Robert Bowman Redux, Times Two, But Ohio’s Nicer Than New York

For several years I chronicled the frustrating travails of aspiring lawyer Robert Bowman. He was the New York law student repeatedly turned down for membership in the bar by  a panel of New York judges, who determined that he did not have the requisite good character to be admitted to the practice of law in New York because he owed nearly a half-million dollars in student loans. Not paying back financial commitments is one of the specific components of “moral turpitude,” which will block anyone from becoming a lawyer, though it will seldom get one kicked out of the profession after one becomes a lawyer. Go figure. The panel kept rejecting Bowman  because they felt his debt was per se proof of  irresponsible and negligent financial management, making him an unacceptable risk for any client.

A New York bar association subcommittee investigated, and  concluded that far from being of dubious character, Bowman was an individual of “exceptional character,” with unusual perseverance, humility and tenacity. It strongly recommended him for admission to the New York Bar, despite the outstanding debts. Ireaclize now that I never told Ethics Alarms readers “the rest of the story”: Bowman is a New York lawyer now. He finally won his appeal, though the news media, which chronicled his failures, decided that his ultimate success wasn’t newsworthy.

How do I know this? Bowman contacted me himself to tell me. He said he was grateful to all the people who had supported his quest, and was telling each of them, individually, in person.

Now comes the story, also with a possible happy ending, of another frustrated lawyer-to-be with similar issues, this time in Ohio, although I must say that her circumstances seem a bit more difficult to excuse. Cynthia Marie Rodgers (above) is a Capital University School of Law graduate whose Ohio character and fitness application was rejected because she has nearly twice as much school loan debt as Bowman, almost $900,000. Continue reading

Animal Treatment Ethics, Stowaway Raccoon Division: Should A Lawyer Face Professional Sanctions For This?

Controversial Cruelty to Animals Day at Ethics Alarms continues (I don’t plan these things) with this legal ethics story out of Florida. The video above is at the center of it.

Florida disciplinary authorities have opened an investigation into the professional fitness of a lawyer who forced a stowaway  racoon off of his boat a long way from shore,  and thought it was all amusing enough to post a video of the incident on Facebook. The bar’s assumption is that the animal drowned.  The lawyer is now subject to prosecution for a violation of Florida’s wildlife laws.

In Florida, as in every other U.S. jurisdiction, one of the kinds of unethical conduct that can result in bar discipline is committing “a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects,”  as stated by  Rule 8.4 (b) of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct . Should the nautical lawyer’s conduct  qualify?

You may recall a far more egregious case of animal cruelty by a lawyer discussed here, where I questioned if a psychopath lawyer’s fatal attack on his girlfriend’s dog Snoopy really tells us anything about his trustworthiness as a lawyer. I wrote then,

Emotionally, I have no problem with seeing an animal abuser kicked out of my profession, but I don’t understand what values are being applied. Is it the commission of a crime? Most lawyer crimes don’t result in disbarment, if they don’t involve lying, cheating or stealing. …There is no basis on which to conclude that [Snoppy’s killer]  isn’t competent, zealous and trustworthy—just keep him away from pets.

Now, you may well ask, “Isn’t this at least “moral turpitude?” That’s the character flaw that will keep applicants for bar membership from getting a license due to character deficiency. There are two points related to that. First, moral turpitude might keep you out of the law at the outset, but it is not one of the official no-nos that will get you kicked out of it one you are a practicing lawyer.  The legal  definition of moral turpitude is an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community. Brutalizing an animal would certainly qualify. The ABA, however, greatly narrowed the definition as it was applicable to legal discipline:

The 1983 Model Code (periodically amended by the ABA House of Delegates over the last 32 years) rejected the prohibition against “illegal conduct involving moral turpitude.” The ABA’s reason, which it included in a Comment to its Rule 8.4, was quite simple: “Moral turpitude,” the ABA advised, is a “concept can be construed to include offenses concerning some matters of personal morality, such as adultery and comparable offenses, that have no specific connection to fitness for the practice of law. Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice.” The American Law Institute’s Restatement of the Law Governing Lawyers § 5 (Third) (ALI 2000), agreed. It also concluded that “moral turpitude” is vague and may lead to discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate applications.”

