Ethics Hero: Donald Trump, Jr.

Donald Trump, Jr. just released the entire e-mail chain that the New York Times alluded to (without actually seeing it) in a front page story designed to advance the Russian-Trump collusion  narrative.

Good for him. It would be wonderful if this were the usual course, in the Trump administration and every other one. Stop stonewalling, get the facts out, and take whatever comes.

Observations:

1. New York criminal defense attorney Eric Turkewitz, seemingly displaying  the ethics of his breed, implies that Trump, Jr.’s attorney would have been telling him to delete the messages. That would be unethical, and quite probably spoliation, since the e-mails could be reasonably seen as likely to be sought in an investigation already underway. My assumption is that Trump’s lawyer approved the release. Maybe Eric would have too.

2. Vox, among others, are tracking down partisan election law lawyers who will argue that young Donald was violating election laws. I’m extremely dubious of that.

The relevant statute language:

A solicitation is an oral or written communication that, construed as reasonably understood in the context in which it is made, contains a clear message asking, requesting, or recommending that another person make a contribution, donation, transfer of funds, or otherwise provide anything of value.

Unless one is determined to read the statute as meaning what it pretty clearly does not, “value” means monetary value, not “useful.”  “Value” could reasonable mean services, like spending time and resources hacking DNC computers. But handing over a document already acquired? How is that value if it didn’t cost anything? If the information was not illegally obtained by the Russians, and we have no way of knowing whether it was, then simply receiving proffered information that might be useful in a campaign doesn’t involve a campaign in a crime.

3.  “Colluding” is a pejorative term, but not a legal one. Is an American “colluding” with a foreign power once he or she has been told that the power wants a particular result, and the American takes steps to accomplish the same result, but in his own interests? Is that a crime? No. Continue reading

Update On “The Worst Aunt Ever” Debate

Auntie Maim and Nephew Maimer...

Auntie Maim and Nephew Maimer…

Remember the Ethics Alarms post about the favorite aunt who sued her 12-year old nephew for damages based on her injury when he jumped into her arms at his birthday party when he was 8? Remember the indignant plaintiffs lawyer who couldn’t get his mind around the fact that normal people don’t (ande shouldn’t) always see right and wrong like lawyers do, or that “it’s done all the time” (that is, The Golden Rationalization, #1 on the Rationalizations list, “Everybody does it”) and “there are worse lawsuits” ( or the worst of all rationalizations, #22, “Comparative Virtue” or “Its not the worst thing”) are not sufficient ethical defenses of a woman who voluntarily traumatizes a child who trusts her and who just lost his mother?

The Weekly Standard looks at the episode from some different angles, and writer Charlotte Allen does an excellent job providing a balanced analysis of the case (which I am now using in my ethics seminars to explain to lawyers how legal ethics alone is often not enough to make lawyers ethical). I am awash with regret that I didn’t think of the gag  “Auntie Maim” in the original post, which admittedly went a bit overboard in its condemnation as it was. Mostly, however, I am gratified that I was quoted in the piece after a well-handled interview with Charlotte, and indeed that she used my perspective to sum up the significance of the episode.

You can read it all here.

Ethics Musings I : The Dark Side Of Personal Injury Lawyers

better-call-saul

I’ve been reflecting, since yesterday, on the bizarrely angry and intellectually dishonest protests registered here and on his own blog by trial lawyer Eric Turkewitz regarding the aunt who sued her 12-year-old nephew. His arguments, if you can call them that, consisted of constantly shifting the issue from ethics (what the aunt should have done) to law (what the aunt had a legal right to do), denying the core problem (Why would anyone assume that a child is harmed by dragging him into court, subjecting him to examination in front of strangers, and focusing on him as a wrongdoer and responsible for his aunt’s alleges misery, all mandated by the aunt who supposedly loves him?), and appealing to a dizzying list of rationalization and fallacies. He then made his exit by accusing me, a lawyer, of “knowing nothing about the law” (I made no assertions about the law at all—this is not a legal issue) making everyone stupid, and being a narcissist, a full-bore ad hominem attack ending in an ominous “May God have mercy on your soul!” Why would he act like that?

The reason, I realize, is that my posts challenge the basic belief system of the plaintiff’s bar, which I know very, very well having worked in an executive position and run such diverse programs as the research data base, conventions, sections, litigation groups and more over seven years with the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Now ATLA is called “The American Association for Justice,” a name chosen purposefully to disguise the fact that it is a plaintiff’s lawyer’s lobby by keeping “trial lawyers” out of the name because it had a negative response in marketing studies. (I kid you not.)

