End Of Day Ethics Sighs 1/21/2021: Here’s Kamala! Here’s Batwoman! Here’s Your Newsmedia! And “Heeeere’s Johnny!”

sigh

A very good friend who is married to another very good friend posted yesterday that Kamala Harris’s swearing in as Vice-President moved him to tears, and the Facebook post instantly harvested about a hundred “likes” and “loves.” As God is my witness, as Scarlett used to say, I had to fight to restrain my self from writing on his page (since there is no “What the FUCK is the matter with you?” icon to click on), “Why, because she’s a woman with no qualifications to be President or Vice-President? Because she’s the first Indian-Jamaican VP, and you’ve always wanted one of those? Because she’s just the right skin-shade to pretend to be an African-American, when she’s not? Does it choke you up because she slept her way to political power, then locked up a lot of black men for drug crimes, then accused the U.S. of being racist because of “over-incarceration”? Or does any Democrat, even phonies and rank incompetents, getting power make you feel all misty inside and out? Really, I’m curious.”

Well, he’s a nice, good-hearted guy who has the political sophistication of a cheese, so I just shut up. However, his reaction is just incomprehensible to me.

1. Oh, look, now there’s black Batwoman. Yay. Isn’t this a little cliched and formulaic by now? Will every fictional character eventually have to be made black or have his or her race switched, and every male character get virtual transexual transitioning, to satisfy the Woke and Wonderful? Mikey (who liked Life cereal), is now a girl. Jake from State Farm is now black. Perry Mason’s Paul Drake in the new reboot is black. Inspection Lestrade, Sherlock Holmes’ ally, is black on the Netflix Holmes spin-off. (Watson became female in the TV show “Elementary.” And Asian!) A really bad movie made Ralph Kramden from “The Honeymooners” black; Norton too. On Broadway, when there was a Broadway, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were black, and they aren’t even fictional. Of course.The whole Ghostbusters team was turned female for the reboot (but still had only one black member). There is much, much more. Isn’t this lazy? Isn’t this boring? Don’t women, blacks and other minorities want to have their own popular and iconic characters rather than just taking over white or male ones? Why isn’t such fake “diversity” an insult? Aren’t hand-me-down characters like hand-me-down clothes?

Continue reading

Last Gasp Ethics, New Year’s Eve 2020

Happy New Year, Everybody!

1. A late entry in the “Most Unethical Lawyer of 2020” competition! McGinnis E. Hatfield was stripped of his license to practice law by the West Virginia Supreme Court. What did he do? Well, this section of a transcript of his conversation with a female client explains things pretty well:

Female: “I thought like when we first started out, I was just going to pay you. I didn’t know that you wanted sex out of the whole thing.”

Hatfield: “Well, I’d have to charge you like $1,500 bucks. You don’t have $1,500, do you?”

Female: “No.”

Hatfield “So come on out here. Just come. What time do you want to come?… [I]t’s just not going to work unless you do what I say.”

Female: “What do you want me to do?”

Hatfield: “… “Well, I want you to let me eat your pussy, and then I want you to let – I want you to suck my dick, and then, you know, I just have to – I’m as straightforward as I can be. And if you don’t want to do that, then fine. I don’t have any- I like you. And if you don’t want to do that, then we’ll just have to call it off.”

Female: “Is that not – all right. That’s fine. Whatever.”

Hatfield: “Is that okay?”

Female: “I mean no, not really because I’m not a whore.”

Hatfield: ” … And like I said, if you won’t want to do that, then that’s fine by me. I wish you luck. And if you don’t want to do that, then I’m not going to try to represent you. So that’s a benefit for you. And I’ll give you some money, too[.]”… You know, I’m shooting straight with you. I told you from the beginning that sex was important to me. I want some now. Nobody’s tried to trick you. And it would be safe, too. But anyway, if you don’t want to do it, that’s fine by me, honey, but you’ll have to get somebody to help you with your divorce, too.”

Female: “Okay, That’s fine.

Of course, it’s not fine. Lawyers are prohibited from having sex with clients in most jurisdictions. Lawyers cannot encourage individuals, including clients, to commit a crime. Mr. Hatfield compounded his problems when he flunked the easiest part of a disciplinary inquiry, telling the judge who asked Hatfield whether in retrospect, he found his behavior inappropriate or unethical,

“I think my conduct in this whole situation is human. And that’s the only defense I’m offering. Lord knows, we all need that. So that’s as far as I’ll go with that.”

The judge tried again, asking, “Are you remorseful?” Hatfield replied, “No. I have no remorse. I feel like I’ve been victimized.”

What an idiot.

