About Fox News’ Fake Judge

In a post on the Legal Ethics Forum, not as active as it once was but still one of the best legal ethics sites around, Legal ethicist and law professor Steve Lubet clarifies something I have always wondered about, and like a lazy slug, never investigated.

Fox News contributor Andrew Napolitano, most recently in the news for claiming that the British intelligence service GCHQ  colluded with President Obama to conduct surveillance on the Trump staff during the 2016 campaign, is always called “Judge Napolitano” during his appearances.  Lubet points out that he’s not a judge any more. Napolitano once served on the New Jersey Superior Court, but resigned in 1995 and has not held judicial office for more than two decades. It is apparently at Napolotano’s insistence that he is always addressed  as “Judge”  in Fox. His website, JudgeNap.com, refers to him as “Judge Napolitano” throughout, as does his bio on the Fox News site.

Lubet notes that The American Bar Association has held that  the use of  judicial titles by former judges practicing law is misleading and unethicalin connection with law practice.  ABA Formal Opinion 95-391 says that continued “use of the title is misleading because it may be misunderstood by the public as suggesting some type of special influence” or “to create an unjustified expectation.” In fact, said the ABA, “there appears to be no reason for such use of the title other than to create such an expectation.” Of course, Napolitano isn’t practicing law when he bloviates on Fox News, so it isn’t a Rules violation, but the Judge label is still misleading

The Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, Lubet found,  goes further by decreeing that it is only ethical for a former judge to use the titles  “Judge” or “The Honorable” if they are preceded by the word “retired” or “former,” and the rule does not limit this caveat to ex-judges actively practicing law. Again, Napolitano is not out of compliance, because he is not subject to the Ohio Rules. That doesn’t make what he calls himself strictly accurate, or sufficiently accurate. (I confess, I have had a bias against such things ever since I suffered through a year with an insufferable  high school history teacher who called himself (and insisted that we call him)  “Dr. Arthur” because he had a PhD in history.) Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Dr. Phil, Shelley Duvall, And Exploitation


A 30-second promotional clip for today’s episode of “Dr. Phil” is disturbing, beyond question. It shows Shelley Duvall, from “The Shining,” “Popeye,” “Nashville” and other well-known films talking to the fake doctor about her mental illness.The syndicated advice show’s promo shows Duvall, almost unrecognizable, talking about how her “Popeye” co-star, the late Robin Williams, is alive and “shape-shifting.” She says she is being threatened by Robin Hood’s Sheriff of Nottingham, and that a “whirring disc” is inside her.

The ad ends with Duvall, 67, telling Phil McGraw, “I’m very sick. I need help.”

She certainly sounded like it, and looked like it too.

Now Dr. Phil is being criticized for exploiting a vulnerable mentally ill woman for her audience drawing powers. The daughter of Stanley Kubrick, who directed Duvall in her most famous role as Jack Nicholson’s terrorized wife in “The Shining,” is leading the charge. Vivian Kubrick called for a boycott of the popular daytime program, tweeting, “You are putting Shelley Duvall ‘on show’ while she is suffering from a pitiable state of ill health. Unquestionably, this is purely a form of lurid and exploitative entertainment — it’s appallingly cruel.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is it unethical for “Dr. Phil” to feature Shelley Duvall this way?

Continue reading

Ethics Verdict On Dr. Phil’s Media Mugging

You're in the clear, Phil...this time.

You’re in the clear, Phil…this time.

If a brilliant scholar like Richard Dawkins can get himself in hot water trying to be provocative in 140 characters, you can imagine the scalding a phony expert like Dr. Phil can attract with his tweets. Sure enough, the Oprah Winfrey-spawned arbiter of troubled relationships is now being ground up in the maw of the blogosphere and news media for tweeting this question to his inexplicably large mass of Twitter followers:

 “If a girl is drunk, is it okay to have sex with her? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused.”

He did not ask “If a girl is passed out drunk, is it okay to have sex with her?” Nor did he ask “If a girl is drunk, is it okay for me to have sex with her?” (The answers to both of these questions, obviously to me, you, and Dr. Phil, is emphatically  no. But then, he didn’t ask either of them.) He also didn’t suggest that he doesn’t know the answer to the question he did ask. He posed a question for his followers, which it is reasonable to assume was done to get a sense of the majority response.

