Is a Plagiarist a Trustworthy Attorney? Let’s Ask Mary Frances Prevost!

This is me, apparently.

San Diego criminal defense attorney Mary Frances Prevost has an interesting post on her blog about the ethics of George Zimmerman’s first set of attorneys.


You wouldn’t know it was mine, of course, because blogger/attorney/ former Washington Post journalist Prevost has slapped her own name on it. There it is, right at the beginning: “by Mary Francis Prevost.” I think that’s interesting.

Her post, entitled “The Trayvon Martin Case Trainwreck: George Zimmerman’s Attorneys Need To Shut Up!”, was posted the same day as the Ethics Alarms post, “Next To Board The Trayvon Martin Ethics Train Wreck? Why, The Lawyers, Of Course!”, which began, coincidentally enough, by quoting John Steel’s post from the Legal Ethics Forum that read, “[S]hut up, guys. Shut the h*** up.”  It was two introductory paragraphs later, however, when “her” post got into the substance of “her” analysis of the ethical problems with the farewell press conference given by George Zimmerman’s attorneys shortly before the shooter of Trayvon Martin was charged, however, that I really began getting a serious dose of deja vu, also known as “Holy crap! This woman stole my article!” Continue reading

The Legal Profession’s Muddled Standard For “Fitness To Practice”

OK, he has a temper, but hire him as your lawyer, and you can trust him with your life!

I confess: my profession’s standard for discipline bewilders me, and leads me to believe that nobody really knows what kind of conduct by a lawyer should dictate that he or she should be kicked out of the profession. I was reminded of this when I read a report about a former associate at a large New York law firm whose license was suspended for three years because he physically abused his girlfriend. A hearing panel had recommended a 60 day suspension, but the Appeals Court decided on three years.

Here is the basic rule regarding misconduct by lawyers, from the ABA’s Model Rules:

Maintaining The Integrity Of The Profession

Rule 8.4  Misconduct

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

(a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;

(b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;

(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;

(e) state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or

(f) knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct or other law.

Tell me: which provision did the brutal lawyer violate? Continue reading

JFK, Ethics Corrupter

The new memoir by Mimi Alford, the former White House intern whom President Kennedy made his sex toy (though not his only one), hardly comes as a surprise to anyone who didn’t accept the fabricated, idealized version of JFK sold to the public by the likes of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Chris Matthews. Still, her account of Kennedy’s revolting conduct is infuriating, because it continues his corruption of American ethics and leadership standards, the real legacy of his presidency.

Kennedy was a thoroughly fraudulent human being, a cynical and arrogant leader who used soaring prose about freedom, aspiration and the human spirit while masquerading as a devoted father and husband, betraying his wife, abusing his power for selfish personal gratification, and in the process, putting his country at risk during the height of the Cold War. Only moral luck, combined with the failure of a complicit media to tell the public what they really had a right to know—that their President was a sexist, reckless, ruthless, SOB—allowed Kennedy to escape with his myth intact long enough to be regarded as a heroic figure. Now, as the truth relentlessly emerges, the product of his devoted image-makers collides with the ugliness of JFK’s behavior, creating cognitive dissonance of the most destructive sort.  After all, if the great John F. Kennedy abused drugs in the White House, used his office and power to lure employees into illicit sexual relationships, degraded and pimped-out women devoted to him, and did all of this with the full knowledge that it would bring down his administration and his party if anyone ever revealed his secrets, then this must mean that character doesn’t matter in our leaders, that we should tolerate a wide range of misconduct, and that the abuse of the power of the President is just a traditional perk. Continue reading

(Pssst! GOP? Awful Human Beings Are Not Qualified To Be President!)

Coincidentally, this newt is also a miserable human being...