This looks like an Ick Factor case to me. The abuse of poor Snoopy is so viscerally repulsive that the bar and the courts can’t keep their ethical priorities in order. It is also, as particularly ugly discipline cases often are, a matter of public relations and self-preservation for the legal profession. The bar association knows that not banning a lawyer like Pastor—one hopes there aren’t many–signals to the public that the bar welcomes brilliant advocates who may be monsters in their spare time. That is a dark and dangerous road the profession would rather avoid.

The lawyer in the Florida video also has some defenses the poodle-stomper did not.  Raccoons are wild animals, and cute as the are, they also bite. I wouldn’t want to be trapped on a boat in middle of the ocean with one, though I wouldn’t throw the critter overboard either, unless it was me or him. (My father had a home movie of me jumping out of a canoe and swimming to a lake’s shore when I saw a large spider in the vessel. Of course, I was only 15. All right, I was 26….) The raccoon may have also been a better swimmer than everyone assumes: unlike in the case of poor Snoopy, the lawyer wasn’t trying to kill the animal, just get it off the boat.

I do not, however, second the opinion of Law professor Dane Ciolino, writing on his Louisiana Legal Ethics blog, who says in discussing the case, “A Maryland lawyer was suspended for microwaving a cat. But a racoon? I think not.”

Wait—is the professor really saying that microwaving a live raccoon would not justify bar sanctions, but a cooking a cat does? That’s animal bigotry, but it is consistent with what I detected in the Snoopy case. If that lawyer had stomped to death a raccoon that wandered into the apartment, I doubt that he would have been disciplined.

Yet animal cruelty is animal cruelty. If gratuitously killing a dog or a cat shows that a lawyer is unfit to practice, so does unnecessarily killing a raccoon.


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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, “Happy Birthday George Washington!” Edition

Good Morning!

1 The Indispensable Man...This is George Washington’s birthday, and every American alive and dead owes him an unmatched debt of gratitude. A useful assessment of why this is true can be found here.

Not only was Washington indispensable as the military leader who won the Revolution, he was also, it seems likely, the only human being who could have navigated the impossibly difficult job of being the first President of a new nation attempting an unprecedented experiment in democracy. The precedents he set by his remarkable judgment, presence, wisdom, character and restraint continue to be a force today. Washington was also perhaps the most ethical man who has ever been President. The principles that guided him from his youth and that resulted in his being the only man trusted by the brilliant but often ruthless Founders who chose him to lead their new country can be reviewed here, but two of them tell us what we need to know about Washington’s ideals…the first,

Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

…and the last,

 Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

Revoltingly, the average American is largely ignorant regarding the great man whose face adorns the one dollar bill. For example,  a recent YouGov survey asked respondents who was the best President in U.S. history. 16% of Americans selected Ronald Reagan, and 16% selected Barack Obama. Abraham Lincoln took third place with 15%. Washington finished fourth,but only 10% of those surveyed named him as the best President,  14 percent of Republicans, and only six percent of Democrats. I assume that Reagan, and I hope even Obama, would find these results ridiculous. They tell us that citizens can not distinguish politics from virtue. They tell us that the schools teach neither history nor critical thought effectively. They tell us that Democrats regard the fact that Washington was a slaveholder more notable than the fact that he made the United States possible. They tell us that the nation is losing a connection to its origins, heroes and values. It tells us that most of the public is ignorant of things that competent citizens must know.

It tells me that when an advocate cites a poll that says, “Americans want this,” the proper response is “Why should anyone trust their judgment? They think Regan and Obama were better Presidents than George Washington.”

2. Children’s Crusade update: Both CNN and HLN are flogging the high school student protests virtually to the exclusion of any thing else. The total commitment to aggressive and emotional advocacy on the part of the mainstream news media was disgraceful after the Sandy Hook school shooting, but this is worse; just when I think our journalism has hit the bottom, it finds a way to go lower.