There was nothing wrong, unethical, “tone deaf,” insensitive, sinister, off-putting, icky, misogynistic or otherwise inappropriate about the tweet or its wording, whether it was sent by Dr. Phil or anyone else.

And yet (from the Washington Post)... Continue reading

The Triumph of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo

Ronaiah TuiasosopoIs, getting what he wants.

Ronaiah TuiasosopoIs, getting what he wants.

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the silly, sick man who hoaxed his alleged friend, Notre Dame star Matti Te’o, into a public humiliation that will shadow the rest of his life, has everything he wants now. “Dr. Phil” is featuring him on his show with a long interview—a match made in the stars, since Phil achieved his fame as a fake doctor, and Ronaiah his as a fake girlfriend to the most gullible college athlete in captivity. More interviews for the hoaxer will follow, with a book and movie deal near certainties. He behaved abominably, and now the American celebrity machine will reward him for it. I predict he’ll travel the same road as other bottom-feeders who have parlayed a lack of principles into fame, however brief.  Joey Buttafuoco. Jessica Hahn. Octomom Nadja Suleman.”Tanning Mom”Patricia Krentcil. Levi Johnston. They all were boosted to semi-star status by being slimy, foolish, or both, and Tuiasosopo fits right in. Continue reading

Oprah’s Dangerous Breach of Diligence and Responsibility

Dr. Mel Levine was found dead at his  home last week, a suicide. His once successful and nationally prominent career as a pediatrician was derailed when he was sued by a succession of former patients who alleged that he sexually molested them. He had surrendered his medical license and teaching position at the University of North Carolina, and hardly any of the obituaries mentioned that he was once one of Oprah Winfrey’s health experts.

But writer Tracie Egan Morrissey remembered, and detected a pattern that is disturbing and real. There have been other experts and authorities that Oprah introduced to her trusting and huge audience of admirers that should have been rejected after competent vetting. Continue reading

Child Abuse, Animal Abuse: Why We Must Judge

Ignorance, fear and a lack of inherent respect for living things is a disastrous combination, as demonstrated by a horrible story out of  Toombs County, Georgia.

At the end of January, animal rescue personnel were alerted that Alice, a 6-year old dog, was living in a 5’x8′ box, constructed of wooden boards and tin. The only sunlight that the dog could receive came through the slats and the chicken wire that covered the box from above.
Her food–mostly white bread, buns, and the occasional table scrap, was dropped in from above, as was her water. The floor of the box was caked with years of feces and urine.

The owner of the home told the rescuers that the Alice had been placed in this box because she was one of “those mean kind of dogs.” A pit bull. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Dr. Phil’s Child-Abusing Mom”

I don’t want to pick on Cara, who made this comment in reply to my response to her earlier comment that objected to the original post referring to forcing a seven-year-old child  to drink hot sauce and making him stand in a cold shower as punishment as “abuse.” That comment had such gems as “screaming is not necessarily an indication of abuse, some children just can not express themselves” and “depending on how you look at it, all disciplinary methods could be called abusive.” Her follow-up message, even more than her first, shows how people can come to excuse, rationalize and eventually accept truly terrible and cruel conduct, by others and eventually themselves. Rationalization cripples the ethics alarms, and eventually, as in Cara’s reasoning, we are excusing evil, and condemning those who stand against it, arguing, as she does here, that they have no standing to judge others, since everybody makes mistakes.

The comment makes a better case than anything I have written thus far for the importance of us all to engage in constant efforts to perfect our ethical sensitivity, to improve our ethics alarms, and to be vigilant against facile rationalizations.

Here’s a challenge: How many rationalizations can you count being used here? I find at least six, and perhaps as many as eight.

Here is the comment, by Cara, on “Dr. Phil’s Child-Abusing Mom”: Continue reading

Dr. Phil’s Child-Abusing Mom

I stopped watching Dr. Phil when I discovered that he was a fraud. There have been some substantial benefits of this pledge on my part; for example, I didn’t see the recent episode about problem children, which showed videotape of a mother from Anchorage, Alaska torturing her child.

Incredibly, Jessica Beagly, mother of six, oversaw the videotaping of her squirting hot sauce into the mouth of her adopted Russian son and forcing him into a cold shower. She made the tape so Dr. Phil could give her some advice on a segment that aired in November  called “Mommy Confessions.” The studio audience was brought to tears by the tape, and Dr. Phil, no fool he, described the punishment as “over the top.”

Consequences (so far): Continue reading