Constitution–one that protects and covers 320 million people from Maine to Hawaii. Given the fractious divisions in our country that exist now (and many times in the past) and the obvious geographical fissures among the states (Red State/Blue State), judicial retention elections, fueled by whether a majority likes or dislikes particular Supreme Court rulings at a given point in time, is a formula for chaos and for further dividing our country into factions, a well placed fear held by the Founders.”

Wait…who is this guy? Surely he bears no relation to the sneering, potty-mouthed anti-Supreme Court critic I wrote about the last time? Continue reading

Is There An Ethical Obligation Not To Shock, Nauseate, Or Blind Your Neighbors? Of Obese Joggers and #FreetheNipple

A Facebook friend posted the following letter, posted by one of her friends, and supposedly passed along by the target of the letter. The individual subjected to the complaint is reputedly trying to overcome obesity and various health issues. The letter:

Mean letter

I have my doubts regarding the authenticity of this, but it doesn’t matter to this post. I assume we can all agree that the letter itself, if genuine, is cruel, mean-spirited, cowardly (it is anonymous), hurtful, and indefensible. It does raise an valid ethics question, though, which is this: Do we have any ethical obligation any more to exhibit modesty and a degree of public decorum out of doors, when we are likely to come under the gaze of others? If so, what are that obligation’s parameters? Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Federal Judge Richard G. Kopf

"Oh dear...and he looks like such a NICE federal judge!"

“Oh dear…and he looks like such a NICE federal judge!”

Richard G. Kopf is a senior district court judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, and a blogger. He is also,I would say obviously, an Ethics Dunce. Why?

He told the U.S. Supreme Court to shut the fuck up.

He really did.

That he did this on his blog, Hercules and the Umpire, doesn’t matter. It was in print, in public, and he’s a Federal judge. The obscenity came in the context of Judge Kopf’s criticism of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, but the context doesn’t matter either. There is no context in which it would be appropriate, judicial and ethical for a member of the judiciary to tell the Supreme Court of the United States to shut the fuck up. Nor does it matter that he used the texting code stfu rather than spelling out the words.

For a Federal judge to be openly disrespectful, uncivil and abusive to the top of the nation’s judicial branch is an assault on the rule of law, and undermines public respect for our institutions. As lawyer and blogger Rich Hasen wrote, Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Reporter’s Non-Compliant Shoulders

Appropriate courtroom fashion?

Appropriate courtroom fashion?

At the 2nd District Court in Ogden, Utah, female reporter Morgan Briesmaster was barred by court security from entering the courtroom to cover a story because her sleeveless blouse (left) violated the official dress code.

She eventually gained access by wearing a parka. Up until then, she told other journalists, she waited in the lobby  “where she watched other courtgoers stroll through security with jeans and low-cut shirts.” Her boss ridiculed the situation, comparing it to high school yearbook dress codes, and noted that “any time a reporter is stopped from covering the news, it’s a concern.” There actually is a rule against wearing “tank tops” in that court, but I wouldn’t call what Briesmaster wore a tank top.
 

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz, which you may think is too easy, is this:

Was the court security unfair and unreasonable to bar reporter Briesmaster based on her shoulder-baring clothing?

Continue reading

Legal Ethics Quiz: The Bean Bag Tossing Defense Lawyer

" I swear, you can do this in court. I saw it on "Ally McBeal"...

” I swear, you can do this in court. I saw it on “Ally McBeal”…

Holy crap! Here is a courtroom stunt you don’t see everyday…or ever.

The dramatic bribery trial of Rhode Island defense lawyer Donna Uhlmann and co-defendant Jamaal Dublin took a hard left turn into “Boston Legal” territory and beyond with the, well, creative closing argument of Dublin’s lawyer, Christopher T. Millea. It was so creative, he was nearly held in contempt of court.

“You see, all of this has to do with the throwing of feces,” said Millea, cleverly reminding the jury of the bizarre conduct of a key state witness who once threw his own excrement at a prison guard.  “The state wants to throw as much against the wall to see what sticks, just like Michael Drepaul throwing his feces …”

With that introduction, Millea took two bean bags out of a box he had placed in front of the jury, and threw them at the courtroom door. Then he retrieved the turd stand-ins and placed them in another box near the door, and placed that box next to the one in front of the jury, which, it was later discovered, read “Reasonable doubt,” though only the jury could see the words. The first box was labelled, “State’s case.” Continue reading