This story first came to the attention of the legal community in February, when a plaintiff in an employment discrimination suit against Chevron filed a Motion for Sanctions against Chevron’s Houston-based attorney, Dennis Duffy. It began by stating that Duffy had engaged in “a campaign of abusive and intolerable conduct that began with profanity-laced conversation” and escalated to “discriminatory slurs.” Then she alleged, things got really bad. The motion further alleged, Continue reading
This is going to be uncharacteristically short, but I feel the story deserves its own post
The Ohio Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended lawyer Austin Roan Buttars of Dublin, Ohio for transferring more than $147,000 from the accounts of a mentally ill client though the lawyer and his law firm were only owed about $19,000. Buttars acquired the other $128,000 by stealing from or overcharging the client
Not that he didn’t work for his money. For example, the Court found that Buttars charged his legal hourly rate for mowing her lawn.
I just thought you should know.
1. Nah, there’s no news media narrative coordination! Twitchy has pointed out the remarkable conformity of language regarding the Joe Biden sexual assault accusation. Last week, CNN reported that Democrats are “grappling with questions” about Tara Reade’s allegations. This week:
Politico: “The #MeToo movement is facing a new challenge: how to grapple with the allegations against Joe Biden without tearing itself apart.”
Jake Tapper on Twitter: “Democrats grapple with questions about Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden…”
Jeremy Scahill at the Intercept: “My aim in writing this piece was to put into words what many principled people are grappling with right now, not to tell anyone what to do. Recognizing and understanding the problem helps us all decide what we believe is right…”
Mother Jones: “Sexual Assault Advocates Are Grappling With the Allegations Against Joe Biden”
All independent, objective journalists, of course…talking points? What talking points?
2. This “sharing a life” concept seems to be beyond you…over at Social Q’s a woman who is living with her boyfriend to ride out the pandemic complains, “He eats significantly more than I do, including some foods I don’t touch. Still, we split the grocery bill, and I am paying significantly more for food than usual. How should I handle this?” Columnist Phillip Gallanes’ advice is impeccably ethical:
Try stepping back and looking at the bigger picture…Sure, he eats more than you, but are you twice as messy (while sharing cleaning duties equally)? Do you watch three times as much Netflix (but split the bill in half)? And I haven’t even touched on emotional labor yet. ..if you want your partnership to survive even after we’re set free again, consider all the contributions each of you makes.
Nice try, Phil, but I’m guessing that question is signature significance, and the relationship is doomed. Continue reading
Lately I’ve been helping a lot of lawyers seeking to create so-called Rule 5.4 law firms in the District of Columbia. In these firms, unique to the District, non-lawyers can be full partners. This means that they can share in the firm’s fees, which is something otherwise forbidden and a major ethics breach in the 50 states. Lawyers cannot, must not, dare not share their fees with non-lawyers…unless those non-lawyers are partners in the same firm.
There are certain requirements for that to happen, and the main one is that the non-lawyers must be supervised by a lawyer in the firm to ensure that the non-lawyers don’t engage in conduct that would be unethical for a lawyer. The legal profession is justifiably wary that the unique priorities of the legal profession cannot be easily absorbed or understood by those who have been trained and influenced in a different culture.
It is right to be wary. Lawyers have enough trouble avoiding violations of their own rules; doctors, accountants and others, steeped in different alignments of values, can’t just shift gears like suddenly being in a law firm is like test driving a sports car. For so-called “non professionals,” a category that is increasingly contentious, it may be even harder to adjust, if not impossible.
Lawyers are often overly optimistic about their non-lawyer partners’ ability to learn the importance of keeping all client confidences, not crossing over into the unauthorized practice of law, sensing possible conflicts of interest and illicitly soliciting clients, or engaging in misrepresentation and deceit, to name just a few. Lawyers tend to think that all professional ethics should be fungible. It’s a dangerous misconception, and there is a little cautionary tale from, of all places, Broadway, that illustrates it.
It has been mostly forgotten, but in 1969, a musical called“Buck White” opened at the George Abbott Theater. Its unlikely star: draft-resisting ex-heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.
Yes, you read that correctly. Continue reading
Pretty late last night, an Ethics Alarms post about mandatory ages of retirement for judges moved JutGory to offer this remarkable Comment of the Day, a tribute to a role model in his life. Coincidentally, it now follows yesterday’s last post, about a failed role model, or perhaps someone who should have become a role model but who never did.
