The Most Unethical Sentencing Fallacy Of All: Lavinia Woodward Gets “The King’s Pass”

Oxford University student Lavinia Woodward, 24,  punched and stabbed her boyfriend in a drunken rage, then hurled a jam jar, a glass and a laptop at him. This, in the U.S., would be called a criminal assault, and maybe even attempted murder.  Ah, but British Judge Ian Pringle knows better. He agrees these acts would normally mean a prison term, but Lavinia is a star student, and wants to be a surgeon. He hinted that he would spare her prison time so that her “extraordinary” talent would not be wasted. As poor Lavinia’s barrister, James Sturman, argued, his client’s dreams of becoming a surgeon would be “almost impossible” if she had to serve time.

Well, we certainly mustn’t jeopardize a violent felon’s dreams.

This kind of reasoning is infused with The King’s Pass, also known as The Star Syndrome, the rationalization making the perverse unethical argument that the more talented, prominent, useful and important to society a miscreant is, the less he or she should be accountable for misconduct that nets lesser lights serious and devastating consequences:

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others.

Judge Pringle is taking the King’s Pass/Star Syndrome to a new low: he’s arguing that Lavinia should receive special treatment based on how valuable to society she might be, given enough immunity from the consequences of her own conduct.  Continue reading

Top Ten Reasons Why Giving Chelsea Clinton A “Lifetime Impact Award” Is Unethical [UPDATED]

Next month, Variety magazine will host its annual “Women in Power” luncheon, and will give “Lifetime Impact  Awards” to several women in the fields of entertainment and public service.Among the honorees will be Chelsea Clinton. Here are the Top Ten Reasons the ridiculous award starts ethics alarms sounding:

1.  The award is incompetent and misleading. Chelsea has done nothing on her own to justify any award. She has been hired for a series of jobs based solely on the prominence of her famous parents, and is on the board of her family foundation, which has funded various humanitarian programs. These are passive achievements that any child of the Clintons would accumulate.

2. The award to Clinton immediately renders worthless Variety’s past and future “Lifetime Impact Awards”  to deserving and worthy recipients. It destroys any claim the award has to integrity and sincerity.

3.  The award is a lie. Chelsea Clinton is in her thirties, and hasn’t accumulated a lifetime, much less a lifetime of laudable achievements. It is grossly premature, contradicting its own title.

4. The award is cruel. It compels focus on the pathetic, privileged, exploited and exploitative existence of Chelsea Clinton thus far by proclaiming it to be something it obviously is not. Continue reading

My NPR Conversation About Ethical Responses To The Trump Election

trump_protest

Monday afternoon I was on an NPR panel for Tom Hall, of the Baltimore NRP affiliate, along with two other guests. It was an hour long show, with call-ins. You can hear it here.

Obviously the topic is germane to the John Oliver post. I have to apologize for posting that while flying around and being buffeted by speaking obligations. I never dreamed, silly me, that the simple assertion that Americans, as well as non-American comics, should follow a tradition of two century’ duration and give a new president-elect the respect due the office, and the chance to live up to the crushing responsibilities of the office before heaping abuse on him. After all, we would want the same. It is a tradition that ennobles the country and democracy, and should be regarded as an absolute ethical requirement, the least a new President deserves. It is also beneficial to all, healing the wounds of the campaign, and binding the country together. In short, every ethical system supports this basically decent conduct. I did not expect decency, fairness, respect and patriotism to be controversial. Trump shares responsibility for the reaction the post is getting, but it is still depressing.

A couple of brief notes on the session: Continue reading

Why Dan Pabon’s DUI Stop Matters To Everyone, And Why He Must Resign

Pabon Apology

Colorado Rep. Dan Pabon (D. North Denver) was considered a rising political star. Among his well-publicized public policy triumphs was to  help pass a law forcing convicted drunk drivers to appear before a DUI victim-impact panel.

