This was a bad day for over-zealous prosecutors.
First, the Justice Department dropped all charges against Michael Flynn in the face of findings of overwhelming prosecutorial misconduct. Then a unanimous U. S. Supreme reversed the fraud convictions of the two former aides to New Jersey governor Chris Christie for their roles in the “Bridgegate” scandal.
In 2013, Bridget Kelly, once Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and William Baroni of the Port Authority, had collaborated in reassigning traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge typically reserved for residents of Fort Lee, N.J., to punish the town’s mayor for withholding support of Christie’s reelection bid. Christie ducked responsibility for the petty stunt that inconvenienced hundreds of commuters, but was never formally implicated.
The Court held, in Kelly v. United States, that the actions of the two did not meet the statutory definition of fraud.
Baroni’s and Kelly’s realignment of the access lanes was an exercise
of regulatory power—a reallocation of the lanes between different
groups of drivers. This Court has already held that a scheme to alter
such a regulatory choice is not one to take the government’s property.
Id., at 23. And while a government’s right to its employees’ time and
labor is a property interest, the prosecution must also show that it is
an “object of the fraud.” Pasquantino v. United States, 544 U. S. 349,
355. Here, the time and labor of the Port Authority employees were
just the implementation costs of the defendants’ scheme to reallocate
the Bridge’s lanes—an incidental (even if foreseen) byproduct of their
regulatory object. Neither defendant sought to obtain the services that
the employees provided.
When a Court routinely criticized as sharply divided along ideological lines agrees across the bench, it demonstrates how egregious the prosecution of Baroni and Kelly were.
The essence of Justice Elena Kagan’s opinion: Continue reading
1. Once again, the Orwell Catch-22. Ethics Alarms has several times flagged the unconscionable use of the Orwellian ” ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ in the news media and among the resistance as they try to demonize the President of the United States for insisting on basic principles of due process and legal procedure. (Here, for example.) How did the Left come to such a state where they embraced this unethical concept, which is totalitarian to the core, and the antithesis of liberal thought? It is pure corruption, and forces fair Americans to side with the President and his defenders whether they want to or not.
To get a sense of how insidious this trend is, read Jonathan Chait’s recent effort for New York Magazine. Chait isn’t an idiot, but he’s so biased that he often sounds like one, as in his ridiculously blind 2016 essay declaring that “The 2016 Election Is a Disaster Without a Moral.”
This time, he makes the argument that President Trump must be guilty of horrible crimes because various Trump allies have denied that Michael Cohen will “flip” on his client, meaning that he would testify against him. Lawyers can’t testify against their clients, even if they have knowledge of criminal activity. They can testify to client efforts to involve them in criminal activity prospectively, because requests for advice regarding illegal acts are not privileged. Chait, however, doesn’t observe this distinction: he is simply towing the ugly ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ position that has been adopted, to their shame, by many left-leaning pundits and supposedly legitimate news organizations like the New York Times. Look at this section in Chait piece, for example: Continue reading
I decided to start with the Best in Ethics this year, in contrast to other years, on the theory that it would get things off to a positive start in 2014. What it did, instead, was make me realize how negative Ethics Alarms was in 2013. Either there wasn’t much positive going on in ethics, or I wasn’t seeing it. My thanks to those of you who send me nominations for Ethics Heroes (and other stories); even when I don’t write about them, they are valuable. Please keep them coming. In the meantime, I pledge to try to keep the jaundice out of my eye in 2014. Things just can’t be as dire as they seemed last year.
Here are the 2013 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:
Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:
The U.S. Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, paving the way for the universal legalization of gay marriage. Yes, it was a legal decision, but it was also based, as all such culturally important decisions are, on a societal recognition that what was once thought to be wrong and immoral was, in fact, not. This is ethics, an ongoing process of enlightenment and wisdom about what is right and wrong, and the U.S. Supreme Court did its part. Continue reading
Their defendant was probably guilty too.
Ethics Alarms All-Star Lianne Best sent me this link about a member of the Casey Anthony jury who is going into hiding because of all the hate and criticism being directed at jury members and their controversial verdict. Her plight, which must be shared by other members of the much-maligned jury, highlights the unethical, not to mention ignorant, reaction of the public to the Florida ex-mother’s narrow escape from a murder conviction she almost certainly deserved.
The problem begins with publicity. We may need to re-examine the logic behind broadcasting high-profile cases. The combination of live courtroom feeds and quasi-semi-competent commentary gives viewers the mistaken belief that they are qualified to second guess the jury, and they are not. They are not because the jury is in the courtroom, and the viewers aren’t. The jury and TV watchers see different things; individuals communicate different emotions and reactions in person than they do on camera. There is only one fair and sensible way to answer those on-line instant polls that ask, “Do you think Casey Anthony should be found guilty?”, and that is “I don’t know.”
Most of all, the viewers and pundits are not present in the jury room. Continue reading
Next, how about a bonus for confessions?
Sometimes a story starts the ethics alarms ringing so loudly that it is hard to think about anything else. It is rare, however, to have this occur when it is not entirely clear what is so unethical. An unusual bonus arrangement in Colorado is in this category.
Carol Chambers, the District Attorney for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District, offers financial incentives for felony prosecutors who meet her office’s goals for convictions. Plea bargains and mistrials don’t count in the incentive program; they have to be trial convictions. The bonuses average $1,100, and Chambers says she gives them out to encourage prosecutors to bring her district’s rates in line with other jurisdictions in the state. No other Colorado DA gives out bonuses, or bases evaluations on conviction rates. Continue reading