Tag Archives: legal ethics

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/19/18: Operating Under A Disability

Good Morning,

from Erie, Pennsylvania!

1. Handicapped. Unfortunately, my circumstances on this trip, which include a draining computer, hours of driving, the usual vicissitudes of travel but time two (my wife is with me), and multiple speaking responsibilities are going to influence my choice of topics. This is the blogging ethicist’s version of dealing with a disability, as I was discussing in yesterday’s seminar.

It is not unethical for a lawyer to continue to practice law while he or she has a drinking problem, or is developing dementia, or has the flu, but it iss unethical to do so while any of these maladies threaten to diminish the lawyer’s trustworthiness, diligence, zeal or competence. The professional has an ethical obligation to manage disabilities. In my case, several ethics issues that are in the news will require more concentration and analysis to handle well than I am able to muster right now, as I type with one eye on the battery charge and try to work in a hotel room with more than the usual distractions and interruptions. The participation of the White House Counsel in the Mueller investigation, for example, will just have to wait.

We are going to try to find a new power cord today. No, the hotel business center computers won’t do: there isn’t enough time to get even a single post up on them, among other impediments. Continue reading

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Afternoon Ethics Jolt, 8/3/2018: A Lawyer Finds A New Way To Be Unethical, Verizon Makes Our Kids Obnoxious And Ignorant, And The Times Decides To Show Its Colors…

 

Good…afternoon.

Yes, I couldn’t get this up before noon again. Mornings have been crazy lately. And no, I’m not at the beach…I just WISH I was at the beach.

1. A legal ethics “Kaboom! From the New York Times account of the litigation surrounding New York Yankee great Thurmon Munson’s death when his private plane crashed in 1979:

James Wiles, one of FlightSafety International’s lawyers at the time, still contends there was no culpability in Munson’s death on the part of either company. But a trial, he said, was just too risky…. Wiles, who was present for all the depositions…said that when Yogi Berra testified, he put a box of 24 baseballs in front of him and requested he sign them. Berra, who was a Yankees coach when Munson died, grudgingly obliged, but at one point asked if Wiles was authorized to make such a demand.

“It’s my deposition,” Wiles said he told Berra.

My head exploded after reading that. There is no rule I can find that declares such a blatant professional abuse unethical, unless it is the deceitful “It’s my deposition” response, which is literally true but falsely implies that the lawyer has the power to force a witness in a deposition to do something completely unrelated to the case for the lawyer’s personal benefit. Rule or no rule, this was incredibly unethical, and a perfect example of how lawyers will come up with ways to be unethical that they can’t be sanctioned for.

2. More on the New York Times’ new editor: Yesterday, I covered the astounding—but maybe not so astounding—appointment of far-left journalist Sarah Jeong as its technology editor despite a huge archive of explicitly racist and sexist tweets. The Times’ defiant explanation, a rationalization, really, stated:

“We hired Sarah Jeong because of the exceptional work she has done … her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers. She regrets it, and The Times does not condone it.”

Jeong’s statement was simply dishonest:

“I engaged in what I thought of at the time as counter-trolling. While it was intended as satire, I deeply regret that I mimicked the language of my harassers. These comments were not aimed at a general audience, because general audiences do not engage in harassment campaigns. I can understand how hurtful these posts are out of context, and would not do it again.”

The issue is not whether she will “do it again”—presumably even the Times wouldn’t stand for that, but whether her many racist outbursts online do not raise the rebuttable presumption that she is, in fact, a racist. Nothing in her statement tells us that she doesn’t believe such things as “white men are fucking bullshit,” only that she didn’t aim these comments at the general public.

I find it hard to believe that the even Times is so stupid and arrogant that it will dig in its metaphorical heels and refuse to admit its gross mistake. As Glenn Reynolds writes today, Continue reading

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Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/28/18: Expired Ethics, Sleeping Fact-Checkers, Ghosts, The Dumbest Ethics Train Wreck Of Them All…

It’s a beautiful morning!

1. When “Everybody Does it” isn’t just a rationalization. I was asked by a law firm to render an opinion as to whether particular conduct was a violation of the legal ethics rules.  A legal ethics opinion—bar associations issue these periodically to cover gray areas– in the jurisdiction said that it was, but the opinion was over 20 years old. The reasoning given in the opinion for declaring the conduct unethical was that the practice was “new to the jurisdiction” and might mislead or confuse the public.

Today, however, my research showed, the conduct is commonplace in that jurisdiction. Many, many law firms engage in it. What was new two decades ago is new no longer, and the reasoning for the opinion’s conclusion was based on conditions that no longer exist. Moreover, no firm has been punished for the conduct, and won’t be.

