Tag Archives: legal ethics

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/22/2017: My Unfair College Admission, U. Penn’s Bigoted Grad Student, Fox News Imitates The Weinstein Company, And THIS Is An Unethical Lawyer…

Good Morning!

1 Yesterday’s ethics  bombshell was the news that Fox News extended its contract with star bloviator Bill O’Reilly earlier this year, knowing that he had agreed to a $32 million settlement with a woman who accused him of  repeated harassment, a non-consensual sexual relationship, and other offenses. Nonetheless, it decided  it decided to sign him a four-year, $25 million a year, contract extension. The New York Times scoop reported that Rupert Murdoch and his sons,  decided that it was worth it to keep O’Reilly even as Fox News was trying to recover after having to fire Roger Ailes for multiple sexual harassment claims. Fox added to the O’Reilly’s extension a clause that allowed for his dismissal if new allegations of harassment or other relevant information came out regarding the previous accusations.

Boy, am I glad that I didn’t lift my personal Fox New boycott after O’Reilly left.

This is unconscionable conduct by Fox, equal in its slimy ethics void to what the Weinstein Group did when it acknowledged its founders sexual predator proclivities in his contract. Fox News, by keeping O’Reilly knowing that he had harassed its employees (and worse),

  • demonstrated to its staff that it cared more about ratings and profits than principles and the safety of its female employees and guests
  • sent the message that if you were a big enough cheese at Fox you can get away with abusing women
  • proved that the sick and sexist culture nurtured by Roger Ailes from the beginning was still flourishing.

Ugh. But I can’t say I’m surprised. [Mr Kimble (Alvy Moore) on Green Acres: ” I can’t say I’m surprised. Actually, I can say I’m surprised. I’m surprised! But I’m not surprised.”]

How many other companies tolerate sexual harassers in their executive offices outside of Hollywood? A lot.

O’Reilly, demonstrating again that he is a liar as well as as a sexual predator, absolutely denies that he ever harassed anyone. He needs better lawyers, then. Harvey Weinstein paid off an actress he raped for just $100,000, and poor Bill had to fork over 32 million bucks for something he didn’t do!

2. This morning’s “Wait—WHAT?” ethics headline is this one, from the ABA News: “Lawyer who blamed ethics case on mother can’t discharge $500K in student debt, federal judge rules.

Illinois lawyer Donald Rosen argued that his three-year license suspension for misappropriating over $85,000 in client funds made it impossible to find appropriate work and so should be allowed to discharge his $500,000 student debt. (How did he end up with a $500,000 student debt?). ‘Uh, no,’ ruled U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, perhaps because Rosen had paid only about $11,000 in student debt over the previous 37 years.

Why did Rosen blame Mom? He claims his 82-year-old mother, who worked at his firm, inadvertently used client funds to pay business expenses.  Rosen said his mother was embarrassed by her actions and falsified bank statements to cover it up. Then, Rosen says, he innocently provided those fake bank statements to police and the hearing board considering the ethics case against him.

3. How can this happen? Why is it happening? Who defends this? How long will it continue? Continue reading

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Wait, WHAT? I Don’t Understand This Case At All: The Louisiana Lawyer’s Betrayal

Robert McCoy (above), facing trial for a triple murder in Louisiana, told his lawyer, Larry English, that he was innocent. Someone else had killed the victims, he insisted. English, however, knew better. He wasn’t buying any of it.

“I met with Robert at the courthouse and explained to him that I intended to concede that he had killed the three victims,” Mr. English stated in a sworn statement. “Robert was furious and it was a very intense meeting. He told me not to make that concession, but I told him that I was going to do so….I know that Robert was completely opposed to me telling the jury that he was guilty of killing the three victims,” Mr. English said. “But I believed that this was the only way to save his life.”

English’s theory was that in the state’s two-phase trail system, he would lose credibility with the jury if he insisted McCoy was wrongly charged in the face of overwhelming evidence He wanted to have the trust of the jurors in the second phase, when he would have to argue that they should spare Mr. McCoy’s life.

After the meeting, Mr. McCoy tried to fire his lawyer, saying he would rather represent himself—So would I— but Judge Jeff Cox refused to let English off the case. So, as promised, English told the jury during his opening statement that his client was a triple murderer. McCoy objected in court, protesting, “I did not murder my family, your honor ! I had alibis of me being out of state. Your honor, this is unconstitutional for you to keep an attorney on my case when this attorney is completely selling me out.”

The objection was over-ruled.  McCoy’s lawyer, the judge apparently believed, knew better than his client what his client’s best interests were.

