Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/4/2020: Meltdown In Iowa Edition [CORRECTED]

Good Morning!

As I write this, there are still no final results from the Iowa Caucuses. The cause seems to be some faulty software and generally poor planning by the Iowa Democrats, resulting in chaos. There is a lot of schadenfreude going on at the conservative websites, and it is unseemly. Much as the Democrats deserve to fall on their faces, this is botched democracy in action, and nobody should be gloating about it.  It’s unfair to all of the campaign workers and supporters of the various candidates—even though the supporters of some candidates should hide their heads under a bag—and chaos in the process serves nobody’s interests. What are the odds President Trump sends out a mocking tweet about it this morning?

Here’s Nate Silver explaining what a catastrophe this is for Democrats.

The bon mot turning up in comment sections and social media over and over again last night was “The Democrats can’t handle a caucus, and they want to run the whole country?”

Until the real vote totals are in  it’s all speculation, but it looks like Joe Biden crashed and burned, with his vote totals missing the 15% threshold required to win any delegates.

1. Pete being Pete. Remember what the Ethics Alarms verdict was on Pete Buttigieg a while back? It stands. Mayor Buttigieg declared himself the winner before any useful vote totals were in. Mediaite: “All this dumpster fire of an Iowa caucus was missing was a candidate who declared victory without a single vote being reported. But shortly after midnight eastern on Tuesday morning, Mayor Pete put the cherry on top of this hideous sundae with a confounding speech in which he seemed to proclaim himself the winner.” He has been sharply criticized by just about everybody, and deserves to be. It’s a jerk move.

Meanwhile, the Sanders camp, remembering the underhanded treatment he received from the DNC in 2016, is suggesting that this may all be a plot by the Democratic Dark lords to rob him of a big victory and the proverbial “Iowa Bounce.” I don’t blame them.

2. Stop making me defend Joe Biden! Biden is getting “Ew!’s and “Ick!”s as a result of this photo..

..taken when he gave his 19-year-old granddaughter s peck on the lips during an Iowa rally. Granted, this wouldn’t be an issue if Joe didn’t have a well-deserved reputation for  inappropriate public behavior with women and girls, but this is one of the best examples I have ever seen of how a photograph, contrary to the old saying, can and do lie. The kiss lasted a nanosecond, but the photo makes it look like Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in “The Thomas Crown Affair.” Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch

“The real problem here is the increasingly common practice of trial courts ordering relief that transcends the cases before them. Whether framed as injunctions of ‘nationwide,’ ‘universal,’ or ‘cosmic’ scope, these orders share the same basic flaw—they direct how the defendant must act toward persons who are not parties to the case….

“Equitable remedies, like remedies in general, are meant to redress the injuries sustained by a particular plaintiff in a particular lawsuit. When a district court orders the government not to enforce a rule against the plaintiffs in the case before it, the court redresses the injury that gives rise to its jurisdiction in the first place. But when a court goes further than that, ordering the government to take (or not take) some action with respect to those who are strangers to the suit, it is hard to see how the court could still be acting in the judicial role of resolving cases and controversies. Injunctions like these thus raise serious questions about the scope of courts’ equitable powers under Article III”…

It has become increasingly apparent that this Court must, at some point, confront these important objections to this increasingly widespread practice. As the brief and furious history of the regulation before us illustrates, the routine issuance of universal injunctions is patently unworkable, sowing chaos for litigants, the government, courts, and all those affected by these conflicting decisions…

“If a single successful challenge is enough to stay the challenged rule across the country, the government’s hope of implementing any new policy could face the long odds of a straight sweep, parlaying a 94- to-0 win in the district courts into a 12-to-0 victory in the courts of appeal. A single loss and the policy goes on ice— possibly for good, or just as possibly for some indeterminate period of time until another court jumps in to grant a stay. And all that can repeat, ad infinitum, until either one side gives up or this Court grants certiorari.”

——Justice Neil Gorsuch, concurring in the grant of the stay of a nationwide injunction imposed by a district judge in New York against the implementation  of the Trump administration’s new immigration standards.

The new rules impose additional criteria for determining which potential immigrants  are likely to be dependent on the U.S. government for benefits  and therefore ineligible for green cards and eventual U.S. citizenship. These were proposed in October, 2019, but have been blocked by Democratic judges until today’s decision. Continue reading

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

Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up. 12/14/19: Insulting George Washington And Other Annoyances

Good Morning!

1. Now THIS ia an abuse of power! It sure looks as if outgoing Kentucky governor Matt Bevin—he’s a Republican, remember— has decided to take revenge on the state that narrowly defeated him for re-election. Right before he moved out of the Governor’s Mansion, Bevin issued 428 pardons and commutations, often without apparent regard to who or what he was pardoning. He pardoned a man convicted of homicide, after the murderer’s  family raised more than $20,000  to help Bevin pay off a debt owed from his previous gubernatorial campaign.  That wasn’t the only murderer Kentucky got back in its Christmas stocking; there were more, like the man who paid to have his business partner killed, and  another who killed his parents.. Bevin released a man convicted of raping a child.

While many of the pardons issued did involve cases where there were allegations of  sloppy police work and injustice, many did not. Bevin pardoned  Dayton Ross Jones, who pleaded guilty to the 2014 sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy, for example. That crime was captured on video and shared on social media. Jones was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016. Now he’s out.

“A young man was attacked, was violated, it was filmed, it was sent out to different people at his school,” Kentucky’s new governor, Andy Beshear said. “It was one of the worst crimes that we have seen. I fully disagree with that pardon. It is a shame and its wrong.”

But there isn’t a thing he or Kentucky citizens can do about it.

