When Doing The Ethical Thing Is Ugly But Necessary: AG Sessions’ Retracts One Of Those Obama “Dear Colleague Letters”

By the way, “when doing the ethical thing is ugly but necessary” both refers to Sessions’ action and my writing this post…

 In March 2016 , President Obama’s Justice Department sent another one of the administrations patented (well, not really) “Dear Colleague letters” like the one that was used to bully colleges and universities into punishing male students for alleged sexual assault in the absence of sufficient evidence. This one was sent to state and local courts, urging them <cough>to review their procedures regarding fines and other punishments issued to the indigent  to ensure that they were consistent with “due process, equal protection and sound public policy.” The Justice Department’s 2016 release linked the letter to its description of a $2.5 million grant program to help agencies develop strategies that reduce unnecessary confinement of those who can’t pay fines and fees.” The letter said in part,

“Typically, courts do not sentence defendants to incarceration in these cases; monetary fines are the norm. Yet the harm caused by unlawful practices in these jurisdictions can be profound. Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.”

The letter also outlined “basic constitutional principles” regarding fee and fine enforcement. They included: Continue reading

Ethics Lesson: Judges Can’t Campaign Like Other Candidates


The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia suspended Judge Stephen Callaghan for two years and fined him $15,000 for a campaign flyer that it deemed dishonest. The court said that the flier  depicted the incumbent judge, Gary Johnson, as “partying” with President Obama. Johnson had visited the White House for a federally required conference on fighting child trafficking, but  he didn’t see Obama there, there was no party, and no function involving alcohol. The flier was mailed out five days before the May 2016 election, which Callaghan won.  Callaghan won the election by 220 votes.

The flier was “in every sense, materially false” according to the decision. You can see it above. Photos of Obama and Johnson are shown next to each other. Obama is shown holding a beer and streamers are in the background. The caption reads, “Barack Obama & Gary Johnson Party at the White House.” The opposite side of the flier read,

“While Nicholas County lost hundreds of jobs to Barack Obama’s coal policies, Judge Gary Johnson accepted an invitation from Obama to come to the White House to support Obama’s legislative agenda. That same month, news outlets reported a 76% drop in coal mining employment. Can we trust Judge Gary Johnson to defend Nicholas County against job-killer Barack Obama?”

After Johnson objected to the flier ( and probably threatened to sic the Judicial Ethics Panel on him), Callaghan removed the flier from his Facebook pages and ran radio ads saying the flier’s “specific characterization of the White House visit may be inaccurate and misleading,” and “candidate Callaghan apologizes for any misunderstanding or inaccuracies.” Continue reading

Nick Kyrgios, Pro Tennis Fick

Or, perhaps, Nick Kyrgios is the pro tennis Donald Trump?

A fick is someone who is openly unethical and defiant about it. Leroy Fick gave the condition his name when he laughed about collecting public assistance checks in Michigan after winning millions in the state lottery. There have been many ficks past and present: one of them is running for President. Nick Kyrgios is pro tennis’s fick, and the sport is proving itself an ethics dunce of Republican Party proportions by not  banning him from competition until he shapes up.

The gifted 21-year-old, who has already been fined many times for ugly behavior during matches including insulting spectators and officials, sank to new depths this week at a tournament in Shanghai.  Kyrgios blatantly tanked his match against Mischa Zverev, declining to make an effort to win on many points. Among his displays of contempt for the match was  hitting a lob serve  and walking off the court before Zverev  could  return it.  He lost a 48 minute straight-set decision, 6-3, 6-1.

“Nick, you can’t play like that, okay?” The chair umpire said when Kyrgios threw away a point . “It’s just not professional.”

Ooooh, that should scare him! How about, “Do that again, young man, and you’ll forfeit the match and your prize money. And that will be for starters. Understand?”

When a fan criticized him from the stands, he shouted back,  “You wanna come here and play?Sit down and shut up and watch.” Required answer: “Sure. I’ll play.  couldn’t do any worse than you, and at least I’d do my best.” After the match, Kyrgios was asked by a reporter if  his conduct wasn’t disrespectful to paying fans.

“I don’t owe them anything,” he said. “If you don’t like it, I didn’t ask you to come watch. Just leave.”

Fick. Continue reading

On The Other Hand, Libertarians Have Good Reasons To Distrust The Government, Like Washington’s 520 Bridge Toll Trap

SR-520-toll-signNicola Livic, of Redmond, Washington  has a transponder on his car that is linked to a credit card that automatically pays his tolls when he crosses Washington’s floating Highway 520 Bridge. His credit-card number was changed by his bank due to a fraud threat, so his online account stopped working.

The motor-vehicle department also had his mailing address wrong, so when it tried to alert him that his tolls were in arrears, the letter ended up who-knows-where. Meanwhile, fees and fines were added, and compounded. By the time Mr. Livic realized the problem, he owed $3,545 to the state, less than $300 of which were the tolls.

He appealed the bill at the state Department of Transportation (DOT), and was told, in essence, “Tough.”

He is not alone. The system, in which a photo of a vehicle is taken as it crosses the bridge and the owner is billed, but without subsequent warnings or reminders if payment is overdue, is guaranteed—a conspiracy theorist would say designed— to generate snafus that the citizen is always going to pay for, and through the nose. The fine on each missed four dollar toll is $40, and over time, the fines turn into multi-thousand-dollar collection actions. Appeals go to an administrative review system set up by the transportation agency itself. This is what we commonly call  “a conflict of interest.” The state makes an average of $65,000 just in fines on the 520 bridge tolls each day. It loves this system. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: The Union Street Guest House Hotel In Hudson, New York


Until it was brought to the attention of the news media and removed, the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York posted the following policy:

Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our Inn, your friends and families may not. This is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer – therefore we expect you to explain that to them. USGH & Hudson are historic. The buildings here are old (but restored). Our bathrooms and kitchens are designed to look old in an artistic “vintage” way. Our furniture is mostly hip, period furniture that you would see in many design magazines. (although comfortable and functional – obviously all beds are brand new) If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here.

