From The “Bias Makes You Stupid” Files! Ethics Dunce: Legal Ethicist Steven Gillers

A depressing theme throughout the Trump years has been the corruption of various professions as members once justifiably regarded as trustworthy abandoned their ethical obligations to become “resistance” allies. The professions thus tainted include judges, scientists, doctors and health professionals, lawyers, psychiatrists, historians, teachers and professors, university administrators, and of course the worst offenders, politicians and journalists. Maybe I’ve missed a few. One more profession that has to be included on the list, I’m ashamed to say, is legal ethicists.

In a post in 2017, I discussed the disgraceful filing of a frivolous and politically motivated bar complaint against then-Trump aide Kellyanne Conway by a group of law professors, some of whom are ethics specialists, and a few of whom I knew and respected. I wrote in part,

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Unethical Quote of the Month: Justice Antonin Scalia

Scalia

“If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

——U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia, excoriating his colleague, Justice Kennedy, who was the fifth vote in the majority of SCOTUS’s ruling today,  authored by Kennedy,  that same-sex marriage was a Constitutional right  no state could deny. Scalia filed an angry and intemperate dissent, low-lighted by this comment in a footnote.

Wrote Prof. Stephen Gillers, legal ethicist:

“How after this can Kennedy work with him?  Scalia has himself “descended” from the manner of argument found  in  opinions of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the invective and mockery of the Internet. Lawyers have been chastised for less derisive comments in briefs. Yet here we have it from our Supreme Court.  Scalia sets a bad example that will harm civility in lower courts and at the bar.”

Exactly.

The rest of Scalia’s dissent is hardly more restrained, either.

You can read the opinion and dissents in Obergefell v. Hodges here.

UPDATE: Here’s a screenshot of another selection, courtesy of Slate:

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Arguing with the majority’s wisdom and legal analysis is one thing, mocking a Justice’s writing style is quite another—unprofessional, uncollegial and below-the belt. Yes, Nino is a much better writer than Kennedy, but belittling his efforts shows neither proper judicial temperament nor appropriate respect for the Court itself. Some commenters excuse this because they disagree with the ruling: Irrelevant. Check your rationalizations, especially #2. The “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse, or “They had it coming.”

Advocacy Ethics And Larry Tribe’s “Betrayal”

Bought, believed, or both?

Bought, believed, or both?

One of my favorite topics here, the public’s (and news media’s) misunderstanding of legal ethics and the function of lawyers, recently broke into the news with a crash as progressives saw Barack Obama’s constitutional law professor at Harvard and liberal icon Lawrence Tribe go before Congress and testified against the President’s climate change initiative, the Clean Power Plan, saying that it was the equivalent of “burning the Constitution.” This has been called every name in the book by progressives, from betrayal to greed to dishonesty.

“Laurence Tribe must not have been sworn in over a Bible today before testifying before Congress, because if he had been, that Bible would have burst into flames after his phony testimony about EPA’s legal authority to set standards for unlimited carbon pollution from power plants,” said David DiMartino, adviser to the Climate Action Campaign.“But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised— a wad of coal industry money burning a hole in your pocket can make you do strange things,” he added.

Indeed, Tribe was hired to represent its interests by Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, and is the company’s counsel in a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the EPA plan. That is what lawyers do, and what they exist to do: represent citizens and companies as they seek to avail themselves of their guaranteed right to use the law to protect their interests. Continue reading

Why Is A Lying Journalist Not Fit To Practice Law, When A Lying Presidential Candidate Is?

Question: Which two men are fit to practice law? (It's a trick question...)

Question: Which two men are fit to practice law? (It’s a trick question…)

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog muses on an issue that has troubled me for a long time: the fact that the legal profession allows people to keep practicing law whose conduct would have kept them out of the profession had it occurred before they were lawyers.

The reason for the current examination is the apparent inconsistency of disgraced New Republic journalist Stephen Glass continuing to fight and uphill battle (and, I think, doomed) to be admitted to the California bar, while lying scum-of-the-earth John Edwards still has his law license and is opening up a new practice in North Carolina. I wrote about Glass here, and Edwards here.

In the Journal piece, estimable legal ethicist Stephen Gillers opines that the different standards applied to Glass and Edwards are paradoxical,  with the law grads entering the profession being held to more stringent ethical standards  than a veteran attorneys. “If anything, you might say it should be the opposite,” he says.

Especially if the veteran lawyer is a high-profile, national figure who makes every other lawyer want to crawl under a rock… Continue reading

Sec. Geithner’s Dead Ethics Alarm

The ethics problems in the financial sector are rooted in conflicts of interest, some willful, some systemic, some naive. The presumption of the Obama administration when it chose Timothy Geithner to be Treasury Secretary at this time of collapsing trust in bid business was that Geithner, a supposedly canny insider, would bring to the job an invaluable understanding of the systemic problems, and perhaps he has. But the fact that he also brought a stunning insensitivity to basic conflicts principles is disturbing. Continue reading

The Unethical and Illogical Smearing of Justice Dept. Lawyers

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