Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/24/17

This morning, my mind is occupied by one long-standing ethics issue, and the rest seem trivial in comparison. Let’s warm up by trying to find some way out of this mess.

The ethical problem seems increasingly beyond our ability to solve. Yesterday there was second mistrial in the retrial of Raymond M. Tensing, the former University of Cincinnati police officer who has been charged with the 2015 murder and voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting Samuel DuBose, an unarmed motorist.  This is the third example of a police officer shooting a black man under questionable circumstances being found short of being criminally responsible in a week:

In St. Paul, police dashboard video showed Officer Jeronimo Yanez shoot into the car where Philando Castile was sitting with his fiancée and her daughter, and acquitted the officer. In that case, the officer appeared to have panicked after Castile reached into his pocket for his wallet after telling the officer, unasked, that he was carrying a firearm. In Milwaukee, jurors acquitted Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown after watching frame by frame as he shot once at fleeing armed suspect, Sylville K. Smith, then fired a second time after Smith tossed the gun he was holding and lay on the ground. Now, in Cincinnati, jurors couldn’t agree on the proper culpability of Officer Tensing. He stopped  DuBose for a missing license plate, then asked him for his driver’s license. Instead of producing it, DuBose pulled the door closed with his left hand and restarted the car with his right hand. The officer reached into the car with his left arm, yelled “Stop!” twice, and used his right hand to fire his gun directly, into Mr. DuBose’s head, killing him.

What can we say about these scenarios, and many others? Continue reading

Calling This Lawyer Unethical And Incompetent Doesn’t Quite Capture His Basic Problem: He’s An Idiot

Defending his client of rape charges, Tennessee criminal defense lawyer Steve Farese told the jury during his closing argument,

“People can be very good at lying. Women can be especially good at it because they’re the weaker sex and we … and we want to protect them and not have anybody take advantage of them at least I do.”

Head-exploding  fact #1: The jury Ferese was appealing to by emphasizing the inherent dishonest nature of  “the weaker sex”  was made up of eleven  women and three men.

Head-exploding  fact #2: The jury still acquitted Ferese’s client.

That doesn’t make his argument ethical. The statement appealing to anti-women bias was a direct ethics violation, a breach of  Tennessee Rule of Professional 8.4 (d) forbidding lawyers from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, which deliberately appealing to anti-woman bias clearly is. For the future, the episode also raises questions about whether such a closing would breach the new ABA rule 8.4 g,  yet to be adopted in Tennessee or any state, which states that it is unethical for a lawyer to

“engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law.”

The ABA notes specify that “This paragraph  does not preclude legitimate advice or advocacy consistent with these Rules.”

I am certain Ferese’s statement would breach 8.4 (g), not that it isn’t unethical anyway.

Continue reading

Mistrial In The First Freddie Gray Trial: There’s No Way Out Of This Ethics Train Wreck

Judge Declares Mistrial In First Freddie Gray Trial

In Baltimore this week, a judge declared a mistrial in the case of Baltimore Police Officer William G. Porter after jurors said they were deadlocked regarding all of the charges against him in the death of Freddie Gray. Porter, 26 and an African American, is the first of six police officers to be tried in Gray’s death. He has been charged with with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. Street protests began almost immediately.

Let’s review this disaster so far, shall we? Continue reading

The Disturbing Case Of The Intimidated Juror

Courtroom Jury Box

I don’t like the implications of this story one bit.

In Clayton County, Georgia, a jury had just come in with an acquittal verdict in the trial of Eric Lydell Smith, who had been charged with nine counts including malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault, in connection with the death of his neighbor, Eric Hernandez. Two years ago, Smith and Hernandez got into a fist fight on the street where both lived. Smith, an African-American, says he shot Hernandez—the mainstream newsmedia would refer to him as a “white Hispanic” if he had done the shooting— in self-defense, but prosecutors and witnesses told the jury the fight had ended and Hernandez was walking away when Smith killed him.

“Not guilty of malice murder,” the jury foreman read from the verdict form, as Hernandez’ family openly wept in court. One not guilty verdict after the another was announced. Then prosecutors, nobody is certain why, asked the judge to take the unusual step of polling the jury members. The first eleven jurors, in turn, repeated the announced verdict of “not guilty” on all counts. Then the 12th juror, a white woman,  answered the judge’s  “Is this your verdict?” with a shocking “No, your honor.”

That’s a mistrial. Smith will probably be retried. Continue reading

Seeking Justice And Fairness in Topeka, And Arriving At Stupid

With a song!

With a song!

In Topeka, Kansas, Judge Mark Braun was confronted with a legal and ethical dilemma, thought hard, and arrived at ridiculous decision, with the of best intentions.

Defendant Lance Franklin was in the fourth day of his trial for rape when he decided that he didn’t like his lawyer’s face or something and thus sucker-punched him in open court. Franklin is  is six-feet, three-inches tall and weighs at least 260 pounds; he devoted attorney weighs about 170 pounds and is considerably shorter. This sort of thing happens now and then (it happened in Kansas earlier this year) does not go over well with juries. Imagine, for example, if Mike Brown hadn’t been killed and was being tried for assaulting an officer, and he did this to his lawyer right after his mother had told the jury what a gentle, promising child he was. The display would, one would think, undermine his credibility when he swore he was just meekly surrendering….well, with the racist jurors, anyway.

Thus, when this happens, judges declare mistrials because a fair trial is no longer possible. Ah, but Judge Braun has seen it all: you can’t trick him. He knows that if Kansas defendants see one accused criminal get to start all over because he cold-cocks his lawyer, they’ll all do it if the trial is going badly. So after senior assistant district attorney Dustin Curry begged him not to reward Franklin for his unmannerly gesture, Braun ruled that declaring a mistrial would “essentially put a target on any defense attorney’s back.”

The trial goes on, presumably with a new lawyer. And, when Franklin is found guilty, a successful appeal and new trial is virtually guaranteed, because a fair trial after something like this is impossible.

The judge was trying to be careful and considerate; he should be commended for not making an automatic decision to call a mistrial just because that’s what every other judge has done. He kept an open mind, and listened to a novel argument. Sometimes, however, an open mind lets stuff in causes havoc. In his effort to prevent lawyers from becoming in-trial punching bags, he guaranteed one defendant a second trial, and just moved that target somewhere else.

For example, I’m pretty sure attacking the jury mid-trial is a sure-fire recipe for a mistrial if battering one’s lawyer won’t work.

Or better yet, deck the judge!

Deck the Judge to get a mistrial
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Punching lawyers s’not for this trial
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
If your trial is going badly
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Rush the bench while swinging madly.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!

____________________

Pointer: ABA Journal

Facts: Capital-Journal