Afternoon Ethics Respite, 2/5/2020: On Accountability, Karma, Never-Trump And Mookie

What a delightful afternoon!

It never fails. After a stretch where I am especially pleased with the quantity and quality of Ethics Alarms content, I lose followers. Occasionally someone has the courtesy to contact me and tell me why they are dropping Ethics Alarms, but usually not. I know I obsess about such things, but it is like being defriended: I deserve the courtesy of a direct contact and an explanation. One well-remembered exit was by a woman who was very active the comments but always regrading formal ethics theory. I know that stuff, I studied it, and it bores me to tears. I also view the academic approach to ethics as substantially responsible for the public’s general disinterest  in ethics generally. When I finally told the ethics enthusiast that this wasn’t the kind of ethics blog she was looking for, she sent me an email that announced her departure.

1. Of course, the big news yesterday…was that the Boston Red Sox traded their best player, Mookie Betts, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two young players and the willingness to take on the ridiculous contract of an aging, injury prone ex-ace, David Price. Boston being Boston, this was a story of much more consequence in the Hub than the State of the Union, the Democrats continuing inability to run  caucuses in Iowa, or the resolution of the impeachment washout. This shows, as I have always known as a born and bred Bostonian, that the city has its priorities straight.

Betts is that rarity, a young, great player who can do everything well, and do it with charm and modesty. He should be the face of the franchise for the next decade, but there’s a problem: Mookie wants to test the free agent market after this season, when he is eligible to do so. The Red Sox have offered him a long term deal in each of the last two seasons, and he recently rejected an offer in excess of 300 million dollars for ten years. On the open market Betts might get 30% more than that, and the Sox are loath to get into a bidding war. Thus, to avoid the fate of the Washington Nationals, who allowed their similarly young superstar Bryce Harper to flee without getting more than a draft choice in return (Mookie is better and nicer that Bryce), the Red Sox swallowed hard and traded him to the Dodgers.

Ethics notes:

  • In the trade, Boston gave up the best African American player in its long prejudice-stained history as well as its single African American starting pitcher. It says something about the team’s progress in this area that nobody has seemed to notice.
  • In trading Betts and Price after firing Alex Cora, the team’s manager implicated in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, the Red Sox just happened to bid farewell to the three most vocal boycotters of President Trump’s invitation to the team to be honored at the White House for the its 2018 World Series victory. Red Sox cohesion was never the same after the grandstanding “Orange Man Bad” explosion that split the squad down the middle. Mookie never seemed quite as nice after that; Cora never seemed as wise, and Price always was a jerk.
  • Betts has told anyone who would listen that he wanted to stay in Boston, that he loves the city and fans, and that the Red Sox were just proving that baseball is a business. That’s disingenuous spin, and clearly so. If you really want to stay with a team, then you accept the paltry wages of more than 30 million dollars a year to do so.

2. Since there seems to be a strong disagreement among the commentariat on this question, I need to poll it:

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Now Don’t Sue Me, SmileDirectClub, Because This Only This Ethicist’s Opinion, But…

“Hey! That’s a GREAT Idea! I LOVE it! Sure I’ll accept a refund in exchange for never telling anyone how lousy your product is!”

…no one should trust or do business with a company that engages in this unethical practice. Just an opinion, now.

What SmileDirectClub does, as documented in a New York Times Business Section story, is force customers to sign a non-disclosure (or confidentiality) agreement before they can receive refunds for unsatisfactory products. That way, other customer can’t find out about what the SmileDirectClub  can turn out to be, and in ignorance are more unwitting customers.

Here’s an excerpt from the Times piece: Continue reading

The Other Branch’s Persistant And Hypocritical Corruption

I subscribe to the Times, but I stopped routinely reading all of the editorials, op-eds and letters to the editor once I realized the stultifying and depressing sameness of it all: narrow viewpoints, deranged columnists, and ugly bias, day after day. This Christmas Eve-day dawned with my wife in a panic, the tree decorations still incomplete, and a recognition that I was going to have to get Ethics Alarms posts done in the midst of other tasks so the 30 or so readers likely to tune in here today wouldn’t be disappointed. I grabbed the wrong section of yesterday’s Times during a tree-breather, and had to consume the editorial section.

