Tag Archives: Missouri

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/15/2018: Alito Gets One Right, Ellison Deceived, And An Ancient, Unethical Tactic Works Once Again…

To a glorious morning, Ethics-Lovers!

1. Bad Alito, Good Alito.  As I briefly noted yesterday (and hopefully will do in detail today), Justice Alito authored an unethical and embarrassing dissent defending a lawyer who deliberately betrayed his client by telling the jury that he had killed someone his client denied killing. Bad Alito. However, the arch-conservative jurist also authored the majority opinion in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the SCOTUS majority struck down a virtuous but unconstitutional law, and did so clearly and well.

These are, I think, my favorite Supreme Court opinions, where the Court ignores the motives and objectives of a law and simply rules whether the legislature is allowed to behave like that. I don’t know, but I would guess that most of the majority feel the way I do about organized sports gambling: nothing good can come of it, and a lot of harm is inevitable. One they get the green light, I’m sure that as many states will take over sports gambling for its easy revenue as now prey on its poor, desperate and stupid with their state lottery scams. Everyone involved–sports, fans, athletes, states, the public’s ethical compass—is going to be corrupted by letting the sports betting genie out of its bottle: just watch.

Nevertheless, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992  law known as PASPA, should have been struck down decades ago; I’d love to know why it took so long. No, it did NOT ban sports betting, though this is what far too many news reports tell you. Congress can ban sports betting directly if it chooses to, as it is interstate commerce. This isn’t in dispute. What it did in 1992, however, was to order states not to pass laws states have a constitutional right to pass. The distinction matters. From SCOTUS Blog, which is usually the best source for analysis of these things:

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. [The] justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine…

…In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by explaining that the “anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it is simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision incorporated into the Constitution” – “the decision to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority continued, is exactly the problem with the provision of PASPA that the state challenged, which bars states from authorizing sports gambling: It “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

…The court also rejected the argument, made by the leagues and the federal government, that the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports betting does not “commandeer” the states, but instead merely supersedes any state laws that conflict with the provision – a legal doctrine known as pre-emption. Pre-emption, the majority explained, “is based on a federal law that regulates the conduct of private actors,” but here “there is simply no way to understand the provision prohibiting state authorization as anything other than a direct command to the States,” which “is exactly what the anticommandeering rule does not allow.”

Got it.

Good decision. Continue reading

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Ethics Review: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

I watched last year’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” twice, just to make sure it was the profound ethics movie I thought it was. It is. None of the reviews described it that way, of course. Here is the New York Times:

“The movie opens on low boil with Mildred behind the wheel of her station wagon near three derelict billboards…she uses the billboards to announce her crusade … a way to get things jumping (the investigators, the tale) and splash some foreboding on an outwardly pacific scene. Much of the story involves the ripples of outrage, confusion and buffoonery that the billboards inspire and that soon envelop almost everyone Mildred knows. Months after her daughter’s death, grief has walled her in; isolating and seemingly impenetrable, it is inscribed in the hardness of her gaze and in her grim new identity as a mother of a dead girl. The billboards turn that grief into a weapon, a means of taking on the law and assorted men — a threatening stranger, a vigilante dentist and an abusive ex (John Hawkes) — who collectively suggest another wall that has closed Mildred in….”

None of which addresses what is remarkable about the film, which is that it shows what causes our ethics alarms not to ring—Frances McDormand as Mildred and Sam Rockwell as Dixon, a racist and vicious deputy, in particular demonstrate  what it is like to be driven by non-ethical considerations of the darkest and most passionate sort—and more important, what causes them to start ringing again. Most reviewers described this as a dark and depressing film. The ethics alarms are mostly off again as the film ends, and that is ominous, but its main ethics message is uplifting in many ways. “Three Billboards” teaches us that even broken, ignorant, alienated human beings have the capacity to access their innate instincts for compassion, justice, forgiveness, selflessness and kindness, and even when our ethical selves seem permanently overcome and decisively defeated, they can burst out again, in control, salvaging what’s best about the species.

