The Great Ethics Train Wreck Of 1910

On this date, October 1, 110 years ago,  a massive explosion destroyed the Los Angeles Times building in the city’s downtown area, killing 21 employees and injuring many more. This obviously unethical act—though in the over-heated labor environment of the times, union activists would secretly defend it—set off a series of events in one of the great ethics train wrecks in U.S. history.

The explosion was a message to Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Otis, a powerful opponent of the burgeoning labor movement in general and unions in particular. Determined to exploit the tragedy to turn public opinion against organized labor, he hired the nation’s most famous private detective, William J. Burns, to crack the case while his paper supplied an avalanche of anti-labor editorials and slanted news stories.  Otis, the leader of the Merchants and Manufacturing Association, a powerful group of business owners with extensive political connections, seemed less interested in justice for the dead than a decisive knock-out of the union movement itself.

Burns’ investigation led to the Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union and their treasurer, John J. McNamara. Burns got a confession out of  a sketchy character named Ortie McManigal who had allegedly been the intermediary between McNamara and two bomb experts, and personally arrested John McNamara and his brother James in Indiana. Then Burns supervised the kidnapping and transportation of the brothers to California, where they could be prosecuted.

Convinced that the the McNamara brothers were being framed—some labor supporters even suspected that Otis had bombed his own building—Samuel Gompers and Eugene V. Debs pressured Clarence Darrow, then the premier labor lawyer in the U.S.,  to take on the McNamaras’ defense. Darrow had been ill and seeking to retire, but a recent stock market crash had left him broke as well. He agreed to take the case for the then unprecedented sum of $50,000 (about $1,368,000 today). The unions literally had children collecting nickels and pennies to build the defense fund.

The unions were Darrow’s clients under the existing legal ethics rules, but the brothers were also his clients, and their lives were at stake. This became a serious conflict when Darrow learned, within minutes of meeting with the McNamaras, that they were guilty.

Gompers had told him that the brothers had to be acquitted or the entire labor movement might be destroyed forever. The clients paying his fee, therefore, demanded a plea of “not guilty.” Darrow, however, became convinced that only a guilty plea would save the brothers from execution. Meanwhile, he knew that there was no way the McNamaras could get a fair trial. The Times was poisoning the jury pool daily. The prosecution was engaging in outrageous tactics, like bugging Darrow’s offices in L.A. They even had Darrow followed, and got incriminating photographs of the lawyer leaving the apartment of his long-time, off-and-on mistress, a female journalist covering the trial. Then they used the photos to try to force Darrow to withdraw from the case, threatening to show them to his wife, Ruby.

“Go ahead,” he said. “She knows all about Mary.” Darrow’s hands were hardly clean either: his agents had located the supply of dynamite in Indiana that the fatal charge had been taken from, and he hired a lawyer to hide the evidence in a safe. Continue reading

Now THIS Was Zealous Representation! The Incredible, Unethical, Zealous, Crooked And Courageous Bill Fallon

Fallon

I’m giving an ethics seminar for a group of government lawyers this morning. I think I’ll tell them about Bill Fallon.

Bill Fallon (1886-1927) was a very successful New York criminal defense attorney, and a contemporary of Clarence Darrow. He was called “The Great Mouthpiece,” because he represented some of New York’s leading pimps, narcotics dealers, embezzlers, swindlers and gamblers.  One famous client was Arnold Roth, who was the architect of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, bribing eight Chicago White Sox stars to throw the World Series. Another was Nicky Arnstein, the gambler husband of Fanny Brice. That was Omar Shariff playing Nicky in “Funny Girl.”

Fallon often bribed his juries, and got away with it: the one time he was caught and indicted, a jury found him non guilty. He probably bribed that jury, too. Clarence Darrow was proud of the fact that he represented over a hundred men and women facing the death penalty and none were ever executed. Fallon could top that: he represented over 120 homicide defendants, all of them guilty as hell, and not one was convicted.

Dashiell Hammett referred to Fallon in his novel, “Red Harvest,”, when he wrote,

He’s the guy that the joke was wrote about: ‘Is he a criminal lawyer?’ “Yes, very.'”

Continue reading

Jury Nullification Ethics: Denver’s District Attorney Tries To Make It Illegal To Teach Jurors About The Power Of Juries

ZengerIs it just me, or does it seem to everyone as if  a lot of public officials have been trying to shrink the First Amendment lately?

Jury nullification is the doctrine, rich in jurisprudential and American history, that declares that juries have the power and the right to reject what they believe are either unjust criminal laws or unjust prosecutions, and acquit defendants who may have been proven guilty on the evidence, essentially nullifying the law by refusing to enforce it . They definitely have that power: once a citizen is declared not guilty, that citizen cannot be tried again. The dilemma is that neither judges nor lawyers are permitted to let juries know about nullification, since nullification defies the law. A defense lawyer mentioning it in a closing argument risks a mistrial, and bar sanctions. In most jurisdictions, judges instruct jurors that it is their duty to apply the law as it is written whether they agree with the law or not. In only a few states are jurors expressly permitted to judge both the facts and the law of the case. In 2012, New Hampshire passed a unique law explicitly allowing defense attorneys to inform juries about jury nullification.

In Denver this week, Mark Iannicelli, 56, set up a small booth with a sign that said “Juror Info” in front of the city’s courthouse. The Denver District Attorney’s Office has charged him with eight counts of jury tampering, because Iannicelli used that booth to hand out flyers about jurors’ rights to practice jury nullification to jury pool members. Yes, he has been charged with tampering with juries that aren’t even juries yet. Continue reading