The firm was concerned that the legal ethics opinion had not been over-ruled or withdrawn. I said that it didn’t have to be. “Everyone” was engaged in the conduct it forbade, the bar had allowed “everyone” to do it, and if an issue was raised now, I am 100% certain that the old opinion would be withdrawn as no longer reasonable or germane.

2. One more human feature that makes ethics harder: the ability to simultaneously hold two contradictory and mutually exclusive beliefs.

I was watching one of the apparently inexhaustible supply of cable shows about haunting and paranormal investigations with my wife. This one climaxed in a session with a Ouija board, and the love of my life uttered, within seconds of each other, these two statements:

  • “It’s amazing how many otherwise intelligent people really believe in ghosts and demons.”
  • “Ouija boards! I wouldn’t allow one of those things in the house. I’m not taking any chances.

I have heard many other friends and acquaintances endorse both of these positions as well.

3. It is the study of how one discerns the truth, after all. Who needs it? They no longer teach ethics in our education system, and now apparently philosophy is on the way out. Claremont Graduate University in California will be closing the PhD program in philosophy and terminating two tenured faculty. Apparently the move was dictated by budget and “market considerations.” The Claremont colleges in Southern California are a distinguished and growing batch consisting of Pomona, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, Claremont-McKenna, and Pitzer. They still have a philosophy faculty, but I wonder for how long.

I was tempted to check the curriculum of these schools to see what kinds of courses were deemed worthy of support while a graduate degree in philosophy was not, but I decided that it would make my head explode. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/27/18: Welcome Nausea, Disillusionment, Guilt, And Apathy…

Well, it’s morning.

1. Nausea. This is a real headline from this morning’s New York Times:

Truce on Trade Follows Route Obama Paved; Trump Claims Victory in Crisis He Started

Gee, the Times morphed into Media Matters so slowly that I hadn’t noticed!* In fact I had noticed, but that headline is a virtual declaration that the Times is now a fully committed partisan organ of the Democratic Party, and is no longer even pretending to be practicing ethical or objective journalism. Not only does the headline represent opinion rather than reporting, the Times was so desperate to color the story of the European Union tentatively reaching a new trade agreement with the U.S. that it felt it had to project its bias before anyone could read the story.

*With a nod to blogger Glenn Reynolds, who uses this as a regular jibe

2. Disillusionment. Netflix has finally concluded “The Staircase,” the now 13 episode documentary following the bizarre case of novelist Michael Peterson, who was convicted of murdering his wife Kathleen in 2001. Directed by French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the first eight episodes aired on the Sundance Channel in 2005 and were an immediate sensation. It would be unethical to spoil the story or the documentary for you if you haven’t seen it, but a couple of spoilers lie ahead.

Anyone who continues to argue that it is ridiculous and “treasonous” for anyone to challenge the competence, objectivity, motives and trustworthiness of law enforcement, including the FBI, and prosecutors after watching this horror show has astounding powers of selective outrage.

The series also made me want to throw heavy objects at the TV screen as a result of the lazy, passive, indefensible conduct of the prosecutors and the North Carolina judge, who resided over every iteration of the case for 15 years. Since there was no way a rational jury could find Peterson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence, ethical prosecutors would never have charged and tried Peterson. (A jury finding a defendant guilty on inadequate evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that the case was a just one.) It is especially infuriating for the viewer (so imagine what Peterson thinks) to hear the judge today blandly concede that two controversial pieces of evidence he allowed into the trial were, upon reflection,  unjustly prejudicial, and that he believes that there was ample reasonable doubt for the jury to acquit. Then he tries to make the argument that the “system works” based on a mess of a case and an investigation that still hasn’t explained how Kathleen Peterson died.

It does explain, however, why so many Americans don’t trust the justice system or the alleged professionals who run it. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/20/18: Darrow, Damn Technology And Dunkin’ Donuts

Good Morning!

1. Shameless self-promotion Dept. Once again, I am presenting my three-hour Clarence Darrow and modern attorney ethics CLE program for the D.C. Bar, and later this summer, Virginia CLE will be sponsoring the same seminar in Richmond and Northern Virginia. As always, my partner and collaborator in All Things Darrow is esteemed D.C. actor (and American University law school instructor, and, I am proud to say, my friend) Paul Morella, who has been Darrowing since he premiered my one-man show about the great and flawed lawyer in 2000, for The American Century Theater. His website is here. This is Paul…

Paul is a lot taller, thinner and better looking than Darrow, and unlike Clarence, he also bathes regularly. It doesn’t matter. I can’t recommend his show, which he performs for bar associations and legal groups around the country, more highly, and would feel this way even if I hadn’t written it. Of course, any group that wants Continuing Legal Education credits can also book today’s seminar, which has many of Darrow’s greatest courtroom orations, but also legal ethics commentary from me.