I’m hopping Jut’s comment over a couple of waiting COTDs because I think it’s good to start off the day with some inspiration when possible.
Here is JutGory’s Comment of the Day on the post, “From The Ethics Alarms Archives: ‘Age and the Judge,’ And A Current Day Example.”
And, if nothing else, this is the perfect post in which to mention Floyd.
Floyd was at the top of his class at West Point.
Scwartzkopf was a plebe when Floyd graduated.
Floyd injured himself parachuting into Germany on a training exercise.
He became a lawyer and the consummate Southern Gentleman.
He told me about the time that he handled one of those big divorces and his firm submitted a one-page bill in the amount of over $500,000.00 “For Services Rendered.”
He told me about the time he was able to obtain a Writ of Ne Exeat (I had never heard of it either).
And, after a career of legal practice in Georgia, this principled conservative southern lawyer relocated to the State that Mondale Won.
He did it for two reasons: his wife and one of his kids needed a change of environment because of pollen counts, etc., and Dick.
Dick was looking for a legal partner and Floyd was looking to move north. Dick was Floyd’s exact opposite in every way. Continue reading
Way, way too much ethics-related politics this past week. I keep getting complaints about all the political content, and it annoys me too, but I don’t know what kind of alternatives I have. Back in the sane days, the idea of a House Speaker planning on tearing up the official copy of the State of the Union speech would have been the stuff of Saturday Night Live…when SNL would make fun of Democrats, anyway. I’m trying to keep the politics to a minimum. I swear.
1. The Astros cheating scandal, cont. Would you wonder about this answer? A.J. Hinch, the ex-Houston Astros manager who was fired and suspended by Major League Baseball for allowing an illegal sign-stealing scheme to be used by his players for the entire 2017 World Champion Astros season, finally sat down for an interview. When he was asked whether Houston players had utilized buzzers in their uniforms to receive signsduring the 2019 season as some have claimed based on inconclusive evidence and rumors, Hinch only would answer, “The Commissioner’s Office did as thorough of an investigation as anyone could imagine was possible.”
Why not “No”? That was what reporters term a “non-denial denial.”
2. If they advised her to run her sick child through the washing machine and he drowned, would that be their fault too? The death of a four-year-old boy named Najee is being blamed on an anti-vaxx Facebook group.
The boy had been diagnosed with the flu and the doctor had prescribed Tamiflu. His mother sought advice from the Facebook group “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” on how to treat her son’s’ illness. The members told her to give the boy vitamins, botanicals, zinc, fruits and vegetables, and to skip the medicine.
“Ok perfect I’ll try that,” she responded. Later that night, Najee had a seizure and died. Continue reading
I almost managed to ignore football completely this season, and I’m proud of it. There were few rogue kneelers in the NFL this year, and the New England Patriots, my hometown role models for the Houston Astros, finally bit the dust. Meanwhile, there was little new on the CTE front, not any more is needed to prove that cheering young men in the process of destroying their brains for a handful of well-compensated seasons as football heroes is immoral and unethical. I did recently watch the Netflix documentary, “The Killer Inside,” about Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots star who murdered a friend and perhaps two others. I didn’t know that after his suicide in prison, it was found that Hernandez suffered from CTE, and that his brain was one of the most damaged scientists have ever seen. The documentary also says that the New England Patriots coaching staff saw signs that he was deteriorating and becoming unstable, as well as using drugs, and they made no effort to intervene. After all, he was playing well, and the team was winning.
That’s pro football. To hell with it.