Then Pabon himself was pulled over in his vehicle on St. Patrick’s Day evening for driving under the influence of alcohol. Instead of Pabon accepting his fate as an honest lawyer and elected official should, the video of the stop shows the legislator trying to persuade the officer who stopped him not to make the  arrest. He tells the officer that he is a state representative who is driving a car without his legislative plates. He asks the officer to call a supervisor or the city attorney so they can direct the officer to give him mulligan. When Officer Brian Bienemann explains that he cannot let Pabon off and indeed would be subject to discipline if he did,  Pabon pleads,  “Is there any way we can avoid this possibility? This is going to change my life.”

After Pabon pleaded guilty and gave an emotional apology (above) to the public and the legislature, saying  “I have taken full responsibility. I have done everything above board,” the editors of The Denver Post begged to disagree. They called for his resignation in an edotorial. They were correct, but they weren’t clear enough about why.

The Post was upset that Pabon didn’t specifically apologize for trying to use abuse his position and power to avoid legal accountability for a serious violation of the law, even after the video of the stop was leaked to the news media. Of course he didn’t. Like most current elected officials, he didn’t see anything wrong with that. Don’t they deserve special consideration and privileges?

There can be no sufficient apology for what Pabon did. Elected officials and other government personnel must not view themselves as deserving special immunity from the laws and regulations they impose on society. Pabon’s attitude and attempt to play the “Do you know who I am?” card is poison to democracy, and exactly the kind of “fix” Donald Trump’s speech last night correctly condemned.

The public sees a Secretary of State expose sensitive information to discovery by the enemies of the United States, and not only is she not punished, she is selected to run for President. The public sees HUD Secretary Julian Castro blatantly violate the Hatch Act, combining an official appearance with campaigning for Clinton, and  then learns that the President will not discipline Castro in any way. Casrto is also considered a “rising political star.” A nation in which individuals who break the law are still considered “rising stars” and prospects for national leadership has its values in a tangle. Continue reading

Five Reasons Why Melissa Harris Perry’s Email Is Even Worse Than Talia Jane’s Open Letter To Yelp

Melissa-Harris-Perry-Tampon-Earrings

Last week, Talia Jane, a low-level Yelp worker, wrote a whining online “open letter” to Yelp’s CEO that became an instant classic in the category of “How not to treat one’s employer.” Yesterday, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry sent an e-mail to her colleagues at MSNBC announcing that she was refusing to appear on her show this weekend because her show had been virtually taken away from her and that she felt “worthless” in the eyes of NBC News executives. You can read the whole thing here, but here are the juicy parts:

” [A] s of this morning, I do not have any intention of hosting this weekend. Because this is a decision that affects all of you, I wanted to take a moment to explain my reasoning…

Here is the reality: our show was taken — without comment or discussion or notice — in the midst of an election season. After four years of building an audience, developing a brand, and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced. Now, MSNBC would like me to appear for four inconsequential hours to read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show distinctive.

The purpose of this decision seems to be to provide cover for MSNBC, not to provide voice for MHP Show. I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by Lack, Griffin, or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back. I have wept more tears than I can count and I find this deeply painful, but I don’t want back on air at any cost. I am only willing to return when that return happens under certain terms.

…I have a PhD in political science and have taught American voting and elections at some of the nation’s top universities for nearly two decades, yet I have been deemed less worthy to weigh in than relative novices and certified liars. I have hosted a weekly program on this network for four years and contributed to election coverage on this network for nearly eight years, but no one on the third floor has even returned an email, called me, or initiated or responded to any communication of any kind from me for nearly a month. It is profoundly hurtful to realize that I work for people who find my considerable expertise and editorial judgment valueless to the coverage they are creating.

While MSNBC may believe that I am worthless, I know better. I know who I am. I know why MHP Show is unique and valuable. I will not sell short myself or this show. I am not hungry for empty airtime. I care only about substantive, meaningful, and autonomous work. When we can do that, I will return — not a moment earlier…”

As with Talia, this screed has apparently cost Harris-Perry her job. Good. Continue reading

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

Comment of the Day: Amherst Students Have Learned The Progressive-Approved Method to Win Political Debates: Intimidate And Censor The Opposition

Those were the days, my friend...

