Tag Archives: law vs ethics

Ethics Quiz: The Dog-Poisoners [UPDATED]

This is, I know, a poor topic for Christmas, but it just came down the chimney.

While shopping yesterday, we encountered a man who lived in the neighborhood. Rugby had enjoyed conversing with the two dogs owned by the man and his wife, two friendly, lively min-pins. As shoppers bustled around us, our neighbor announced that he was more our neighbor than ever: he and his wife had moved from where I had met them to a home less than a block away from ours, on the long street that our cul de sac opens onto. The reason for the move: their next-door neighbor had poisoned their dogs. One had survived.

Our neighbor said that they had called the police, who investigated. Based on motive (the there had been a property dispute, and the resulting law suit had gone our friends’ way), opportunity, and the demeanor and comments the police got while questioning the suspects as well as accounts about their threats and general sociopathic tendencies from others on the street, the police reported that they were pretty sure my neighbors’ neighbor were the culprits, but that they did not have sufficient evidence to make an arrest.

This story had unpleasant resonations for me. My Dad, when he was a 10 year-old only child being raised by a single mother during the depression and having to move to new neighborhoods constantly, owned a large, loyal Airedale named Bumbo. One day someone put ground glass in his beloved dog’s food dish, and my father had to see his best friend die in agony in his arms. It was one of the great tragedies of his life. His mother was certain who had killed the dog, but again, there was insufficient proof.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is my neighbor obligated to tell anyone who is interested in renting or buying his now-abandoned property that the neighbor poisoned his dogs?

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/1/2018: Battling Toddlers, Racist Lemons, And Justices In Love

Welcome November!

1. Warm-Up musings…I suspect that the Warm-Up format costs the blog traffic, potentially a lot of traffic. If each was broken into components and posted individually, there would be a lot more clicks. Of course, I wouldn’t have time to post each separately—I estimate that a single post adds 15 to 20 minutes to the process—and there would be fewer issues covered. Capturing more of the events and issues that get into my files is one of the main reasons I started this. A better blog but less appreciated? Nah, I’m not going to measure success by traffic, as tempting as it is. I resist click-bait—there are topics that guarantee flood of comments—and don’t resist posting analysis that I know will cost me followers: I literally watch the numbers go down. And, of course, there are once regular readers who have fled because I have been consistent in my approach to the Trump Presidency, and regard his treatment by the “resistance,” Democrats, progressives and the news media as a national ethics catastrophe, irrespective of his own neon flaws. They fled, in part, though they will not admit it, because they simply could not muster valid arguments for why this President did not deserve the same presumptions of good will, good effort and public loyalty as every other President, traditional benefits that are essential to the office working and the nation thriving. What they represented as arguments were really presumptions of guilt and the byproduct of hateful group-think magnified by confirmation bias. I hope they eventually get well, and that when they do they aren’t too remorseful for being appropriated by an angry mob.

In the subsequent items, I’ll briefly explain why they are here rather than in a full post.

2. Unethical quote of the week: Don Lemon. Again. Earlier, Lemon said on his CNN platform,

“We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them. There is no travel ban on them. There is no ban — you know, they had the Muslim ban. There is no white-guy ban. So what do we do about that?”

Like so much Lemon says, this was incoherent, biased, and intellectually lazy. He said to stop demonizing people, and demonized a gender and race in the same sentence. “Start doing something” is typical political humming: do what, exactly? Lock them up? What? Any fool can say “Do something!”, and Lemon is just the fool to say it.  The travel restrictions are a non-sequitur, the kind of lame-brained argument that social media advances in memes and “likes.” Those restrictions involve non-citizens and their ability to immigrate. It was not based on race or ethnicity, but nation of origin. It’s an ignorant and misleading statement. “There is no white-guy ban. So what do we do about that?” is flat out racist, and intended to be—unless Lemon can’t speak clearly, which you would assume is a job requirement. A responsible news organization would have fired him, but he’s black and gay, so that’s not going to happen.

Then he came back and said this:

“Earlier this week, I made some comments about that in a conversation with Chris [Cuomo]. I said that the biggest terror threat in this country comes from radicals on the far right, primarily white men. That angered some people. But let’s put emotion aside and look at the cold hard facts. The evidence is overwhelming.”

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A Jumbo, And It WORKS! Double Standards, “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt” And The Judge’s “Toy”

Here is a rare case where a Jumbo (as in Jimmy Durante’s desperate “Elephant? What elephant?” defense when caught stealing the biggest pachyderm alive in the Broadway show “Jumbo”) actually worked.

Judge Joseph Claps of Cook County, Illinois, was acquitted this week on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon into a prohibited area, reports the Chicago Tribune. 

You see, a gun, or what looked like a gun and sounded like a gun when it hit the floor appeared to fall out of Claps’ jacket when he was entering the courthouse. The judge was licensed to carry, but it is still illegal to bring a firearm into the building. Sheriff’s deputies testified they believed the object was a gun, but they didn’t intervene because they weren’t sure whether the judge was allowed to have the weapon, and because, well, he was a judge.

