Now THIS Is An Unprofessional Lawyer!

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.”

Continue reading

Missouri Judges Want Public Defenders To Violate Their Ethics Rules

“Hey, Julie! Here’s another drug possession case for you! Looks like a bad stop and frisk…”

The overworked public defender problem is a massive ethics and civil rights problem that few members of the public know about, and fewer care about.

Many cities have underfunded public defender offices, meaning that the mostly young lawyers working there who are charged with protecting the rights of indigent citizens accused of crimes have excessive case loads, often brutally excessive. In some states, judges have ordered the offices to accept no more cases until additional lawyers are hired, because a lawyer’s representation must be competent and diligent, and these ethical requirements become literally impossible to meet when a lawyer has accepted responsibility for too many cases. In situations where public defenders have argued that indigent clients should be able to waive competence and diligence requirements (since the alternative may be no representation at all), the argument has been rejected. Those ethical requirements cannot be waived. They are mandatory.

In his article on the subject, Professor Stephen Hanlon of St. Louis University Law School, a civil rights specialist, writes, Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 11/15/2019: Idiots, “Friends,” Rationalizations And Doing Things The Hard Way

The Korean War memorial on the Washington Mall….moving and ghostly.

Greetings!

1. The media, doing its best to make the public stupid. Yesterday the collected dolts  of “The View” managed to mangle the concept of hearsay, following a Democrat rep’s absurd contention that hearsay evidence cold be “better” than  direct testimony.  The panel show also misrepresented how the Clinton impeachment proceeded.

Sunny Hostin, the alleged conservative on the panel,  said that  President Clinton’s impeachment  was the result of Linda Tripp’s  testimony, saying , “Clinton was impeached because of Linda Tripp’s testimony, which was complete hearsay!”

How wrong can a statement be? Clinton was impeached because he lied under oath in a hearing involving the civil law suit against him by Paula Jones (as well as for lying to a grand jury and obstruction of justice.) Tripp had made an illegal tape recording of Lewinsky, which was not hearsay. Tripp’s tape was used to get Lewinsky to admit the affair, which was clearly not hearsay. Then there was that stained dress. Had not direct testimony and physical evidence backed up Tripp’s account, Clinton almost certainly   not have been impeached

2. This is why we can’t have nice things. It was inevitable, with all the recent resurgence in interest in the 90s sitcom “Friends,” that the long-running and still-popular show would finally be subjected to one of those depressing reunion specials. This was especially likely because the aging cast isn’t much in demand these days, and mots of them could use a boost.

But Beware, “Friends,” the woke posse is watching. The show about six white hetero singles living in New York was not diverse, and has been criticized in the 15 years since it ended for being implicitly racist, sexist, and anti-LGBTQ. Thus the Righteous have decreed, “Friends’ reunion is all we have wanted for years, but HBO Max version better have more racial diversity and LGBTQ representation.”

Thus we get this,

[T]he iconic NBC show is not without its problems, and yet it entertained us in real-time for ten years and for years after that, making us laugh on the days we are feeling low and making us believe that they will be there for us. It is only natural that we want to relive those feelings again, but even those of us who grew up on ‘Friends’ have outgrown those insensitive jabs about Chandler’s (Mathew Perry) drag queen father, unwarranted fat-shaming of Monica (Courtney Cox), repeated complicity of Joey’s (Matt LeBlanc) sexism and so on.

When the show does return in – hopefully – 2020 for an HBO Max audience, we should hope that it is rich in diversity without it being about tokenism. It is unfathomable that this group of friends who live in New York, the melting pot of America, hasn’t made friends with more diverse backgrounds. Even more so, it is difficult to believe that they haven’t even interacted with people of different sexualities, sexual identities, and races for them to know better than to make jokes about them. It may have flown in the 90s and 2000s, but it definitely isn’t going to in the current day and age.

No, we should hope that it is funny, but if awkward virtue signalling and making sure that all the EEOC boxes are checked while making up for ten years of insensitively showing a group of friends who hung out primarily with people like themselves (like most of us), are going to be the priorities, and you know they will be, it would be kinder and more responsible to leave Ross, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe, Rachel and Monica where they belong—in the past, on re-runs.

