I’m calling it a run-down because I’m run down….
1. More “phantom document” ethics. Last moth I wrote about the ethically dubious “phantom document” tactic, in which a lawyer alludes to a document he or she either does not have, or suggests a document has content it does not in order to trick a witness into recanting testimony.
I just saw the Eighties made-for-TV movie “Perry Mason Returns” that rebooted the classic series (and not so well) for an aging Raymond Burr. The great defense lawyer comes out of retirement to defend old legal assistant Della Street (Barbara Hale), who has been accused of murder. In the trial’s climax, Perry’s investigator Paul Drake, Jr. (played by Hale’s real-life son, actor William Katt of “The Greatest American Hero” fame) bursts into the courtroom and hands Perry a document, which he then holds as he asks the witness (Richard Anderson, playing a different role than he played in the original series) he was in the midst of cross-examining, “Would you like to reconsider your testimony? Would you like me to read a sworn statement from Bobby Lynch, in which he says you hired him to kill Arthur Gordon?”
The witness confesses that he planned the murder that Della was being tried for, and framed her. Della goes free! Perry then tells Della that there was no sworn statement. “I didn’t say I had a sworn statement,” he chuckles, “I just asked if he wanted me to read one.” Continue reading
1. They are showing “Perry Mason” reruns again on cable TV. That was the show that made my generation want to be lawyers, under the delusion that a defense attorney could regularly prove a criminal defendant innocent. (Pssst! They are almost all guilty.) The show holds up, but boy, Perry was sleazy. In an episode I watched while I was sick, he had his investigator tell the hapless prosecutor, Hamilton Burger (Ham Burger to his friends) that he had found an incriminating piece of evidence that proved someone other than Perry’s client had committed murder. Ham relied on the information and got the killer to confess once he was faced with the production of the “smoking gun.” But Perry’s investigator hadn’t really found anything.
Having one’s agent lie to the state prosecutor is a serious ethics breach. Perry also caused the DA to tell a falsehood to get the confession, though Burger wasn’t lying, since he believed Perry’s contrivance. Prosecutors are no more allowed to lie than other lawyers, but when they do lie “in the public interest,” they seldom get more than a slap on the wrist from courts and bar ethics committees, if that. Burger didn’t seem very upset that Perry conned him, because the real killer was caught. The ends justifies the means, or did in “Perry Mason.”
2. Ick or ethics? A Chinese scientist claims that he had successfully employed embryonic gene editing to help protect twin baby girls from infection with HIV. We are told that bioethicists in China and elsewhere are reacting with “horror.” Writes the Times,
“Ever since scientists created the powerful gene editing technique Crispr, they have braced apprehensively for the day when it would be used to create a genetically altered human being. Many nations banned such work, fearing it could be misused to alter everything from eye color to I.Q….If human embryos can be routinely edited, many scientists, ethicists and policymakers fear a slippery slope to a future in which babies are genetically engineered for traits — like athletic or intellectual prowess — that have nothing to do with preventing devastating medical conditions.”
As with cloning, my view on this controversy is that a new technology does not become unethical because of how it might be used. That unethical use will be unethical, and that is what needs to be addressed when and if the problem arises. (Airplanes could be used to drop atom bombs!) The fear of “designer babies” also seems to be an example of “ick”—it’s strange and creepy!—being mistaken for unethical. Making stronger, smarter, more talented and healthier human beings is not in itself unethical, even if it is the stuff of science fiction horror novels and Josef Mengele’s dreams. Continue reading
To be fair, we see so little of either now that many may no longer be able to recognize the two traits any more.
The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news source wrote,
A Democratic senator who couldn’t “in good conscience” vote for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross still attended a ritzy cocktail party welcoming him to the nation’s capital.On Wednesday, Georgetown socialite and Washington Post editor Lally Weymouth, daughter of the paper’s former publisher, Katherine Graham, hosted a “Welcome to Washington, D.C.” party for Ross at the Georgetown mansion of former Republican diplomat C. Boyden Gray. West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin attended that party, according to Politico Playbook, rubbing shoulders with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
Manchin’s attendance marked an about-face for the Democrat, who attempted to block Ross’s cabinet appointment.
In February, Manchin said he could not “in good conscience … give Wilbur Ross a promotion.” The senator credited Ross’s career as a billionaire investor—which earned him the nickname ” King of Bankruptcy”—and his involvement in the West Virginia mining industry for his decision to oppose the appointment along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“Following my extensive vetting, meeting with him, watching his nomination and reaching out to West Virginians who have worked with him directly, I cannot in good conscience look the families of the fallen Sago miners or the Weirton Steel workers who lost their jobs in the eye knowing I voted to give Wilbur Ross a promotion,” Manchin said in a statement at the time….
Steven Law, president of the GOP Senate Leadership Fund, criticized his attendance as a sign of “Washington hypocrisy.” “Apparently Joe Manchin’s ‘good conscience’ waits in the car while he stops in for cocktails on the Washington D.C. party circuit,” Law said in a statement. “Senate Leadership Manchin thinks he can fool West Virginia voters with his Washington hypocrisy, but we believe they are catching on to Manchin’s worn-out act.”
So it was principled, then, for Rep. John Lewis to boycott President Trump’s inauguration? It’s principled, then, for Democrats to refuse to respect the office of the President, because they didn’t vote for Donald Trump. Is that what Steven Law is saying?
Do Republicans think before they make statements like this? Continue reading
The billboard ad of North Carolina lawyer Larry Archie has drawn a lot of attention in the state and on legal ethics forums.
1. I was a little late seeing “Breaking Bad” ( I tend to avoid show with drug dealers as heroes) so I didn’t see the obvious connection between the popular AMC show’s cynical, unethical and effective slime-ball lawyer Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk, and last year’s jaw-dropping—but funny!—video ad for the services of Pittsburgh criminal lawyer Daniel Muessig.
2. This is why we ignore popular culture at our peril….and I think the legal profession needs to stop laughing and start worrying. People really do think Saul who is a criminal lawyer, is typical, and bar associations are doing very little to dissuade them. This is irresponsible, dangerous, and stupid. The profession has a duty to educate the public about how lawyers are supposed to act and why, and if it whiffs on that obligation (as it has for about the last hundred years) public respect for the justice system will continue to drop. Continue reading
The acclaimed CBS series “The Good Wife” premiered last night, with an episode called “Taking Control.” The title is ironic in one respect. Because the legal profession regards lawyers as being in control of the non-legal staff that works for them, good wife and whiz-bang attorney Alicia Florrick (played by Juliana Margulies) violated one of the most important legal ethics rules in the very first episode. This was far from unrealistic, however. Her ethical breach is not only a common one, but also one that many lawyers are careless about. It is also unethical conduct that the public assumes is standard practice for lawyers…because movies and TV shows make it seem that way. Continue reading
The Senate Republicans, bolstered by the political Right, are angrily criticizing Attorney General Eric Holder for having former Gitmo defense lawyers on the Justice Department anti-terror team. This demonstrates many things, none of them good, some of them sad.
At least seven Justice Department lawyers previously worked on the legal defenses of Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Apparently this makes them terrorist sympathizers in the eyes of the Angry Right. This is the sad part. A flat learning curve is always sad. Continue reading