This morning on HLN, I was greeted by an extremely articulate Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivor who said,  confidently and radiating certitude, “These episodes are completely preventable.” Putting such nonsense on the air, even when spoken by an attractive, sympathetic, youthful idealist who perhaps cannot be blamed for not knowing what the hell she’s talking about,is irresponsible and incompetent. It is no different from saying “The Holocaust never happened,” Barack Obama was born in Kenya” or “The world is ruled by the Illuminati.” “These episodes are completely preventable” is, from the mouth of anyone qualified to be on television talking about gun policy, a lie, and from someone like this young woman, as naive as professing a belief in Santa Claus. Such statements should not be presented in a news forum as a substantive or serious position. A news organization has an ethical obligation either to correct the misinformation, or not to broadcast it without context, like “Here is the kind of arguments these child activists are making, making serious and coherent debate impossible.”

When the crawl across the bottom of my screen added another argument from one of the activist students—has there ever been a time when the policy analysis of people lacking high school diplomas has ever been given so much media attention and credibility?—that read, “Student protester: “People are buying guns who don’t need them,” I switched to the Cartoon Network

Right, kid, let’s pass laws that prohibit citizens from buying what the government decides they don’t need.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/18/2017: Welcome To My World! Special Legal Follies Edition

Good Morning!

1  Oh, let’s begin the day with Roy Moore, the former Alabama judge and present wacko whom Alabama Republicans voted to represent the GOP in the 2018 U.S. Senate election, thus proving that there are a lot of deplorables in the state. As was completely predictable given his record, Moore recently told his drooling followers (after being introduced by Abraham Hamilton, Alexander Lincoln being unavailable),

“Somebody should be talking to the Supreme Court of the United States and say, ‘What gives them a right to declare that two men can get married?. . . Tell the Congress: Impeach these justices that put themselves above the Constitution. They’re judicial supremists and they should be taken off the bench.”

Comments Jonathan Turley,

So Moore believes that he should not have been removed from the bench for putting his personal religious beliefs above the Constitution, but justices should be removed if they interpretation the Constitution in a way that contradicts his religious beliefs.  This, he insisted, would ‘solve the problem….such a view would violate not just fundamental principles of judicial review but it would violate the impeachment clause.  As the last lead counsel in a judicial impeachment case (in defense of Judge Thomas Porteous), Moore’s view is deeply troubling.  As I have previously written, the Good Behavior Clause of Article III was designed to protect the independence of the judiciary and insulate it from political pressures.  It was meant as a guarantee of life tenure against precisely the type of threat that Moore is endorsing. 

But it’s pointless to make genuine legal and historical arguments against someone like Moore. He’s a theocrat, a fanatic, a bigot and a demagogue. The Republican Party should endorse his opposition and campaign against Moore. This fiasco is their fault, and someone like Moore should be kept out Congress at all costs.

2. Now to someone who is, incredible as it seems, somewhat less ridiculous, this gentleman, Christopher Wilson…

 

No, that’s not a botched tattoo on his forehead: the blurry words are “fuck” and “sluts”, making the whole, eloquent message, “I’m a porn star. I fuck teen sluts.” This roughly translates into  “Look at me! I’m an idiot!”  The newspapers that refused to print the blurred words (the police had the mugshot altered) that are essential to the story, meanwhile, are telling us, “We don’t understand our profession.” The story is incomprehensible if the actual words aren’t clear, literally or figuratively.  Fox News and the NY Post, for example, say, “The Cincinnati man has the words “I’m a pornstar” tattooed on his forehead” and “another vulgar message” tattooed below.” Since the issue is whether the message on his FACE is going to prejudice the jury in his trial for sexual assault, this is juvenile coverage omitting key information to avoid “giving offense.”

Ethics Alarms to the news media: Grow up.

Turley (again…he loves the tattoo stories) writes,

“The court will be left with a question of whether the tattoo is too prejudicial or whether it is unavoidable as a personal choice of the defendant….Yet, these tattoos contain an admission to the crime at issue in the trial.  In the end, a judge could legitimately conclude that this falls into the category as bad choices bringing even worse consequences.”

