Tag Archives: duty of loyalty

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/15/2018: Alito Gets One Right, Ellison Deceived, And An Ancient, Unethical Tactic Works Once Again…

To a glorious morning, Ethics-Lovers!

1. Bad Alito, Good Alito.  As I briefly noted yesterday (and hopefully will do in detail today), Justice Alito authored an unethical and embarrassing dissent defending a lawyer who deliberately betrayed his client by telling the jury that he had killed someone his client denied killing. Bad Alito. However, the arch-conservative jurist also authored the majority opinion in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the SCOTUS majority struck down a virtuous but unconstitutional law, and did so clearly and well.

These are, I think, my favorite Supreme Court opinions, where the Court ignores the motives and objectives of a law and simply rules whether the legislature is allowed to behave like that. I don’t know, but I would guess that most of the majority feel the way I do about organized sports gambling: nothing good can come of it, and a lot of harm is inevitable. One they get the green light, I’m sure that as many states will take over sports gambling for its easy revenue as now prey on its poor, desperate and stupid with their state lottery scams. Everyone involved–sports, fans, athletes, states, the public’s ethical compass—is going to be corrupted by letting the sports betting genie out of its bottle: just watch.

Nevertheless, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992  law known as PASPA, should have been struck down decades ago; I’d love to know why it took so long. No, it did NOT ban sports betting, though this is what far too many news reports tell you. Congress can ban sports betting directly if it chooses to, as it is interstate commerce. This isn’t in dispute. What it did in 1992, however, was to order states not to pass laws states have a constitutional right to pass. The distinction matters. From SCOTUS Blog, which is usually the best source for analysis of these things:

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. [The] justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine…

…In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by explaining that the “anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it is simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision incorporated into the Constitution” – “the decision to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority continued, is exactly the problem with the provision of PASPA that the state challenged, which bars states from authorizing sports gambling: It “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

…The court also rejected the argument, made by the leagues and the federal government, that the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports betting does not “commandeer” the states, but instead merely supersedes any state laws that conflict with the provision – a legal doctrine known as pre-emption. Pre-emption, the majority explained, “is based on a federal law that regulates the conduct of private actors,” but here “there is simply no way to understand the provision prohibiting state authorization as anything other than a direct command to the States,” which “is exactly what the anticommandeering rule does not allow.”

Got it.

Good decision. Continue reading

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McCoy v. Louisiana

Today the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Robert LeRoy McCoy, who was convicted of three counts of murder after his lawyer refused to follow his instruction and plead not guilty as he directed. I had predicted that his convictions would be over-ruled; I also wrote,

“If the Supreme Court does anything but overrule Louisiana in this case by a 9-0 vote, I may turn in my law license in exchange for a free Whopper at Burger King.”

Well, the vote wasn’t 9-0. I think instead of turning in my license, I’m going to turn in my respect for the so-called conservative wing of the Court. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Ginsberg, with Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, Roberts, and Kennedy concurring. Two of the conservatives concurred in a dissent authored by Alito: Gorsuch and thomas.

I haven’t had time to read it as carefully as I have to to do a thorough analysis, but I read it well enough to flag it as an embarrassing collection of rationalizations. While the majority opinion interprets a straightforward case according to what is significant about it—a lawyer pleaded guilty for him when his client demanded that he plead non guilty, thus making the conclusion unavoidable, Alito resorts to desperate excuses. Well, this kind of case isn’t likely to happen again. So what? A man was robbed of his Sixth Amendment rights! His story was ridiculous. So what? If that’s his story, he has the right to tell it. The lawyer was placed in a tough situation by a client whose claims were unbelievable. The jury decides who to believe, and a defendant has the right to let them do that. McCoy’s lawyer didn’t believe him. So what? Welcome to criminal defense work. McCoy was going to be convicted anyway.

What????

I can’t believe a Supreme Court Justice is making these arguments. So what? The principle of the rule of law is that it is vital that the defendant, if he is convicted, is convicted the right way, constitutionally. The conduct of McCoy’s lawyer was indefensible under the ethics rules, and the Constitution.

Reading the whole opinion and the dissent is revealing, and not in a good way. The majority opinion shows us that the Supreme Court can’t say the sky is blue without making the case in the mots turgid way possible. This opinion should have been a few pages at most.

The dissent lets us know that Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas look for minuscule fragments of justifications to avoid doing the right thing.

 

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Dear Lisa Bloom, You Unethical Hack: Stop Making Me Defend Kathy Griffin!

I had to get this post up before the Morning Ethics Warm-Up, because it warmed ME up by almost exploding my head.

Lisa Bloom, the daughter of feminist muck-raking celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, has already shown the she has either no regard for legal ethics, or is spectacularly ignorant of them. She has publicly breached the duty of loyalty, attacking her former client, Harvey Weinstein; she took on Weinstein in the teeth of a blatant conflict of interest that she also publicized, as if it was something to be proud of. Yesterday, she showed that she is unfamiliar with, or perhaps just doesn’t give a damn about, the core legal ethics principle of confidentiality, perhaps the most important legal ethics duty of all.