Trial lawyers have done a lot of good and important things and continue to, but the profession is corrupting. There is a lot of money to be made, and ATLA–excuse me, AAJ, is devoted to eliminating any limits on their members’ ability to sue anyone for any amount, no matter what harm it does to the economy, the nation, the cost of health care, the bonds of trust in society, personal liberty, or public respect for the civil justice system. Individually, members of AAJ are among the top donors to the Democratic Party, in part to make sure that they can block all Republican efforts to limit jury awards, spurious lawsuits, and damages that have to be paid by negligent corporations when they destroy lives through shoddy products, conspiracies, and other conduct. The other reason is that Democrats support the redistribution of wealth, and trial lawyers profit by it.

In the matter of keeping corporations accountable, the AAJ is, as they will constantly remind us, on the side of the angels. But like other interest groups (the NRA, the ACLU, NOW, and may more) that stake out  extreme, self-serving and unethical positions in defense of legitimate rights, trial lawyers often feel that they must take the position that every injury and misfortune deserves compensation by someone else. Eventually, they believe it. Justice is taken out of the equation for all but the plaintiffs bar’s clients. Justice means that someone else is always at fault. Continue reading

My Reply To Eric Turkewitz’s Criticism Regarding “The Worst Aunt Ever”

This guy would have given The Bad Aunt the right advice...

This guy would have given The Bad Aunt the right advice…

Eric Turkewitz is a New York trial attorney, by all accounts a terrific lawyer, by the evidence of his writing an ethical and astute one, in our brief encounters a very nice guy, and the proprietor of “The New York Personal Injury Law Blog.” In a recent post, he defends the decision of Jennifer Connell to sue her young nephew for a four-year old injury she received when he hugged her too enthusiastically at her birthday party. He notes, correctly, that the decision to sue was based on the client accepting a “bad call” by her lawyer. He also includes a lot of information not mentioned in the early posts on the matter, including mine. Still, he defends Connell. He also specifically criticizes my post. Eric writes,

And this is from Jack Marshall, who says he actually teaches ethics and has a blog called Ethics Alarms (coded “no follow“):

“What’s going on is that Aunt Jennifer is pure hellspawn, a mysteriously animated pile of human excrement that embodies the worst of humanity.”

This is what happens when people elect to post stuff on the web based on an initial news report that was, shall we say, very selective on what it chose to report. This site is getting quite a bit of traffic, most likely from many who never knew it existed. So let me answer a question some of you may have: Yes, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of lawsuits, and they weren’t nearly as benign as this run-of-the-mill kind: On Suing and Being Sued.

Yes, I “actually teach ethics,” and I could, in fact, teach Eric some things that he would find useful and enlightening. I’m not going to get in a pissing match with him, in part because, as I learned from another tiff four years ago (in which I was wrong, and duly apologized), he has some very, very nasty pals, and I don’t want to throw blood in the water. This is, however, an excellent example of how lawyers often end up seeing the world, and in fact I may use his post, unattributed, in seminars to show where legal ethics and ethics diverge. It is wise for lawyers to be atuned to both.

Here was the response I made to Eric on his blog: Continue reading

The Wall Street Journal Steals From A Blogging Lawyer…Luckily For Them, A Nice One

A lawyer asks: Will Google Cars put me out of business? The Wall Street Journal  asks: Why shouldn't we make money off your answer?

A lawyer asks: Will Google Cars put me out of business? The Wall Street Journal asks: Why shouldn’t we make money off your answer?

I always do a double-take when I see that someone has “re-blogged” a piece from Ethics Alarms. Unless there is something in my WordPress agreement that allows other bloggers to lift my work and publish it as their content without my permission—oh, who knows, there probably is—this is a copyright violation, but worse than that, it’s wrong. Apparently they think that if they give attribution, that makes everything fine. Why would they think that? I’m writing for my blog, not anyone else’s. If a blogger wants to reprint all, most or some of my commentary in order to critique it, that’s fine ( WindyPundit is doing this right now). But lifting all or most of my work to fill space on your website, without my permission? Not fair, and not ethical.

This just happened to personal injury lawyer and estimable blogger Eric Turkewitz, but the culprit wasn’t a blogger, it was the Wall Street Journal. It took his post about Google Cars and just slapped it into the print and online editions of the paper. “Lawyer Eric Turkewitz writes that self-driving cars will hurt the business of many personal-injury attorneys,” said the sub-head under “Notable and Quotable.” Hmmm. Usually a writer gets paid to write features for a newspaper. I guess just lifting copy without permission is “Fair Use.”