What? First, the defendant is not charged with fucking teen sluts while acting as a porn star. That conduct could well be consensual and legal.  Turley is also wrong that the judge could “legitimately” allow the jury to see his message. In both cases involving a defendant’s prejudicial tattoos, the judges agreed that they had to be made invisible, in one case using make-up… Continue reading

But…But… It Doesn’t Mean He’s Not A Good Lawyer!

RIP, Snoopy.

This is a fascinating example of the legal community’s incomprehensible standards regarding who is and who isn’t fit to practice law.

In New York,  the bar took away lawyer Anthony A. Pastor’s license after he violently killed his girlfriend’s poodle “Snoopy.” See Matter of Pastor, 2017 NY Slip Op 06729, (App. Div. 1st Dept. Sep. 28, 2017).

An autopsy revealed that Snoopy  had nine broken ribs, a crushed kidney and massive internal bleeding, all at the hands of Pastor.

In disbarring Pastor, [ Matter of Pastor, 2017 NY Slip Op 06729, (App. Div. 1st Dept. Sep. 28, 2017)], the court noted that the sentencing judge’s comments that the respondent’s conduct “‘showed almost incomprehensible violence, and malice,’ that the dog was in ‘excruciating pain’ up until she lost consciousness while respondent ‘sat down at his computer in the most cold-blooded manner, and went to work, knowing that the dog lay dying, . . . on the floor behind him.’”

Nice.

But what does it have to do with whether the creep is a competent, honest, trustworthy lawyer?

Again I note that John Edwards never faced discipline for his massive deceptions and machinations, while his wife was dying of cancer, and while he was running for President. This conduct directly implicated trust and character, yet the refrain of Edwards’ colleagues was that his deceptions and cruelty, while clearly unconscionable, did not involve the practice of law, and thus did not preclude Edwards continuing to be regarded as a trustworthy lawyer. Are they kidding? I wouldn’t trust John Edwards to mail my water bill. Still, I hear this argument all the time in my legal ethics classes. One hypothetical is about a law partner who is caught cheating at poker in a regular game among fellow attorneys. Does that conduct mandate reporting him to the bar for discipline? Most lawyers say no.

They are wrong. Continue reading

The Legal Profession Appears To Have A Serious Character Standards Problem…

I refer you, for context, to the recent post about Shon Hopwood, Georgetown Law Center’s former bank-robber, former federal prisoner professor, who was welcomed into membership in the D.C. bar…like me.

Now comes word that Tarra Simmons, a third-year law student, convicted felon and former drug addict, who in December won a Skadden Fellowship to help people recently released from prison, was told by the Washington State Bar Association that she did not possess the character to make her a trustworthy lawyer.

Tarra was a magna cum laude law school graduate, and co-chairs Washington’s Statewide Re-Entry Council.  She recently received a gubernatorial appointment to the state’s Public Defense Advisory Committee, and was selected by the dean of Seattle University School of Law to receive the school’s dean’s medal this year.

Nevertheless, the character and fitness board’s vote against Simmons was not even close, at 6-3.

A registered nurse for 11 years, Simmons became addicted to prescription drugs and methamphetamine after her father died, as she self-medicated for depression. In 2011, she was charged with felony theft, drug possession and gun possession, pleaded guilty, served 20 months in state prison. She says she  wants to assist former justice-involved individuals, as  a lawyer who has lived their experience, so they “can overcome barriers and rejoin society.”

But Tarra cannot cannot take the Washington Bar examination without getting a positive  character and fitness recommendation, and that looks unlikely. She’s appealing to the Washington Supreme Court, but traditionally that forum is tougher in assessing the  character and fitness of  potential admittees.

I think her course now is obvious: move to the District of Columbia. The bar there will surely see no reason to doubt her character.

After all, it’s not like she robbed a bank.

__________________________

Pointer: ABA Journal

Ethics Quiz: The Bank Robber Professor

A few weeks ago the Washington Post published the unusual story of  Shon Hopwood, a member of the D.C. Bar and  a tenure-track faculty member at the Georgetown University Law Center. He spent 11 years in federal prison for robbing banks n Nebraska—that’s banks, plural—became a jailhouse “lawyer,” got  a scholarship to law school, was somehow approved as meeting the character provisions required for bar membership, and now amuses his Georgetown law students with tales about how when he played basketball in federal prison, he had to carry a shank in case his team started to lose.