Her latest ex-client to be the victim of Bloom’s unprofessional conduct and disloyalty is Kathy Griffin, she of the severed head. Griffin announced that she had fired Bloom, and wasn’t nice about it—but then when is Griffin ever nice?—saying, “Yes, I got Bloomed. Yes, I didn’t have a good experience with her. Yes, I feel that she and her husband exacerbated my personal situation.” Disaffected clients can say anything they choose about their lawyers. They can do it on Yelp, on the lawyer consumer site Avvo,  to the Hollywood Reporter or hire a skywriter. What a client says, mean or not, untrue or not, still  does not alter a lawyer’s continuing ethical obligations one whit. A lawyer cannot get into a public fight with a former client over what did or did not occur during the representation. Every lawyer knows this, or is supposed to.

Yet Bloom—I would say “incredibly” had we not seen other examples of her professional ethics cluelessness—released this statement on Twitter:

[My head told me in a statement that it would have exploded over this but determined that doing so over Kathy Griffin and Lisa  Bloom was demeaning to head-explosions. I concur.]

The fact that Bloom had prepared Griffin’s remarks for the press conference, the fact that they worked on them together, the fact that Griffin discarded them, the fact the performer “ad-libbed” and “extemporized” are all client confidences. For all we knew, Griffin’s claim during the press conference that she was ignoring her notes was part of a pre-planned strategy.  I assumed it was; Griffin is an actress. “It’s best if you show that you are talking from the heart, Kathy,” is advice I would expect Griffin’s lawyer to give. A lawyer cannot tell the public that a client ignored her advice. Only the lawyer and the client know that. Revealing it is to disclose information the lawyer learned during the course of the representation that will harm or embarrass the client, a serious ethics violation and betrayal of trust Continue reading

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Wait, WHAT? I Don’t Understand This Case At All: The Louisiana Lawyer’s Betrayal

Robert McCoy (above), facing trial for a triple murder in Louisiana, told his lawyer, Larry English, that he was innocent. Someone else had killed the victims, he insisted. English, however, knew better. He wasn’t buying any of it.

“I met with Robert at the courthouse and explained to him that I intended to concede that he had killed the three victims,” Mr. English stated in a sworn statement. “Robert was furious and it was a very intense meeting. He told me not to make that concession, but I told him that I was going to do so….I know that Robert was completely opposed to me telling the jury that he was guilty of killing the three victims,” Mr. English said. “But I believed that this was the only way to save his life.”

English’s theory was that in the state’s two-phase trail system, he would lose credibility with the jury if he insisted McCoy was wrongly charged in the face of overwhelming evidence He wanted to have the trust of the jurors in the second phase, when he would have to argue that they should spare Mr. McCoy’s life.

After the meeting, Mr. McCoy tried to fire his lawyer, saying he would rather represent himself—So would I— but Judge Jeff Cox refused to let English off the case. So, as promised, English told the jury during his opening statement that his client was a triple murderer. McCoy objected in court, protesting, “I did not murder my family, your honor ! I had alibis of me being out of state. Your honor, this is unconstitutional for you to keep an attorney on my case when this attorney is completely selling me out.”

The objection was over-ruled.  McCoy’s lawyer, the judge apparently believed, knew better than his client what his client’s best interests were.

He didn’t though. McCoy was convicted and sentenced to death despite all of that supposed good will, credibility and trust English had built up by throwing his own client under the criminal justice bus.  The victim of this Bizarro World representation appealed the conviction to the Louisiana Supreme Court, saying his lawyer had turned on him. The court ruled against him,  holding that

“Given the circumstances of this crime and the overwhelming evidence incriminating the defendant admitting guilt in an attempt to avoid the imposition of the death penalty appears to constitute reasonable trial strategy.”

Now the United States Supreme Court is going to consider the case, McCoy v. Louisiana, and the question of whether a lawyer who disregards a client’s explicit instruction to plead not guilty has breached the Constitutional right to counsel.

I am stunned.  What question? Apparently this is a thing in Louisiana. “Counsel’s strategic choices should not be impeded by a rigid blanket rule demanding the defendant’s consent,” Louisiana’s lawyers  wrote in a brief urging the court to pass on the case. Since 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court has allowed defense lawyers to concede their clients’ guilt in four other capital cases over the clients’ express objections.

Good grief. Continue reading

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That Settles It, If It Wasn’t Obvious Already: Lisa Bloom Is An Unethical Hack (But I Could Be Wrong…)

Now, don’t sue me, Lisa! Remember what it says in the “About” section (above), this is all just my opinion. When I say you are a stunningly unethical lawyer, that’s just my analysis; it’s true I know something about legal ethics, teaching and consulting on it full time, but I can’t assert my opinion as fact. I can’t read your mind or slog through your soul. I don’t know what a bar disciplinary committee would decide, though I know this is a famously gray area in legal ethics, so unethical conduct is unlikely to be punished.  And when I say you’re a hack, remember that “hack” isn’t a description subject to objective proof, any more than, say, “asshole.” Perhaps your definition of “hack’ is different from mine. In fact, I’m sure it is.