Did Judge Claps admit he screwed up and accept the consequences like a trustworthy, honest public servant? No! He went to trial, and allowed his lawyer to argue that prosecutors couldn’t prove the “object” was a gun. ( “Gun? What gun?”) Claps’ lawyer argued that the dropped object could have been a replica or a toy. “It could have been a cap gun,” Breen said. “It could have been a water pistol. It could have been a lighter, a cigar lighter. It could have been anything.” Anything that looked like a gun sufficiently to convince the security personnel that it was a gun. And really, we all know how judges sometimes carry water pistols and cap guns into court! Continue reading

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Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 7/21/18: Seven Questions For A Rainy Day: UPDATED!

Good afternoon!

1. What did you expect? Following close on the heels of Scott Pruitt’s firing from the EPA as a result of blatant ethics violations, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week that he would sell all of his stock holdings to “maintain the public trust” after the Office of Government and Ethics pointed out that his financial transactions could get him into legal trouble.

“I have made inadvertent errors in completing the divestitures required by my ethics agreement,” Ross said in a statement. “To maintain the public trust, I have directed that all of my equity holdings be sold and the proceeds placed in U.S. Treasury securities.”

To maintain that public trust. Right.

The culture of CEOs and business executives is so alien to ethics that this kind of thing was assured as soon as Donald Trump was elected President. I wouldn’t say the business culture is necessarily more unethical than the political culture, it is juts unethical different ways. However, President Trump brought this brand of malfunctioning ethics alarms with him, and we shouldn’t expect it to abate until he leaves the White House.

Then we will get back to the good old-fashioned political versions of unethical conduct we’re become numb to. Ah, those were the days!

2. A question of degree. Professor Brian McNaughton, a former professor at Colorado State University, is facing a felony charge for fabricating an outside job offer to get a higher salary. This meets the technical definition of fraud. Apparently he presented the school with fabricated offer letter from the University of Minnesota. McNaughton resigned his position and apologized, and returned the fruits of the ill-gotten  raise,  about $4,000 per year over four years.

He also says that he was urged to use the tactic by other faculty members, who said it was a standard ploy. When does the “I have other job offers” gambit cross the ethics line into fraud? Clearly when you use a forged letter, but short of that, it’s just lying—unethical, but not criminal.

Writes one idealistic commentator:

…if an employee is performing a job and is good at it, that person should be compensated for it accordingly and in line with individuals within the same organization at an equivalent level professionally (ideally pay should be bench-marked against similar-sized institutions in states or parts of the country with comparable income ranges). Does a job offer and the suggestion that the employee is desirable to another organization change how well that person is performing? Promotions and rewards should be directly related to performance and an individual’s contribution to the organization and to science.

Well, yes, but competition and reality interferes with this nice, fair but overly simplistic and impractical theory. In fields where employees are not fungible, basic economic theory comes into play: you can’t deny the influence supply and demand. The fact that there is competition for an individual’s services does increase that individual’s value. Just saying “it shouldn’t be that way” doesn’t change reality. That’s what makes McNaughton’s lie fraudulent: he’s misrepresenting his value, and using false means to do it.

3. Would you fire Dan Coats for this?

Naturally the anti-Trump mob loved it, and that was the director of national intelligence’s intent: he was playing to the mob and virtue signaling to the detriment of his boss. Either than, or he’s thoroughly unprofessional and can’t be trusted to be on TV. Washington Post reporter Dan Baltz is either foolish, naive or dishonest when he writes: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/15/2018: Alito Gets One Right, Ellison Deceived, And An Ancient, Unethical Tactic Works Once Again…

To a glorious morning, Ethics-Lovers!

1. Bad Alito, Good Alito.  As I briefly noted yesterday (and hopefully will do in detail today), Justice Alito authored an unethical and embarrassing dissent defending a lawyer who deliberately betrayed his client by telling the jury that he had killed someone his client denied killing. Bad Alito. However, the arch-conservative jurist also authored the majority opinion in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the SCOTUS majority struck down a virtuous but unconstitutional law, and did so clearly and well.

These are, I think, my favorite Supreme Court opinions, where the Court ignores the motives and objectives of a law and simply rules whether the legislature is allowed to behave like that. I don’t know, but I would guess that most of the majority feel the way I do about organized sports gambling: nothing good can come of it, and a lot of harm is inevitable. One they get the green light, I’m sure that as many states will take over sports gambling for its easy revenue as now prey on its poor, desperate and stupid with their state lottery scams. Everyone involved–sports, fans, athletes, states, the public’s ethical compass—is going to be corrupted by letting the sports betting genie out of its bottle: just watch.