There is a moment early in “Three Billboards” that signals that it is not only going to show us what monsters anger and grief can transform us into, but also that what George Washington’s list of 110 Rules called “that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” is remarkably resilient.  A sheriff—the ethics compass of the story, played by Woody Harrelson— visits Mildred after her billboard messages embarrass him and roil the town. She is hard and cold as marble as he tries to explain his failure to find her daughter’s rapist/killer, even after he reminds her that he is dying of cancer. Suddenly the sheriff has a violent  spasm: he coughs up blood on himself and Mildred. And we see her fury evaporate in an instant. The compassionate and caring mother she once was emerges, if only for a few moments. ( McDormand is such a superb actress that she pulls off the sudden transition convincingly and movingly: you believe it, though it is like watching Mr. Hyde turn into Dr. Jekyll in the snap of a finger.) Later, when again her fury has been aroused, we see the same woman firebomb the police station and watch implacably as her nemesis deputy burns. A warning: just because the ethics alarms can ring doesn’t mean they are working well enough.

Sam Rockwell’s character also reveals surprisingly that his ethics spark has not been entirely extinguished, again thanks to a catalyst supplied by the sheriff. This transformation caused considerable  criticism of the film among critics and artists in Hollywood, and some attribute the film’s failure to win the Best Picture Oscar to the fact that a racist is redeemed and revealed to have an ethical core. But except for the sociopaths and psychopaths among us, admittedly a disturbingly large group, we all have that ethical core. We have the ethics alarms too, ready to be re-activated, even if they aren’t in perfect working order. Yes, this is  even true of racists. So much of our current political discourse is driven by the false construct that a single belief or a single lapse of reason marks an individual as irredeemable. Its easier to marginalize and demonize them that way. But it isn’t true.

Indeed Ethics Alarms often declares certain conduct and words as signature significance, proving that an individual is unethical because such actions and thoughts are alien to ethical human beings. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” reminded me that people may be unethical–Mildred and Dixon, the deputy, could never be called ethical, for ethical people don’t set police stations on fire or throw young men out of second story windows, as Dixon does—but that even unethical individuals can find their ethics if you give them a chance.

And if they can find their ethics, so can all of us, and so can society. There is hope.

________________________

Addendum: I cannot leave “Three Billboards” without a salute to one of its most powerful scenes, when Mildred tells a priest why she doesn’t care what he has to say when he comes to her home to admonish her for the messages on the billboards:

Bingo.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/17/18: Have You Heard About The Adulterous Governor?

Good Morning!

Just one issue to warm-up with today, but a juicy one, with sex, lies, and tape! Two kinds of tape, in fact…

I find it peculiar that the travails of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens have received such light coverage in the news media; after all, this is great chance to embarrass a Republican. If you missed the story, it goes like this:

During his campaign later during his first year in office as Missouri’s Governor (he began his term a year ago), Eric Greitens proclaimed himself a family values guy. During his campaign announcement, he stated: “I’m Eric Greitens, I’m a Navy SEAL, native Missourian and most importantly, a proud husband and father.” Rumors of past extra-marital dalliances surfaced, and the Governor denied them.

An un-named lover’s ex-husband,however, blew the whistle to the news media, providing an incriminating tape in which the woman said she had a single sexual encouter with Grietens  and that he tried to blackmail her to ensure her silence.  “He took a picture of my wife naked as blackmail. There is no worse person,” the ex-husband told reporters. There are also allegation that Grietens slapped her. The woman  has not made an on-the-record comment about the story.

In a recording released by CBS News, the unnamed woman is heard saying,

“I knew he was being sexual and I still let him. And he used some sort of tape, I don’t know what it was and taped my hands to these rings and then put a blindfold on me. He stepped back and I saw a flash through the blindfold and he said you’re never going to mention my name, otherwise, there will be pictures of me everywhere….He tried kissing my stomach and tried to kiss me down there but didn’t quite get there because I flipped out and I said you need to stop.”