You should read his story, which I’m sure will enrich Hopwood in  a movie deal, if it hasn’t already, but you shouldn’t have to read it before you answer today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Should a convicted bank robber be teaching law students?

Continue reading

Fake Legal Résumé Ethics

fake-resume-usaWhat the legal profession will regard as conduct that calls into question a lawyer’s honesty sufficiently to disbar him is a mysterious and unpredictable area. Remember, John Edwards never received as much as a rap on the wrists for his exorbitant lying to hide the fact that he had a mistress and a love child while he was running for President in 2008. Now the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board has been affirmed in its decision to disbar lawyer Ali Zaidi for having false credentials and representations on his professional resumé.

I would expect that to send chills down many a lawyer’s spine, since professional resumés of lawyers and non-lawyers alike are so frequently loaded with puffery that it is almost an “everybody does it” ethical breach. (This is my favorite, the long-time lie of Clinton crony Bill Richardson.) Fortunately for most of them, the Rules of Professional Conduct involving honesty are narrowly interpreted to exclude all but violations of law, breaking official pledges, defaulting on loans and lying under oath, unless they involve the actual practice of law. (Lying to a judge, to a client or in a brief is career suicide.) Does a resumé fudge qualify as the unethical practice of law? Not usually: Ziadi’s must have been something special.

It was. Continue reading

A Slap On The Wrist For The Lawyer Who Demanded 65 Million Dollars For A Lost Pair Of Pants

And they weren't even Elvis' pants...

And they weren’t even Elvis’ pants…

There has been a lot of beating up on judges and lawyers lately, on this blog and elsewhere, so what better time to revisit the weird case of foormer administrative law judge and current attorney Roy Pearson, Jr? He was the D.C.  judge who carried on such a vendetta against a dry cleaner because they lost a pair of his pants that it became national news…which is to say, it was discussed on The View and the women made fools of themselves. Not as big fools as the judge made of himself, though.

Pearson claimed that in 2005, the dry cleaners gave him the wrong pair of pants and refused to pay him the $1,150 he demanded as compensation. His suit—his $67 million suit!— against the dry cleaners alleged that the business violated Washington, D.C.’s consumer protection law by failing to comply with its sign promising “satisfaction guaranteed,” which Pearson claimed was unconditional. You know, even if a customer was deranged.

In his testimony in this wacko lawsuit, Pearson argued that “satisfaction guaranteed” meant the dry cleaner was legally obligated to pay a customer who demanded $1,000 for a supposedly lost sweater even if the owners knew they had delivered the correct sweater to the customer.

By that logic, the owner would also have to let the customer have sex with his teenage daughter, if that’s what it took to “satisfy” him. Continue reading

The Astounding Apology of Anti-Semitic Harvard Law Student Husam El-Coolaq

husam_linkedin_photo

At Harvard Law School, an event in the Program on Negotiation, sponsored by the Jewish Law Students Association and Harvard Hillel and titled “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict & the U.S” consisted of an exchange of ideas between former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and American diplomat Dennis Ross.

Husam El-Qoulaq, a law student in the audience asked this:

My question for Tzipi Livni is, how is it that you are so smelly? It’s regarding your odor — about the odor of Tzipi Livni, very smelly.

How professional, civil, respectful and representative of the image that the nation’s most prestigious law school wishes to present to the world!

Harvard Law’s Jewish community reacted with indignation at this brazen display of anti-Semitism, while Harvard’s Law School Dean Martha Minow issued an official statement that the incident…

“…was offensive and it violated the trust and respect we expect in our community. Many perceive it as anti-Semitic, and no one would see it as appropriate. It was an embarrassment to this institution and an assault upon the values we seek to uphold. The fact that speech is and should be free does not mean that hateful remarks should go unacknowledged or unanswered in a community dedicated to thoughtful discussion of complex issues and questions.”

Husam El-Qoulaq then posted this astounding “apology”: Continue reading