It put me in mind of the Steven Wright line, “How did the fool and his money get together in the first place?”

Continue reading

Merry Christmas, Everyone! And Here Is the Final Chapter of “Miracle On 34th Street,”An Ethics Companion, As Kris Kringle Gets His Day In Court [Updated]

It could be argued that the hearing (it’s not a trial) that serves as the dramatic climax to “Miracle on 34th Street” is the most memorable courtroom scene in movie history. That tells us something, though I’m not sure what. A more legally and ethically absurd spectacle would be difficult to imagine.

When we last saw Kris Kringle—if that indeed is his name—he was preparing to go to a hearing in which his sanity would be determined by a judge. (Insert Marx Brothers “Sanity Clause” joke here.) Lawyer Fred Gailey actually quits his law firm to take on the case, which he is handling pro bono. The hearing will he presided over by a judge played by Gene Lockhart, who has impeccable Christmas movie credentials, having played Bob Cratchit in one of the adaptations of “A Christmas Carol.”

The logical, legal and ethical aspects of the story go off the rails quickly, never to return. Mr. Macy orders Sawyer to have the case dropped, which makes no sense: if Sawyer were suing Kris for assault and battery, of if Macy’s had pressed criminal charges, Macy would have some say. But this is the state of New York saying that Kris is a threat to himself and others because he’s deluded. It’s a state matter now.

Sawyer goes to Fred and tries to get him to drop the case, saying “I represent Mr. Macy.” What, he’s a lawyer now? Not only does Macy have no role in this matter, Fred’s defending Kris, not prosecuting the case.

When Sawyer mentions that Macy’s wants to avoid publicity, Fred sees a little light bulb go on in his skull. “Very interesting,” he says out loud. “Publicity. Hmm. That’s not a bad idea! If I’m going to win this case… I’ll have to have plenty of public opinion!” Except that’s unethical. From New York’s Code of Professional Conduct, which wasn’t in force when the film was made but the principles were:

DR 7-107 [1200.38] Trial Publicity.
A. A lawyer participating in or associated with a criminal or civil matter, or associated in a law firm or government agency with a lawyer participating in or associated with a criminal or civil matter, shall not make an extrajudicial statement that a reasonable person would expect to be disseminated by means of public communication if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that it will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in that matter….

Saying that one’s client will need publicity to influence public opinion is a clear statement of intent to violate the spirit if not the letter of the ethics rules. Fred breaches the rules again when he goes to see the judge to persuade him not to sign Kris’s commitment papers. In an adversary proceeding, a lawyer must not meet with a judge without opposing counsel present; that an ex parte communication, and strictly forbidden. Of course, it’s also unethical for the judge to let him do it.

That’s not all in the realm of judicial ethics. After suggesting that the fact that Kris says he’s Santa Claus makes his insanity a forgone conclusion, Judge Harper, who is apparently an elected judge (a situation I regard as a “pre-unethical condition”) is visited by his campaign manager, Charlie, an old pol played by none other than William Frawley, now immortal for co-starring in “I Love Lucy” as Fred Mertz. He suggest that Harper withdraw from the case:

“This Kringle case is dynamite. Let some judge handle it that isn’t coming up for reelection..I’m no legal brain trust. I don’t know a habeas from a corpus. But I do know politics. That’s my racket. I got you elected, didn’t I? And I’m gonna try to get you reelected….You’re a Pontius Pilate the minute you start!”

Then the judge’s grandchildren make a convenient entrance, and snub him because he’s being mean to Santa. Later, when the hearing somehow is turned into a referendum on whether Santa is real, Charlie returns with a dire warning:

Continue reading

Unethical . . . But Funny! Well, Stupid, Really . . .

Gross netting

This week, Superior Court Judge Kimberly Knill ordered the billionaire bond investor Bill Gross and his partner Amy Schwartz, to stop violating the noise ordinances of the Laguna Beach municipal code by playing the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song music on their outdoor speakers. Evidence showed that music was played so loudly it could be heard inside neighbor Mark Towfiq’s—he’s also a billionaire— home despite concrete construction and half-inch-thick, dual-pane windows.

Why was the couple inflicting the infamous earworm on their neighbor? It seems the music started when Towfiw objected to the Gross estate erecting the ugly plastic netting around a huge glass sculpture that they had installed in their back yard. When he complained, Gross, 76, and Schwartz, 51 retaliated by claiming their neighbor was a Peeping Tom. Then the the couple started inviting him to sit right down as they told a tale about a three hour tour, night after night.