Last week, the Governor and his wife released this statement:

“A few years ago, before Eric was elected Governor, there was a time when he was unfaithful in our marriage. This was a deeply personal mistake. Eric took responsibility, and we dealt with this together honestly and privately. While we never would have wished for this pain in our marriage, or the pain that this has caused others, with God’s mercy Sheena has forgiven and we have emerged stronger. We understand that there will be some people who cannot forgive – but for those who can find it in your heart, Eric asks for your forgiveness, and we are grateful for your love, your compassion, and your prayers.” 

Sheena Greitens added:

“We have a loving marriage and an awesome family; anything beyond that is between us and God. I want the media and those who wish to peddle gossip to stay away from me and my children.” 

The allegations of blackmail and now of battery are being investigated. Some lawmakers from both parties are calling on the Governor to resign.

Last week, an attorney for Governor Greitens released the following statement:

“We have been asked repeatedly by reputable news outlets why we believe this nearly three-year-old news story is coming out now. The latest reporting has finally disclosed that the reporting was being driven by a “source” who is the former Democrat state party chairman and who apparently has not spoken to the person in question. This goes a long way to explaining what is going on – this is a political hit piece.

This is and remains an almost three-year-old private matter with no matter of public interest at stake. Eric and Sheena have worked through those issues long ago and I think that Sheena put it best: ‘We have a loving marriage and an awesome family; anything beyond that is between us and God. I want the media and those who wish to peddle gossip to stay away from me and my children.’ Now we know who has been peddling that gossip.”

Thoughts: Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz Of The Day: Deadly Dairy Queen?

The late Kenneth Sutter

The late Kenneth Sutter

Harley Branham, 21, a manager at the Dairy Queen in Fayette, Missouri, has been charged with second degree felony manslaughter following the suicide of 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner, whom she supervised. At an inquest called by the Howard County coroner, witnesses testified that Branham mistreated the teen. She  made Suttner lie on the restaurant floor as he cleaned it by hand, and once threw a cheeseburger at him.  Other witnesses said the boy also had been bullied for years at his school, where students mocked his weight and a speech impediment.

The coroner’s jury blamed both the Dairy Queen and the Glasgow School District for failures in training and prevention of harassment, concluding that Branham “was the principal in the cause of death,” and also that Dairy Queen negligently failed to properly train employees about harassment prevention and resolution, according to the inquest’s verdict form. Jurors also found that the Glasgow Public School system was negligent in failing to prevent his bullying.

All of those factors, the inquest concluded, caused the boy “to take his own life.”

Suttner shot himself on December 21, 2015.

Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler explained the inquest and the verdict, saying,  “I felt there was bullying going on and things weren’t getting corrected. Hopefully this makes the school pay attention to what’s going on. And it’s not just in that school. We all need to wake up and say this exists and we need to take care of it.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is this an ethical use of the criminal laws?

Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz Follow-Up (And An Ugly One): The Congressional Art Competition Winner’s Painting [UPDATED]

clay-painting-back

Well now we have a definitive answer to the Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz that asked whether  it was responsible, fair, and ethical for Congressman Lacy Clay (D-Mo) to have the painting above displayed in the U.S. Capitol, and we don’t even have to use the ethics decision-making process I included in the post. (I note ruefully that readers were challenged to use the method to reach a conclusion, and none did.)

