Last night I gave a three hour Continuing Legal Education seminar to about 60 lawyers employed by the federal government in Washington, D.C. The topic was government lawyer ethics, which is different, and far more complicated, than regular legal ethics. This is my favorite group. The government lawyers are always the most ethically astute, engaged, and contentious of my seminar participants.
After briefly describing the substance of the complaint and as a prelude to discussion, I asked the group if the legal ethicists’ complaint was justifiable and fair. Their options were..
3. No, but I hate her and I’m glad they did it
4. I’m not sure.
The anonymous results were that nearly 80% of the lawyers agreed that the charges were unfair and political rather than based on sound legal ethics analysis. Almost half of these, however, chose answer #3.
I expected a few votes for that answer, but primarily put it in for the anticipated laugh, which I got.
Mark S. Zaid is a distinguished lawyer currently active in bolstering anti-President Trump efforts. He actively trolls on Twitter for clients looking to bring laws suits against the administration, and his clients include prominent “resistance” conspiracy theorist and blogger Louise Mensch, whose name I was blissfully unaware of until last week, and now she is turning up in my e-mail, in my story feeds, everywhere.
A couple of days ago, Mensch launched a new Trump rumor, using “anonymous sources” (which makes her just like the New York Times and Washington Post!) that the Daily Kos picked up. You can read it here: good luck. It is so muddled in its “facts” and suppositions that it makes other fake news look good. Naturally, the Daily Kos took the “breaking” scoop at face value, although it was so legally absurd it made my teeth hurt. The Palmer Report, the same wacko site that drove Larry Tribe around the bend, also was in the mix.
My favorite item in the “story” was that a court had handed down an indictment against President Trump, not for criminal purposes but to support his impeachment. When I read stuff like this, I stop reading further. Grand juries don’t work like that. Courts don’t work like that. Indictments don’t work like that. Impeachment doesn’t work like that. Nothing works like that, except to a mind where complete hatred and fear of Donald Trump and the joy of having so many mutually infected embarrassing themselves in high places has caused the brain to morph, hopefully only temporarily, into a gerbil wheel.
Zaid, who obviously has a high tolerance for this blather being a 24-7 Trump basher himself, apparently couldn’t take it any more, and wrote to his client Louise on Twitter and in the comments to The Daily Kos story,
Respectfully to my client, there is no info available to support this. We need more than just these anonymous source(s).
This is like putting client advice on a billboard. This is like leaving client advice on an answering machine (yes, I’ve encountered that!). This is like putting client advice on your Facebook wall, and it is exactly like posting client advice on a public website, because that’s essentially what Zaid did. Continue reading →
We already beheld the sad spectacle of one of the nation’s most distinguished and respected legal minds beginning to crumble under the dual attacks of anti-Trump hysteria from his peer group, and the inexplicable power of social media to make wise men and women behave like idiots..here (my linking function isn’t working this morning: http://lawnewz.com/high-profile/in-dumbest-move-famous-law-prof-broke-ethics-rules-in-apparent-shot-at-trump/), when famed Harvard Law scholarLawrence Tribe breached a basic and legal ethics principle by issuing a tweet implying that Donald Trump had once asked him about a legal matter, and wouldn’t you all love to know what it was? When I mention this to lawyers in my legal ethics seminars, they literally laugh and roll their eyes. They know lawyers can’t do this: why didn’t the famous Constitutional Law prof from Harvard Law School have his well-oiled ethics alarms go off? It was because, I explain, Twitter often turns lawyers and other professionals into fools, and what brains social media hasn’t chewed up can be swallowed by anti-Trump madness.
That was before the election, and poor Tribe’s deterioration has continued. Three days after the President was sworn in, Tribe joined a group of deranged lawyers and the early stirrings of the “resistance” to sue Trump for violating the obscure Emoluments Clause, which, sane and objective authorities agree, was not intended to apply to a President who has his name on hotels, making the claim that this unprecedented situation constitutes a government official receiving prohibited payments from foreign governments. The theory is not just a stretch, but an embarrassingly partisan one that a respected Constitutional law scholar should have been mocking, not joining.
Now Tribe has really gone around the bend, and may soon be seen wandering aimlessly through Harvard Square, wearing a Red Sox cap, muttering to himself and carrying a crudely lettered sign. Continue reading →
“People can be very good at lying. Women can be especially good at it because they’re the weaker sex and we … and we want to protect them and not have anybody take advantage of them at least I do.”
Head-exploding fact #1:The jury Ferese was appealing to by emphasizing the inherent dishonest nature of “the weaker sex” was made up of eleven women and three men.
Head-exploding fact #2: The jury still acquitted Ferese’s client.