He didn’t though. McCoy was convicted and sentenced to death despite all of that supposed good will, credibility and trust English had built up by throwing his own client under the criminal justice bus.  The victim of this Bizarro World representation appealed the conviction to the Louisiana Supreme Court, saying his lawyer had turned on him. The court ruled against him,  holding that

“Given the circumstances of this crime and the overwhelming evidence incriminating the defendant admitting guilt in an attempt to avoid the imposition of the death penalty appears to constitute reasonable trial strategy.”

Now the United States Supreme Court is going to consider the case, McCoy v. Louisiana, and the question of whether a lawyer who disregards a client’s explicit instruction to plead not guilty has breached the Constitutional right to counsel.

I am stunned.  What question? Apparently this is a thing in Louisiana. “Counsel’s strategic choices should not be impeded by a rigid blanket rule demanding the defendant’s consent,” Louisiana’s lawyers  wrote in a brief urging the court to pass on the case. Since 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court has allowed defense lawyers to concede their clients’ guilt in four other capital cases over the clients’ express objections.

Good grief. Continue reading

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That Settles It, If It Wasn’t Obvious Already: Lisa Bloom Is An Unethical Hack (But I Could Be Wrong…)

Now, don’t sue me, Lisa! Remember what it says in the “About” section (above), this is all just my opinion. When I say you are a stunningly unethical lawyer, that’s just my analysis; it’s true I know something about legal ethics, teaching and consulting on it full time, but I can’t assert my opinion as fact. I can’t read your mind or slog through your soul. I don’t know what a bar disciplinary committee would decide, though I know this is a famously gray area in legal ethics, so unethical conduct is unlikely to be punished.  And when I say you’re a hack, remember that “hack” isn’t a description subject to objective proof, any more than, say, “asshole.” Perhaps your definition of “hack’ is different from mine. In fact, I’m sure it is.

That said, your conduct is a professional disgrace. I think. Who knows? I may be wrong.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News published this weekend, Bloom, speaking of her recently terminated representation of Harvey Weinstein, said

“I can see that my just being associated with this was a mistake. All I can say is, from my perspective, I thought, ‘Here is my chance to get to the root of the problem from the inside. I am usually on the outside throwing stones. Here is my chance to be in the inside and to get a guy to handle this thing in a different way.’ I thought that would be a positive thing, but clearly it did not go over at all.”

Bloom added that she will no longer represent men accused of sexual misconduct, “even those who convincingly tell me they are innocent….I will just make the best choices I can out of every situation. I have clearly not been successful. I think anybody who does big bold things fails. And I definitely failed on this one.”

What Bloom has failed at is called “being a trustworthy and competent lawyer.”

The next day, during an appearance on Good Morning America, Bloom even more explicitly threw her former client under the metaphorical bus:

“It’s gross, yeah,” Bloom told GMA. “I’m working with a guy who has behaved badly over the years, who is genuinely remorseful, who says, you know, ‘I have caused a lot of pain.’”

Did Bloom actually graduate from law school, or did she just apprentice in her mother’s office (she is Gloria Allred’s daughter) and somehow get an honorary license? Did she never learn about the a lawyer’s duties of loyalty and confidentiality? She obviously didn’t know about conflicts of interest, since she represented Weinstein while agreeing to let him turn her book into a TV miniseries.

Ethics Alarms has previously criticized lawyers who have publicly undermined their former clients. The most recent example  was last year, when a former Trump lawyer used his experiences while representing the future Presidential candidate decades earlier to write a scathing mid-campaign attack on his former client in the Huffington Post. I wrote,

There is strong disagreement in the profession about whether the answer to “Is this unethical?” should be an outright yes. The status of loyalty among the legal ethics values hierarchy is as hotly contested now as it ever has been. If a lawyer wants to attack a former client in a matter unrelated to the representation and no confidences are revealed in the process, is that a legal ethics breach? If it is, it would be a very tough one to prosecute. I think it’s a general ethics breach, as in wrong and unprofessional. It is disloyal, and clients should be able to trust their lawyers not to come back years later, after a client let the lawyer see all of his or her warts, and say, “This guy’s an asshole.” It undermines the strength of the public’s trust in the profession.

Continue reading

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Here’s Something The News Media Hasn’t Explained Regarding The Weinstein Scandal: Those Victim Confidentiality Agreements Are Unethical, And Maybe Illegal

Rose McGowan, the new Sexual Harassment Fury on social media, says she was raped by Weinstein and had to accept a $100,000 settlement with a confidentiality agreement as a condition of the deal. That means that if she subsequently told her story and accused Weinstein, she would be liable for damages, and would have to return the money. Right?

Not exactly. Most of the accounts in this sordid series of events make it seem like confidentiality agreements are iron clad and enforceable. Often they are neither. McGowan’s almost certainly wasn’t.