We don’t have to use it, because we now know some things we didn’t know at first, or at least I didn’t. Based on news reports when I first posted, I assumed that the work by high school senior David Pulphus was chosen by a designated committee, and that Clay was bound by the terms of the contest to hang the winning painting in the Capitol. That would have made the treatment of the obviously inflammatory artwork, which depicts the false Black Lives Matter narrative that Mike Brown was gunned down in Ferguson by a racist cop without cause, an ethics conflict, pitting the First Amendment and the obligation to fulfill  a commitment against the inclusion of racially divisive art in the Capitol, which is irresponsible.  Now we know, however, that Clay himself helped choose the painting, and that he did so despite the fact that the painting directly violated the rules of the contest, and thus was ineligible:

“While it is not the intent to censor any artwork, we do wish to avoid artwork that is  potentially inappropriate for display in this highly travelled area leading to the Capitol.Artwork must adhere to the policy of the House Office Building Commission. In accordance with this policy, exhibits depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature are not allowed. It is necessary that all artwork be reviewed by the panel chaired by the Architect of the Capitol and any portion not in consonance with the Commission’s policy will be omitted from the exhibit. If an entrant is unsure  about whether a piece of artwork is acceptable, he or she should contact the staff of his or her  Member of  Congress; the congressional staff can speak with personnel who can determine whether the artwork would be accepted.”

The painting is beyond question  “depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalist or gruesome nature.” In allowing the painting to be entered, participating in selecting it, seeing that it was chosen as the winner, and hanging such an inflammatory work in the Capitol, Rep. Clay was… Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz And Analysis Exercise : The Congressional Art Competition Winner’s Painting

ferguson-painting

The painting above, by high school senior David Pulphus, is now hanging in the U.S. Capitol complex, its award for being selected as the first place prize-winner in Missouri Democrat Rep. Lacy Clay’s annual Congressional Art Competition last May.  It is not clear whether Clay personally selected “Untitled #1” as the winner or had a part in the section, but the African American congressman  praised the work according to a press release:

His visually stunning acrylic painting on canvas entitled, “Untitled #1” will be displayed at the U.S. Capitol Complex.  Pulphus will travel to Washington, DC, courtesy of Southwest Airlines, to unveil his winning entry.  The painting portrays a colorful landscape of symbolic characters representing social injustice, the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri and the lingering elements of inequality in modern American society….

In his remarks to the overflow crowd of young artists, parents and teachers who gathered at Webster University’s new downtown St. Louis campus in the historic Arcade Building, Congressman Clay said, “Tonight, we are celebrating our sixteenth year of recognizing outstanding young artistic talent. As you can see from the artwork on display here, the level of talent is truly impressive. Your work is inspiring, and I encourage all of you to continue to develop your creative abilities.”

Your first Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of 2017 is to answer this question:

Was it responsible, fair, and ethical for Congressman Clay to have this painting displayed in the U.S. Capitol?

I think it is a tough question. In fact, it’s an excellent opportunity to begin the year by practicing and applying one of the ethics decision-making processes, like this one from the Josephson Institute,  in the Tools section: Continue reading

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Tales Of The Unethical: A Client Hacks, His Lawyer Cheats, And HIS Lawyer Spins

hackedWhat a mess.

Missouri lawyer Joel Eisenstein saw two documents illicitly obtained by his client: a payroll document for the client’s wife and a list of direct examination questions prepared by his client’s wife’s attorney for an upcoming divorce trial.

This kind of stuff, proprietary material that is handed over to a lawyer by someone, including a client, who received it under dubious circumstances is ethically radioactive. As the DC bar wrote in Ethics Opinion 318…

When counsel in an adversary proceeding receives a privileged document from a client or other person that may have been stolen or taken without authorization from an opposing party, Rule 1.15(b) requires the receiving counsel to refrain from reviewing and using the document if: 1) its privileged status is readily apparent on its face; 2) receiving counsel knows that the document came from someone who was not authorized to disclose it; and 3) receiving counsel does not have a reasonable basis to conclude that the opposing party waived the attorney-client privilege with respect to such document. Receiving counsel may violate the provisions of Rule 8.4(c) by reviewing and using the document in an adversary proceeding under such circumstances and should either return the document to opposing counsel or make inquiry of opposing counsel about its status prior to determining what course of action to take. Continue reading

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