2. Ah-HA! NOW I understand why I’m being sued for defamation!  This is in the “This comes as no surprise” category, but it still explains a lot. The Pew Research Center just released a survey that demonstrates that a large proportion of the public can’t distinguish facts from opinions. The main portion of the study  measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements. Pew found

“…that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. Even more revealing is that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion.”

I challenge that last part. It may well be that those who place high levels of trust in the news media could distinguish between fact and opinion in those  ten statements, but it doesn’t change the fact (now this is my opinion, but I still believe it is demonstrably true) that the news media distorts what it represents as facts based on journalists’ biased opinions. Continue reading

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Mayor De Blasio, Mrs. De Blasio, And Rationalization #68: The Volunteer’s Dodge, Or “You Don’t Pay Me Enough To Be Ethical!”

New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), an unapologetic social justice warrior and crypto-socialist, installed his wife, Chirlane McCray, as the executive director of  the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, NYC’s nonprofit foundation. Under the previous mayor, the Fund had raised tens of millions of dollars annually for a wide range of projects, from anti-poverty initiatives to Superstorm Sandy recovery. McCray cannot receive a salary for her job, though the mayor has complained bitterly about this. Nepotism is outlawed under the City Charter in Chapter 68 which forbids public servants using their positions “to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant.”

Under the leadership of McCray,  fundraising for the Mayor’s Fund has stalled. In the Bloomberg years, the nonprofit raised an average of $32 million per year, while under Mrs. de Blasio’s stewardship  it has raised an average of $22 million annually, a third less. This may be explained in part by the fact that she often isn’t working at her job. She has attended fewer than half of the meetings of the Fund’s board, and spends just an hour each week on the foundation’s business. It is June, and the New York Times reports that she hasn’t  visited the Fund’s offices in 2018, and was largely absent in the latter half of 2017. As the fund’s revenues have dived, its expenses have soared 50% since she took over,  with the organization moved into bigger offices. The Fund also supports fewer projects.

Sniffs the Times in an editorial, “the Mayor’s Fund under Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray has done less with more.”

De Blasio, who has pretty much solidified his reputation as a jerk, defended his wife by saying that she had done “an extraordinary job,” insisting to critics that  “You’re missing what her work is about.”

Her work is about raising money, and she’s not doing that very well. As the Times says, the first rule of fund-raising is to show up.  Mrs. Mayor helpfully added,  “It’s not about who can raise the most money.” Wait, what? Has anyone explained to her what her job is?

Then de Blasio said this, thus causing the proverbial light bulb to go off in my head, as he perfectly illustrated a rationalization that has somehow missed inclusion on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List:

“She does all that for zero dollars a year.”

“All that” meaning “a crummy job.”

Say hello. Mr. Mayor,  to… Continue reading

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Governor Greitens And The Unethical Release-Dismissal Tactic

(The gun being held to the signer’s head is out of the frame…)

The resignation of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (R), a result that appears to have been over-due, deserved, and necessary, also involved a common form of unethical prosecution. The device is called Release-Dismiss, and it looks, smells and feels unethical. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court and most of the states continue to allow it. They shouldn’t.

Greiten’s resignation came as a result of a plea deal after St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner agreed to dismiss charges that Greitens tampered with a computer donor list of a veterans’ charity he founded. The deal also included Grietens’ promise not to sue Gardner or her office.

Greitens’  legal fees were over $2 million, he said,  and he could not afford to go to trial on the charges.  Gardner  said  she was confident she had  the evidence required to convict  Greitens. (That’s what they all say.) But the fact remains that the threat of criminal prosecution was used to pressure Greitens into giving up his civil rights.

In a scholarly paper on this maneuver, one authority writes,

A phenomenon exists in the criminal justice world which allows a prosecutor to strike a bargain with a criminal defendant, permitting them both to cut their losses and walk away from a mutually bad situation. On occasions where arrested individuals may have been wronged by public officials in the course of their arrests, prosecutors may legally agree to dismiss defendants’ criminal charges in exchange for releases by the defendants of any civil claims arising from the arrests. The release-dismissal agreement, and variations upon its theme,’ have been the subject of controversy for several years.

Its supporters rely on the obvious efficiency embodied in the situation. Despite this efficiency, such agreements are dangerous, detrimental to the criminal justice system, and against the better interests of society.

I agree. So does Professor Turley, who wrote, Continue reading

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