1. “The Chop.” I have written about this perpetually silly issue a lot, and recently, but the New York Times, being the Official Paper of the Woke, has felt it necessary to publish three pieces this week on the the so called “Kansas City Chop,” the tomahawk motion used by Kansas City Chiefs fans (The Chiefs are in the Super Bowl, you know) when cheering on their team. The chop is most identified with the Atlanta Braves (How satisfying it was to watch Jane Fonda dutifully chopping along with then husband Ted Turner when the Braves finally made the world Series in 1991!), but Chiefs fans started copying Braves fans. It is, of course, intended to rally the team, has nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of commentary on Native Americans, those who pretend to be seriously unsettled by what fans of an NFL team do to show their affection for their team are either faking or need psychiatric care. But here’s CNN:
And juuuuust a bit uncivil, I’d say. I may be wrong…
In a motion to dismiss an insurance law suit, Allstate’s lawyers revealed this remarkable conduct on the part of plaintiff’s attorney Christopher Hook in his communications during the case. According to the declaration of those attorneys in their motion, Hook said or wrote…
- “Fuck you crooks. Eat a bowl of dicks.” (Declaration of Peter H. Klee, Ex. 1, p. 5)
- “I’m going to let the long dick of the law fuck Allstate for all of us.” (Id., p. 7)
- “Hey Klee you Cumstain the demand is now 302 million. Pay up fuckface.” (Id., p. 8)
- “Peter when you are done felating your copy boy tell Allstate the demand is now 305 million.” (Id., p. 9)
- “[Other Sheppard Mullin attorneys] may not be too smart but at least they have some fucking dignity and honor unlike you two limp dick mother fuckers.” (Id., p. 10)
- “What is Wright going to do when he finds out Allstate is using people who are borderline retarded to adjust complex claims. That’s what I’m going to do. Demand increases tomorrow.” (Klee Decl., Ex. 1, p. 11)
- “Anytime now faggot.” (Id., p. 13)
- “I want my clients’ money gay boys.”
If this was just disgraceful pandering, grandstanding, and shameless virtue-signaling, he would only have proven himself to be a jerk—a big jerk, to be sure, but still just a jerk. But it is far more.
The new fad contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination is returning thousands of dollars in donations because they came from two lawyers who had the audacity to represent Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as he attempted to defend himself against the contrived ambush accusation of a sex crime, made in a Congressional hearing on national television, a ploy designed to destroy his reputation. Buttigieg’s campaign said that it will not accept funds from people who helped secure the justice’s seat on the Supreme Court. You know. Dirty money.
Buttigieg’s campaign had received $7,200 from Alexandra Walsh, and $2,800 from Beth Wilkinson, Walsh’s law partner. Both represented Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation ordeal. As I have vowed to point out every time some ignoramus asserts that lawyesr must be punished for the character, conduct or beliefs of the clients they represent and are responsible or culpable in any way for what those clients have said or done (or NOT done), it is a core and essential principle of our legal system that such an assumption is not only wrong but dangerous. It threatens the right of every citizen to receive competent legal representation and access to our laws and other rights.
Here, once again, is my favorite ethics rule, from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct:
(b) A lawyer’s representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities.
Whether the target is Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Harvey Weinstein’s defense attorneys (also here), Larry Tribe, Gitmo defense lawyers, or Clarence Darrow, Johnny Cochran, Leslie Abramson and other defense lawyers who defend murderers and worse, the false claim that lawyers who take on unpopular, repulsive or guilty clients have done anything less than protected the Bill of Rights and the rule of law is either rank ignorance or a deliberate effort to reduce the civic literacy of the public.
Buttigieg isn’t a lawyer, but he is very well educated and has a reasonable claim to brilliance. Thus he knows and understands what lawyers do, but is acting as if he does not, intentionally making the public stupid (or keeping it conveniently as stupid as it already is ) for his own benefit.
But that’s not all. Continue reading
Yes, even the 2020 Presidential race’s worst panderer and #1 demagogue deserves the same leave as any other lawyer, which is not to be held responsible for her client’s views and deeds. Every lawyer who ever runs for office or who comes within the cross-hairs of unethical pundits faces these attacks, which I have written about here repeatedly and pledged to address any time they come to my attention. “Elizabeth Warren’s Days Defending Big Corporations” warns the Times, hinting at hypocrisy by noting,
“Ms. Warren has ascended toward the head of the Democratic presidential pack on the strength of her populist appeal and progressive plans, which include breaking up big technology companies, free public college and a wealth tax on the richest Americans…Against that backdrop, some of Ms. Warren’s critics have seized upon her bankruptcy work for LTV and other big corporations to question the depth of her progressive bona fides. How, they wonder, could someone whose reputation is built on consumer advocacy have represented a company seeking to avoid paying for retired miners’ health care?
Here’s how: a lawyer’s personal convictions, values and beliefs are completely irrelevant to her clients or choice of clients. Those who think otherwise don’t understand legal ethics, or lawyers, or their function in society. For the heaven-knows-how many-teenth time, here is critical Rule 1.2 b of the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct: Continue reading