Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 1/11/2020: Epstein And Facebook And Barr, Oh My!

It’s Thaturday!

Time, once again, to salute the courage of Karen Carpenter’s much less talented brother Richard, who nonetheless had the courage to offer, as his only notable solo offering for the Carpenters, a song that highlighted his speech impediment. Why did he do this? We’ll never know.

And yes, I have “The Wizard of Oz” on the brain. It was so much better when that wonderful movie was only on TV once  a year: then it was special. Now, especially over the holidays (and what it has to do with Christmas, I don’t know) I had to repeatedly change channels to avoid it. Well, after Judy sang “Over the Rainbow, anyway…

1. Is it really so unreasonable and a “right wing conspiracy theory” to wonder about how Jeffrey Epstein, who could have implicated such powerful people as Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew in criminal activities, ended up dead in his cell?

The latest forehead-slapping development: The video  made outside of Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan jail cell when during his failed suicide attempt seemed to be missing, and even possibly destroyed. The jailhouse video turned up, however, muting suspicions about whether Epstein’s successful  suicide at the Metropolitan Correctional Center wasn’t something more sinister.  Prosecutors confirmed that the video had been saved. This week, however,  prosecutors revealed that the jail staff  had preserved video from the wrong jail cell, and the Epstein footage no longer existed.

Meanwhile, two guards who were on duty when  Epstein killed himself are being charged with falsifying records and conspiracy. The guards surfed the internet and dozed instead of checking on the prisoner every half-hour, as they were required to do.

Conspiracy or not, this is epic incompetence, and rather convenient incompetence at that. Hanlon’s Razor, however, applies. I guess.

My only other observation is that government efficiency and job performance is obviously so reliable that I don’t know why Bernie Sanders isn’t running away with the Democratic nomination race. Of course we should put government employees in charge of our lives. It’s a no-brainer. Continue reading

The Constitution, Law, Rationalizations And Ethics—One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other, II: Double Jeopardy Get A SCOTUS Pass

The first time I recall being made aware that a state and the U.S. could both charge a citizen based on the same act was during the Rodney King Ethics Train Wreck, when after the jury acquitted the LA cops involved and the riots ensued, the Justice Department charged them with violating King’s civil rights. They were convicted, and sent to prison. That sure seemed like double jeopardy to me [See: the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides in part: “[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb….]  and I wondered why the Supreme Court allowed it.

Why has remained a good question, but when is clear: in 1876, the Court ruled in United States v. Cruikshank that the government of the United States is a separate sovereign from any State:

This does not, however, necessarily imply that the two governments possess powers in common, or bring them into conflict with each other. It is the natural consequence of a citizenship which owes allegiance to two sovereignties, and claims protection from both. The citizen cannot complain, because he has voluntarily submitted himself to such a form of government. He owes allegiance to the two departments, so to speak, and within their respective spheres must pay the penalties which each exacts for disobedience to its laws. In return, he can demand protection from each within its own jurisdiction.

Thus the bizarre construct known as the dual sovereignty rule was born. It means that double jeopardy doesn’t apply when a state and the nation try the same individual for the same criminal act. It seems unfair, because it is unfair. It is, however, old. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/8/18: Last Weekend Before I Have To Decorate The %^&$! Christmas Tree Edition

Good morning!

1. How can this be? Based on the same documents, the President crowed that Mueller had nothin,’ and the mainstream Trump-hating media crowed that the walls were closing in. It’s a confirmation bias orgy! Charges aren’t evidence, and attempted contacts with a foreign power isn’t “collusion,” and we’ve already talked about the theory that paying off a floozy not to kiss and tell, which is 100% legal at all other times, is a stretch to call and election law violation when the rake is running for President. No such case has ever been brought; it’s dubious whether one would prevail; even if it did, this is a fining offense at most. [ For the record, this is the “resistance’s” Impeachment Plan K, in my view, one of the lamest.]

Both sides are jumping the gun. In the media’s case, it’s more fake new, future news and hype.

2. Stare decisis vs. the prohibition on double jeopardy. In Gamble v. US, just argued before the Supreme Court, the question is whether the federal government can try a citizen for the same crime a state court acquitted him of committing. I’ve always hated the rule that it can (the cops in the Rodney King case were jailed that way), because it seems clear to me that the Constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy (that’s the Fifth Amendment) was intended to prevent such trials. Still,  previous Supreme Court decisions have upheld the convictions.  In the current case, it appears from oral argument that a majority of the current justices agree with me, but are hesitant to so rule because of the doctrine of stare decisis,  which means respecting long-standing SCOTUS precedent.

A ruling to apply double jeopardy would be a ruling against stare decisis, meaning that Roe v. Wade might have less protection than many—including me–have thought. Stay tunes, and watch Justice Kavanaugh’s vote particularly.

3.  Is wanting to/needing to/ actually taking steps to changing one’s sex a mental disorder? There have been a lot of articles about this lately, especially in light of evidence that peer groups, the news media, LGBT advocacy and parents are making many young children want to change their sex before they even know what sex or gender is. The question is itself deceptive, because it pretends that “mental disorder” is anything but a label that can be used or removed with a change of attitude or political agendas. Vox writes,

Major medical organizations, like the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association, say being transgender is not a mental disorder. The APA explained this in explicit terms when it stopped using the term “gender identity disorder” in favor of “gender dysphoria”: “Part of removing stigma is about choosing the right words. Replacing ‘disorder’ with ‘dysphoria’ in the diagnostic label is not only more appropriate and consistent with familiar clinical sexology terminology, it also removes the connotation that the patient is ‘disordered.’”

Well, “removing a stigma” is hardly a valid criteria for deciding whether something is a malady or not. What being transgender “is” can’t be changed by what we call it. Recently narcissism was removed from the mental disorder list—that doesn’t change the fact that narcissists see the world and themselves in a way that most people do not, and that this perspective causes them and the people around them a lot of trouble during their lives. The process worked in reverse with alcoholism, where being officially labelled a disease removed a stigma.

I once directed the comedy/drama “Nuts,” which opines that “insanity” is just a view of reality not shared by the majority. It was on this basis that the Soviet Union sent dissidents to mental hospitals. I don’t care what various associations or professionals call these minority positions: we know that they are using bias and political agendas to devise the label. This is one area where a phrase I despise, “It is what it is,” may be appropriate. Continue reading

Messy Case, Messy Issues, Messy Commentary: The Trials of Curtis Flowers

The basic facts of the Curtis Flowers murder case are these: On the morning of July 16, 1996, someone walked into a furniture store in downtown Winona, Mississippi, and shot four employees in the head. Police charged  Curtis Flowers with all four murders. After 22 years of trials, mistrials and reversals, Flowers has faced juries six times for the same crime. He has been on death row since the first conviction, and the most recent one is being appealed. Many believe he is innocent.

I think it can be stipulated that this has been a badly botched prosecution, whether Flowers is innocent or not. There is no limit on how many times someone can be tried for the same crime, as long as the trials end in mistrials or convictions. The Flowers case suggests that we need a limit. If the system can’t get a conviction properly after a reasonable number of attempts—I don’t know what a reasonable number is, but I am confident that it is less than six—then the accused should go free. So far, Flowers has been in prison for over two decades without being convicted. That’s wrong.

It would be nice and reassuring if a knee-jerk liberal columnist like the New York Times’ David Leonhardt, whose background is in journalism and mathematics, not law, could inform the public about an outrageous case like this without mucking it up with ideological leaps of logic, unwarranted conclusions and progressive talking points. He can’t help himself, though.

Pity.

For his entire op-ed, he relies on this podcast about the case. A podcast about a legal case is like a documentary: it has a point of view baked into it. I admire the podcast, but it isn’t evidence. It isn’t the trial transcripts, or the decisions overturning the three convictions that were found to be flawed. Never mind: the Times writer sees “no good reason to believe that Curtis Flowers is guilty.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/19/18: “Boy, Am I Sick Of This Stuff” Edition

Morning….

1. Once again, the Orwell Catch-22. Ethics Alarms has several times flagged the unconscionable use of the Orwellian ” If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ in the news media and among the resistance as they try to demonize the President of the United States for insisting on basic principles of due process and legal procedure. (Here, for example.) How did the Left come to such a state where they embraced this unethical concept, which is totalitarian to the core, and the antithesis of liberal thought? It is pure corruption, and forces fair Americans to side with the President and his defenders whether they want to or not.