Nevertheless, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992  law known as PASPA, should have been struck down decades ago; I’d love to know why it took so long. No, it did NOT ban sports betting, though this is what far too many news reports tell you. Congress can ban sports betting directly if it chooses to, as it is interstate commerce. This isn’t in dispute. What it did in 1992, however, was to order states not to pass laws states have a constitutional right to pass. The distinction matters. From SCOTUS Blog, which is usually the best source for analysis of these things:

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. [The] justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine…

…In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by explaining that the “anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it is simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision incorporated into the Constitution” – “the decision to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority continued, is exactly the problem with the provision of PASPA that the state challenged, which bars states from authorizing sports gambling: It “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

…The court also rejected the argument, made by the leagues and the federal government, that the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports betting does not “commandeer” the states, but instead merely supersedes any state laws that conflict with the provision – a legal doctrine known as pre-emption. Pre-emption, the majority explained, “is based on a federal law that regulates the conduct of private actors,” but here “there is simply no way to understand the provision prohibiting state authorization as anything other than a direct command to the States,” which “is exactly what the anticommandeering rule does not allow.”

Got it.

Good decision. Continue reading

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McCoy v. Louisiana

Today the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Robert LeRoy McCoy, who was convicted of three counts of murder after his lawyer refused to follow his instruction and plead not guilty as he directed. I had predicted that his convictions would be over-ruled; I also wrote,

“If the Supreme Court does anything but overrule Louisiana in this case by a 9-0 vote, I may turn in my law license in exchange for a free Whopper at Burger King.”

Well, the vote wasn’t 9-0. I think instead of turning in my license, I’m going to turn in my respect for the so-called conservative wing of the Court. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Ginsberg, with Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, Roberts, and Kennedy concurring. Two of the conservatives concurred in a dissent authored by Alito: Gorsuch and thomas.

I haven’t had time to read it as carefully as I have to to do a thorough analysis, but I read it well enough to flag it as an embarrassing collection of rationalizations. While the majority opinion interprets a straightforward case according to what is significant about it—a lawyer pleaded guilty for him when his client demanded that he plead non guilty, thus making the conclusion unavoidable, Alito resorts to desperate excuses. Well, this kind of case isn’t likely to happen again. So what? A man was robbed of his Sixth Amendment rights! His story was ridiculous. So what? If that’s his story, he has the right to tell it. The lawyer was placed in a tough situation by a client whose claims were unbelievable. The jury decides who to believe, and a defendant has the right to let them do that. McCoy’s lawyer didn’t believe him. So what? Welcome to criminal defense work. McCoy was going to be convicted anyway.

What????

I can’t believe a Supreme Court Justice is making these arguments. So what? The principle of the rule of law is that it is vital that the defendant, if he is convicted, is convicted the right way, constitutionally. The conduct of McCoy’s lawyer was indefensible under the ethics rules, and the Constitution.

Reading the whole opinion and the dissent is revealing, and not in a good way. The majority opinion shows us that the Supreme Court can’t say the sky is blue without making the case in the mots turgid way possible. This opinion should have been a few pages at most.

The dissent lets us know that Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas look for minuscule fragments of justifications to avoid doing the right thing.

 

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/24/18: Presidents, PETA, Privilege, Penn State And Pedophiles

Good Morning.

It just feels like a gliddy glup gloopy nibby nabby noopy kind of day…

1. Musings on the illness of George H.W. Bush. Perhaps I am over-sensitive, but I found the long segments and speculation on cable news this morning about George H.W. Bush suffering from “broken heart syndrome” sensational, intrusive, and wrong. The man is 93, and he’s suffering from a blood infection. As my Dad said often after his 80th birthday, and eventually proved, when one is 80 or more. you can drop dead at any moment, for any reason. Yes, we all know of long-time married couples of advanced years who perish in close proximity. However, the “broken heart syndrome” is anecdotal, without clinical proof, and, essentially, fake news with a romantic tinge.

[Pointer: valkygirrl]

If vile people like Professor Jarrar will attack Barbara Bush when she dies, imagine what George H.W. Bush has in store. The elder Bush is near the bottom of my Presidential ranking, in the general vicinity of his son, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama but The Ethics Alarms position is that every single President of the United States is owed respect and a debt of gratitude for accepting the overwhelming challenges of the job, and doing, in every case, what he felt was in the best interests of the nation. Before Harry Truman, even taking away the assassinations from the mix, the Presidency was regarded, accurately, as a killing job, with more Presidents than not dying soon after leaving office. That’s not true any  more, but the job is still a terrible physical, emotional and mental burden. The first words out of any American’s mouth when a former President is ailing should be “You have the best wishes of the nation,” and the first words when any former President dies should be “Thank you.”

2.    And this has to do with “collusion” how?  The raid on President Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen revealed that Fox News host Sean Hannity owns millions of dollars worth of real estate across several states, with  links to several shell companies that bought $90 million on 877 residential properties. This is all confidential information, and should never have been jeopardized by the Special Counsel’s effort, coordinated with New York State prosecutors, to gather as much dirt on President Trump as possible—all the better to impeach him with. That this information was leaked to the press indicts the investigation, the process, the judge who allowed the  fruits of the raid unrelated to Trump to be obtained, and the lawyers involved. Of course, the fact that Cohen had these records also rebuts Hannity’s claim, obviously disingenuous from the start, that he wasn’t Cohen’s client, but never mind: Hannity should not have been placed in the position where there was anything to deny.

[Pointer: philk57] Continue reading

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