For once, the main editorial was not an anti-Trump screed.

Appropo of the Democratic candidates’ mantra of corruption (though the editors somehow never saw the connection), it was about the persistent insider trading and conflicts of interest that have made Senators and Representatives unethically rich for ages, and that surpass in genuine corruption anything President Trump has been accused of.  (Ethics Alarms covered the issue here, and here.) The Times editors began with the saga of former Rep. Chris Collins, who had to resign his office and also went to jail for breaking the insider trading laws. His crime was tipping off his son about a stock likely to go bad based on his early notice of pending legislation, The Times found it convenient to use Collins, a Republican, as the stand-in for all of Congress, but everything he did before crossing the line of the law is, if not routine, disturbingly common among Democrats and Republicans alike:

[H]e served on various congressional committees that played a role in directing federal health care policy. Mr. Collins was the company’s largest shareholder. He served on the company’s board. He solicited investments in the company, including from other members of Congress. (Tom Price, who served as a Republican representative from Georgia and then as secretary of health and human services in the Trump administration, was among the buyers.) Mr. Collins wrote legislative language to expedite drug trials, potentially benefiting Innate, and he pressed a staff member at the National Institutes of Health to meet with the company about its clinical trial.He also invested in other health care firms, some of which held federal contracts.

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Is The DLA Piper Sexual Harassment Case The Legal Community’s Harvey Weinstein Scandal That I’ve Been Predicting? Sure Looks like It…

For almost two years, I’ve been telling my ethics training attendees at bar associations and law firms that their profession has a serious sexual harassment problem, that there are many Harvey Weinstein, Esq,s out there, and the arrival of a major big law firm scandal or ten is inevitable.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the emerging sexual harassment controversy at DLA Piper,  the largest law firm in the world. Vanina Guerrero, a junior partner at  Piper, alleged that Louis Lehot, a notable “rainmaking” partner of long-standing who  pursued her,  groped her, and then retaliated when she rejected his advances. I wrote in part,

The kind of harassment she alleges is not the kind of behavior that is a secret, whether it occurs in a law firm in Hollywood, on a morning news show, on a TV production set or in an opera company, just to name some familiar locales. She says that the partner who recruited her had groped or kissed her on four occasions, and through her attorney’s supplemental filing with the EEOC, that the partner “regularly throws temper tantrums in and out of the office,” and no one at the law firm has reined him in.

There is now more information regarding this story. None of it proves that Lehot was a sexual harasser taking advantage of his power in the law firm to intimidate and abuse women for his own enjoyment, or that DLA Piper’s management  enabled him by applying the King’s Pass, concomitantly creating a toxic culture at the firm, so everything still has to be followed by the magic qualifier, “alleged.” Still, the signs are ominous: Continue reading

Never Mind, Ms. Guerrero: Hillary Clinton Says You Should Just “Get Over It”

Vanina Guerrero, a junior partner at mega-law firm DLA Piper, has alleged that a rainmaking partner who recruited her to the firm pursued and groped her, and then retaliated when she rejected his advances.

“I experienced such horrific conduct at the hands of a senior male partner and deserve to openly litigate my claims,” she wrote in a letter. The problem is that she is bound by her agreement with the firm to submit the dispute to binding arbitration.

A “rainmaker,” eh? That rang a bell…YES! Here’s a post, “Tales Of The King’s Pass: The Rainmakers,” I wrote last year about the typical attitudes on major law firms when protecting female staff against sexually abusive partners who make a lot of money for the other lawyers. I wrote in part, in revulsion over an ABA Journal article about how a sensible firm with a harassing but lucrative partner had to “balance’ considerations…

[T]he consultant begins quoting another ethics-lite law firm consultant. Apparently they are all like this. He says that…

“…most firms tolerate rainmakers’ abusive behavior unless it threatens something essential in the firm’s culture. Peters says firms must draw a line when the “fabric of the firm” is at risk. “The firm must win. No one, not even a rainmaker, can be allowed to destroy the fabric of the firm.”

