In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts (that’s like the state Supreme Court in a normal state) held that free speech rights were wrongly infringed upon by a lower court’s non-disparagement order forbidding the husband or wife from posting about their divorce on Facebook and other social media sites until their child turned 14. The child at issue was a toddler when the ruling was handed down.
It is disturbing to me that judges lack sufficiently Americanized ethics alarms to squelch the temptation to issue rulings like the one overturned. Sure, kids are harmed by their parents saying terrible things about each other, but there is nothing special about such communications on social media. Parents harm their kids by screaming at each other in the kitchen. That’s life.
“We conclude that the nondisparagement orders at issue here operate as an impermissible prior restraint on speech,” the Supreme Judicial Court ruled. Though the judge “put careful thought into his orders in an effort to protect a child caught in the middle of a legal dispute who was unable to advocate for himself… there was no showing of an exceptional circumstance that would justify the imposition of a prior restraint, the nondisparagement orders issued here are unconstitutional.”
Two Norfolk Probate and Family Court judges issued the original bans when the ugly divorce between Ronnie Shak and his former wife, Masha Shak, who shared one son born in 2017, spread to social media.
I often have thought that I ought to research reddit more thoroughly for ethics stories. Then I stumble onto something like this, have to take a shower, and decide that I’ll be happier if don’t. There is also the persistent reddit problem that one can never be sure when what you are reading isn’t completely made up by some aspiring James Frey wannabe. I have been burned in the past.
One of the reddit sub-site communities is devoted to revenge, and participants send in their alleged experiences. Revenge, as we all know, (I hope), is unethical. It’s also frequently entertaining and fun. Revenge has been a staple of drama since the ancient Greeks, and it’s vibrant still, perhaps because there is nothing unethical about revenge fantasies.
One particularly exhilarating (and disgusting) example is the original “I Spit On Your Grave” (yes, there are sequels), an extremely violent and graphic cult film in which a young writer is gang-raped and left for dead by five locals in “Deliverance” territory. She returns, trained, dead-eyed, determined and remarkably creative in a Marquis de Sade way, to pick them off, one by one.
Women seem to especially enjoy the film. I would not be surprised to learn that Hillary is a fan.
But I digress. The following story recently turned up on the reddit ProRevenge section. The disturbing thing was how few of the many commenters were critical of the writer’s alleged conduct, which is, as you will see, appalling. Here is his account, redacted a bit for length, with periodic comments from your host. Continue reading
is the first and only competent ethicist to handle the long-time New York Times Magazine column, so I feel badly that most of the time when I reference his opinions, it is to criticize one of them. He over-all record is excellent, despite the impression one might get from Ethics Alarms. For example, read his superb, if a bit overblown, response to a white woman who was “deeply offended” that a contractor hired by her husband flew a small confederate flag on his truck. She wanted to report him as a racist to his boss, and asked Appiah if this was the right thing to do.
That nuanced advice is more typical of “The Ethicist’s” work than this recent chapter, in which a man wrote that he had split from his wife after she had refused any physical intimacy, saying that it was no longer “part of her life.” She suggested a trial separation, which led to a formal divorce, and the couple signed a non-disparagement agreement as part of the process. Recently she admitted to him that she had repeatedly cheated on him during their marriage, and that she suggested the trial separation so she could resolve her affair at the time with a married man.
The inquirer says that he has never blamed his wife in discussions with his sons for the end of the marriage, but that he has learned from them that she “places the sole blame on me for every problem ever experienced by our family, including the drug addiction of our older son. When I recently contacted her about visiting him in jail, she said he didn’t want to see me. I contacted him and found that this was not true.”
He asks “The Ethicist” if he can ethically violate the non-disparagement agreement in his own defense, and tell the sons what a lying, cheating, betraying mother they have. To my amazement, Appiah said he could, and even suggested that he should, arguing in the process of a looooong discourse, Continue reading
There are at least two more Comment of the Day candidates in the comment threads following the Bazelon post, which makes five out of 25 total comments, highest percentage ever. Here is #3, by doctormoreau, perhaps my favorite Comment of the Day on “Ethics Dunce: Professor Lara Bazelon”:
Family law attorney Corri Fetman received a lot of publicity—much of it bad— when her all-female law firm ran the above cheeky advertisement to spur business. No, it’s not exactly unethical to encourage people to break up their families because there is better sex to be had, it’s just sleazy. (Funny! But sleazy….) Now, however, marital-dissolution lawyers are engaged in due diligence and meeting the ethical the of communication by telling their clients–particularly the wealthy ones— that if they want out, the clock is running.
One of the features in the new Republican tax law that the news media didn’t tell you about while it was trying to get you angry about it will eliminate the tax break for alimony payments. I didn’t even know that alimony was deductible, but you can bet Donald Trump did. Now, they won’t be if they are finalized after December 31, 2018.
Under the new law, Americans who finalize or modify divorce agreements in 2019 or later will no longer be able to deduct alimony payments from their taxes. The IRS says that about 600,000 taxpayers claim the deduction each year, and the cost to the Treasury is not chump change. The current, soon-to-be-ended system allows those paying alimony or so-called unallocated support, which are payments meant to help a divorcing spouse and children at the same time, to deduct all of it from their income before calculating what they owe in taxes.