2. Let’s ask Chris Wallace about this sterling example of fair and balanced journalism...I know that Ethics Alarms has documented over many years what a partisan, biased, incompetent and dishonest hack Chris Cillizza is, so this is hardly news. Still, he has a job at CNN, which allows him to inflict his hackery on the public. An ethical news organization wouldn’t keep someone like Cillizza around., but as James Earl Jones used to say, “This is CNN.” The disturbing part is that he’s far from the worst hack on its payroll.

A Monmouth University poll this week claimed that Republican voters believed that George Washington was a better President than Donald Trump by only a 44%-37% margin. (Remember: polls.)  Cillizza said that fact that 37% of Republican respondents chose Trump over Washington provides “a useful way into understanding just how rote the fealty is to Trump within the ranks of the Republican Party at the moment.”

Let me just interject here that almost no Americans could tell you anything about George Washington’s terms in office other than the fact that he was the first President. (This is another reason to watch “John Adams.”)

While implying that Republicans are ignorant morons, however, Cillizza neglected to mention another alleged result of the poll: Democratic voters said former President Barack Obama was a better President than George an embarrassing 63%-29% margin. Continue reading

Missouri Judges Want Public Defenders To Violate Their Ethics Rules

“Hey, Julie! Here’s another drug possession case for you! Looks like a bad stop and frisk…”

The overworked public defender problem is a massive ethics and civil rights problem that few members of the public know about, and fewer care about.

Many cities have underfunded public defender offices, meaning that the mostly young lawyers working there who are charged with protecting the rights of indigent citizens accused of crimes have excessive case loads, often brutally excessive. In some states, judges have ordered the offices to accept no more cases until additional lawyers are hired, because a lawyer’s representation must be competent and diligent, and these ethical requirements become literally impossible to meet when a lawyer has accepted responsibility for too many cases. In situations where public defenders have argued that indigent clients should be able to waive competence and diligence requirements (since the alternative may be no representation at all), the argument has been rejected. Those ethical requirements cannot be waived. They are mandatory.

In his article on the subject, Professor Stephen Hanlon of St. Louis University Law School, a civil rights specialist, writes, Continue reading

Sentencing Ethics: The Perplexing Relevance Of “Acquitted Conduct”

Senators Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) introduced a bill this week that if passed and signed into law would  prohibit the use of so-called “acquitted conduct” at sentencing. What is acquitted conduct, you might ask? It is charges for which a defendant has been found not guilty that a sentencing judge nonetheless considers when sentencing that defendant for the crimes the jury says they did commit. This practice give prosecutors a special edge. Knowing that a judge may consider at sentencing every offense the prosecutor charges, a prosecutor can charge a defendant with an offense he knows he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and then charge more serious offenses that he probably can’t  prove. Even if jurors only reach a guilty verdict on the charges proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and refuse to convict on other charges, a judge can, and often does takes all the charges into consideration at sentencing.

“If any American is acquitted of charges by a jury of their peers, then some sentencing judge shouldn’t be able to find them guilty anyway and add to their punishment,” Grassley said in a statement released this week. “That’s not acceptable and it’s not American.” Under the law he is proposing with Senator Durbin, if a prosecutor charges you with five crimes, and the jury finds you not guilty of four of them, the judge who then sentences you should be able to consider only offense you were found guilty of.

What’s going on here? It is simply that the Federal sentencing rules currently allow a judge to consider crimes he or she believes the defendant is guilty of committing regardless of what the jury decided, just as a judge can take other factors into consideration. In such cases, a judge may use a preponderance of the evidence standard, not the criminal law standard of  beyond a reasonable doubt, to conclude that the jury was wrong and that a sentence should reflect conduct other than what the prosecution was able to prove to the jury’s satisfaction. Continue reading

The Judicial Persecution Of Jonathan Vanderhagen

It began when Jonathan Vanderhagen petitioned Macomb County (Michigan) Circuit Court Judge Rachel Rancilio for sole custody of his 2-year-old son, Killian, arguing that Killian’s biological mother was unfit to be his son’s  guardian. Judge Rancilio disagreed and the child’s mother retained custody. Not long after the decision,  Killian was dead. Since his son’s death in 2017, Vanderhagen has harshly criticized the Rancilio’s custody ruling on Facebook. 

As a result, he was arrested and charged with a malicious use of telecommunication services , which includes using a telecommunication service with the intention of terrorizing, intimidating, threatening, or harassing someone, in this case, the judge. From Reason:

The case report filled out by Sgt. Jason Conklin of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office notes that Rancilio was made aware of Vanderhagen’s posts, several of which included screenshots of her own Facebook page and pins on Pinterest. The screenshots are accompanied by captions promising to expose the corruption of the court system and calling Rancilio and Mary Duross, a 14-year veteran Friend of the Court who was involved in the custody case, “shady.”  “At no point does [Vanderhagen] threaten harm or violence towards Rancilio or Duross,” Conklin wrote in the case report.

Apparently some of the “threat” claim comes from the meme above and others like it that Vanderhagen—talented!—has created and posted on Facebook. That shovel! Scary! The caption says, “Dada back to digging [and] you best believe [I’m] gonna dig up all the skeletons in this court’s closet.” “I won’t stop till changes are made, people are held accountable, careers are ended, & these kids get the justice they deserve,” he wrote in another one of his “threatening” Facebook posts.

What’s going on here?

I don’t think its a tough question: what’s going on is a concerted effort  by some Michigan judges of dubious skills and character to take vengeance on a citizen who hasn’t been willing to grovel at the the feet of the Robed Ones. Judges are like that all too often, but this is an unusually ugly example that begs for a serious reckoning with Lady Justice—for the judges. Continue reading