Tag Archives: misrepresentation

Ignore The Spin: It Was Unethical For Michael Cohen To Secretly Record His Client, Donald Trump

This morning the Washington Post tries to spin the clear ethics violation by Michael Cohen when he surreptitiously recorded his client, Donald Trump, when his client didn’t know or have any reason to suspect that such a recording was taking place. It was unethical. I have never spoken to a lawyer or ethics authority who didn’t believe such a recording would be unethical, at least until such an ethics breach was made against this particular betrayed client. Now, since the legal profession is one of many that have abandoned integrity and professional standards in the fever of anti-Trump madness, I’m sure several, maybe many, will change their tune. You know: they don’t want their friends to be angry with them.

Yes, Cohen’s taping was legal, because it occurred in New York, where only one party to a conversation has to know it is being taped. That is irrelevant to the ethics breach at issue. For a lawyer to tape a client secretly is always unethical. That’s my position, and I know of no persuasive argument against it. The Post article says that the matter isn’t clear cut. Oh yes it is.

Until 2001, there was little dispute that a lawyer was violating Rule 8.4, which pronounces it misconduct for a lawyer to engage in misrepresentation, dishonesty, fraud or deceit. Taping anyone secretly is misrepresentation. Does anyone want to dispute that? Try. If I am talking to you privately, and you do not tell me that I am being recorded, then you are representing to me that I am NOT being recorded, unless our previous conversations were recorded and I knew that. A few states just ducked the issue, and held that a lawyer could do what any other citizen could do in a state that made one party recordings legal. The American Bar Association, however, right through the 20th Century, held that it was per se unethical for a lawyer to surreptitiously tape anyone.

The absolutist position was an Ethics Incompleteness Principle accident just waiting to happen. In other words, there had to be exceptions, and since almost all states allowed District Attorneys to surreptitiously record suspected criminals without the threat of ethics sanctions, exceptions were already recognized. Thus, in 2001, the ABA revised its position with equivocal, muddled, Formal Opinion 01-422, “Electronic Recordings by Lawyers Without the Knowledge of All Participants,” which the ABA summarized this way:

A lawyer who electronically records a conversation without the knowledge of the other party or parties to the conversation does not necessarily violate the Model Rules. Formal Opinion 337 (1974) accordingly is withdrawn. A lawyer may not, however, record conversations in violation of the law in a jurisdiction that forbids such conduct without the consent of all parties, nor falsely represent that a conversation is not being recorded. The Committee is divided as to whether a lawyer may record a client-lawyer conversation without the knowledge of the client, but agrees that it is inadvisable to do so.

It does not “necessarily” violate the ethics rules because, the opinion explains (as various state opinions have as well), sometimes recording a third party serves the interests of justice, as when, for example, a client is trying to show domestic abuse, or when there is an allegation of illegal loan or housing discrimination. 01-422 wanders into Clintonesque rhetoric, however, when it states, Continue reading

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More From The SCOTUS Nomination Freakout—Unethical Quote Of The Week: Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

America is a better and freer nation than Robert Bork thinks. Yet in the current delicate balance of the Supreme Court, his rigid ideology will tip the scales of justice against the kind of country America is and ought to be.

The damage that President Reagan will do through this nomination, if it is not rejected by the Senate, could live on far beyond the end of his presidential term. President Reagan is still our President. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate, and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and on the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”

From Senator Ted Kennedy’s speech on the Senate Floor on July 1, 1987, in response to President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court

Kennedy’s outrageously unfair, vicious, and hyperbolic attack on Robert Bork, then one of the most respected jurists in the country, “worked,” in the sense that it catalyzed an unprecedented assault on a Presidential nominee who was not merely qualified but spectacularly qualified for a seat on the Court, shattering all previous norms and traditions regarding the confirmation of Justices by the Senate. It would not be inaccurate to mark Kennedy’s speech as the beginning of demonization as a standard tactic in mainstream politics, in which the mere fact of being liberal or conservative justifies the characterization of an individual or a group sinister or evil. (See: Southern Poverty Law Center) In hindsight, Kennedy’s rhetorical excess was eventually acknowledged on all sides of the political spectrum to be a false characterization of Bork as a judge and as a human being, though Kennedy, as far as I know, never apologized for it….but then he never apologized for a lot of things. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership

Ethics Dunce: The American Bar Association

Res Ipsa Loquitur: The American Bar Association  Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice will bestow the prestigious Thurgood Marshall Award on former Obama U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago on August 4. It has been obvious for a long time, but if anyone needed any further evidence that the ABA is now a full-fledged partisan left-wing organization masquerading as an objective professional association, this is it. Holder wasn’t just a bad AG, he was a political one in what is supposed to be a non-political office. He was also racialist, and obviously so, regularly coordinating with Al Sharpton and his followers, and constructing a Civil Rights division that adopted the position that only whites could engage in civil rights violations.

