“My Cousin Vinny” Meets Zoom

vinny

Once again I have to say “I don’t understand this story at all.

If you recall “My Cousin Vinny,” as almost all lawyers do (and fondly), Joe Pesci’s fish-out-of-water defense lawyer annoyed imposing Southern judge Fred Gwynn by first appearing in court wearing a leather jacket, and then showing up in the suit above because it was the only one he could acquire at short notice.

At least he tried.

While Ethics Alarms has taken the unalterable position that when children are forced to attend school via Zoom, what may appear in their homes are not, in fact, “in school,” a lawyer who appears before a judge via Zoom is still, in fact, “in court” and before a judge. Why? Because the judge says so, that’s why. And as Vinnie soon learned, when a judge says “Jump!” the only responsible response is “How high, Your Honor?”

Perhaps a Delaware lawyer named Weisbrot has never seen the movie. He complained to Delaware Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III i ex parte “that [the court] would not consider an application from him because he “was not wearing a tie.” The Vice Chancellor responded, “That is true, as the record reflects.” BUT…

What the record also reflects is that Mr. Weisbrot appeared in court for trial (via Zoom) on Tuesday in either a printed tee-shirt or pajamas (it was difficult to discern).

In other words, “It’s true you weren’t wearing a tie, but a greater problem is THAT YOU WERE WEARING FREAKING PAJAMAS!”

Mr. Wiesbrot responded by channeling his inner (and outer) Vinnie by, in his next appearance via Zoom before the same judge, in something less than the kind of attire he had to know the judge expected:

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From The Ethics Alarms “Ethics Mysteries” Files: Explain To Me Again Why Public Employees Like Police Have A Right For The Public Not To Know They Should Have Been Fired…

Only three states—New York, Delaware and California–have laws specifically shielding police misconduct records from the public. How can this possibly be justified?

From BuzzFeed, which was working from leaked documents:

…from 2011 to 2015 at least 319 New York Police Department employees who committed offenses serious enough to merit firing were allowed to keep their jobs. Many of the officers lied, cheated, stole, or assaulted New York City residents. At least fifty employees lied on official reports, under oath, or during an internal affairs investigation. Thirty-eight were found guilty by a police tribunal of excessive force, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily. Fifty-seven were guilty of driving under the influence. Seventy-one were guilty of ticket-fixing. One officer, Jarrett Dill, threatened to kill someone. Another, Roberson Tunis, sexually harassed and inappropriately touched a fellow officer…At least two dozen of these employees worked in schools. Andrew Bailey was found guilty of touching a female student on the thigh and kissing her on the cheek while she was sitting in his car. In a school parking lot, while he was supposed to be on duty, Lester Robinson kissed a woman, removed his shirt, and began to remove his pants. And Juan Garcia, while off duty, illegally sold prescription medication to an undercover officer.

In every instance, the police commissioner, who has final authority in disciplinary decisions, assigned these officers to “dismissal probation,” a penalty with few practical consequences. The officer continues to do their job at their usual salary. They may get less overtime and won’t be promoted during that period, which usually lasts a year. When the year is over, so is the probation.

Wait—that’s not how they show it on “Blue Bloods!” More… Continue reading

Unethical Comment Thread Of The Month: IJR’s Story On The Cheerleader Rapist

"Hi, I'm Molly, and I just raped you son. A simple thank you will suffice..."

“Hi, I’m Molly, and I just raped you son. A simple thank you will suffice…”

Well, read it and weep, as poker players say.

I’ve written about this disgusting phenomenon before, when ethically-challenged bloggers, pundits and commenters snicker about how great it is for the under-age male victims of sexual assault by attractive female teachers and other comely predators. The complete ignorance of the requirements of basic adult responsibility, the wrongfulness of abuse of power,  the law of consent and so much else exhibited by these blights on civilization is truly frightening, though it tells us a great deal about where Donald Trump’s support comes from among other things.

I am distraught. On one hand, reading this kind of thing makes me wonder why I bother. Really. How can one man, or a thousand, reverse or even retard the corrosive effects of so many idiots whose contempt for decency and whose ethical darkness is so deep, cynical  and shameless? On the other hand, what better choices do those of us who understand and care about the values of society have? To sink into catatonic despair? To self-lobotomize and join the mob of corrupt fools, grinning and drooling as the U.S. becomes Hell? To shake out fists at the moon until something pops and we are dragged to the padded room?

The story that generated these comments involved former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader Molly Shattuck, who was accused of raping a 15-year-old boy last summer in Rehoboth, Delaware. Shattuck decided to plead guilty to one count of fourth degree and  admitted that she performed oral sex on the boy, who was a friend of her son.

This classy mom (she has three kids) was sentenced to spend every other weekend for the next two years at a work-release detention center, plus she must pay the victim’s family $10,650 and register as a sex offender. Yes indeed, this is very lenient compared to what would have happened if an adult male had sex with a 15-year-old girl.

The Attorney General called it a “classic case of grooming behavior” as he argued for more than probation.  What the commenters don’t comprehend is that how a victim feels about criminal conduct should have little influence on the proper punishment of the criminal. Should the battered spouse of a man who has dominated and cowed her into believing that she “deserves it”  ensure that her husband is treated more leniently than the wife-beater whose spouse resists and objects? Well, this is one of the things the commenters don’t comprehend. There is so much more. (I have checked the comment threads on this story on other websites. They are essentially the same.)

Read it and weep.

Yechhhh.

