A Scandal That Compels The Question: If This Can Happen, What Other Ethics Rot Lurks In The Justice System?

Texas attorney Weldon Ralph Petty Jr was a busy guy at the Midland County courthouse. By day he appeared before judges as an assistant district attorney. By night, he worked as a law clerk for some of the same judges, sometimes advising them regarding the criminal cases he was prosecuting. This went on for more than a decade.

You don’t have to be a legal ethics whiz to figure out that such conduct isn’t ethical. Prosecutors are barred from privately communicating with judges about cases or matters even indirectly related to their cases. Judges and their clerks are forbidden from disclosing the discussions and in chambers considerations regarding cases to prosecutors or defense attorneys.

Thus Petty, 78, was flagrantly violating ethics rules by simultaneously acting as a prosecutor and a paid adviser to supposedly impartial judges, who were also breaching judicial ethics to a spectacular degree by allowing him to do so. A February story published by USA Today first reported that Petty was paid by judges as a clerk in at least 350 cases from 2001 until his retirement as an assistant district attorney in mid-2019. Seventy-three defendants, maybe more, that Petty prosecuted are in prison. A court opinion issued April 28 calls for overturning Midland County’s only death penalty case due to Petty’s prosecutorial misconduct and the judge’s failure to recuse himself, so Clinton Lee Young, who has been on death row since Petty prosecuted him in 2003, will get a new trial.

Continue reading

Sunset Ethics, 9/30/2020: Conflicts Of Interest, Sexual Harassment, Movies And Lies

1. Conflicts of interest on my mind. I narrowly averted a disastrous conflict of interest yesterday out of pure moral luck, so the topic is much on my mind; I’m still distracted by the near miss. Professionally, it was the equivalent of almost being picked off by a bus.

NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg reacted to the death of Justice Ginsburg with an essay on her 48-year friendship with RBG, saluting Ginsburg’s “extraordinary character.” That’s funny: Totenberg never told NPR’s listeners, nor did  NPR, that she had a personal relationship with the Justice, despite being charged with covering the Court and critiquing its decisions.  Kelly McBride, NPR’s public editor and senior vice president of the Poynter Institute, threw a metaphorical ethics foul flag,

“In failing to be transparent about Totenberg’s relationship with Ginsburg over the years, NPR missed two opportunities,”she wrote on the NPR website. “First, NPR leaders could have shared the conversations they were having and the precautions they were taking to preserve the newsroom’s independent judgment,” McBride said. “Second, having those conversations in front of the public would have sharpened NPR’s acuity in managing other personal conflicts of interest among its journalists.”

Ginsburg, who officiated at Totenberg’s wedding in 2000. Nonetheless, the correspondent,  who wears her progressive bias on her sleeve as it is, denied that the conflict compromised to her journalism, telling  the Washington Post that NPR’s listeners benefited from ther friendship because it gave her greater insight into and Ginsburg’s  thinking.

And that justifies keeping the relationship secret from listeners how, Nina?

2. From the “When ethics alarms don’t work” files: Lawyer Phillip Malouff Jr. of La Junta, Colorado, was censured for a series of episodes of unprofessional behavior and sexual harassment.

In November 2016, Malouff  winked at a magistrate judge and said, “When you get back from your vacation, I better be able to see your tan lines.” When he visiting the same magistrate’s chambers to discuss scheduling matters, he  said, according to the female judge,: “Ask your husband a question for me when you get home tonight. Ask him what it’s like to have relations with someone who wears the robe. It has always been something I’ve wanted to do, but there have never been any women judges until now.”

Malouff  was informed that his comments were unprofessional and a violation of the Colorado Judicial Department’s anti-harassment policy. Ya think?

In July 2019, Malouff asked a judicial assistant to check whether the mother in a parental rights hearing had an outstanding warrant. When the assistant replied, “She is good.” Malouff  responded, “Her husband told me that she is good.

Wink wink, nudge nudge. Continue reading

Sunday Morning Alarms, 4/5/2020: After The First Two Items, You Won’t Want To Read Any More And Will Just Go Back To Bed…

….like I did…

1. KABOOM! Pennsylvanian Anita Shaffer, 19, decided to flee her York County home  a week ago for a mental health drive.  On her way back home, two Pennsylvania State Police officers stopped her about her car’s faulty tail-light. While talking with the officers,  Shaffer told them that she was just “going for a drive.” In response, they wrote her a ticket for more than $202.25 for violating the Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order.

That’s the citation above. It says Shaffer “failed to abide by the order of the governor and secretary of health issued to control the spread of a communicable disease, requiring the closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses as of 20:00 hours on March 19, 2020. To wit, defendant states that she was ‘going for a drive’ after this violation was in effect,”

State police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski explained the ticket, saying, “Troopers have been encouraged to use contacts with the public as opportunities to reinforce the necessity to abide by stay-at-home orders.”