Holder should have disqualified himself from any professional awards, not to mention his high office in the Obama Administration, when he gave the green light to President  Clinton’s  infamous pardon of Democratic donor Marc Rich (aka. Clinton’s quid pro quo for his ex-wife’s  fat donation to his Presidential library). In fact, it was a defining moment, and having defined himself as a partisan lackey, Holder was exactly what President Obama wanted at Justice. Holder intervened in the Trayvon Martin case to signal it as a race-related crime in the absence of any evidence, and did likewise in the Michael Brown shooting, lighting the fuse of racial distrust and community anger at police. Then he called the United States a “nation of cowards” regarding race relations. The real coward was Holder, who used his race—he was the first black Attorney General—to shield himself from the accountability and criticism his mishandling of his office deserved.

Holder was held in contempt of Congress—and allowed the captive news media to call the action “racist”—after he withheld documents and key witnesses from oversight committees looking at several scandals in which his Justice Department was complicit. Notable among them was the “Fast and Furious” fiasco in which the government allowed Mexican drug gangs to get high-powered weapons, one of which ended up killing an American. Holder actively misled Congress in testimony under oath.ore than once.  He sought significant reductions in privacy and due process protections for citizens—civil rights? Hello, ABA?— and personally announced and supported Obama’s “kill list” policy, in which the President asserted the right to kill any U.S. citizen on his sole authority without a charge or due process.  Holder let his  department apply the controversial Espionage Act of 1917 to bring twice the number of such prosecutions under the Act that had occurred under all previous Attorneys General.  He led the Obama Administration in a campaign against government whistle-blowers. Holder championed warrantless surveillance (Civil rights? Hello?). Most damning of all given the title of his upcoming award, Holder was personally involved in targeting journalists for surveillance and  was the leader of an Obama administration attack on the news media that was condemned by many public interest and media groups. Holder’s Justice Department seized phone records for reporters and editors  at three Associated Press offices as well as its office in the House of Representatives. Under oath, Holder later claimed to know nothing about any of it.

Writes Prof. Jonathan Turley, who has written many searing articles documenting Holder’s disgraceful tenure at Justice,

“Holder’s “contributions” cost civil liberties dearly in this country. If the ABA is to give him this award, it could at least spare civil libertarians and journalists the reference to civil liberties.”

_______________

Note: You can read the various Ethics Alarms documentation of Holder unethical words and conduct here.

This one is probably my favorite, from 2014.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/17/ 2018: For Whom The Rex Tolls…

Good morning!

1. Another “growing crisis” to fear: Rorschach innuendo that people can interpret to confirm their own biases... Deposed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told graduates in his commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, that American democracy was threatened by a growing “crisis of ethics and integrity”:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom. When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth even on what may seem the most trivial matters, we go wobbly on America.”

Verdict: True.

The New York Times, without hesitation, calls Tillerson’s remarks a “veiled rebuke” of President Trump, and “veiled” doesn’t even make it into the headline.

Why isn’t this just as much of a “veiled rebuke” of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama (“If you like your plan…”), James Comey, Andrew Cuomo, Elizabeth Warren (I’d say her continuing Native American lie is a perfect example of a trivial matter that matters), Chris Christie, Senator Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Rep. Nancy Pelosi ( The U.S. Supreme Court is “five guys who start determining what contraceptions are legal.”, “I don’t know who (Jonathan Gruber) is,”  “In the first year of the Obama administration, more jobs were created in the private sector than in the eight years of the Bush administration.”…and so on, and on…), Newt Gingrich, Senator Richard Blumenthal, new head of the NRA Oliver North, and many, many others in both parties?

You know why: the media’s agenda is focused only on denigrating Trump. As for Tillerson, his statement is consistent with what The Ethics Scoreboard and Ethics Alarms have been trying to explain for nearly two decades now, with one major, ethical difference: I don’t use weasel words and innuendo, and Tillerson did. If the ex-Secretary of State has a whistle to blow, let him blow it, and not litter the scene with whistles so anyone can blow them to their own ends. Statements like his are worthless without specifics, and merely arm partisans, hacks and character assassins.

I also don’t accept ethics lectures from oil company executives. I’m funny that way.

2. And speaking of a crisis of ethics and integrity…and trustworthiness…Here is the New York Times correction yesterday on a story attacking a piece on Foundation for Defense of Democracies chief executive Mark Dubowitz:

I don’t know what the maximum number of errors in a single story is that can be corrected before a responsible reader has to say, “The hell with this rag; I’m going back to the Weekly Reader!”, but whatever the limit is, this easily exceeds it. The New Yorker used to publish such corrections  as humor, except the excerpt would be from The Hooterville Register, not the New York Times. Don’t you love the equivocal “referred inaccurately” weasel words? Saying that a salary that is actually in line with similar salaries in the field is twice such salaries isn’t “inaccurate,” it is a gross and inexcusable mistake.

Gee, I wonder if Rex was rebuking the leading news media…. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership

The Paid Expert Witness Problem [UPDATED And CORRECTED]

“Check enclosed…”

When a lawyer’s expert witness testifies in a trial, the opposing counsel will always ask, “You’re being paid for your appearance today, isn’t the true?” The one time I was asked that question, I answered, “I’m being paid for my time, not my opinion.” Of course, many experts—yes, even ethics experts—are accepting payment for their opinion. The case of a Houston lawyer’s recent conduct, however, is the worst example of this reality crossing the ethics lines, hard.