That’s the standard? Destroying the firm? I think what this Authentic Frontier Gibberish means is that when a rainmaker does so much internal damage to the organization that even all the money he or she brings in won’t make up for it, that abusive rainmaker has to go. Talk about a low bar! “We’ll let you get away with just about anything since you make us so much money, but just don’t destroy the firm.”

It sound like DLA Piper’s management read the ABA Journal’s “How to justify keeping harassers around when they make you a lot of money” guide. Guerrero says she reported the situation to Sang Kim, one of the leaders of DLA’s Northern California offices. He said that it sounded like a he-said, she-said situation, and she should “talk it out” with four senior partners, including the partner she accused. That’s a common dodge. Continue reading

The Ethically Inert NBA Shows Its Corrupted Soul

It was less than a week ago that the New York Times’ John Branch wrote,

“…the best thing about the start of the N.B.A. season — or just the preseason, which began this week — is that it thrusts the league back into the conversation. Not just about sports, but about the connection sports have to everything else, from politics to fashion, civil rights to gun rights…The N.B.A. is comfortable being connected. Opinions count. Expression is (mostly) encouraged. Politics is not filtered through political correctness, not parsed by focus groups or marketing departments…the N.B.A. does at least one thing better than other leagues: It joins the conversation and adds to it. It is a game for adults.”

Right on, John. And here’s what the NBA just added to the conversation: the league will kowtow to a repressive totalitarian regime and punish employees who choose freedom over submissiveness if it’s good for the bottom line.

Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey posted this on Twitter:

The Horror! Who in the U.S. doesn’t support the Hong Kong protesters, other than maybe Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez? Well, interestingly given Branch’s puff piece, the NBA doesn’t. The reason? Why money, of course. The NBA regards China as a growth market; never mind the slavery, political prisoners and repression of basic rights. Are you ready to ruuuuuumble???  Rockets owner quickly slapped Morey down, tweeting, 

Listen….@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization.

Well, unless a Rockets player is bashing the United States as racist…that’s just fine.

Morey was forced to take down his tweet (betting is that he will be fired), and then issued a Galileo-style apology, if Gallileo had used Twitter:

I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives…I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.

“Other perspectives.” Here’s one: “Chinese state media urges quicker trials and heavy sentences for Hong Kong protesters…People’s Daily says the city’s judiciary has been too lenient in dealing with those arrested during months of unrest Xinhua slams school of 18-year-old shot in chest by Hong Kong police for failing to denounce him, after school said it shared young people’s concerns…” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/20/2019: Not Funny!

Ah! It finally feels like a September morning!

1. Not fake news, exactly, just half-baked news. On the New York Times front page, right hand column above the fold is the headline “Claim on Trump Is Said To Involve Foreign Leader.” Reading it, we learn that an unspecified complaint has been made by a an unnamed whistle-blower “in the intelligence community” that is “said” (by no named source) to involve President Trump saying something, promising something or implying something, at least partially involving the Ukraine, according to two sources also un-named. This is apparently all being investigated by the appropriate inspector general.

I’m serious. This is what the Times considers front page news now. Instantly, “resistance” members and Democrats will leap to the conclusion that whatever it is, it’s impeachable. Those who are thoroughly sick of the successive coup attempts will assume that this is one more concocted sliming by the Deep State, so we can have a “Russiagate” style investigation that will hamstring President Trump’s second term. Those who are focusing on the mainstream news media’s war on the President will conclude that the Times, having once again exposed itself as less a journalism organization than a Democratic Party hit squad with its self-indicting misrepresentation of accusations against Justice Kavanaugh, rushed a non-story into print as a diversion.

For my part, I’ll wait for actual facts, thanks. I don’t trust “the intelligence community” not to manufacture ways to undermine the Presidency, not after Comey, McCabe, the FISA fiasco, the FBI lovebirds texts, and Mueller’s statements, among other smoking guns. I don’t trust the Times reporting, I don’t trust President Trump not to do or say something that crosses ethical or legal lines, and I certainly don’t trust Congressional Democrats to determine what are serious transgressions by this President and what are typical maneuvers that have only become ominous because he isn’t Barack Obama. Continue reading