Essential Ethics Points Regarding Casey Anthony’s Investigator’s “She Did It!” Claim

Anthony and LawyerCourtExcerpt

News Flash:

Private investigator Dominic Casey submitted a court affidavit in  Casey Anthony’s bankruptcy case (he wants to get paid), that stated that Casey’s attorney Jose Baez (above, left) “ told me that Casey (above, right) had murdered Caylee and dumped the body somewhere. He also alleges that Baez had sexual relations with Anthony.

Here’s what you need to know about the ethics issues involved:

1. Most important of all: USA Today’s website headlined the story, P.I. says Casey Anthony lawyer acted unethically. I’d guess 95% or more of readers assume that what was unethical was Baez defending Anthony when she was guilty. Maybe USA Today even thinks that. That is pure, inexcusable ignorance. All criminal defendants have a Constitutional right to a zealous defense, and the defense lawyer’s duty is the same whether his client is guilty or not, Jack the Ripper or a jay-walker. The duty is to make the State prove its case with admissible evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Almost everyone who has followed the case believes that Anthony is guilty of facilitating the murder of her daughter Kaylee, but the evidence was ambiguous and circumstantial, and the prosecution didn’t prove its case.

Having sex with a client is unethical, specifically under the rules of most states, and arguably under the rules of all states under general ethics and professionalism principles. Continue reading

I’m Worried About “The Good Wife”

Shape up, Alicia.

CBS’s “The Good Wife” seems to be getting more cavalier with its ethics breaches, a disappointing trend. Showing the ethical fudging that undoubtedly goes on behind the scenes at major law firms (on occasion) is appropriate; treating major violations with a shrug is not. I know it is tempting for the show to assume it has the intelligent legal TV show championship sewed up, since “the Defenders” is a joke and “Harry’s Law” is a disgrace, but it’s standards have been high, and it is dispiriting to see them flag with such missteps such as…

  • Prosecutorial misconduct casually brushed off as nothing. When Alicia asks why a videotape  is so much clearer than the one the prosecutor’s office turned over as evidence, she is told that what she received before was a copy of a copy of a copy–“just to mess with you.” Continue reading

“The Good Wife” Ethics, Season #2: Alicia, Kalinda, and Pretexting

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 Ethics Of Using A Facebook Mole

A lawyer wants to get access to an adversary witness’s Facebook page so he can use information he finds there to impeach her testimony at trial. But even though she accepts virtually anyone who asks to be her “friend” whether she knows them or not, he worries that she wouldn’t accept his request if she recognized his name and face from her deposition, which might prompt her to guess his intent. So the lawyer asks an office paralegal to send her a “friend request” instead. Sure enough, she accepts, and soon the paralegal is gathering all sorts of dirt on the witness and passing it on to the lawyer.

Is this an ethical plan for the lawyer, or not? Earlier this year, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Ethics Committee issued a legal ethics opinion that concluded it was not: the paralegal was acting for the lawyer, who was using subterfuge and misrepresentation to gain the witness’s consent to explore her private (or semi-private) Facebook information. The Committee said that it didn’t matter that the witness was careless with granting access, or that she gave consent to other “friends” that she barely knew: Continue reading