Debra Katz, an attorney specializing in sexual harassment law suits, recently explained that if employees or former employees came forward with information about Weinstein participating in criminal misconduct, their non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality agreements would probably be unenforceable, saying,

“These kind of very broad NDAs or confidentiality agreements typically violate public policy. Employees have to have the legal ability to discuss any concerns about unlawful behavior in the workplace … These broad provisions that would effectively silo people, make them feel like they can’t speak about this, are simply an instrument to put fear in people.”

My position has always been that lawyers who construct such agreements, knowing that they are unenforceable, are committing sanctionable ethical misconduct. The lawyer for the employee being silenced, moreover, has an obligation to let the client know that the requirement is unconscionable. Of course, it’s the client’s decision whether she wants to take the money.  It is also unethical to make an agreement you have no intention of honoring. Continue reading

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Here We Go Again: Harvey Weinstein, Lisa Bloom And The Thing About Lawyer Ethics That The Public And The News Media Just Cannot Seem To Grasp

LawNewz writes, and in so doing wins a Legal Ethics Dunce so easily that I’m not even going to bother,

Feminist attorney Lisa Bloom, who has represented dozens of women against accused sexual harassers like Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly, is now representing an alleged sexual harasser. In, quite frankly, a shocking move, Bloom agreed to give her “advising” services to film studio executive Harvey Weinstein, who is accused of harassing women over a thirty-year timespan. Immediately, many in the legal world wondered what would motivate such a principled women’s rights advocate to represent a man facing such sordid accusations.

Weird! I have the strangest feeling I have been here before…it’s Ethics Alarms déjà vu!

No, I have been here before, and if you’ve read the blog regularly, so have you, like here, for example, when the post was called,  No, There Is Nothing Unethical Or Hypocritical About A Feminist Lawyer Defending Roger Ailes.or here, when I defended Hillary Clinton….yes, you read that right…when she was being called a hypocrite for once defending not only a child rapist, but a guilty child rapist.  Then there was this post, when liberal icon Larry Tribe was representing a coal company. Bloom, Tribe, Estrich and Hillary all have the same defense, not that lawyers should need a defense for being lawyers.

Let’s see…I think I’ll quote myself from the Hillary piece this time… Continue reading

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But…But… It Doesn’t Mean He’s Not A Good Lawyer!

RIP, Snoopy.

This is a fascinating example of the legal community’s incomprehensible standards regarding who is and who isn’t fit to practice law.

In New York,  the bar took away lawyer Anthony A. Pastor’s license after he violently killed his girlfriend’s poodle “Snoopy.” See Matter of Pastor, 2017 NY Slip Op 06729, (App. Div. 1st Dept. Sep. 28, 2017).

An autopsy revealed that Snoopy  had nine broken ribs, a crushed kidney and massive internal bleeding, all at the hands of Pastor.

In disbarring Pastor, [ Matter of Pastor, 2017 NY Slip Op 06729, (App. Div. 1st Dept. Sep. 28, 2017)], the court noted that the sentencing judge’s comments that the respondent’s conduct “‘showed almost incomprehensible violence, and malice,’ that the dog was in ‘excruciating pain’ up until she lost consciousness while respondent ‘sat down at his computer in the most cold-blooded manner, and went to work, knowing that the dog lay dying, . . . on the floor behind him.’”

Nice.

But what does it have to do with whether the creep is a competent, honest, trustworthy lawyer?

Again I note that John Edwards never faced discipline for his massive deceptions and machinations, while his wife was dying of cancer, and while he was running for President. This conduct directly implicated trust and character, yet the refrain of Edwards’ colleagues was that his deceptions and cruelty, while clearly unconscionable, did not involve the practice of law, and thus did not preclude Edwards continuing to be regarded as a trustworthy lawyer. Are they kidding? I wouldn’t trust John Edwards to mail my water bill. Still, I hear this argument all the time in my legal ethics classes. One hypothetical is about a law partner who is caught cheating at poker in a regular game among fellow attorneys. Does that conduct mandate reporting him to the bar for discipline? Most lawyers say no.

They are wrong. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/29/2017: A Rude Librarian, Another Incoherent Knee, I Need To Start Listening To My Own Lectures, And Did YOU Know That “Green Eggs And Ham” Was Racist?

Good Morning!

1 In the middle of yesterday’s continuing legal education seminar on technology and legal ethics, I was telling the attendees about the dangers of all things Google. As I was explaining why lawyers should never, never do legal business on a gmail account, I added that they also have an obligation to tell their clients that there is not a sufficient expectation of privacy when they use gmail to communicate with their attorney. Then I literally froze and stared into space.

“I just realized that one of my recent consulting clients, a lawyer, has been sending all of his communications and documents to me using gmail,” I said. I had noticed it, but it still didn’t trigger the response that I have been teaching to others for at least three years.

As a wise man once said, “D’oh!”

2. In the “I can keep it up as long as they can” category: There is now a viral photo of some idiot taking a kneel  during Taps at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Continue reading

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