Those were the days, my friend…

Arthur in Maine delivered a suggested administrative reply to the asinine”demands” of Amherst students, who appeared to be either trying to make state school students, like in Missouri, feel better by proving that attendees of elite private colleges could be idiotic too, or attempting to emulate their imagined betters at Yale  I hope Arthur’s form letter gets a workout, because there will be plenty of audiences for it.

Yesterday, there was an especially ugly demonstration at Dartmouth on November 12, with over 150 Black Lives Matter student members accosting white students and chanting, “Fuck you, you filthy white fucks!” “Fuck you and your comfort!” and “Fuck you, you racist shit!,” among other Elizabethan epithets worthy of the culture and and verbal virtuosity they have been imbued with in Hanover. Black Lives Matter is at the root of this uprising by the black privileged against the white privileged; it has been a racist and hate-based movement from the beginning, and the knee-jerk progressive politicians, journalists, pundits and leaders, including Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, who have given it their seals of approval either actively or passively should have this and all the  ugliness to come stamped on their resumes. They worked hard to create racial paranoia and divide the nation by color and ethnicity. This was the predictable result: I predicted it; many did. They intentionally planted dynamite in the nation’s most vulnerable fault-line—race— for political gain, and the tremors have started, where they usually do, on the campuses.

Good job, everybody. Good job.

These things do not happen in a vacuum. The macro-cause is always weak leadership, in the home, in the classroom, in the nation. Students may not know much, but they can tell when their country is in distress, and they want to participate in effort to help. Unfortunately, they have one tool at their disposal—disruption—and it usually makes the distress worse.

For I too am from the Sixties. It gave me a twinge of sympathy for Hillary Clinton when she got so much criticism for saying this during the debate on Saturday, for she only meant that she has experience with this phenomenon, and has seen it up close. (Well, she was also trying to duck the question.)

Arthur’s excellent script for administrators is, I fear, too little too late. These culture-wounding attacks on trust and speech  have been nurtured by parents, demagogues, indoctrinating teachers and cynical political leaders; administrators, the least influential and the most lily-livered of all, have scant chance of stemming it.

It would be a start, though.

Here is Arthur in Maine’s Comment of the Day on the Ethics Alarms post, Amherst Students Have Learned The Progressive-Approved Method to Win Political Debates: Intimidate And Censor The Opposition: Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Week: CNN’s Mike Rowe

In this case, it’s unfair to Mike Rowe’s brilliant and measured rebuttal to MSNBC’s race-baiting talking head Melissa Harris-Perry’s latest ethics pollution to just quote a brief paragraph or two, so I’m going to quote virtually  his entire Facebook post.

Rowe, the man’s man star of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” show and now CNN’s “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” was responding to Melissa Harris-Perry’s dressing down of a guest who referred to new House Speaker Paul Ryan as “hard-working.” This woman’s mission in life seems to be to make it impossible for white people to speak, since she is meticulously eliminating all words and phrases as either racist, homophobic, misogynist or insensitive. (Donald Trump should send her a bonus, for this kind of thing is what is driving his support) In her latest assault, she said this:

“I want us to be super careful when we use the language “hard worker.” I actually keep an image of folks working in cotton fields on my office wall, because it is a reminder about what hard work really looks like. But in the context of relative privilege, when you talk about work-life balance, the moms who don’t have health care aren’t called hard workers. We call them failures. We call them people who are sucking off the system.”

Rowe’s diagnosis of Harris-Perry’s world-view was this: Continue reading

When Is It Ethical For Lawyers To Testify Against A Client? Here’s An Example…

Next time, stick to baseball hypotheticals, Darrell.

Next time, stick to baseball hypotheticals, Darrell.

From Panama City, Florida comes this rare legal ethics scenario. Darryl Mack, 22, accepted 20 years of prison in exchange for a no contest plea to a murder charge, after he learned that his original attorney in the case would be testifying for the prosecution. The revelation by an accused  criminal’s own lawyer of what most think are privileged statements would be devastating evidence, which is why lawyers are almost always prohibited by the ethics rules from doing this.  Mack had been trying to block the testimony on that basis. However, Circuit Court Judge James Fensom ruled those statements could be used against Mack at trial. Why? It is because of a useful and necessary exception to the ethics rules known as the crime-fraud exception.

