Tag Archives: prosecutorial ethics

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/15/2018: Alito Gets One Right, Ellison Deceived, And An Ancient, Unethical Tactic Works Once Again…

To a glorious morning, Ethics-Lovers!

1. Bad Alito, Good Alito.  As I briefly noted yesterday (and hopefully will do in detail today), Justice Alito authored an unethical and embarrassing dissent defending a lawyer who deliberately betrayed his client by telling the jury that he had killed someone his client denied killing. Bad Alito. However, the arch-conservative jurist also authored the majority opinion in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the SCOTUS majority struck down a virtuous but unconstitutional law, and did so clearly and well.

These are, I think, my favorite Supreme Court opinions, where the Court ignores the motives and objectives of a law and simply rules whether the legislature is allowed to behave like that. I don’t know, but I would guess that most of the majority feel the way I do about organized sports gambling: nothing good can come of it, and a lot of harm is inevitable. One they get the green light, I’m sure that as many states will take over sports gambling for its easy revenue as now prey on its poor, desperate and stupid with their state lottery scams. Everyone involved–sports, fans, athletes, states, the public’s ethical compass—is going to be corrupted by letting the sports betting genie out of its bottle: just watch.

Nevertheless, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992  law known as PASPA, should have been struck down decades ago; I’d love to know why it took so long. No, it did NOT ban sports betting, though this is what far too many news reports tell you. Congress can ban sports betting directly if it chooses to, as it is interstate commerce. This isn’t in dispute. What it did in 1992, however, was to order states not to pass laws states have a constitutional right to pass. The distinction matters. From SCOTUS Blog, which is usually the best source for analysis of these things:

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. [The] justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine…

…In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by explaining that the “anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it is simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision incorporated into the Constitution” – “the decision to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority continued, is exactly the problem with the provision of PASPA that the state challenged, which bars states from authorizing sports gambling: It “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

…The court also rejected the argument, made by the leagues and the federal government, that the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports betting does not “commandeer” the states, but instead merely supersedes any state laws that conflict with the provision – a legal doctrine known as pre-emption. Pre-emption, the majority explained, “is based on a federal law that regulates the conduct of private actors,” but here “there is simply no way to understand the provision prohibiting state authorization as anything other than a direct command to the States,” which “is exactly what the anticommandeering rule does not allow.”

Got it.

Good decision. Continue reading

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Law vs. Ethics: A Snatched Bar Mitzvah Gift, A Leaky AG, An Embarrassing Scoreboard, and”OINK”

Oink

I try to keep my legal ethics seminars up-to-the-minute, so while preparing for yesterday’s session with the Appellate Section of the Indiana Bar, I came across a bunch of entertaining stories in which the ethics were a lot clearer than the law, or vice-versa. All of them could and perhaps should sustain separate posts; indeed, I could probably devote the blog entirely to such cases.

Here are my four favorites from the past week’s legal news, involving a mother-son lawsuit, a brazenly unethical attorney general, a college scoreboard named after a crook, and police officer’s sense of humor: Continue reading

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Eleven Ferguson Ethics Posts In One!

APTOPIX Police Shooting Missouri

There are too many ethics topics for me to cover adequately as it is. This is frustrating. That the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck is generating ethics issues on a daily, even hourly basis creates a professional dilemma for me. I don’t want to appear obsessed with this mess; I’m not. I am really quite sick of it, and sick as well—and depressed—by the relentless stream of emotional, incompetent, and toxic opinions issuing from the news media, well-meaning but ignorant friends, and in some cases, professionals who appear overwhelmed by confirmation bias. One of my father’s favorite lines was “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts,” and I doubt that I have ever seen commentary on an event so dominated by that state of mind. Except, perhaps, the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman fiasco.

Allow me, then, to indulge in this compromise, while I wait for the entries in the Ethics Alarm contest to find the most unethical article, essay or blog post about Ferguson. Here are eleven points about the current Ethics Train Wreck that I would devote full posts to if I had the time and we lived in a Hell where Ferguson was the only thing going on. I may write full posts on a few of them yet, but meanwhile, here are shorter summaries that I hope you can use to enlighten some of your friends, relatives and associates afflicted with jerking knees….

1. We keep hearing that Officer Wilson is suspect and not credible because he expresses no remorse, and seems “cold.” This attitude projects the critics’ unjustified conclusions onto Brown, who doesn’t share them and shouldn’t. Why don’t interviewers point this out? If Brown was killed in self-defense, prompted by his own threats to the officer, Wilson shouldn’t be remorseful. Remorse means “deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed.” Wilson only did wrong if he shouldn’t have shot Brown, which is the assumption—an evidence-free assumption—of those who want him tried for murder. As for “cold”: Wilson’s whole life has been turned upside-down because a community and a substantial part of the nation have decided to make him pay the price for insensitive and poorly run police departments over decades and across the country. People are calling him a murderer based on political agendas. He’s supposed to respond to that warmly?

2. On ABC this morning, Jelani Cobb, a professor of African-American studies—and boy, are we learning a lot about the racist biases of that area of scholarship lately—pronounced the testimony of Wilson “fantastical” based on this statement: Continue reading

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