Incidentally, one of the two funniest jokes I ever heard on “Friends” involved “fat-shaming.” The groups was watching an old home movie taken when Monica was a grossly over-weight teen. The now svelte woman, embarrassed, said, “They say that the camera makes you look 15 pounds heavier,” to which Chandler replied, “Just how many cameras were on you?”

3. Upon reflection, I don’t think I need to add this new rationalization. The Rationalization List is stuck at 99, and I have been wondering what #100 would be. When I was writing about the now-fired Canadian hockey pundit Don Cherry bringing himself down with his big mouth, I was annoyed by how many of his defenders argued that Don was just being Don, and since he was always Don, and “didn’t mean anything” by being Don, and was popular because he was Don, being Don shouldn’t be held against him. I suspect this bothered me so much because it appears to be the only thing keeping Joe Biden from being ripped to pieces by #MeToo Furies, as he richly deserves to be. So briefly I considered the need for a “It’s just who he is” rationalization.

Upon reflection, I demurred. This is cutting the rationalizations too thin. We already have Rationalization 41 A. Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am”:

Sure, let’s stipulate that the jerk is exactly who and what he presents himself as being. This doesn’t excuse his conduct in any way. He is what he is, and what he is is an irresponsible, narcissistic, rude, boorish, uncivil, nasty, destructive, ignorant, impulsive untrustworthy and despicable creep. Being a real  irresponsible, narcissistic, rude, boorish, uncivil, nasty, destructive, ignorant, impulsive untrustworthy and despicable creep is no more ethical than being a phony one. In this case, transparency is not a virtue.

..and Joe Biden even has his own rationalization springing from Cherry-like excuses, Rationalization 38B, Joe Biden’s Inoculation or “I don’t deny that I do this!”

A sub-rationalization to #38. The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!,” Joe Biden’s Inoculation argues that habitual bad conduct is mitigated by one’s open admission and acknowledgment that one’s engaging in it is an ongoing problem.

I think this base is well covered. The search for #100 goes on…

4. Why didn’t she just take the bar exam one more time?  I don’t understand this story at all.

Roberta Guedes graduated from Stetson University College of Law in 2014, but she  failed to pass the Florida Bar exam twice. The traditional remedy for this is boning up and taking the exam again, and again if necessary, but noooooo. 

Instead, federal prosecutors say, she used the name of a classmate  to register two new law firms with the state Division of Corporations. Agnieszka Piasecka attended law school with Roberta, and the friends  talked about starting a law firm together, When Guedes flunked the bar exam, Piasecka who did not flunk,   opened her own firm in Clearwater,  specializing in wills and trusts, immigration, and divorce cases.

The plot began when Guedes offered Piasecka the free use of her  office in downtown Tampa to meet with clients a few times.

In September 2014, Guedes incorporated a firm she called Ferguson and McKenzie LLC, listing Piasecka as its registered agent. In November, she started a second legal services business called Immigration and Litigation Law Office, Inc., listing another woman, Arlete Chouinard, as a vice president and manager.  Neither Piasecka nor Chouinard knew about this. She created websites for both companies, including claims of  national and international offices that didn’t exist, and faked partners and associates using stock photos. She also represented clients, accepting fees while never telling them that she had no license.

Now Guedes, 40, faces prison time after pleading guilty to federal charges of mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. It is fair to say that it is now too late to pass the bar exam.

Fairness to Elizabeth Warren

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

Spurious And Vindictive Litigation Ethics: An Update On The Ethics Alarms Defamation Lawsuit

As I predicted yesterday, upon being informed that the plaintiff’s motion to reconsider the rejection of his appeal of the trail court’s rejection of his defamation suit had also been rejected, the now-banned Ethics Alarms commenter filed a petition for “futhur Appellate review” with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The argument presented is an extension of his appellate brief, which erroneously relied on Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990), a Supreme Court case that is not germane to this one. The plaintiff isn’t a lawyer, though he is inexplicably confident of his legal analysis skills, which is unfortunate for both of us, as well as the poor judges and clerks in Massachusetts who have to waste their time and the State’s money dealing with these flawed motions and appeals.