Continue reading

When Worlds Collide: Maryland’s Attorney General Doug Gansler Flunks His Ethics Test

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (D) is running to be his party’s nominee for Governor, which, since Maryland is one of the Bluest of states, means that success equals the statehouse, or should. But the intense spotlight that such a quest creates can be hot and unflattering, and Gansler’s character and integrity is now being called into question…especially after this photo from last summer surfaced on Instagram, showing Maryland’s top law enforcement official in the middle of a wild teen beach party at a beach house by the Delaware shore. He’s the guy in the white shirt and the cell phone:

Gensler Party

There you have it: the exact moment when Attorney General Doug Gansler, Candidate for Governor Gansler and Father of a Teenage Son Who Graduated From High School And Wants To Party With His Friends Like In “Animal House” Gansler officially collided. Many, especially many Democrats, especially many Bill Clinton fans, and definitely aspiring toyboy lawyer Brian Zulberti, would argue that only one of them is really there: Father Doug. The others, being absent, are immune from criticism. This position is popular, convenient, lazy, ethically corrosive and wrong. There is only one Doug Gansler, yes, but he is bound by three standards of conduct. When you are bound by three standards of conduct, you have to abide by the highest one.

Again, this situation focuses our attention on integrity, a core aspect of character, and crucial to ethics. Does an individual have genuine principles that he oe she lives by, or a constantly shifting set of values that are assumed and then discarded according to situation, convenient, strategy and whim? When an ethical problem arises, do others know how the individual will respond? Are his words consistent with his actions? Trust means that others can rely on an individual’s conduct, and you can’t rely on the conduct of someone whose values and priorities with the wind, locale, attention and personal desires.

Then there is the issue of judgment. Judgement is like intelligence and common sense: an individual either has it, or he doesn’t. And such traits as responsibility, accountability, honesty, prudence, dignity, loyalty  and courage come into play. I know those who embrace the private individual/professional dichotomy are stuck with the argument that the absence of  one or more of these in a private setting has no predictive value regarding public or professional conduct, but it is a hopelessly untenable position, pure denial, and ethics poison. Continue reading

Is There A “Naked Beauty Pageant Queen” Principle?

Beauty queen above, secret twin below?

Beauty queen above, secret twin below?

We know that teachers who have performed in porn movies are toast, once their performances surface online, and that teachers whose images, showing them in their birthday suits, are easily accessible by post-pubescent students are not going to stay secondary school faculty members for long. But do similar rules apply for beauty pageant winners, whose physical assets are not only barely hidden anyway, but the primary, if not sole reasons for their “titles”? Should they?

Let’s look at the dilemma facing Melissa King, the newly crowned Miss Delaware Teen USA. A porn site featured a video with a, er, key performer that both looked and sounded exactly like her, apparently showing Miss Delaware Teen USA doing all sorts of fascinating things on, over, and around an unclothed male actor. King denied that she was the performer (who references her participation in beauty pageants on the video), but gave up her crown anyway. Looking at the photos, either she has also triggered the Lying Beauty Queen Principle, or has a twin sister in the porn trade.

One website covering the story polled its readers regarding whether it should matter if a beauty queen has done porn. Stated in that way, it is a reasonable question. If  beauty pageants were like dog shows, and all that was being awarded was a prize for the most perfect physical specimen, it shouldn’t matter if the winner is a Nazi, a terrorist, a serial killer or a werewolf. The problem arises because these pageants include titles. Continue reading

“The Strange Case of the Threatening Hypothetical”, Continued: The Verdict Is In!

The Victim

Lawrence Connell, the Widener School of Law criminal law professor placed on administrative leave for using the school Dean in a “violent scenario” to illustrate legal principles to his class, has given a revealing and clarifying interview to the National Association of Scholars website.

This section is most relevant to his current plight, and the fairness of complaints leveled against him by some of his students. It’s also about one of my favorite topics in criminal law, attempt law, which has a significant ethical component, as you will see. But the main point of interest is that includes one of the supposedly racist, sexist, threatening hypotheticals he used.

Q: Can you give me an example of a hypothetical you might have used in class, to which the students who complained might have been referring? Can you describe the context in which you would have used it? Continue reading

The Strange Case of the Threatening Hypothetical

Lawrence Connell, a tenured associate professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware, is fond of using famous or familiar people in the hypotheticals he presents to his criminal law class.  One of his imaginary scenarios involved him as a murderer, and the school’s Dean as his victim. Now he is on administrative leave from the school, as administrators investigate  him for using “violent scenarios” that some students complained violated the school’s discrimination and harassment codes.

Widener University spokesman Dan Hanson, meanwhile, has declined to provide more details on the matter, but insists that Widener is committed to academic freedom.

Right. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Slate Editor Dahlia Lithwick

“[The G.O.P. nominee for the U.S. Senate, Christine] O’Donnell explained that “when I go to Washington, D.C., the litmus test by which I cast my vote for every piece of legislation that comes across my desk will be whether or not it is constitutional.” How weird is that, I thought. Isn’t it a court’s job to determine whether or not something is, in fact, constitutional? And isn’t that sort of provided for in, well, the Constitution?”

Dahlia Lithwick, current Supreme Court commentator for Slate, during a three-way published exchange about what an unstable, unqualified kook Christine O’Donnell is.

I hope it is at least a little disturbing to Slate that their Supreme Court expert is apparently ignorant of where the basic responsibilities of obeying the Constitution lie. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Christine O’Donnell Voters

It’s not a smear or a lie, and it certainly isn’t trivial. The upset winner of Delaware’s Republican Senate primary, Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell, has a well-established pattern of irresponsible financial conduct, including living off of her campaign funds, a violation of Federal election law. She has not made a bona fide effort to support herself other than running for office, and she has a record of misleading and dishonest statements that show a reckless disrespect for candor and the truth.

In short, she is not trustworthy, and the fact that O’Donnell has her Tea Party rhetoric down pat doesn’t change the fact that it is just plain stupid to trust someone who is dishonest in her public statements and fiscally irresponsible in her private life to bring honor, integrity and fiscal restraint to Congress. Continue reading