That said, your conduct is a professional disgrace. I think. Who knows? I may be wrong.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News published this weekend, Bloom, speaking of her recently terminated representation of Harvey Weinstein, said

“I can see that my just being associated with this was a mistake. All I can say is, from my perspective, I thought, ‘Here is my chance to get to the root of the problem from the inside. I am usually on the outside throwing stones. Here is my chance to be in the inside and to get a guy to handle this thing in a different way.’ I thought that would be a positive thing, but clearly it did not go over at all.”

Bloom added that she will no longer represent men accused of sexual misconduct, “even those who convincingly tell me they are innocent….I will just make the best choices I can out of every situation. I have clearly not been successful. I think anybody who does big bold things fails. And I definitely failed on this one.”

What Bloom has failed at is called “being a trustworthy and competent lawyer.”

The next day, during an appearance on Good Morning America, Bloom even more explicitly threw her former client under the metaphorical bus:

“It’s gross, yeah,” Bloom told GMA. “I’m working with a guy who has behaved badly over the years, who is genuinely remorseful, who says, you know, ‘I have caused a lot of pain.’”

Did Bloom actually graduate from law school, or did she just apprentice in her mother’s office (she is Gloria Allred’s daughter) and somehow get an honorary license? Did she never learn about the a lawyer’s duties of loyalty and confidentiality? She obviously didn’t know about conflicts of interest, since she represented Weinstein while agreeing to let him turn her book into a TV miniseries.

Ethics Alarms has previously criticized lawyers who have publicly undermined their former clients. The most recent example  was last year, when a former Trump lawyer used his experiences while representing the future Presidential candidate decades earlier to write a scathing mid-campaign attack on his former client in the Huffington Post. I wrote,

There is strong disagreement in the profession about whether the answer to “Is this unethical?” should be an outright yes. The status of loyalty among the legal ethics values hierarchy is as hotly contested now as it ever has been. If a lawyer wants to attack a former client in a matter unrelated to the representation and no confidences are revealed in the process, is that a legal ethics breach? If it is, it would be a very tough one to prosecute. I think it’s a general ethics breach, as in wrong and unprofessional. It is disloyal, and clients should be able to trust their lawyers not to come back years later, after a client let the lawyer see all of his or her warts, and say, “This guy’s an asshole.” It undermines the strength of the public’s trust in the profession.

Continue reading

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Sometimes It All Comes Together…But First, A Song!

As those who have read here for a while know, among my fondest passions, virtually life-long, are baseball,  theater and ethics. Today, I have the pleasure of seeing them all come together in a single event. How often does that happen?

At noon, I will be giving my most recent musical Continuing Legal Education ethics seminar, “Ethics Cabaret,” at Nationals Park in D.C. prior to the Mets-Nats game. “Ethics Cabaret,” like its six predecessors, presents legal ethics hypotheticals  as parodies of pop, rock, Broadway or country-western standards, presented by a professional performer. In this case, the performer is American Century Theater veteran Esther Covington, who accompanies herself on the keyboard. I write the songs that make the young lawyers cry, but she sings them, beautifully and often hilariously.

Speaking of Barry Manilow, my favorite segment of the seminar is the parody of one of his signature songs, which you can hear above—it’s an ear-worm, so be careful. The legal ethics version is about “Bridge of Spies” and the many quandaries raised in the film, which I examined in this post earlier this year. The parody is called “Who is the Client?,” lyrics-only copyrighted by ProEthics. Here they are….you can sing them along with Barry’s version! Continue reading

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Gene Autry Misinformation Update: Believe It Or Not, It Happened Again!

"Wild Bill" Donovan, who should have had nothing whatever to do with my ethics seminar today, but did anyway...

“Wild Bill” Donovan, who should have had nothing whatever to do with my ethics seminar today, but did anyway…

Yesterday I wrote about a lawyer in a legal ethics seminar interrupting me with a revelation about Gene Autry that was completely false.

Today I taught another legal ethics seminar, this time for a government agency. I was discussing was the various government ethics dilemmas in “Bridge of Spies,” the story of how lawyer Jim Donovan helped secure the release of downed U.S. flyer Francis Gary Powers in a famous incident during the Cold War. Many of the issues covered in my presentation were explored in this Ethics Alarms post.

As the film portrays it, Donovan, an insurance lawyer, does such a tenacious job defending an accused Soviet spy from U.S. government prosecution that the CIA recruits him to broker the trade of his now-former client, convicted and in prison, for Powers. In discussing the classic government lawyer dilemma of “who is the client?,”  I noted that the CIA agent who recruited Donovan told him that he would have no client. “Why did the CIA trust Donovan?” I asked socraticly. “Why did Donovan, an insurance lawyer, think he was qualified to engage in this kind of representation, it it was a representation?”

For the second time in nine days, an attendee piped up with an amazing piece of information.

“I suspect some of the answer to both questions is that James Donovan was the son of “Wild Bill” Donovan, who is considered the father of the Central Intelligence Agency,” he said. Continue reading

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