Therefore: If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review. (Please NOTE we will not charge this fee &/or will refund this fee once the review is taken down). Also, please note that we only request this of wedding parties and for the reasons explained above.

The policy may be legal. It is certainly unethical, intimidating guests from posting their honest opinions of the service and accommodations at the establishment by threatening them with a hefty fine.I supposed this is marginally better than announcing that in the event that one posts a negative review  online, Mario the Crusher will visit your mother and knock her teeth in, but the effect is the same. To rent facilities at this charming hotel, you had to surrender a portion of your honesty, candor, and freedom to communicate.

The hotel’s owners qualify as double dunces: after the provision was roundly mocked in the media, they explained that it was all a joke.  “‘The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago, the proprietors told  CNBC . “It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced.”  Uh-huh. A joke. Boy, my sides were splitting when I read that policy—the witty verbiage, the playful banter, the wry tone and satiric touches! These guys should write for…the News Nerd.

Adding to the manifest dishonesty of the hotel’s denial—“many years ago?” Internet reviews of hotels weren’t common “many years ago”— are reports that the hotel indeed tried to enforce the ugly policy on some guests before it was revealed to the world.

Blogger and law professor Eugene Volokh ended his post about this Hotel Hell by noting that perhaps it was all a joke after all. Maybe he was moved to give it the benefit of a very dubious doubt indeed because he couldn’t imagine, if the policy were real, why any rational person would voluntarily use the facilities of a hospitality enterprise that begins  business relationships with threats and bullying tactics.

I wonder about that myself.


Pointer and Source: Volokh

More Graduation Ethics: The Cap And The Feather

eagle feather

In contrast to the Roy Costner saga, we have the graduation conduct of Chelsey Ramer, proud member Poarch Creek Band of Indians and a graduating senior at  Escambia Academy High School in Atmore, Alabama. Four years ago, graduating members of her tribe had worn ceremonial eagle feathers in their caps at the school’s graduation procession and the handing out of  diplomas. The school tool no action then, because it was taken by surprise, but this year, Chelsey’s class was presented with new dress code, as well as a contract seniors had to sign in order to participate in graduation ceremonies.

It forbade any “extraneous items during graduation exercises.” It also said students violating the agreement would not receive their diplomas until appropriate disciplinary actions were taken and students paid a whopping $1,000 fine.

Chelsey says she refused to sign the contract.  She decided that honoring her heritage with an eagle feather on her cap was worth whatever consequences that resulted. She wore the feather, and now the school is demanding that she pay the thousand dollar fine to receive her transcripts and diploma.

Ethics findings: Continue reading

Punishing Corrupt Companies Without Punishing the People Who Make Them Corrupt

By all means, fine corrupt companies, but we need a new dress code for their management.

From The National Law Journal, December 8:

“The Justice Department has announced that Wachovia Bank N.A., now known as Wells Fargo Bank N.A., will pay $148 million to federal and state agencies after admitting to anti-competitive activity in the municipal bond investments market.”

I understand why the Justice Department, the SEC and other federal agencies fine companies huge amounts for what is essentially criminal conduct, choosing negotiated settlements rather than engaging in time-consuming trials that would cost taxpayers money and risk failing for reasons ranging from investigator error to skillful defense strategy. Nevertheless, the policy encourages rather than discourages unethical conduct by corporate decision-makers. It  does nothing to improve a culture that tends to define a bad business practice as a gamble that doesn’t work, or a scheme that gets discovered. Continue reading

Kobe Bryant’s Two-Word Ethics Train Wreck

"Fucking" + "faggot"= ?

In the heat of an NBA game, Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant shouted a two-word epithet at a NBA ref, estimated to be the 9,675,987, 555, 321,005, 349,674, 021st time a player has insulted a ref in hoops since they started keeping count in 1973. Unfortunately, the two words were “fucking faggot.”

And it was picked up by the TV microphones.

In rapid succession, the Gay Lesbian Transgendered advocates were all over the NBA,  calling a foul; Bryant was apologizing, and the NBA was fining Bryant $100,000.

Ethics train wreck. It’s a train wreck because whatever happens at this point, the result has ethical problems, and the lesson is ethically muddled. There is no question at all that if the remark by Bryant hadn’t been picked up by the mics, there would be no issue, no controversy. But it was, which means that a comment intended for one individual (if that) became a national display of incivility (or worse.) Continue reading

The Officious Intermeddlers, the Victory Cigars, and Exception Ethics

The Cincinnati Reds just clinched their first post-season playoff appearance since my son was born, and he’s 15. Understandably, the triumph set off the traditional and familiar sports team celebratory nonsense, with grown men shouting and jumping on each other and spraying everyone with champagne. Some of the Reds, led by Reds owner Bob Castellini, lit “victory cigars,” a guy-thing ritual that dates back beyond memory, though it was made especially famous by Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach, who would light a cigar from his perch on the Celtics bench as soon as he was certain a game had been won. (Yes, upon reflection, it was obnoxious. They loved it in Boston, though.)

No sooner had some of the Reds taken their victory drag on the stogies than several Cincinnati citizens hit the phones, complaining the Reds had broken the law. Continue reading