And how, exactly, does ticketing an individual who is engaged in conduct that cannot possibly infect anyone  accomplish  that?

Well, Tarkowski blathered,  being a soulless bureaucrat incapable of admitting that THE STATE is full of it in this case, “Troopers maintain discretion to warn or issue citations and the decision is specific to the facts and circumstances of a particular encounter.”

Fine. These facts do not justify a ticket by any stretch of the imagination. The officers’ discretion shows they are not qualified to wield the power they have. Indeed, the citation magnifies the extreme arbitrariness of such orders, and their danger when those charged with enforcing them have the judgment of Gestapo officers.

I’m surprised the cops didn’t slap her around a little, shoot her in the kneecap or even rape her, you know, to show the defiant prole who’s boss and not to ever, ever defy Big Brother.

Tarkowski also said Shaffer’s citation is the only one issued for violating the stay-at-home order. It’s good that the police picked a representative one to symbolize the Pennsyvania message to it’s citizens, which is apparently, “You will do as you are told, underlings.”

Well, not to be crude, but screw that.

Shaffer told reporters  she was within her rights to operate her car, and plans on challenging the citation.  Good. And again I ask, where is our vaunted American Civil Liberty Union on this issue? For three years, we have been hearing false cries of outrage about how the President is an autocrat just waiting to crush our civil rights, and now, when the civil rights of citizens are being ignored by tin pot governors all over the country, the ACLU just shrugs and sighs in its bunker, “It’s for the greater good.”

Oh..there was nothing wrong with her tail light. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: When You Are Tempted To Beat Your Head In With A Claw Hammer As You Read These Items, Think Of Buddy Mercury

GOOD MORNING!

Honestly now, how can anyone get depressed about ethical the state of a world with Buddy Mercury in it?

1. Yes, I know that this is just a has-been ex-child star with an inflated concept of her own wisdom and authority, but it’s significant anyway. Alyssa Milano, 46, late of “Who’s the Boss” and “Charmed,” tried to promote a female sex strike against men to protest recent anti-abortion bills  in several states. This stunningly stupid idea–but classical!—was rightly attacked from both the Left and Right, but it is worthy of note for one reason: it illustrates how progressives are increasingly favoring boycotts, force, intimidation, violence and bullying as the mean of achieving their policy objectives, and abandoning reasoning, elections and law. This attitude suggests a growing hostility to democracy, and that is worrysome.

When the Lysistrata-inspired #SexStrike that she declared would deny men sex “until we get bodily autonomy back” (think about that for a minute) protest fell flat, Milano threw a self-reported tantrum on Twitter and pivoted to an appeal to emotion that omitted the legal and ethical realities. The new object of her outrage was a CBS report about an 11-year-old rape victim who couldn’t get an abortion under Ohio’s yet-to-be-signed fetal heartbeat bill. Milano, like all abortion rights absolutists but especially loudly, appears to be incapable of perceiving or admitting that anti-abortion legislation is not an expression of hostility to women at all.  Right or wrong, it is based on a sincere and ethically defensible (under reciprocity and Kantian ethics) argument that a human life, even a nascent one, must have priority in the utilitarian balancing involved when a pregnancy is unwanted by the mother. Continue reading

A Slap On The Wrist For The Lawyer Who Demanded 65 Million Dollars For A Lost Pair Of Pants

And they weren't even Elvis' pants...

And they weren’t even Elvis’ pants…

There has been a lot of beating up on judges and lawyers lately, on this blog and elsewhere, so what better time to revisit the weird case of foormer administrative law judge and current attorney Roy Pearson, Jr? He was the D.C.  judge who carried on such a vendetta against a dry cleaner because they lost a pair of his pants that it became national news…which is to say, it was discussed on The View and the women made fools of themselves. Not as big fools as the judge made of himself, though.

Pearson claimed that in 2005, the dry cleaners gave him the wrong pair of pants and refused to pay him the $1,150 he demanded as compensation. His suit—his $67 million suit!— against the dry cleaners alleged that the business violated Washington, D.C.’s consumer protection law by failing to comply with its sign promising “satisfaction guaranteed,” which Pearson claimed was unconditional. You know, even if a customer was deranged.

In his testimony in this wacko lawsuit, Pearson argued that “satisfaction guaranteed” meant the dry cleaner was legally obligated to pay a customer who demanded $1,000 for a supposedly lost sweater even if the owners knew they had delivered the correct sweater to the customer.

By that logic, the owner would also have to let the customer have sex with his teenage daughter, if that’s what it took to “satisfy” him. Continue reading