The litigation, which involved teams of high-priced lawyers on both sides, commenced November 9. A city code enforcement official testified that Gross and Schwartz said they would lower the music if Towfiq dropped his complaint about the sculpture. Towfiq’s lawyers presented a text from Gross responding to their client’s request to turn down the music in which Gross wrote, “Peace on all fronts or well just have nightly concerts big boy.”

Continue reading

“My Cousin Vinny” Meets Zoom

vinny

Once again I have to say “I don’t understand this story at all.

If you recall “My Cousin Vinny,” as almost all lawyers do (and fondly), Joe Pesci’s fish-out-of-water defense lawyer annoyed imposing Southern judge Fred Gwynn by first appearing in court wearing a leather jacket, and then showing up in the suit above because it was the only one he could acquire at short notice.

At least he tried.

While Ethics Alarms has taken the unalterable position that when children are forced to attend school via Zoom, what may appear in their homes are not, in fact, “in school,” a lawyer who appears before a judge via Zoom is still, in fact, “in court” and before a judge. Why? Because the judge says so, that’s why. And as Vinnie soon learned, when a judge says “Jump!” the only responsible response is “How high, Your Honor?”

Perhaps a Delaware lawyer named Weisbrot has never seen the movie. He complained to Delaware Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III i ex parte “that [the court] would not consider an application from him because he “was not wearing a tie.” The Vice Chancellor responded, “That is true, as the record reflects.” BUT…

What the record also reflects is that Mr. Weisbrot appeared in court for trial (via Zoom) on Tuesday in either a printed tee-shirt or pajamas (it was difficult to discern).

In other words, “It’s true you weren’t wearing a tie, but a greater problem is THAT YOU WERE WEARING FREAKING PAJAMAS!”

Mr. Wiesbrot responded by channeling his inner (and outer) Vinnie by, in his next appearance via Zoom before the same judge, in something less than the kind of attire he had to know the judge expected:

Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 12/8/2020: Yet Another Date That Lives in Infamy

It’s not Pearl Harbor, but the assassination of John Lennon in Central Park 40 years ago today by a deranged fan is one of the saddest days in popular music history, on the level of the premature deaths of George Gershwin and Buddy Holly.

I really don’t want to talk about it.

1. Scary. The New Yorker’s Steve Coll wrote that”Those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principles of journalism.” David Harsanyi writes at The National Review,

If you believe Americans are too stupid to hear wrongthink, transgressive ideas, and, yes, fake news, you’re not a fan of the small-l liberal conception of free expression. That’s fine. Those ideas seem to be falling into disfavor with many. But the sanctity of free speech isn’t predicated on making sure people hear the right things, it’s predicated on letting everyone have their say. Because as always, the question becomes who decides what expression is acceptable. I’m not keen on having the fatuous media reporters at CNN or activist “fact-checkers” at the Washington Post adjudicating what is and isn’t permissible for mass consumption…this kind of selective esteem for sacred ideals is becoming popular on the contemporary Left. Religious freedom is wonderful when the government protects Native Americans who want to smoke peyote, but it is “weaponized” when an order of nuns decides it’s not interested in chipping in for condoms or an Evangelical business owner decides he’d rather not participate in a gay marriage. Due-process rights are foundational to American life, unless they are being “weaponized” by college students accused of sexual assault….For four years, journalists acted as if Donald Trump was an existential threat to free expression because he berated and insulted reporters. Trump’s tone was certainly unpresidential, but it needs to be said that he did absolutely nothing to hinder anyone from criticizing him or reporting about him. Contra the self-canonized Jim Acosta, it was not a particularly dangerous time to tell the truth. Indeed, reporters were not only free to accuse the president of being a fascist, they could concoct entire fake scandals surrounding the Russians, and Trump was powerless to stop them….

As I will be saying for the next four years as often as possible: This is what those who voted for Joe Biden have endorsed in their determination to express their tantrum over a President whose style they found obnoxious. I really don’t know how they will be able to live with themselves.

Continue reading

From The “Bias Makes You Stupid” Files! Ethics Dunce: Legal Ethicist Steven Gillers

A depressing theme throughout the Trump years has been the corruption of various professions as members once justifiably regarded as trustworthy abandoned their ethical obligations to become “resistance” allies. The professions thus tainted include judges, scientists, doctors and health professionals, lawyers, psychiatrists, historians, teachers and professors, university administrators, and of course the worst offenders, politicians and journalists. Maybe I’ve missed a few. One more profession that has to be included on the list, I’m ashamed to say, is legal ethicists.

In a post in 2017, I discussed the disgraceful filing of a frivolous and politically motivated bar complaint against then-Trump aide Kellyanne Conway by a group of law professors, some of whom are ethics specialists, and a few of whom I knew and respected. I wrote in part,

Continue reading

2020 Election Ethics Train Wreck Update: Well THIS Doesn’t Bode Well…

spelling problem

That’s the embarrassing first sheet of the more than 100 page lawsuit filed by lawyer Sidney Powell asking that 96,000 ballots (“at minimum”) in Georgia be disqualified. This is apparently the attack on the Georgia election that Powell referred to as releasing “the Kraken.”

Nobody seems to feel it’s necessary to explain that “Release the Kraken” is a reference to the semi-cheesy Ray Harryhousen stop-action film “Clash of the Titans,” which starred “LA Law’s” Harry Hamlin as Perseus, the Greek mythological hero. In the movie (though not in mythology), Perseus defeats the monstrous Kraken, which is released by the bad guys to kill him and Andromeda (it’s complicated). For some reason Perseus, in addition to carrying around Medusa’s head (which turns the Kraken to stone), rides the winged horse Pegasus. Pegasus was the transportation of a different Greek myth hero, Bellerophon. Neither Bellerophon nor Perseus had anything to do with the Kraken, which is not even a Greek myth monster. It’s Scandinavian, and is basically a giant squid.

Observations:

Continue reading

The Left’s Assault On The Rule Of Law And The Legal Profession’s Cowardice, Or “Nice Little Firm You Have Here—Be A Shame If Something Were To Happen To It!” (Continued)

A-Pistol-Against-My-Head.

As discussed in the first section of this post, the once sacrosanct principle that lawyers and law firms were ethically obligated to represent unpopular clients when they needed legal assistance has been deteriorating for the last decade, most recently under pressure from the self-righteous Left. Victims of the new progressive ethic that the ends justify the means, Lawyers and law firms have been threatened when they dared to align themselves with the opposition to progressive agenda items, because, in the universe to the port side of the ideological spectrum, those who don’t agree with the righteous are evil.

And it seems clear that few lawyers possess the courage and integrity to remains professional in their response to such threats.

After the King & Spalding embarrassment described in the earlier post, a similar episode occurred involving Obamacare.  In House of Representatives v. Burwell, the House challenged the legality of subsidies the Obama administration paid to insurers. After the House authorized the suit, David Rivkin and his firm, Baker Hostetler, signed a contract to litigate the case.

Rivkin was warned by members of the firm that litigating a case in opposition to Obama could drive off potential clients and hurt Baker Hostetler’s credibility…that is, its bottom line. Within a week after the contract was announced, partners at the firm, which represents many hospital management firms and insurance companies, started to receive urgent calls from general counsels of clients in the health-care industry. The messages were identical: their companies could not continue to associate with Baker Hostetler if it litigated the House’s lawsuit. Many suspected that the Obama administration was behind the scenes, urging health-care companies to drop Baker Hostetler. The firm dropped the case.

The House, suddenly without legal representation, frantically sounded out many of the top firms in Washington without success. The House finally selected D.C. lawyer William Burck of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP. Three weeks later, without any explanation, Burck also withdrew from the case under pressure from his firm’s partners.

Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Aggravations, 11/10/2020: Mitch, Audra, Jeff And Joy

Annoyed

We just passed 300,000 comments on Ethics Alarms, and I’ll stack the consistent quality of them against any other blog on the web.

Thanks, everyone.

1.Regarding the gall, intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy of Democrats and their supporters complaining about the President insisting on examining the returns and various irregularities before accepting the networks’ declaration that Biden won. I could not believe that Mitch McConnell and I would ever agree on anything, but we do this time. Yesterday he said in part on the floor of the Senate,

“Let’s not have any lectures, no lectures, about how the president should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election and who insinuated that this one would be illegitimate too if they lost again — only if they lost,” the majority leader added. In fact, millions of Americans signed a petition urging the electors to vote for Hillary Clinton after Trump won in 2016. The people who push this hysteria could not have any more egg on their faces than they do right now,”

Bingo.

2. Please note: unethical law firms just pay out damages and fines. It’s only individual lawyers—usually the little guys, sole practitioners— who get disciplined. A state court judge in Houston dismissed a $750 million lawsuit against the huge international law firm Jones Day filed by Berkshire Hathaway. The lawsuit alleged the law firm participated in a “massive fraud” in connection with its work on an acquisition in Germany. The case can be refiled, and probably will. A law firm committing fraud means that its partners were responsible for the fraud, but unethical or even criminal conduct by large law firms seldom result in discipline for the law firm’s partners. The technical reason is that bar associations don’t oversee firms, just individual lawyers, so for big firms assisting their clients in frauds and other crimes, there is safety in numbers.

Continue reading