To get a sense of how insidious this trend is, read Jonathan Chait’s recent effort for New York Magazine. Chait isn’t an idiot, but he’s so biased that he often sounds like one, as in his ridiculously blind 2016 essay declaring that “The 2016 Election Is a Disaster Without a Moral.”

This time, he makes the argument that President Trump must be guilty of horrible crimes because various Trump allies have denied that Michael Cohen will “flip” on his client, meaning that he would testify against him. Lawyers can’t testify against their clients, even if they have knowledge of criminal activity. They can testify to client efforts to involve them in criminal activity prospectively, because requests for advice regarding illegal acts are not privileged. Chait, however, doesn’t observe this distinction: he is simply towing the ugly If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ position that has been adopted, to their shame, by many left-leaning pundits and supposedly legitimate news organizations like the New York Times. Look at this section in Chait piece, for example: Continue reading

Essential Ethics Points Regarding Casey Anthony’s Investigator’s “She Did It!” Claim

Anthony and LawyerCourtExcerpt

News Flash:

Private investigator Dominic Casey submitted a court affidavit in  Casey Anthony’s bankruptcy case (he wants to get paid), that stated that Casey’s attorney Jose Baez (above, left) “ told me that Casey (above, right) had murdered Caylee and dumped the body somewhere. He also alleges that Baez had sexual relations with Anthony.

Here’s what you need to know about the ethics issues involved:

1. Most important of all: USA Today’s website headlined the story, P.I. says Casey Anthony lawyer acted unethically. I’d guess 95% or more of readers assume that what was unethical was Baez defending Anthony when she was guilty. Maybe USA Today even thinks that. That is pure, inexcusable ignorance. All criminal defendants have a Constitutional right to a zealous defense, and the defense lawyer’s duty is the same whether his client is guilty or not, Jack the Ripper or a jay-walker. The duty is to make the State prove its case with admissible evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Almost everyone who has followed the case believes that Anthony is guilty of facilitating the murder of her daughter Kaylee, but the evidence was ambiguous and circumstantial, and the prosecution didn’t prove its case.

Having sex with a client is unethical, specifically under the rules of most states, and arguably under the rules of all states under general ethics and professionalism principles. Continue reading

The Freddie Gray Ethics Train Wreck: If Protesters Really Want Justice, Then They Have To Stop Making Justice Impossible

Maybe it's all the same train wreck after all....

Maybe it’s all the same train wreck after all….

Yes, the mysterious death of Freddie Gray from injuries he sustained while in the custody of the Baltimore police has now become a certified Ethics Alarms Ethics Train Wreck. That honor was guaranteed once Baltimore’s mayor started stumbling over her words and meaning and then blaming others; when looters and rioters began burning down stores and a seniors home; when the finger-pointing began and when shameless Republicans started politicizing the riots, notably Texas Congressman Bill Flores (R-TX) who somehow reasoned that the Baltimore riots prove the dangers of gay marriage.

Most of all, a train wreck rating was guaranteed once the African-American activist response to Gray’s murder, inflamed by incompetent handling of the incident by the Baltimore police department, exactly followed the script of the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck. Gray’s death was pronounced a murder and the police response a racist cover-up before all the facts were known or even knowable. Never mind: “Black Lives Matter” signs were paraded on the streets, and columnists and news reporters began telling the story as if Gray was—not might have been, not probably was, but was—just another in the long line of young black men murdered by the police. After all, we had the recent Walter Scott shooting, captured on video, to justify a presumption of racism and murder.

But a presumption of racism and murder, absent proof, is never justified. It isn’t allowed in court, and it isn’t ethical out of court. Never mind: that’s where we now are with Freddie Gray and Baltimore. Maybe this isn’t a new Ethics Train Wreck. Maybe it’s just the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, just rolling on.

As with Mike Brown (and Trayvon Martin’s death) , the underlying narrative of the protests over Freddie Gray’s death appears to be less certain than it originally appeared. The Washington Post reports that a prisoner who was in the police van with Freddie Gray says he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle, suggesting that Gray  “was intentionally trying to injure himself.” The prisoner’s statement is contained in an affidavit that’s part of an application by the police for search warrant seeking the seizure of the uniform worn by one of the officers involved in Gray’s arrest. If that account has any credibility at all, it could result in a prosecutor’s legitimate refusal to indict any officers. Continue reading