Lawyer Mark Lanier had presented father-and-son orthopedic surgeons to the court and the jury as unpaid experts, emphasizing that they were testifying pro bono while the defendants’ experts had been bought. Naturally, this made them seem more credible to the jury. After the trial, however, and after the jury had awarded Lanier’s client  a handsome verdict and damages of $151 million, it was discovered that Lanier made a $10,000 charitable donation to the father’s favorite charity before trial, and sent “thank-you” checks totaling $65,000 to the surgeons after the trial, accompanied by notes of gratitude.

But they weren’t being paid for their testimony—at least, not when they were asked about it. Continue reading

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“Melanie Wilkes” Loses Her Defamation Lawsuit…But Was She Right?

A California appellate court yesterday dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought Dame Olivia de Havilland against FX Networks. De Havilland, now 101, is one of the last surviving—and lucid—members of Golden Age Hollywood royalty. Those who are culturally literate know her as Melanie Wilkes, Scarlet’s angelic sister-in-law, in “Gone With The Wind,” Maid Marion in MGM’s definitive “Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn (de Havilland’s most frequent leading man),  my personal favorite, poor Bette Davis’s evil tormentor in “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,”  and many other roles in an epic career that won her two Academy Awards. (If you don’t know her, get cracking! What’s the matter with you?)

De Havilland had  sued for damages, claiming her portrayal in the Ryan Murphy-produced 2017 docuseries, “Feud: Bette and Joan” about the feud between Davis and Joan Crawford, misappropriated de Havilland carefully nurtured image without her consent, and harmed her reputation by portraying her inaccurately, especially a scene where she is shown referring to her sister, actress Joan Fontaine (“Rebecca,” “Jane Eyre,” “Suspicion”—What is the matter with you?), as a “bitch.”

“When ‘Feud’ was first being publicized, but before it went on the air, I was interested to see how it would portray my dear friend Bette Davis,” de Havilland wrote the New York Times, explaining the suit. “Then friends and family started getting in touch with me, informing me that my identity was actually being represented on the program. No one from Fox had contacted me about this to ask my permission, to request my input, or to see how I felt about it. When I then learned that the Olivia de Havilland character called my sister Joan ‘a bitch’ and gossiped about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s personal and private relationship, I was deeply offended.”

“Feud,” she said, represented itself as historically accurate fiction, but falsely portrayed her as a hypocrite “with a public image of being a lady and a private one as a vulgarity-using gossip,” undermining what de Havilland  described as a hard-earned reputation for “honesty, integrity and good manners.” Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/14/2018: The “Blotto From A Sleepless Night Fuming About Nobody Stopping That Puppy From Being Stuffed In The United Overhead Luggage Bin” Edition

Good Morning, United!

Where’s that whimpering sound coming from?

Grrrrrrr.

1 Don’t make America stupid, ABC. The new ABC legal drama “For The People” premiered last night, and lost me forever. I can’t trust the writers. In the final moments of the episode, a veteran female defense lawyer was consoling a young lawyer who was upset after losing a case. The older lawyer evoked the memory of a 1951 rookie for the New York Giants, who went hitless in his first Major League games and was devastated. But his manager put him in the line-up again, and he hit a home run in his first at bat, and never stopped hitting.

“Ah,” said the young lawyer, “Willie Mays. The greatest player who ever lived.” The older lawyer nodded sagely.

By no measure was Willie Mays the greatest baseball player. Is this racial politics by series creator Shonda Rhimes? I assume so: there is no other plausible explanation. The odds of two randomly selected baseball fans asserting that Mays was the greatest baseball player would only be more than miniscule if anyone who knows baseball believed that. Willie was the greatest centerfielder of all time, the greatest African-American player of all time, quite possibly the most charismatic and entertaining player to watch of all time, and very possibly the second most gifted baseball player of all time. But he wasn’t the greatest. The best player by every measure, statistical, modern analytics, WAR, JAWS, OPS, contemporary reports and common sense was, of course, Babe Ruth. He was the greatest hitter who ever lived, a great pitcher before that, and no athlete in any sport ever dominated it like Babe did in the Twenties.

Now, any individual can hold an eccentric opinion that Willie was better. But that was not how the assertion was presented. It was presented as an accepted fact that two random baseball fans agreed upon. This is irresponsible misrepresentation. I was trying to think of an equivalent: I think it’s like a TV show having someone quote the Declaration of Independence, and a listener then  say, “Thomas Jefferson. Our greatest President!” as the other individual nods sagely.

2. Four Regans, or, if you prefer, Linda Blair Heads.This is the new Ethics Alarms graphic for unethical media spin. The number of Regans can range from one to four, with four Regans signifying “spinning so furiously her head might fall off.” (If you don’t get the reference, you are seriously deficient in cultural literacy.) The four Regans go to the polar news media spinning yesterday’s special election in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Democrat Conor Lamb appears to have narrowly won a seat in a Republican stronghold, though the race is still too close to call. Continue reading

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