I saw this coming several seasons ago- that the once ethically challenging CBS legal drama “The Good Wife” was on the way to strapping on Fonzie’s old water skis and jumping the old Ethics Shark. Sure enough, after being able to watch the show irregularly and being either confused or disappointed when I did, I finally got a chance to watch an entire episode last night. The Shark has been officially jumped and TGW is no longer bothering to check with its legal ethics consultants. This is known as “The David Kelley Syndrome,” as all of that producer’s legal dramas, “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal,” etc, begin plausibly and end up in the Legal Ethics Twilight Zone as the writers run out of ideas.
In last night’s episode, “Cooked,” Good Wife Alicia’s defendant was charged with making GHB. He claims innocence because he wasn’t making authentic GHB, but a GHB-like substance,without the same chemical compound as GHB itself and thus less dangerous. Alicia explains the law to him, which is that he would be better off if his intent was to make GHB but he ended up with the pseudo GSB by mistake, instead of successfully making the possibly illegal GHB-like drug intentionally. She says that he needs to be clear which he did, and tells him to tell the truth.
This is the common, much criticized defense lawyer tactic called “The Lecture” in the novel “Anatomy of A Murder.” A lawyer is bound to explain the law to his or her client, and that sometimes means educating a client regarding how to “remember” what happened.
Then Alicia discovers that her defendant isn’t who he claims to be. He’s an FBI agent, and he’s part of an FBI sting to prove the judge in the case is taking bribes. She says she’s going to tell the judge about his false identity (and also that the charges were fake) so he tells her and that if she blows his cover, he’ll tell the judge that she suborned perjury by giving “The Lecture.” She backs off, and agrees not to tell the judge.
1. If she has a personal interest (Rule 1.7) that conflicts with her duty to protect client confidences (Rule 1.6), like her conflicting duty as an officer of the court to report a fraud on the court, a.k.a. THE WHOLE CASE, then the least she must do is withdraw under Rule 1.16. Continue reading →
“So…would you like to revise your testimony about the ‘harmless electric shock,’ Professor?”
(The title is an uncreative and obvious pun, but on the other hand, how often do I have a chance to make it?)
I always advise lawyers that whenever they have a sudden inspiration that involves a trial tactic that they have never heard of anyone else trying, they need to stop and examine whether there are ethical issues involved. Here is a good example of why that’s a good idea.
Electricity expert Athanasios Meliopoulos, while testifying to dispute the claim of Utah dairy farmers who had sued a power company alleging that current from its plant harmed cattle grazing nearby, said under oath that 1.5 volts could not be detected by a human being.
Don Howarth, an experienced Los Angeles litigator who represented the farmers, decided to undermine the expert’s testimony on cross-examination by giving Meliopoulos a joke shop pen that was rigged to deliver an electric shock. Howarth told the witness that the retractable pen contained a 1.5-volt AAA battery and challenged him to click it and “tell the jury whether you feel it or not.” What he did not tell the witness, or the jury, or the judge, was that in addition to the AAA battery, the pen also contained a transformer that boosted the battery voltage to up to 750 volts, enough to deliver “a harmless powerful shock,” according to the pen’s packaging.
Meliopoulos, a Georgia Tech professor, pushed the ball-point pen’s button and was indeed shocked enough to cause his body to jerk and force him to drop the pen.
How unethical is this? The judge, in fining the lawyer $3000 and issuing other sanctions, listed the breaches: Continue reading →
See? I WARNED you not to listen to Mercedes Colwin!
A couple of months back, I flagged some outrageously mistaken commentary on Sean Hannity’s radio talk show given out by Mercedes Colwin, who is a lawyer but prone to howlers whenever she shows up on Hannity or Fox News, which I suspect favors her for qualities that have nothing to do with her law practice. On the occasion that roused my ire, Colwin suggested that she could not defend a criminal client who told her he was guilty, because she was “an officer of the court.”
This is pundit malpractice grafted to legal incompetence: a defense attorney MUST maintain a client’s legal innocence whether the attorney knows the client is guilty or not, and being an officer of the court has nothing to do with it.
Colwin, who was discussing the Casey Anthony trial, represented herself as an expert and then reinforced the most persistent and most damaging popular misconception about the legal system, which is that there is something unethical about defending guilty criminal clients. The system has to be held to a high standard of due process, and even an “obviously” guilty defendant must be proven guilty with admissible evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Defense attorneys are there to make sure the state meets its burden of proof by making the strongest argument for their clients’ innocence as possible, whether the defendant has confessed his or her guilt or not. For one thing, a defendant often doesn’t know if he is legally guilty, even if he “did it.” For another, even if he did it, the state still has to prove it.The defense’s job in to make sure it does, Continue reading →
It's a mystery: why would Fox News choose her as a legal analyst?
Attorney Mercedes Colwin, an attorney and Fox News commentator, just committed pundit malpractice while discussing the Casey Anthony verdict on Sean Hannity’s radio show. Her professional biography says that she has practiced criminal defense law. If so, she has done so laboring under some serious legal ethics misconceptions.
Said Colwin, in response to Hannity’s query about her past representation of guilty defendants:
“If my client says he did it, then I can’t defend him. I can’t then go into court and say he’s innocent; I’m an officer of the court, Sean!”
What??? Wrong, wrong, outrageously wrong, inexcusably wrong! And also: ARRRRRGHHHHH! Continue reading →