The reason there was no defamation and could be no defamation is that my opinions of the plaintiff and his motives, harshly expressed as they may have been, were based entirely on what he had written on the blog and an email to me that I quoted, as well as the plaintiff’s own blog, to which I included a link. The core of defamation, be it libel or slander, is alluding falsely to or asserting some undisclosed event or conduct that a reader or a listener has no way of knowing whether it is in fact true or not. That was indeed the situation in Millkovitch, where  a newspaper columnist’s account of a brawl at a high school wrestling match reported that one of the teams’ wrestling coach, Millkovitch, had incited the riot and lied about it. Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Encore: “The Unethical Fine Print Game”

The following  post from 2017 became relevant today when I prepared to comment on  a story last week on Politico: 

Passengers and their survivors won a $265 million court settlement with Amtrak after a 2015 derailment in Philadelphia killed eight people and injured hundreds more. But if such a crash happened today, the victims would not be able to sue. That’s because of a clause the passenger rail line quietly added to its ticket purchases in January, which forces disputes into arbitration with no right to go before a judge or jury.

The change is bringing objections from consumer advocates, who note that it covers scenarios ranging from ordinary ticketing complaints up to wrongful death, and even includes minors who had the tickets purchased for them. And it could soon get Congress’ attention. The language has flown under the radar so far, but may burst into view when the House Transportation Committee holds a hearing on Amtrak next week.

“It is one of the most anti-consumer and passenger clauses I’ve ever seen,” said Julia Duncan, senior director for government affairs at the American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers.

I realized that the post I was preparing to write was already written. Here it is, with a addition. [Some other posts on the topic of fine print—yes, it’s a perpetual source of annoyance for me— can be found here.] Continue reading

Netflix’s “The Laundromat” And Money Laundering Ethics

Now streaming on Netflix, “The Laundromat” is an entertaining and flamboyant  examination of the phenomenon and roots of international money laundering, brought to us by director Steven Soderbergh (“Erin Brockovich,” “Traffic”) using a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns. The often tongue in cheek film is narrated by actors Gary Oldman and Antonio Bandaras playing lawyers Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca , whose now defunct firm set up tax shelters and shell corporations for the rich, corrupt and criminal  all over the world. Their empire was shattered by the Panama Papers data dump in 2016.

The film’s tone veers from smug to blunt as it focuses on three adaptations of true stories involving  Mossack Fonseca clients, all narrated by the excuse- and rationalization-spouting lawyers, the real life versions of which tried to sue to halt the production.

“The Panama Papers” as they are now called consisted of 11.5 million leaked documents that detailed financial and attorney–client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities, many of which were legal, but that supported fraudulent schemes and other crimes.  The documents were the property of  Mossack Fonseca. Even now, the fall-out from the release of the documents is unclear, in large part because so many of them involve attorney-client privilege, and the rules and laws governing their legal handling are spread over many nations, laws and ethics rules. The leak itself was a crime, and the hacker responsible, who goes by the name of “John Doe,” has never been identified.

This is an international ethics train wreck, and one that is so complicated that I didn’t cover it in 2016. That was ethics commentary malpractice on my part, I think. It was the biggest ethics story of the year, even if it is still largely unresolved.

Whether the law firm itself broke any laws is still a matter of debate. As Oldman and Bandaras constantly remind us, Mossack Fonseca set up arguably legal structures, and, they claim, didn’t know or care how they would be used. This is still a gray area of legal ethics in the U.S., one that was highlighted when “60 Minutes” broadcast its Global Witness episode in 2016 . Partners in eleven large Manhattan  law firms were caught on hidden cameras  exploring possible ways to represent an individual posing as the agent of an “African despot” seeking ways to launder millions of dollars. The ethics rules say that a lawyer may not knowingly assist a client in a crime or fraud, but contrived ignorance can be an effective, if unethical, device for lawyers to avoid  accountability when representing  unsavory (but profitable) clients.  Remember, Enron’s law firm avoided any sanctions, while the company’s accounting firm, Arthur Anderson, was prosecuted and destroyed.

No, Ethics Alarms didn’t cover the Global Witness scandal either, though I have talked about it in legal ethics seminars ever since. Clearly, money laundering has not had proper priority here. Again, my fault. I’ll do better. Continue reading