That doesn’t make his argument ethical. The statement appealing to anti-women bias was a direct ethics violation, a breach of Tennessee Rule of Professional 8.4 (d) forbidding lawyers from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, which deliberately appealing to anti-woman bias clearly is. For the future, the episode also raises questions about whether such a closing would breach the new ABA rule 8.4 g, yet to be adopted in Tennessee or any state, which states that it is unethical for a lawyer to
“engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law.”
The ABA notes specify that “This paragraph does not preclude legitimate advice or advocacy consistent with these Rules.”
I am certain Ferese’s statement would breach 8.4 (g), not that it isn’t unethical anyway.
In a post on the Legal Ethics Forum, not as active as it once was but still one of the best legal ethics sites around, Legal ethicist and law professor Steve Lubet clarifies something I have always wondered about, and like a lazy slug, never investigated.
Fox News contributor Andrew Napolitano, most recently in the news for claiming that the British intelligence service GCHQ colluded with President Obama to conduct surveillance on the Trump staff during the 2016 campaign, is always called “Judge Napolitano” during his appearances. Lubet points out that he’s not a judge any more. Napolitano once served on the New Jersey Superior Court, but resigned in 1995 and has not held judicial office for more than two decades. It is apparently at Napolotano’s insistence that he is always addressed as “Judge” in Fox. His website, JudgeNap.com, refers to him as “Judge Napolitano” throughout, as does his bio on the Fox News site.
Lubet notes that The American Bar Association has held that the use of judicial titles by former judges practicing law is misleading and unethicalin connection with law practice. ABA Formal Opinion 95-391 says that continued “use of the title is misleading because it may be misunderstood by the public as suggesting some type of special influence” or “to create an unjustified expectation.” In fact, said the ABA, “there appears to be no reason for such use of the title other than to create such an expectation.” Of course, Napolitano isn’t practicing law when he bloviates on Fox News, so it isn’t a Rules violation, but the Judge label is still misleading
The Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, Lubet found, goes further by decreeing that it is only ethical for a former judge to use the titles “Judge” or “The Honorable” if they are preceded by the word “retired” or “former,” and the rule does not limit this caveat to ex-judges actively practicing law. Again, Napolitano is not out of compliance, because he is not subject to the Ohio Rules. That doesn’t make what he calls himself strictly accurate, or sufficiently accurate. (I confess, I have had a bias against such things ever since I suffered through a year with an insufferable high school history teacher who called himself (and insisted that we call him) “Dr. Arthur” because he had a PhD in history.) Continue reading →
This should be a shock, but it isn’t. When the screenwriters for the film adaptation of “The Firm” changed the ending to focus on the fact that the mob’s law firm was over-billing clients, lots of lawyers and legal ethics specialists squirmed. Widespread over-billing in the legal profession has been a scandal waiting to break for decades.
The ABA journal reveals that a recent study by CEB Inc. and Wolters Kluwer NV’s ELM Solutions, companies that work with corporate legal departments to manage their budgets, examined legal invoices from about 100 companies, and found that 21% of lawyers “upbilled” for their time in 2015. Upbilling is the practice of rounding up legal hours hours worked to the next hour or half hour. This could raise the annual legal bill for a partner billing 2,000 hours a year by about $29,000. Spread over all the clients and all the lawyers charging by the hour, the 21% figure translates into millions of dollars taken by fraud, and maybe billions, every year. You can read summaries of the reports here and here. Continue reading →
Do you know what legal ethics opinions are? Many lawyers don’t know, or barely pay attention to them, but the opinions are important. They are written when bar associations have to decide how to handle the gray areas of professional ethics, and believe me, there are more gray areas in legal ethics than the profession likes to admit. Some jurisdictions churn out lots of important and useful legal ethics opinions all year long; others barely bother with them. (Idaho simply stopped issuing such opinions decades ago.) Still, the LEOs, as they are called, are essential when one of the many legal ethics issues crop up that a jurisdiction’s rules themselves don’t cover.
Although bar associations do a terrible job making their legal ethics opinions’ availability known to the general public, LEOs have invaluable information to convey about how lawyers are ethically obligated to serve their clients. They are also essential if people like me are going to be able to remind Maryland’s lawyers about their ethical duties as part of continuing legal education seminars and expert opinions.
So why is it that Maryland, alone among the 51 U.S. jurisdictions, refuses to allow the public access to their legal ethics opinions? All right, neither does Arkansas, but nobody can read in ArkansasKIDDING!!! I’M KIDDING!
In order to find out what the Bar Association has decided regarding specific legal ethics conundrums, or whether the state has any position at all, one has to be a dues-paying member of the Maryland Bar. Never mind that Maryland lawyers, who, like most lawyers, often are subject to the ethics rules of other jurisdictions, can access neighboring bar association LEO’s with a couple of clicks on their computers. Never mind fairness or reciprocity.
Here’s how the question “Why do we hide our ethics opinions?” was answered by one Maryland lawyer online: