Tag Archives: legal ethics

Salon Asks: “When Is A Leak Ethical?” NEVER. That’s When.

Ethically challenged left-wing website Salon somehow found an ethically challenged law professor, Cassandra Burke Robertson, to justify the leaks in the Trump Administration. Robertson,  despite being a Distinguished Research Scholar and the Director of the Center for Professional Ethics at Case Western Reserve Law School, advocates unethical and sanctionable conduct in a jaw-dropping post, “When is a leak ethical?

Here, professor, I’ll fix your misleading and dishonest article for you: It’s NEVER ethical to leak.

Never.

She begins by noting “I am a scholar of legal ethics who has studied ethical decision-making in the political sphere.” Wow, that’s amazing….since she apparently is hopelessly confused about both, or just pandering to Salon’s pro-“resistance” readers.

Robertson writes:

“Undoubtedly, leaking classified information violates the law. For some individuals, such as lawyers, leaking unclassified but still confidential information may also violate the rules of professional conduct.”

1. It is always unethical to break the law, unless one is engaging in civil disobedience and willing to accept the consequences of that legal breach. By definition, leakers do not do this, but act anonymously. Thus leakers of classified information, lawyers or not, are always unethical, as well as criminal.

2. Lawyers may not reveal confidences of their clients, except in specified circumstances.  Here is D.C. ‘s rule (my bolding): Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Workplace

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/22/17

1.  I’m trying to get this up while I prepare for a new legal ethics seminar, teaming once again with the brilliant D.C. actor Paul Morella who has toured the country in the Clarence Darrow one-man-show he and I collaborated on more than a decade ago, using Darrow’s career and courtroom oratory to analyze modern legal ethics.  Readers here have encountered a lot of those Darrow-related discussions already. For once, I’m grateful most lawyers don’t frequent this blog.

2. This now viral photo of the faces of CNN’s talking heads and analysts at the moment they realized that the Democrats had lost the Georgia Sixth District special House election that was hyped to be the beginning of a surge to the Left rejecting Donald Trump…

…and this one…

…are more than just gags. They are smoking gun evidence of the stunning lack of professionalism in journalism, and especially CNN. If there was any sensitivity or commitment to ethics on that set or in that production chain of command, every one of these arrogant hacks would have been told, “I want poker faces up there at all times. Objective and fair news reporting includes body language and facial expressions. Your attitudes warp your reporting. If anything about your demeanor betrays your personal preferences or political biases, you’re getting suspended. Got that? This isn’t a cheerleading squad.

3.  This warrants its own post, but today will be a squeeze, so I’ll focus on the astounding chutzpah of  that race’s loser here and now. Losing Georgia Six Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff was interviewed by NPR’s Rachel Martin, and this exchange resulted: Continue reading

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The Comey Testimony, Part I.

I have finally read the transcript, which you should do as well. By now I have also seen a lot of video clips. (James Comey really says, “Lordy!” Wow.)

First, some general observations, with more detailed comments to come in a subsequent post.

1. My earlier expressed opinion of James Comey when I defended him against conservative accusations that he was giving Hillary Clinton an undeserved break by not indicting her were revealed as too generous yesterday. I still believe he is honest and non-partisan. More than ever, I believe that he is untrustworthy. He was obviously in a difficult position—many, in fact—that he was not able to successfully manage, if anyone could have. However, his oft-repeated insistence that he (and his FBI) did not play politics was exposed as false, if not dishonest (a gracious interpretation of the sort that Comey denied the President in his bitter testimony.)

2. The fake Russia collusion narrative pushed by Hillary, Democrats and the news media to simultaneously excuse her loss and undermine the Trump Presidency was killed yesterday, but will wander around like a zombie for months if not years because Trump-haters will not have the integrity to admit they were wrong. Chris Matthews, a once astute and courageous liberal Democrat reporter who morphed into a partisan, knee-jerk progressive shill and anti-Republican scold as soon as he started getting paid by MSNBC, had a sudden flashback to his days of integrity when he pronounced yesterday,

“But the big story has always beenthe assumption of the critics of the president, of his pursuers, you might say, is that somewhere along the line in the last year, the president had something to do with colluding with the Russians. Something to do, a helping hand, encouraging them,feeding their desire, to affect the election in some way, some role they played, some conversation he had with Michael Flynn, or Paul Manafort, or somewhere. And yet what came apart this morning, was that theory, because in two regards the president said according to the written testimony of Mr. Comey, ‘go ahead and get anybody satellite to my operation and nail them, I’m with you on that,’ so that would mean Manafort, Carter Page, someone like that. And then he also came across today what was fascinating, Comey said that basically Flynn wasn’t central to the Russian investigation, that he was touching on it. That there was, of course, Flynn had an honest, we assume, wasn’t honest in his answer on the official forms that he had to fill out to become a national security head.”

But it only touched on that, it wasn’t really related to that. But he could be flipped for that, but in other words, they could flip him because they had him caught on something he dishonestly answered but he wasn’t central to the Russian thing, and I always assumed that Trump was afraid of was that he had said something to Flynn, and Flynn could be flipped on that. And Flynn would testify against the president that he had had some conversation with Flynn in terms of dealing with the Russians affirmatively. And if that’s the case, where’s the there there?”

There is no there there, and never has been. Thus the anti-Trump hysterics are left with what they have always believed was proof enough: Hillary lost, leaked hacks of e-mails that led the public to realize how sleazy the Democrats were should have never been seen by voters, Trump was the beneficiary of the leaks, he had said nice things about Putin, he’s an unethical creep, and a lot of his associates had business contacts with Russia, and besides, they just know Trump is guilty.

That’s not enough; in fact, it’s nothing at all. Matthews as both a lifetime Democrat and a romantic regarding the Presidency and democracy detests Trump to his Irish-American Boston liberal core, but he knows when to get off a bandwagon that will embarrass him if he stays on board, or make it impossible for Chris to look in the mirror.

3. For a lawyer, Comey’s loose use of the term “liar” and his stated belief that he assumed that Trump was a liar early on in their relationship shows a troubling inattentiveness to his own biases, as well as a classic misunderstanding of what it means to lie. Comey said Trump lied about why Comey was fired, for example. Comey has no way of knowing which of the many legitimate reasons for firing him played the biggest role in his firing. He does not know what Trump was thinking, so he cannot assert that Trump lied. He can say that he believes Trump lied, but that is only his opinion: it does not make Trump a liar, and it is not evidence. Last ditch bitter-enders among the Impeach Trump Lynch Mob will be arguing that Comey’s various opinions and reactions prove misconduct by Trump. But lying and obstruction of justice are not like sexual harassment, where a second party, by his or her reactions, determines whether misconduct has taken place. Comey stated that he took Trump’s words that he “hoped” that the FBI would drop the Flynn investigation as a “direction.” He also could have taken it as a marmoset, but that wouldn’t mean that the President meant it as one.

Any time a supervisor says “I hope you do this,” it is a statement of what will make that supervisor happy. (Did Obama ever say to his Treasury Secretary, “I hope the IRS is tough on those tea party groups: they are about as non-partisan as I am!”?) Nevertheless, it leaves the decision in the hands of the subordinate.

4. Comey came off like a classic disgruntled former employee, and I’ve interviewed many of them, angry that he was fired and determined to do as much damage to his former supervisor as possible on the way out the door.

I thought he was better than that.  Guess not. Continue reading

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Ethics, Motives, Killing With Kindness, “Amadeus” And Related Matters

On a thread about the hysterical doom-sayers in response to the US’s exit from the Paris accords on climate change, one dedicated defender of progressive orthodoxy, lacking a genuine rebuttal for the proposition that the social media and pundit panic was nonsense (for there is none), defaulted to the argument that the withdrawal was unethical because the President’s stated motives for it were untrue. This raised two issues, one centuries old, and the other, an irritating one, of more recent vintage.

In order to sanctify many of the Obama administration’s policy botches, many people have adapted  aggressive versions of three prime rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms List: #13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”; #13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”) and #14. Self-validating Virtue. To refresh your memory:

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

This rationalization has probably caused more death and human suffering than any other. The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal. Thus Catholic Bishops protected child-molesting priests to protect the Church, and the American Red Cross used deceptive promotions to swell its blood supplies after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Saint’s Excuse  allows charities to strong-arm contributors, and advocacy groups to use lies and innuendo to savage ideological opponents. The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else.

13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”)

This sub-rationalization to the Saint’s Excuse is related to its parent but arguably worse. Rationalization 13 is one of the really deadly rationalizations, the closest on the list to “The ends justified the means”:

 The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else. 

But while the wielder of the Saint’s Excuse typically at least has a beneficial or valuable result to claim as justification for unethical and inexcusable acts, the desperate employers of 13A only have their alleged good intentions, which may be the product of emotion, misunderstanding, ignorance or stupidity. How a bad actor intended his unethical conduct to turn out is no mitigation at all. The underlying logic is that the wrongdoer isn’t a bad person, so the wrongful act shouldn’t be held against him or her as harshly as if he was. The logic is flawed (it is the same logic as in The King’s Pass, #11, which holds that societal valuable people would be held to lower standards of conduct than everyone else) and dangerous, encouraging the reckless not to consider the substance of a course of action, but only its motivations.

The Saint’s Excuse attempts to justify unethical actions that accomplish worthy goals The Road to Hell attempts to justify unethical conduct even when it does undeniable harm, just because it was undertaken with admirable intent.

14. Self-validating Virtue

A  corollary of the Saint’s Excuse  is “Self-validating Virtue,” in which the act is judged by the perceived goodness the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature. Good people sometimes do bad things because they are good people, and because of complacency and self-esteem they begin with a conviction, often well supported by their experience, that they are incapable of doing something terribly wrong. But all of us are capable of that, if our ethics alarms freeze due to our environment, emotions, peer pressure, and corrupting leadership, among many possible causes. At the end of the movie “Falling Down,” the rampaging vigilante played by Michael Douglas, once a submissive, law-abiding citizen, suddenly realizes what he has done. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks incredulously. Indeed he is. Any of us, no matter how virtuous, are capable of becoming “the bad guy”…especially when we are convinced that we are not.

This has led to the seeming absurdity of recent arguments, some accepted in court, that the same conduct can be right or wrong, depending on whether the conduct is based on “good” motives, and who is the actor. Since, to take one random example, Barack Obama is obviously good and means well, even inept, poorly planned and irresponsible policies are ethical. Because President Trump is a villain, the same conduct emanating from his dastardly motives would make the same conduct unethical. I have dealt with this biased approach before and will again, but not today.

It is the second, older question that concerns me at the moment, and that is whether human motives should be used in the analysis of whether conduct is ethical or not. The conundrum come up repeatedly in one of my favorite ethics books,  “The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten.Continue reading

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I Suppose Ethics Alarms Has To Officially Designate “Bloody Headgate” As An Ethics Train Wreck, Since Now The VFW Has Boarded

The Veterans of Foreign Wars declared that Kathy Griffin’s photo of Trump’s severed head is unprotected under the First Amendment.

They are ignorant and have embarrassed themselves. The organization doesn’t even understand what its members have been allegedly fighting to protect and preserve.

VFW National Commander Brian Duffy issued a statement that “The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. strongly condemns comedian Kathy Griffin’s incredibly revolting attack on the President of the United States . . . . What she did was not humorous nor should it be protected speech or expression. Playing to an audience with a severed head is what our enemies do. The USO should end its relationship with her.”

Actually, playing to an audience with a severed head is what Shakespearean companies performing “MacBeth” have done on stages, professional, college and amateur, in the U.S. and elsewhere for hundreds of years, you ignoramus.

This is another reason why the Left’s claims that “hate speech” shouldn’t be protected are so dangerous to our society: too many citizens of all political persuasions don’t understand what free speech is, and are too ignorant to know how to counter this threat to democracy

Let’s see: Griffin, her lawyer, the President and his punching-down tweet; Rosie O’Donnell, who announced that she had no sympathy for 11-year-old Barron Trump seeing photos of someone apparently holding up his father’s head, the mainstream media hypocrites who told audiences that Griffin’s “eliminationist rhetoric” wasn’t news or worth discussing, though a far less threatening image dominated their conversations for weeks when they tried to tie Sarah Palin’s metaphorical cross-hairs on a political race map to the madman who shot Rep. Giffords…I was wondering which organization would be the first on the Right to claim that what Griffin did warranted criminal punishment. The VFW would have been a good bet.

But wait! There’s more!... and I should have seen this one coming too. Progressive favorite Alec Baldwin, a habitual boor and Ethics Dunce, weighed- in in support of Griffin and her severed Trump head as only he can, tweeting,

“Dear Kathy Griffin, Kathy….baby…I’ve been there. The whole Henry Hyde thing [with] Conan, where we bring out an oxygen mask at the end? a joke. That’s what I thought. That’s what we intended. No one walked out of the studio and said, “No! We’re serious!” No one. But all your gutless, weasels in the GOP insisted that I actually threatened Hyde. They played the victim beautifully. Kathy…fuck them. Fuck them all. No 1 believes u meant 2 threaten Trump.Trump is such a senile idiot, all he has is Twitter fights. ignore him. Like the leaders of all the other countries in the world. Ignore him.”

Honestly, I do not understand how anyone can laugh at Baldwin knowing the anger, bitterness and nastiness that ooze out of every pore; it’s like finding Bill Cosby or Woody Allen funny. Yet that this guy passes for a wit, political pundit and truthteller by Hollywood progressive standards.

Dear Alec…
Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, language, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Rights, Social Media, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, U.S. Society, Unethical Tweet

Lawyer Snaps, Criticizes Own Client On Twitter, Daily Kos

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

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This Is The Heartbreak Of Anti-Trump Brain Loss…

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

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