I suppose that it was inevitable that the “Anyone but Mitt” bloc of Republican voters would eventually give Newt Gingrich a second look. After all, he can put a complete sentence together and stays current on world events. He doesn’t take pride in being inarticulate (like Rick Perry) or think it’s cute not to know a thing about foreign countries (like Herman Cain).  Unlike Michele Bachmann, he could pass a junior high exam in American History; unlike Ron Paul, he doesn’t live in a parallel universe. Newt isn’t bland and weightless, like Rick Santorum, and he doesn’t appear to be a holograph, like Jon Huntsman. He’s obviously smart.

This is all true, and yet Newt is a wretched choice. Not because he has virtually no executive experience (and we should be learning what that means.) Not because in his only extended attempt at filling an important and challenging leadership position when he was Speaker of the House, he squandered a position of strength with ethical misconduct and unrestrained hubris worthy of the House of Atreus.  Newt is unqualified to be president because he is demonstrably an awful human being. Continue reading

Phony Online Lesbian Ethics

Lesbian blogger Paula Brooks

When the media and internet were buzzing about the shocking discovery that the celebrated blogger “A Gay Girl in Damascus” was really “A Straight American Man in Scotland” who had fooled all his readers and followers through the lie-machine called the Internet, one of those who expressed shock and criticism of the hoax was Paula Brooks, the deaf lesbian editor of the popular lesbian news blog, Lez Get Real. When a man who said he was Brooks’ father told Washington Post reporters who called to interview the blogger that they could only speak to her through him because of her hearing disability, the reporters did some checking. Son of a gun: Paula’s “father” was really Paula, who was really Bill Graber, a straight, married, former construction worker.

Observations: Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: Newt Gingrich’s (Ex-) Campaign Staff

"So, Newt: you'd rather be tanned than be President? Fine. Bye!"

One can tell a great deal about leaders from the quality of those who choose to follow them, and one can tell a great deal about followers by whom they choose as their leader. When Rick Tyler, a longtime Newt Gingrich spokesman, Rob Johnson, Gingrich’s campaign manager, Dave Carney and Katon Dawson, senior strategists to the former House Speaker’s presidential campaign, media consultant Sam Dawson, Iowa strategist Craig Schoenfeld, South Carolina operative Walter Whetsell and adviser Scott Rials resigned en masse from the Gingrich campaign organization last week, we learned a lot. Continue reading

The John Edwards Indictment

Cornell law professor Michael Dorf makes my heart leap in admiration by bucking the popular trend—especially among Democrats and soft-hearted media types who 1) only like seeing Republicans and conservatives get in trouble for sex scandals and 2) think Edwards “has suffered enough” —of arguing that the prosecution of John Edwards for campaign fundraising violations is based on a weak legal case. On his blog, Prof. Dorf  argues persuasively to the contrary:

“At its core, the indictment alleges that Edwards knowingly: 1) in violation of federal campaign finance law, accepted money well in excess of the individual campaign contribution limits; 2) spent that money to hide his extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter; and 3) in violation of federal campaign finance law, failed to disclose either the donations or the expenditures….

“…The real question with respect to the government’s point number 1) is whether the hundreds of thousands of dollars were given to Edwards ” for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.”  Subject to a whole lot of irrelevant exceptions, that’s the statutory definition of a “campaign contribution.”  It is nearly inconceivable that the money for hiding the Hunter affair was not “for the purpose of influencing” the 2008 Presidential primary.  What other possible purpose could it have served? Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Joe Klein and Chris Matthews

John Edwards agrees with Chris Matthews

Journalist Joe Klein has been a candidate for an Ethics Dunce award for a long time, because he has been ethically suspect or worse for a long time. His defining integrity moment came when he lied about his authorship of the Bill Clinton roman-a-clef, “Primary Colors.” Since that time, Klein has gradually evolved into a shamelessly biased and ethically muddled political commentator from the left. Too bad. He’s a perceptive guy and a wonderful writer, but he makes his living now shooting from the hip, so we seldom get the benefit of his best qualities.