I’d like to know why alimony was ever deductible. Deductions are supposed to encourage conduct and expenditures that benefit society, like buying a home (domestic stability, the economy) and giving to charity. Why would the government want to encourage divorces, and reward the guy who is paying alimony because he cheated on his wife and got nailed in the settlement? Why should I be paying part of Donald Trump’s/ Tom Cruise’s/ George Clooney’s/ Harrison Ford’s alimony payments?
Analysts suggest that the absence of the deduction may lower divorce rates slightly. Good.
I have to find out what else is in that tax law, which was generally irresponsible, since it adds to the national debt. Apparently there are some silver linings…
What a mess.
Missouri lawyer Joel Eisenstein saw two documents illicitly obtained by his client: a payroll document for the client’s wife and a list of direct examination questions prepared by his client’s wife’s attorney for an upcoming divorce trial.
This kind of stuff, proprietary material that is handed over to a lawyer by someone, including a client, who received it under dubious circumstances is ethically radioactive. As the DC bar wrote in Ethics Opinion 318…
When counsel in an adversary proceeding receives a privileged document from a client or other person that may have been stolen or taken without authorization from an opposing party, Rule 1.15(b) requires the receiving counsel to refrain from reviewing and using the document if: 1) its privileged status is readily apparent on its face; 2) receiving counsel knows that the document came from someone who was not authorized to disclose it; and 3) receiving counsel does not have a reasonable basis to conclude that the opposing party waived the attorney-client privilege with respect to such document. Receiving counsel may violate the provisions of Rule 8.4(c) by reviewing and using the document in an adversary proceeding under such circumstances and should either return the document to opposing counsel or make inquiry of opposing counsel about its status prior to determining what course of action to take. Continue reading
Meet Hamilton County (Tennessee) Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton, a local judge who is throwing a high-profile tantrum to show that he doesn’t agree with the U. S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision. Atherton denied a divorce petition last week, but not really because of the case at hand.. After hearing from seven witnesses and going through 77 exhibits, he rejected the requested divorce by Thomas Bumgardner and his wife, Pamela, stating that the Supreme Court’s ruling declaring gay marriages a right destroyed Tennessee’s ability to determine what constitutes marriage or divorce.
No, it doesn’t make sense.
Atherton said the Supreme Court must clarify “when a marriage is no longer a marriage” and until it does, Tennessee courts are unable to handle marriage and divorce litigation. “The conclusion reached by this Court is that Tennesseans have been deemed by the U.S. Supreme Court to be incompetent to define and address such keystone/central institutions such as marriage, and, thereby, at minimum, contested divorces,” Atherton wrote.
Or the short version: “I am an asshole with power!”
The ventriloquist and his spouses, past and present. Can you guess which is the ex?
I suspect there’s a sad story behind this one that many a betrayed spouse can identify with. Did Paige Dunham stand shoulder to shoulder with her husband, Jeff Dunham in the lean years when he was struggling ventriloquist (and really, what could be worse, struggling accordion virtuoso?) only to have him toss her away like an old shoe once he hit the jackpot and became a rich and famous celebrity, as he sought and won a flashier spouse to match his flashier lifestyle? It sure looks like it.
Nevertheless, what Paige Dunham did to her ex-spouse’s Shiny New Model Audrey Dunham can’t be justified ethically. It is also apparently illegal. Continue reading
It’s a dog’s life, whatever THAT means…
Pet dogs are more than property and less than citizens. When they become surrogate children, as they often do, the legal battles over which member of splitting couples will have custody can become as furious and emotional as anything in “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Now the Vermont Supreme Court has approved a a new approach to these cases, deciding one on the basis of “the best interests of the dog.” Here is the relevant portion of the decision, in the case of Hamet v. Baker: Continue reading
Unconfirmed photo of Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais caught out of his man suit.
In 2010, physician Scott DesJarnais ran to represent Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District on a pro-life, anti-abortion platform, and won. He also ran as an honest, trustworthy, honorable individual, as all members of the U.S. House of Representatives ought to be. He is an MD; integrity, intelligence and professional standards of conduct should be assumed. Little more than week after he was re-elected by Tennessee’s voters this year, however, the court records of his 2001 divorce were released. The Democratic Party in the state had fought to have them released before the election with the support of his ex-wife, but DesJarnais successfully persuaded a judge to wait—after all, why spoil a good surprise? When the transcripts were finally revealed, Tennesseans learned that their re-elected, pro-family Representative:
- Supported his ex-wife’s two abortions before they were wed
- Helped arrange abortions for a mistress and a patient he impregnated after they were married.
- Had multiple sexual affairs with co-workers, subordinates and patients
- Prescribed recreational pills for at least one of his sex partners
- At one point, put a pistol barrel in his mouth for two hours and threatened suicide
- Engaged in multiple actions that are violations of medical ethics, workplace ethics, and laws. Continue reading