If you are a “Breaking Bad” fan, this one of the reasons Saul is a crook, not a lawyer.

“The last thing a lawyer wants to do is testify against his client,” the prosecutor in the case explained. “But it is not reasonable to ask your lawyer to be your conspirator.” That means that a request for such advice is regarded by the profession as a request for assistance in breaking the law, and a lawyer cannot ethically give such advice. Such a request isn’t confidential, and isn’t privileged. A lawyer doesn’t have to reveal such information, but he also risks being charged as an accessory if the proposed crime is committed.

Timothy Hilley, Mack’s initial legal counsel, testified in a closed courtroom that Mack had posed a hypothetical to him at the end of a jailhouse interview, and Hilley viewed it as a veiled statement of  intent to commit murder. Mack allegedly asked his then defense counsel what would happen if a witness was unavailable for the trial, a question Hilley took to refer to a witness to the July shooting death of 24-year-old Tavish Greene, the victim in the murder Mack was charged with.

“Mack was on his way to leave, and he walked over to door and he said, ‘Could those statements be used if he was murdered,’” Hilley testified.
“I said, ‘No, it would be hearsay.’” Mack then asked, “How much time do I have?” Hilley said. “And I didn’t catch it at first, but then he asked again, ‘How long before trial?’ ” Mack left the room after Hilley told him the trial could begin as soon as June.  The lawyer reported the incident to the State Attorney’s Office, and withdrew as Mack’s attorney. Continue reading

Oh, NO!!! “The Mikado” Ethics Again (Political Correctness Division)!

[Here…listen to this while you read the post.]

I am apparently the official protector of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” from ridiculous accusations of ethics offenses, so once again, I will charge into the breach. No thanks needed, Mr. Gilbert, Sir Arthur—I owe you debts that can never be repaid.

In a brain-endangering op-ed for the Seattle Times, expresses the opinion that the operetta is a “racial caricature,” and thus “every snap of the fan was a slap in the face.” The nature of the complaint has old origins: the original show in 1885 nearly caused an international incident, as Japan registered an official complaint to Great Britain claiming a grievous insult to its people. W.S. Gilbert, who was skilled at such things (a few years later he stifled French indignation over a song in “Ruddigore” that pretended to make fun of the French while actually ridiculing British bravado), explained that “The Mikado” in no way ridicules anything about Japan or its people, but is entirely a witty and original satire on everything British. This was true then, and is true now. Then, however, people, including the Victorian era Japanese, were able to see distinctions, and were not seeking victim status and leave to play public censor under the authority conferred by political correctness. Today, people like Ms. Chan are not so easily calmed.

Thus is art harmed, entertainment stifled, laughter stilled and music forgotten. A good argument could be made that “The Mikado” is the greatest musical comedy entertainment ever written.* It certainly caused the biggest international sensation (the closest rival is another Gilbert and Sullivan classic, “H.M.S. Pinafore”): it is estimated that by the end of 1885, at least 150 companies in Europe and the U.S. were producing the satire. As recently as the 1960s, it was credibly claimed that a “Mikado” was going on somewhere in the world every minute of the day.

The show is fun in every respect: comedy, music, lyrics, satire, characters. It is also fun to act in and produce, for children as well as adults. Unfortunately, several factors have led to the gradual scarcity of productions in recent years, from the cyclical (Gilbert and Sullivan go out of style, but always come back) to the ridiculous ( it seems like every production has to cope with some absurd controversy, like the 2011 Montana production that was accused of threatening Sarah Palin’s life). Political correctness aversion has been the biggest factor in making the very best G&S show rare while productions of Broadway musical junk flourish, however. Since the characters are supposedly “Japanese,” shouldn’t all the singers be Asian? Isn’t Asian make-up offensive like blackface? Oh, hell, let’s just do “The Pirates of Penzance.”

From Ms. Chan: Continue reading