It was inevitable that the Chris Matthews Show would allow Klein’s ethical blindness to reach full flower.  Matthews has been on his own journey of self-diminishment since MSNBC decided to become the anti-Fox; where once he could be counted on to treat the issues of the day fairly and avoid partisan cheerleading, the Obama years have seen him abandon any effort at objectivity or even-handedness. Matthews’ Sunday morning panel show now eschews ideological balance and has Matthews posing questions to a rotating group of reliable conservative-bashers, with an occasional straight journalist mixed in who at least pretends to be neutral.  On Sunday, Matthews asked his panel about the appropriateness of the Justice Department’s prosecution of uber-cad John Edwards for violations of the federal election laws. It’s not a bad question, and reasonable people can disagree about the answer. The charges against Edwards stem from solicitation of large cash gifts from two long-time friends and supporters while he was simultaneously running for president and trying to cover up the existence of his love-child with Rielle Hunter and the adulterous affair that spawned her.  The money was given directly to Hunter, raising a legal question as to whether it was really a campaign contribution at all. Continue reading

Newt Gingrich: Ethics Victim…Ethics Miscreant…Walking, Talking Ethics Lesson

The Ethics Lesson

I’m glad Newt Gingrich is in the presidential race, however foolishly and futilely. He is perhaps the perfect illustration of how a potential political leader’s private personal conduct is not only relevant to assessing his fitness to lead, but predictive of it. What makes Newt especially useful in this regard is that he is a Republican, and all the Democrats who are going to be sneering at his candidacy will have to square their attacks on his character with their indignant claims in 1998 that Bill Clinton’s adultery, sexual harassment and lies were irrelevant to his leadership—and they weren’t truly private or personal.  Similarly, Newt will be helpful to some of my ethically-addled trial lawyer friends who have argued that John Edwards is still a trustworthy lawyer, despite his betrayals of his dying wife, his family, his supporters and his party.

Of course private conduct is relevant to judging a leader, especially when private conduct shows an individual to be dishonest, disloyal, cowardly, ruthless, selfish and cruel—like Newt. Cheating on two wives and leaving both of them when they were battling health crises isn’t a mistake, or a coincidence, or a misunderstanding; it is a pattern, and a symptom. You can’t trust Newt. You can’t rely on Newt. You can’t believe Newt. Ask his ex-wives, and eventually, I am quite certain, his current one.

Today conservative talk radio is abuzz with Gingrich’s frenzied efforts to sooth the conservative faithful after he attacked Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget reforms over the weekend. What??? You mean Newt Gingrich stabbed a political ally and  fellow party stalwart in the back without warning? Who could have seen that coming? Oh, only everybody: You can’t trust Newt. You can’t rely on Newt. You can’t believe Newt. Ask his ex-wives. Continue reading

CNN, Flunking Journalistic Integrity 101

What? Oh THAT...

The stunning revelation that Arnold Schwarzenegger  has been hiding a love child for a decade has media pundits pondering, “What was the biggest sex scandal  to snare an American politician? There’s Bill and Monica, obviously, and Mark Sanford’s South American soul mate; Sen. Ensign’s inter-staff incest and the probable winner after Clinton, John Edwards’ despicable betrayal of his dying wife. It’s a tough field, made tougher by the presence of one more formidable contender: Eliot Spitzer, who lost his job as Governor of New York after being caught playing in a prostitution ring, the exact same kind of criminal enterprise that he busted up as a crusading prosecutor on the way to the State House.

Yesterday, CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux did a feature story on notable political sex scandals, and mentioned all of these and more, with one  exception. Can you guess which? Here’s a hint: the author of the scandal currently stars as one of CNN’s political commentators.

Yes, Eliot Spitzer’s sexual meltdown didn’t make the cut of CNN’s scandal review. What does this tell us about CNN, Malveau, and everyone involved–producers, writers, executives…Spitzer?— in the feature vetting process?

Here’s what: Continue reading