No, First Amendment expert Marc Randazza points out in his typically irreverent way, it isn’t:

In this case, the Wall Street Journal used 44% of Turkewitz’ post, with no additional commentary, criticism, or discussion.  The WSJ could have called Turkewitz a moron for his views, and quoted the whole thing (theoretically).  Or, the WSJ could have given approval, more discussion, or turned the article into piece of art, with spray painted Che Guevaras and stencils of Paris Hilton, as a commentary on Turkewitz, tomato soup, and golf, or whatever.  But, they didn’t do any of that.  

So lets look at the §107 [Fair Use]factors

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The purpose and character of the use is certainly commercial and for profit. The WSJ sold its newspaper with Turkewitz’ work in it, and even put it behind its paywall online. Same exact use, except WSJ took what Turkewitz distributes for free, gathered it, and sold it.

The nature of the copyrighted work was Turkewitz’ original opinions and thoughts.

The amount and substantiality of the portion used? 44%. Pretty substantial. Remember, this is not dispositive, but if you used almost half of an original work, you better have a good reason.

The effect of the use on the potential market for the value of the copyrighted work? That’s sorta iffy. It isn’t as if Turkewitz sells his work. But, that is not a requirement. Turkewitz’ blog currency is readership. If you do some quick online searches for some of the content, sometimes the WSJ version comes up above Turkewtiz’ version. Not cool. Ultimately, the WSJ blew it here because they didn’t add anything to the original — they just lifted it and reposted it….

So the verdict? The Wall Street Journal is definitely guilty of copyright infringement for lifting a bloggers’ work without any justification.

It’s worse than that, however. Continue reading

Note to Lawyers: Celebrities Have Confidences Too

Eric Turkewitz, on his New York Personal Injury Law blog, properly and pointedly flags an outrageous instance of a lawyer running to the press with information the professional ethics rules governing lawyers say that he must keep  confidential absent permission to reveal them.

Stuart Goldberg, a Chicago criminal lawyer, was consulted by former child actress-turned-celebrity-bad-girl-turned-prisoner Lindsay Lohan as she sought new counsel to help her with her long-running legal woes. Lohan decided to pay her legal bills to someone else, and it was the first smart move Lindsay has made in a long, long time. Goldberg demonstrated his trustworthiness by dashing over to People Magazine and blabbing about his impressions of Lohan during their meeting as well as the content of their discussion. Continue reading

Apology: How I Became an April Fool and an Ethics Dunce

I’m not going to spin this. My conviction that the web hoax engineered by trial lawyer/blogger Eric Turkewitz violated the legal ethics rules was the product of a toxic mix of factors, prime among then being that I didn’t review my own files. When I finally, after nearly two days of answering complaints when I should have been hitting the books, checked the Rules of an ethics bellweather state that I often work in but had not for longer than usual, I read this:

RULE 8.4 Misconduct

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

…(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation which reflects adversely on the
lawyer’s fitness to practice law;

This is an unusual version of Model Rule 8.4; indeed, the only other state to have adopted it (I think—I am no longer sure of much) is Wyoming. Yet it is a very useful variation of the Model Rule, because it eliminates all ambiguity about whether “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” is meant to be as sweeping as it sounds. This formulation makes it clear that non-legal practice violations are covered, but that they have to reflect adversely on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law to qualify.

I had been wallowing in obscure clues from other jurisdictions–Tennessee, for example, which has the ABA wording but an odd Comment that begins…

[4] Paragraph (c) prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Such conduct reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law…

This could be taken to mean that all such conduct reflects adversely on fitness. The problem is, I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe that Tennessee means that.

The 8.4 version that I found was from…Virginia. Where I live. Where I have done more ethics CLE than anywhere else, beginning before the state even adopted the Model Rules format. Seeing this, two conclusions were unavoidable:

1. This is the predominant way jurisdictions think about 8.4. No state has rejected Virginia’s approach, and several have referenced it in Legal Ethics Opinions on the topic of what kind of non-legal practice-related conduct is covered by the Rules—-not subject to discipline, as I was arguing the past two days, but covered at all. The D.C. Bar has such an LEO, number 323, from 2004. I had a copy on file. The District of Columbia, where I’m a member of the bar.

2. I had made a big and inexcusable mistake, and compounded it by acting like the King of the Jerkwads. Continue reading